A number of African countries have drawn international criticism amid a wave of internet shutdowns aimed at restricting access to information and discourse on social, economic, and political issues. Between December 2018 and January 2019, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Gabon, and Zimbabwe cut off access to the internet in response to protests. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns] Human rights groups and experts have condemned these moves as illegal acts of repression, citing violations of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information. [ACHPR Press Release: Shutdowns; OHCHR Press Release; Access Now Press Release] While the internet shutdowns in Africa contribute to a trend of increasing shutdowns around the world, the international response demonstrates that internet access is now recognized as essential to the exercise of human rights.
Category Archives: civil society
The governments of Guatemala and Nicaragua each recently issued decisions terminating cooperation with international and regional oversight bodies in critical areas of human rights, prompting strong criticism. [UN News: Nicaragua; IACHR Press Release: Guatemala; European Council Press Release] Escalating his September 2018 decision that Guatemala would not renew its agreement with a United Nations-backed anti-corruption investigatory body, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales unilaterally decided to expel the body prior to the agreement’s expiration and ahead of the next presidential election. [UN News: CICIG; NY Times; IJRC: Oversight] Additionally, in December 2018, the Nicaraguan government, amid mounting civil unrest, announced measures effectively barring two monitoring mechanism set up by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and stated that it would no longer accept IACHR visits. [IACHR Press Release: Nicaragua; UN News: Nicaragua] UN experts have resoundingly condemned the governments for disregarding their international legal obligations under these agreements and the human rights at stake in the absence of this oversight. [UN News: CICIG; UN News: Nicaragua]
In November, several universal and regional human rights bodies and experts 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. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet to review States’ progress with regard to civil and political rights, women’s rights, enforced disappearances, torture, and racial discrimination. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Eleven UN special procedures will conduct country visits this month, and two UN working groups will hold sessions.
Regionally, the African Commission of Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Children (ACERWC), and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will be holding public sessions. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear arguments in three cases.
The UN treaty body sessions, the AfCHPR’s public hearings, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACHR may be watched via UN Web TV, the African Court’s YouTube channel, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ website or Vimeo page, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
The United Nations expert on poverty and human rights is calling attention to the privatization of traditionally public goods and services as an increasingly common, but largely overlooked human rights problem. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, UN Doc. A/73/396, 26 September 2018, paras. 2, 4, 56. In his new report, presented to the UN General Assembly on October 19, 2018, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, criticizes the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the UN for promoting privatization without adequately addressing potential human rights outcomes. See id. at paras. 14-15, 18-20. While the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that privatization is “premised on fundamentally different assumptions from those that underpin respect for human rights,” he urges international bodies and human rights advocates to more boldly challenge privatization and assert the economic and social rights at risk. See id. at paras. 38, 68-73, 82, 87. The Rapporteur’s report comes on the heels of the Special Rapporteur’s country visit to the United States, which received significant media attention after the Special Rapporteur criticized the Trump administration for “gutting” the nation’s safety net. [Washington Post]
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
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]
In the month of September, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to 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. Five United Nations treaty bodies will meet in September to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to the rights of persons with disabilities; the rights of migrant workers; children’s rights; and economic, social, and cultural rights. The UN Human Rights Council will be in session to review communications as well as thematic and country-specific reports. Seven UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on States’ international financial obligations, the rights of persons with albinism, the right to food, the independence of judges and lawyers, adequate housing, cultural rights, and LGBTI issues, respectively. Additionally, the UN working group focused on forced disappearances will be in session.
Regionally, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (AfCHPR), and the European Committee of Social Rights (ESCR) will all be in session. Finally, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights will hear one case related to the prohibition of collective expulsion of aliens and the right to an effective remedy.
The UN treaty body sessions, the public hearings of the European Court, and the public hearings of the IACtHR, may be watched via UN Web TV, the European Court’s website, and the Inter-American Commission’s website or Vimeo, respectively. To view human rights bodies’ past and future activities, visit the IJRC Hearings & Sessions Calendar.
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.
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]
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.