This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
(New York) – “States and United Nations entities must take concrete steps to protect and support Women Human Rights Defenders,” said panellists at a high-level UN event on Monday 13 March. The event – “Protect Women Human Rights Defenders: from resolution to solutions” – took place on the opening day of the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Opening the event, Hans Brattskar, Deputy Foreign Minister of Norway, stressed States’ obligations to protect Women Human Rights Defenders, drawing attention to the recent resolution on the subject by the UN General Assembly: “While States may not always agree with the views of Women Human Rights Defenders, they must protect their rights. Through the GA resolution, States have made important commitments in that regard,” he said.
The moderator of the event, Charlotte Bunch, leading scholar on women’s human rights and a Board Member of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), added that “the resolution adopted by the GA in December last year is a crucial implementation tool in that it provides a roadmap for States to put in place gender-specific policies and programmes for the greater protection of WHRDs.”
Women Human Rights Defenders on the panel highlighted the particular challenges and risks faced by defenders in their respective regions. Sussan Tahmasebi of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) stressed that “WHRDs in the Middle East and North Africa region are facing multiple challenges due to religious extremism, increased violence, political transition and claims of cultural relativism”. She emphasised that “human rights are universal, and cannot be justified through claims of culture, religion or tradition; violence is not our culture.”
“In Mexico and Central America, Women Human Rights Defenders face threats because they challenge stereotypes and perceptions about the status of women in society,” said Cristina Hardaga Fernandez of JASS (Just Associates). “Threats include harassment, defamation, ill-treatment, arrests, criminalisation and sexual violence, coming both from State and non-State actors, often with complete impunity”, she added.
John Hendra, Deputy Executive Director of UN Women, stressed the need for a transformative approach to addressing gender discrimination and inequality in the post-2015 development framework, noting that “Women Human Rights Defenders have a huge role to play in holding governments accountable to the commitments they are making for 2015 and beyond.” Mr Hendra also emphasised the need for States to create an enabling environment for Women Human Rights Defenders and UN Women’s role in that process: “UN Women can assist States to ensure that their laws and policies protect WHRDs, not silence them.”
Several of the event organisers commented on the quality of the discussion and the way forward. Sarah Marland from the Women Human Rights Defender International Coalition said “today’s discussion was a timely reminder that the protection of Women Human Rights Defenders is an essential component in any plans for development. The Women Human Rights Defenders Resolution provides a framework for those plans that will ensure that women human rights defenders are able to carry out their work free from threats and violence.”
Nicole Bjerler of Amnesty International’s UN Office in New York noted that “the realities faced by Women Human Rights Defenders in all parts of the world demonstrate how important it is that States give recognition to and support their important and legitimate work.” She added that “UN Women and other UN entities, in particular at country level, can also greatly assist by engaging in regular exchanges with WHRDs to learn more about their work and concerns”.
Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights underlined the need for further discussions on how to protect all Women Human Rights Defenders, regardless of the rights they work on: “States must recognize that Women Human Rights Defenders are diverse, work in different contexts around the world and face extraordinary risks. This is particularly so for those working on women’s rights or gender issues, and for those challenging gender stereotypes and perceptions about the status of women in society. Discussions such as today’s are an important step in attaining this recognition,” she said
Daniela Fonkatz of AWID echoed the need to consider the specific context Women Human Rights Defenders are working in when designing protection measures, emphasizing that “the different risks and violations Women Human Rights Defenders face underscore the need for differential support and gender-specific protection measures, that take into account the specific context as well as the diversity of Women Human Rights Defenders.”
“What is clear is that women human rights defenders are under attack in all parts of the world,” said Diana Sarosi of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. “While this resolution is timely, what is needed now is political will to implement the resolution. We call on all governments to take leadership and put robust, effective and gender sensitive protection mechanisms in place so that Women Human Rights Defenders can do their work.”
The UN General Assembly passed its first resolution on Women Human Rights Defenders in December 2013. The resolution is a significant step forward in protecting Women Human Rights Defenders who face risks and attacks for their work to promote human rights.
The Commission on the Status of Women, meeting from 10-21 March 2014 in New York, is the principle global policy-making body dedicated to gender equality and the advancement of women. The theme of the 58th session is “Challenges and achievements in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls”.
The main outcome document of the CSW is the agreed conclusions on the priority theme. These will contain an assessment of progress, gaps and challenges and provide concrete recommendations for action by Governments, civil society, and other key stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, regional, national and sub-national levels.
In view of the important and legitimate role of Women Human Rights Defenders working on development-related issues, it is critical that the agreed conclusions urge States to take practical steps to prevent and address violence against Women Human Rights Defenders and integrate a gender perspective into efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights. Such language would be an important recognition of the challenges faced and protection measures needed.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
ISHR joined 74 civil society organisations from across the world in urging Egypt to release researcher Ahmed Samir Santawy, and to ensure that, pending his release, he is granted immediate and regular access to his family and lawyers, provided with adequate healthcare, and protected from torture and other ill-treatment.
Beyond the discrimination and indignation that ordinary women suffer, indigenous women in Africa continue to be marginalised and denied the full recognition and protection of their rights. Decisively, the long-awaited National Human Rights Institutions’ (NHRIs) Forum organised by the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) convened on 8 and 9 April 2021 to discuss the role of NHRIs in promoting the realisation of indigenous women’s rights in Africa. The Forum was convened ahead of the 68th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The result of the deliberations was a final draft Statement on the “Rights of indigenous women in Africa” that will be submitted to the ACHPR.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
In an online discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the World Uyghur Congress (WUC), Uyghur camp survivor Gülbahar Jalilova shared her story of long-term arbitrary detention. Her testimony echoes mounting evidence of human rights violations that call for systematic UN monitoring and public reporting.
Operating in a context of persistent insecurity and aggravated by the Covid19 crisis, human rights defenders in Burkina Faso are exposed to many risks. The law on the protection of defenders and its implementing decree were adopted in 2018, but its implementation and use remain a challenge for defenders.
Members of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights met in March 2021 to prepare two ‘Lists of Issues’ to guide their respective reviews of the People’s Republic of China.
In a landmark decision, the UN CEDAW committee found that Libya violated the rights of a woman human rights defender and issued recommendations to better respect, protect and support the work of women defenders.
According to Articles 23 (3) and 72 of the Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, each Commissioner must present an activity report detailing activities undertaken in relation to their mandates. Following the presentation of the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa, ISHR delivered a statement highlighting the violations and reprisals faced by human rights defenders on the continent.