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States must act now to strengthen the UN’s human rights bodies
Thursday, 12 September 2013 19:28

 

Time is running out for States to take action to strengthen the UN treaty bodies. With the current General Assembly session coming to a close on September 16, NGOs have called on States to adopt a decision to conclude the process in December of this year.  This would allow the proposals debated in the context of the treaty body reform discussions that require budgetary action to be finalised in time for inclusion in the general budget for 2014-15. 

 

 

Joint NGO Open Letter to Member States of the UNGA re: Treaty Body Strengthening​, 12 September 2013

 

The end of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly is fast approaching. States have an important opportunity to conclude the intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening that was established in February 2012 through the adoption of resolution 66/254. The non-governmental organizations listed below call on all States to decide now to conclude the process in December 2013.

 

This is a key opportunity for States to take the necessary substantive and budgetary decisions to strengthen the system without further delay. States have debated some good proposals in the context of the intergovernmental process. Many of these will require budgetary action by the General Assembly and thus need to be finalised in time to be included in the general budget for 2014-15.

 

For years, the treaty bodies have faced many challenges in fulfilling their mandates, including through backlogs, insufficient meeting time, non-reporting and lack of implementation.  These challenges continue, with the High Commissioner for Human Rights describing the system as having reached its limits.

 

We therefore call on States to conclude the process by the end of the year so that those initiatives that enjoy broad support can be implemented to the benefit of the treaty bodies and rights holders everywhere.

 

 

Signatory organizations

  • Amnesty International
  • Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR)
  • Child Rights Connect
  • Human Rights Watch (HRW)
  • International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT)
  • International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
  • International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW-AP)
  • Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI)
  • Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (OMCT)
Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 19:45
 
Committee on Enforced Disappearances must protect NGOs from reprisals
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 10:18

 

(Geneva, 15 July,  2013) - The UN's expert Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED) should ensure that it's working methods protect NGOs and victims from intimidation and reprisals, said the International Service for Human Rights today. In a joint submission to the CED, together with Child Rights Connect, Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), FIACAT, International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), and Al-Karama, ISHR presented a series of suggesetions to the Committee.

 

In a draft document outlining its relationship with civil society, the Committee recognised that civil society has a key role to play in assisting it in discharging its mandate effectively. 'This is a welcome acknowledgement of the importance of the contribution of civil society to the work of the treaty bodies' said Heather Collister of the International Service for Human Rights.

Last Updated on Thursday, 22 August 2013 20:49
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United Nations experts on torture gravely concerned about reprisals against Russian NGOs
Thursday, 06 June 2013 17:30

 

(Geneva – 7 June, 2013) – The UN Committee Against Torture, a body of independent experts tasked with holding governments to account for their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture, has voiced grave concern about alleged reprisals against two Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that provided information to the Committee in November 2012.

 

The Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial in St Petersburg and the Public Verdict Foundation in Moscow have recently been charged by Russian prosecutors with violating controversial new legislation that requires NGOs involved in advocacy activities to register as ‘foreign agents’ if they receive foreign funding. The cases cited information submitted to the Committee Against Torture as the basis for the charges.

 

“Unfortunately these charges reflect a broader trend in Russia in which freedoms of assembly, association and expression are being increasingly restricted and human rights defenders targeted and harassed for their work”, said Madeleine Sinclair of the International Service for Human Rights.

 

According to a recent Human Rights Watch Report, human rights defenders and NGOs are facing a crackdown in Russia that is unprecedented since Soviet times.

 

“The charges in the present case are a clear violation of Russia’s obligation under the Convention Against Torture to ensure that witnesses are protected against all ill-treatment or intimidation as a consequence of a complaint or any evidence given”, said Ms Sinclair.  

 

ISHR applauds the Committee Against Torture for addressing these allegations and seeking assurances that the NGOs will not face any reprisals as a result of their legitimate activities and cooperation with the Committee.

 

ISHR continues to call for the UN to consistently and effectively address reprisals.

 

“Human rights defenders must be able to communicate their concerns to the UN without fearing for their safety,” said Ms Sinclair “Fear of reprisal can hinder participation, depriving the UN of the information and experience it relies on to carry out its work and rendering the human rights mechanisms of the UN essentially inaccessible.”

 

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Legal Counsel, International Service for Human Rights, on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or + 1 212 490 2199.

 

Full text of the letters from the Committee Against Torture: 17 May 2013 and 28 May 2013
ISHR statement on the global trend towards restricting access to funds for human rights advocacy.
ISHR Manual on preventing and redressing reprisals against human rights defenders.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 07 June 2013 09:28
 
General Assembly extends intergovernmental process on treaty body strengthening
Friday, 21 September 2012 20:55

 

In the final hours of the 66th session of the General Assembly on 17 September 2012, Member States adopted a consensus resolution extending the intergovernmental process of the General Assembly on strengthening and enhancing the effective functioning of the human rights treaty body system (66/295).

 

The intergovernmental process began with General Assembly resolution 66/254 on 23 February 2012. That Russian-led resolution and the intergovernmental process it created were marred with controversy and 66 States abstained from the vote. Click here for an earlier ISHR news story on the adoption of that resolution.

 

Part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that the intergovernmental process began as the OHCHR-initiated ‘Dublin process’ on treaty body strengthening was still ongoing. The Dublin process involved a series of multi-stakeholder consultations since late 2009 and was to culminate in a report by the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in early 2012. The report, which was to provide a basis for decisions by all stakeholders on which proposals to implement and how, was delayed to allow for further consultations with States.[1] In the meantime, the intergovernmental process was launched, leaving its relationship with the Dublin process and the High Commissioner’s report unclear. Ultimately the High Commissioner’s report was released at the end of June, following which the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process (Iceland and Indonesia) held consultations with States on 2 July and again from 16-18 July 2012.

 

 

The July 2012 consultations

 

While States continued to argue about the relevance of the High Commissioner’s report,[2] the co-facilitators of the intergovernmental process essentially used it as the basis for drawing up a list of issues for discussion during the State consultations. The discussions amongst States covered four broad areas: the proposal for a comprehensive reporting calendar;[3] methods of work; the reporting process; and capacity to implement.

 

Several states supported the idea of a comprehensive reporting calendar in principle but voiced concerns that the proposed cycle of reporting would be unsustainable and very costly. A number of states also supported the High Commissioner’s suggestions to increase the visibility and accessibility of the treaty bodies through webcasting and videoconferencing.[4] Several NGOs, including ISHR, voiced their concerns with the suggestion in the High Commissioner’s report that formal sessions between treaty bodies and NGOs be public, as this would heighten the risk of reprisals against those cooperating with the treaty bodies. In that regard, many NGOs and States[5] welcomed the focus on reprisals in the High Commissioner’s report, in particular the suggestion to establish treaty body focal points on reprisals as a first step.

 

Several hard-lined States also put forward negative proposals. A group of States calling themselves “the cross-regional group” or “CRG”[6] presented a unified front in the consultations. Among other things, the CRG called for a code of conduct and accountability mechanism for treaty body experts, equitable geographical representation in the treaty bodies, and increased transparency of interaction between the treaty bodies and non-state stakeholders. Though States supportive of the independence and strengthening of the system were vocal in their opposition to such measures as a code of conduct, they were in general less coordinated in their response.

 

 

NGO participation

 

Another troubling aspect of the intergovernmental process from the start was the inadequate provision for the participation of key non-state stakeholders, in stark contrast to the broad consultations facilitated by OHCHR in the context of the Dublin process. Resolution 66/254 requested the President of the General Assembly (PGA) to work out “separate informal arrangements, after consultation with Member States” that would allow treaty bodies, NHRIs and “relevant” non-governmental organizations to provide input and expertise, “bearing in mind the intergovernmental nature of the process”. Several states who abstained from resolution 66/254 continued throughout the consultations to call for greater participation of other stakeholders.[7]

 

In the end, two NGO representatives were invited by the co-facilitators to participate in panels during the State consultations in mid-July[8] and NGOs were able to observe the discussions amongst States and take the floor during side events. Separate NGO consultations were also held on 4 September 2012. NGOs without ECOSOC accreditation[9] were subjected to a procedure whereby States could object anonymously to their participation without providing a reason or any recourse to the concerned NGO.[10] This was particularly controversial as language limiting participation to ECOSOC accredited NGOs was negotiated out of resolution 66/254 and NGO engagement with the treaty bodies has never been limited in such a way.[11] Alkarama, an NGO that regularly contributes to the work of the treaty bodies, was prohibited from participating because of an objection from Algeria. During the NGO consultations, USA, Canada, Switzerland, Israel and the EU challenged the ‘non-objection’ procedure, stating that there was no agreement on its use, while China, Russia and Algeria argued that the rule is well established for non-accredited NGOs in General Assembly proceedings.

 

Statements at the adoption of the resolution extending the intergovernmental process indicated that States were still divided on NGO participation. Russia on behalf of the CRG called for strict compliance with resolution 66/254 and the intergovernmental nature of the process while the USA stated that NGOs must continue to be included in all aspects of the discussion.

 

 

The way forward

 

The co-facilitators concluded their work in the 66th session with a non-substantive progress report to the PGA that describes the State and NGO consultations. In that report, the co-facilitators’ recommend that a comprehensive cost review of the treaty system be provided by the end of 2012.

 

Regarding the timeline, States were divided in the negotiations about whether the resolution should prescribe a fixed end to the process within the 67th session[12] or should not be constrained.[13] Reflecting the different State positions, the resolution rather vaguely “decides to extend the intergovernmental process … with a view to identifying” concrete and sustainable measures in the next session.

 

As the General Assembly is now gearing up for its intense Committee work during the autumn, the intergovernmental process has been put on hold until early 2013. In the meantime, the Third Committee of the General Assembly will be confronted by requests from several treaty bodies for temporary additional funding to deal with their backlogs. Language to the effect that the continuation of the intergovernmental process would not prejudice such temporary measures was negotiated out of the resolution, leaving the prospects for those requests uncertain.

 

 

 



[1] OHCHR held consultations with States in New York on 2 and 3 April in an effort to satisfy those that that felt States had not been sufficiently consulted in the Dublin process.

[2] In particular, hard-lined States responsible for creating the intergovernmental process argued that the High Commissioner’s report should be just one aspect of the basis for discussions.

[3] This proposal would organize the current reporting deadlines into a single comprehensive reporting calendar, based on a periodic five-year cycle. Within this five-year period, there would be a maximum of two reports per annum due for a State that is a party to all the treaties.

[4] Canada, Costa Rica, Ireland, El Salvador, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Thailand, Switzerland, USA, Liechtenstein, Colombia, the African group and CARICOM. States in the CRG were supportive of webcasting and videoconferencing only with the consent of the State Party concerned and suggested that all meetings, including those with non-state stakeholders be webcasted.

[5] Including the EU, Australia, Israel, USA, Thailand, and the African group.

[6] Belarus, Russia, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Iran, Nicaragua, Cuba, Pakistan, Syria, and Venezuela.

[7] Including Switzerland, USA, Mexico, Liechtenstein, Costa Rica, and El Salvador, Canada, the EU, New Zealand, Australia.

[8] ISHR participated in a side event on “The role of the UN system and civil society in supporting Member States and their capacity to implement” and Amnesty International participated in a panel discussion on the “Capacity to Implement”.

[9] ECOSOC status provides NGOs with access to a range of fora at the UN and is granted by ECOSOC on the recommendation of the Committee on NGOs. The Committee has come under criticism in recent years as the Committee is known for excessive politicization and the balance of the Committee’s membership tends towards States that do not support a vibrant civil society at the UN. Click here for an earlier ISHR article about the ECOSOC NGO Committee.

[10] This procedure, whereby decisions to allow NGOs to participate are taken on a ‘non-objection’ basis has become prevalent in a range of meetings at UN headquarters in recent years.

[11] This also resulted in the co-facilitators having to reschedule the meeting from its original date on 31 July because the three working days’ notice they provided was insufficient for Member States to ‘vet’ the non-ECOSOC accredited NGOs wanting to participate.

[12] Including Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Canada, EU, New Zealand, USA, Australia, South Africa.

[13] Including China, the African group, Russia on behalf of the CRG, the Philippines.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 September 2012 09:17
 
Important civil society forum on treaty body reform: deadline for participation 20 August
Friday, 17 August 2012 09:43

 

A civil society forum on strengthening and enhancing the functioning of the human rights treaty body system will take place on Tuesday 4 September. The deadline for confirming participation in this event is Monday 20 August.

 

Follow this link to read an invitation from the Permanent Representatives of Indonesia and Iceland, the co-facilitators of the human rights treaty body strengthening process, to the civil society forum.

 

The forum will take place on Tuesday 4 September, simultaneously in Geneva and New York:

  • New York - 10am to 1pm, Room 4, North Lawn Building, UN Secretariat
  • Geneva (by video conference) - 4pm to 7pm, Room XXIV, Palais des Nations

All times are local. The meeting will be conducted in English.

 

According to the draft agenda, the plenary discussion will cover a range of topics including the proposed 'master calendar', methods of work, reporting process, and capacity to implement. More detail regarding the agenda items, including a 'non-paper' on the themes for discussion, can be found here.

 

In order to participate, your organisation must complete and return the last page of the document mentioned above to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . The deadline for confirming participation is 20 August.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 17 August 2012 09:46
 
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