Category Archives: civil society

Guatemala and Nicaragua Reject UN Human Rights Monitors Amid Turmoil

Protesters in Managua
Credit: By Voice of America, via Wikimedia Commons

Two Central American governments ended their cooperation with the United Nations on specific human rights initiatives and sought to exclude UN representatives from their territories in late August 2018. In Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales announced on August 31 he would not renew the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) when it expires in 2019 and barred CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, despite a Supreme Court order rejecting a previous attempt to expel him. [IACHR: Guatemala; NYT] Since 2007, CICIG has assisted national authorities in prosecuting corruption, and recently announced an investigation into President Morales for illegal campaign contributions. [NYT]

Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on authorities’ human rights violations against protesters since demonstrations against the Ortega government began in April 2018. [Al Jazeera; IJRC: Nicaragua] The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), OHCHR, and civil society have expressed concern at these developments. [IACHR: Guatemala; IACHR: Nicaragua; OHCHR Press Release: Concern; HRW: Nicaragua; HRW: Torture] Observers fear the crises in both countries will continue to worsen. [NYT: Authoritarianism] Read more

U.S. to Cut Funding to UN Rights Bodies, Palestinian Refugees

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton
Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons

The United States is reportedly planning to withdraw all financial support from the United Nations’ key human rights bodies – the Human Rights Council and Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – and from the UN agency that provides humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees. [AP; CNN] John Bolton, the current U.S. National Security Advisor and former Ambassador to the UN, indicated the Trump administration wants to limit the work of the Human Rights Council, which it has accused of anti-Israel bias. [AP] In July, the U.S. gave up its seat on the Human Rights Council, an intergovernmental body that monitors human rights around the world. [IJRC: HRC] Similarly, the U.S. earlier reduced its funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as part of an effort to influence the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [Foreign Policy: UNRWA]

The U.S. is currently the largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget, and also makes substantial voluntary contributions to OHCHR and UNRWA. [AP] While the outgoing High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, stated that the funding cuts would not be “fatal” to OHCHR, any reduction in financial support will certainly affect the UN’s work on human rights and refugee assistance. [Washington Post: OHCHR] These developments follow a series of recent U.S. withdrawals from several other significant international commitments, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NY Times: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP]

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African Commission Bows to Political Pressure, Withdraws NGO’s Observer Status

CAL representative addresses ACHPR
CAL representative addresses ACHPR

CAL representative addresses ACHPR
Credit: IJRC

On August 8, 2018, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) stripped the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL) of its observer status following decisions by the African Union Executive Council that called on the ACHPR to consider “African values” when reviewing applications for observer status. [CAL: Denied] The ACHPR’s decision to withdraw CAL’s observer status comes after years of advocacy efforts by CAL to obtain that status, and follows a drawn-out process before the ACHPR that has been marred by discriminatory statements on the part of both the continent’s human rights oversight body and the political organs of the African Union. [Thomson Reuters Foundation] CAL is a pan-Africanist network of organizations in sub-Saharan Africa committed to advancing the rights of all women in Africa and strengthening the leadership of lesbian women in various movements. See CAL, Why We Exist. The decision to revoke CAL’s observer status, which is a requirement for certain types of participation in the ACHPR’s activities and sessions, has raised concerns about the ACHPR’s impartiality and independence. [EJIL: Talk!] The Executive Council’s June 2018 decision calling for CAL’s status to be withdrawn also raised other threats to the ACHPR’s functioning, including the possible elimination of the ACHPR’s jurisdiction over human rights complaints.

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Michelle Bachelet, Former President of Chile, Appointed UN High Commissioner

Secretary-General António Guterres (right) meets with Michelle Bachelet Jeria, President of Chile
Credit: UN Photo

On August 10, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly approved Michelle Bachelet’s nomination for the position of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. [UN News: Appointment] The General Assembly’s decision followed the UN Secretary General’s announcement on August 8 to nominate Bachelet for the position. [UN News: Nomination] Bachelet will serve a four-year term, beginning on September 1, 2018, with a possibility of renewal for a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment] Bachelet is replacing Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who began his term as UN High Commissioner in September 2014 and chose not to seek a second four-year term. [UN News: Appointment; NY Times: al-Hussein] Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein announced last December that he would not seek re-election because of the anticipated lack of support among “key world powers, including the United States, China and Russia.” [Reuters] He also was concerned that a second term would require him to be less outspoken in advocacy efforts and less independent given the current geopolitical climate. [NY Times: al-Hussein]

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Conflicts in Cameroon Escalate, Human Rights Experts Respond

People in a Cameroon Community
Credit: Sodeit via Wikimedia Commons

In the past month, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights have called on Cameroon to launch an investigation into persistent reports of a deteriorating human rights situation in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, including to investigate a video showing the alleged extrajudicial executions of a woman and two children. [ACHPR Press Release: Allegations (French only); OHCHR Press Release] The conflict in Cameroon stems from tensions that arose in 2016 after the English-speaking communities in the State mobilized to demand respect of the English-speaking educational and judicial systems, and to demand more political autonomy. See HRW, These Killings Can Be Stopped: Abuses by Government and Separatist Groups in Cameroon’s Anglophone Regions (2018), 1. In response, the Cameroonian government violently suppressed the protests and arrested many of the demonstrators, which led to armed confrontations. See id. Most recently, the tensions between Anglophone separatists and the largely Francophone government of Cameroon have escalated as a result of separatists’ attacks targeting a Minister of Defense convoy in the country’s Southwest region and the government’s “heavy-handed response.” [OHCHR Press Release; Guardian] Cameroon is obligated, under international human rights law, to ensure the rights to life and to humane treatment, among other rights.

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African Union Elects Four Judges to the African Court

The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Credit: AfCHPR

In June, the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union (the Assembly) elected four judges to replace vacancies on the 11-member African Court on Human and People’s Rights. [AfCHPR Press Release] See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 2018 Elections. The election occurred at the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Executive Council of the African Union in Nouakchott, Mauritania, during which the Assembly elected the following individuals: Imani Aboud (Tanzania), Stella Isibhakhomen Anukam (Nigeria), Ben Kioko (Kenya), and Blaise Tchikaya (Congo). [AfCHPR Press Release] See also AU Executive Council, Draft Agenda, AU Doc. EX.CL/Draft/1(XXXIII) (June 28-29, 2018), sec. X. Three of the judges were elected to six-year terms, while one judge was elected to serve a two-year term, being the remainder of the term for another judge who resigned prematurely. See IJRC, African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights: 2018 Elections. The judges will begin their terms at the first African Court session following the election, which is scheduled to begin on August 27, 2018 in Arusha, Tanzania. See AfCHPR, Calendar of Sessions. Read more

Consequences of the U.S. Departure from the Human Rights Council

Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN
Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Civil society and other stakeholders warned of consequences to human rights defenders and victims of rights abuses when the United States formally announced last month its decision to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose; OHCHR Press Release: Dialogue] The decision – effective June 19, 2018, over a year before the end of the State’s term, which would have expired on December 31, 2019 – marks the first time a State has voluntarily left the Human Rights Council before serving its full term. It is the second time, though, a State has failed to complete its full term on the Human Rights Council; Libya was removed from the Council in 2011. [UN General Assembly Press Release] See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council.

The primary reasons listed by the United States for its departure include the Council’s alleged anti-Israel bias; the membership on the Council of States that commit human rights abuses, including Cuba, Venezuela, China, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and a failure of the Human Rights Council to reform itself, including in the election process. See U.S. Department of State, Remarks on the UN Human Rights Council. Additionally, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, asserted that key human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also responsible for the U.S.’s departure. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] Civil society organizations have rejected the Ambassador’s claims, and have spoken out against the move, expressing concern that countries like China and Russia will take advantage of the absence of the U.S. to weaken human rights protections and programs, among other consequences. [HRW: Blame; HRW: Oppose] The United States has made other withdrawals from international commitments since the start of 2017, including its departures from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran nuclear deal, and Paris Agreement. [IJRC: Paris Agreement; NYT: Iran Nuclear Deal; Washington Post: TPP] Read more

July 2018: UN Treaty Bodies, Human Rights Council, and Regional Bodies in Session

Palais des Nations, Geneva
Credit: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré via Flickr

In the month of July, various universal and regional bodies will assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Three United Nations treaty bodies will meet in July to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to civil and political rights, the rights of women, and the prevention of torture. Further, civil society can register this month to participate in the sessions of two treaty bodies that will meet in August to engage with States regarding their obligations related to racial discrimination and the rights of persons with disabilities, respectively. The UN Human Rights Council and several of its working groups will be in session to review communications, thematic reports, and country-specific reports; select individuals to serve as special procedure mandate holders; and convene several panel discussions on the human rights of women, internally displaced persons, and on technical cooperation in the promotion and protection of human rights related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will hold its annual session. Two UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights and transnational corporations, and on the human rights situation in the Republic of Korea.

Regionally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) may hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens, and the European Committee of Social Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be in session.

The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the hearings of the Inter-American Court, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.

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