Category Archives: human rights defenders

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Also on August 31, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega rescinded an invitation to a fact-finding team from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), just after OHCHR published a report on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

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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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

UN Experts, Civil Society Welcome FIFA’s New Complaint Mechanism

Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

On May 29, 2018, the international governing body for soccer, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), launched a complaint mechanism for human rights defenders and journalists ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, garnering praise from United Nations experts and civil society members. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism; OHCHR Press Release; CPJ Press Release; HRW: Daily Brief] The new complaint mechanism will accept complaints from human rights defenders and media representatives who allege that their rights have been infringed while engaging in work related to FIFA’s activities, which span around the globe. [FIFA Press Release: Mechanism] FIFA intends to address complaints through engagement with third parties, including State officials, using FIFA’s influence to prevent, mitigate, or remedy rights violations when they occur. See FIFA, Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives (2018). The creation of this mechanism followed calls from civil society for FIFA to establish a process to address complaints from media and human rights defenders. [HRW: Press Freedom] The United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises called the mechanism “a very positive move.” [OHCHR Press Release] Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (Ruggie Principles), businesses such as FIFA have the responsibility to respect human rights, avoid complicity in human rights violations, and ensure that victims of human rights violations as the result of their business activities are adequately remedied. See Human Rights Council, Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/17/31, 21 March 2011, at 13, princ. 11. Read more

May 2018: UN Treaty Bodies, UPR, and Regional Human Rights Bodies in Session

Human Rights Council 
Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

In the month of May, several universal and regional bodies will be in session to assess States’ compliance with their human rights obligations through interactive dialogues, the consideration of State and civil society reports, country visits, and the review of individual complaints. Four United Nations treaty bodies will meet throughout May to engage with States regarding their treaty obligations related to torture, racial discrimination, forced disappearances, and children’s rights. The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group will also be in session and will conduct interactive dialogues with representatives from 14 States. Ten UN special procedures will conduct country visits focusing on human rights defenders, contemporary forms of racism, indigenous peoples, sale and sexual exploitation of children, effects of foreign debt, countering terrorism, housing, migrants, health, and torture. Three working groups will hold sessions on enforced disappearances, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, and private military and security companies.

Regionally, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCHPR), and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACERWC) will be in session. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) will also be in session, and will hold public hearings during those sessions. Finally, the European Committee of Social Rights will be in session, and the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) will hear one case related to State obligations during an armed conflict.

The UN treaty body sessions and the public hearings of the European Court, the IACHR, and 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.

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International Community Questions Fairness of Election As Hungary Re-elects Orbán

Hungarian Parliament
Credit: Andrew Shiva via Wikimedia Commons

International election observers, civil society, and protesters have raised concerns over the fairness of Hungary’s April 8 parliamentary elections in which the incumbent prime minister, Viktor Orbán, and his Fidesz party secured a strong majority, winning 133 of 199 parliamentary seats; media bias and intimidation of independent journalists as well as xenophobic and intimidating rhetoric, civil society and election observers have noted, steered the election outcomes in favor of Fidesz. [Guardian: OSCE; HRW; Reuters: Protest] The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body that monitors the elections of Member States, found that the incumbent Fidesz party exploited its current position in power to “[undermine] contestants’ ability to compete on an equal basis” through the use of intimidating rhetoric, media bias, and the government’s use of public money to support the campaign of the incumbent party to influence the voting public. See OSCE, Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions (2018), 1. Echoing the OSCE, civil society organizations raised concerns over Fidesz’s practice of smearing journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that oppose the party’s views, and over the government’s support, announced a day after the election, of a law that would limit the activities of civil society working with migrants and refugees. [HRW; HHC Press Release] Protesters gathered in Budapest over the weekend referring to the election as unfair and calling for a free media. [Reuters: Protest] Before the election, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights raised concerns over the “racist and xenophobic” rhetoric of Orbán and the undermining of the independence of the press and the judiciary. [OHCHR Press Release] Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Hungary is obligated to ensure the rights to non-discrimination, to freedom of expression, to freedom of association, and to vote. Read more

IACHR Holds Colombia Responsible for Unsolved Killing of Human Rights Defender

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights holds a hearing on Colombia
Credit: CIDH

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) recently published its merits report in a case concerning the 1988 extrajudicial killing of Colombian human rights defender Valentín Basto Calderón, which has gone unsolved. See IACHR, Merits Report No. 45/17, Case 10.455, Valentín Basto Calderón et al. (Colombia), 25 May 2017. Bystanders Pedro Vicente Camargo, who was also killed, and his daughter Carmenza, who was injured, were also included as victims in the petition to the IACHR. At a time of armed conflict when State agents and paramilitaries frequently assassinated human rights defenders and community leaders, State agents had threatened Basto Calderón and harassed his family members. The State then failed to conduct a thorough and timely investigation of the events. See id. at para. 1. The International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) submitted an amicus curiae brief to the IACHR to provide supplementary analysis on this case, with a focus on Colombia’s obligations specific to human rights defenders. The Colombian Commission of Jurists represented the petitioners before the IACHR. In holding Colombia responsible for violations to the rights to life and humane treatment, among others, the IACHR took special note of the State’s specific obligations to protect and respect the rights of human rights defenders. Read more

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