16 Jul

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.

14 Jul
China has a presence on nearly every ECOSOC committee

A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.

15 Jul

Should businesses advocate for human rights defenders? What is the relationship between companies’ economic activities and civil society? The United Nations, through the Working Group on Business and Human Rights, has shed further light on the role of businesses by recently releasing a guidance for companies on ensuring respect for human rights defenders.

12 Jul

No matter where we are born, or what papers we hold, fundamental human rights don’t disappear at the border. The Special Rapporteur on migrant rights calls pushbacks a deadly violation of international law and urges States to end the practice immediately, and instead protect migrants.

21 Jun

Whether as community activists, NGO workers, or diplomats, most of us who support human rights are involved in putting stories out into the world. Discover our new guide to crafting effective human rights narratives at the UN!

Business & Human Rights | The UN asks private companies to protect the shared civic space


Human rights defenders are not only key for protecting the rule of law but also sustainable development and critical elements that enable stable, profitable and predictable business environments in which companies thrive and economies and people prosper. States, as traditional holders of human rights obligations under international law have also a central role to play in enabling, protecting and promoting the work of human rights defenders.

On 6 July 2021, the International Service for Human Rights co-hosted a discussion with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, the B-Team and the International Commission of Jurists on the role of business in protecting the shared civic space. See the recording of the event below:

There is much more that can be done by States, said Anita Ramasastry, member of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights. According to newly released UN Guidance, “States need to encourage and require businesses to respect the rights of human rights defenders” she added. This is not just about States themselves standing up for defenders but “making sure that the conduct of companies is also respectful.”

“Business can contribute to the protection of human rights defenders by raising matters affecting them with the authorities, speaking-out and taking up public commitments”, stated Rémy Friedmann, the Senior Advisor on business and human rights at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs. According to Friedmann, “the notion of a shared civil space is the answer to businesses and civil society collaborating in achieving their common goals.”

The UN Guidance requires businesses “not only having a policy in place for defenders but embedding human rights due diligence and the very specific risks and harms to defenders, taking steps to address them.  This requires thinking about the rights of human rights defenders and showing support both privately and publicly for them”, Anita Ramasastry emphasised. “The reality is that in States where the rule of law is weak and the regulatory framework fragile, businesses tend to cherry pick how they do their human rights due diligence” observed Debbie Stothard, the Founder and Coordinator of Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma. She added that human rights defenders and civil society at large are experiencing increased spikes of strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) from businesses. She emphasised that this makes it difficult to build any trust-based relationship between private sector and civil society.

In this regard, Slothard also highlighted the need for strong regulation for the private sector: “We need a legally binding instrument requiring businesses to conduct human rights due diligence. We don’t have mandatory human rights due diligence or access to an effective remedy. National and regional laws establishing binding obligations could also fulfil this role.”

Regarding the future of the relationship between businesses and human rights defenders, Crispin Conroy, the Permanent Observer of the International Chamber of Commerce to the United Nations stated that there is an increasing need for building bridges with civil society. There is value in companies viewing defenders as allies in conducting human rights due diligence. Strategically and in the long term, we need to increase communication between companies and human rights defenders. They are on the same side.

The newly released UN Guidance builds on the work carried out by the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, who published a guide for companies regarding the “shared civic space” in which both defenders and businesses operate. Bennett Freeman, co-author of the document, recalled that Adidas was the first company to adopt a stand-alone and explicit company policy on human rights defenders in 2016. Since then, some leading companies have published explicit statements of support and internal policies on the respect and support to human rights defenders. Carlos Lopez, from the International Commission of Jurists stressed that businesses should also stop criminalising civil society and stigmatising human rights defenders.

Andrés Zaragoza, from ISHR, highlighted that a cultural shift is underway. In the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, social expectations from companies goes far beyond altruistic corporate social responsibility. Businesses can no longer hide behind complex international supply chains or a network of subsidiaries. They have a responsibility to understand the complexities of the countries where they invest, to examine the suppliers they buy from, and to take into consideration the potential for impact associated with operating in countries where governance is weak and the rule of law is fragile.

In this “next decade”, companies should engage, respect and promote the work of human rights defenders by establishing relationships with civil society proactively and constructively. They should internalise the recommendations made by the UN and stand up for human rights in the societies they operate in.

Andrés Zaragoza,, Programme Manager - Business and Human Rights
Mainga Simoonga,, Fellow.

 Illustration: Adaptation from the cover of the September 2018 report "Shared Space under Pressure"

HRC47 | ISHR welcomes new UN Guidance on Business and Human Rights Defenders and calls for its implementation


This new guidance is a landmark for the protection of human rights defenders, building on a premise that ISHR has promoted for years: business and human rights defenders operate in and benefit from a “shared civic space” defined by common, fundamental elements. Respect for the rule of law and freedom of expression, association, assembly and public participation are essential to the realisation of all human rights, to good governance and accountable institutions. But they are also critical elements to stable, profitable and sustainable business environments in which companies thrive and economies and people prosper.

Andrés Zaragoza, Programme Manager at ISHR added: “The standard of good and responsible business conduct in relation to human rights defenders is now clear. Global companies should take note and implement the recommendations of the United Nations if they want to continue claiming that they contribute to sustainable development”.

There is both a legal duty and a growing global expectation for businesses and investors to act responsibly and to respect human rights. This trend is reflected in the enactment of special due diligence legal provisions in many jurisdictions and by the growing consensus around what sustainable and responsible business means.

June marks the tenth anniversary of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which we should celebrate while recognising that most of the work is still to be done.

This statement can be found here.

Photo: Andrés Zaragoza. Indigenous community in Valle Sagrado, Perú

LGBTI rights | Factsheets on UN Special Procedures

Rainbow flag photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron


For a Chinese version of the factsheets updated in November 2018, please click here.

ISHR and ILGA World have looked through the work of 39 UN Special Procedures over the last eight years to compile factsheets listing the references and recommendations made by these experts regarding LGBTI persons, sexual orientation, sex characteristics, gender identity and expression.

Focusing on the Special Procedures that have made the most regular and in-depth references to issues affecting LGBTI persons, the factsheets examine all thematic reports, reports arising from country visits, and communications sent to different States between January 2011 and November 2019. Find out more about the trends over the past year here.

During this period, 37 Special Procedures have made SOGIESC references in over 400 country visits, thematic reports and communications. In both 2018 and 2019, almost every second report contained some reference to SOGIESC. However, the level of detail and analysis, as well as which mandates do or do not engage with SOGIESC issues regularly, show that there are still oppportunities for LGBTI defenders to strengthen this work.

In addition, since 2016, the Independent Expert on SOGI has played a vital role in adding to the amount and analytical depth of the SOGIESC references. So far, according to the information published on the OHCHR website, the mandate holders have conducted 4 country visits, sent 46 communications and prepared 6 thematic reports exclusively centred on SOGIESC.

Explore our infographics and fact sheets below, and later this year we will also present a more detailed analysis of SOGIESC references, as well as suggestions for future improvements and LGBTI defenders’ engagement with this part of the UN system.

Read this article to find out more about the efforts of Special Procedures to push for better protection of the human rights of LGBTI persons over the last year.

The experts on leprosy and environment have not yet included any references to LGBTI persons or issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics.

Photo credit: Common Wikimedia Ludovic Bertron

LGBTI | Ten years since the first SOGI resolution, LGBTI history continues to be made at the United Nations


Artículo disponible en español aquí.

So much can change in just ten years.

Certainly, in the past ten years we have witnessed seismic advances in the recognition of rights of LGBTI persons at the United Nations Human Rights Council.

In June 2011, exactly ten years ago, South Africa led a coalition of States requesting the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to document “discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI)".

This was the first time a UN human rights body passed a resolution on the rights of our communities. The call was supported by countries from all regions of the world, which meant that a majority of the Council demanded an investigation into the way  international human rights law can be used to end violence  and abuses against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The resolution resulted in a report published in December 2011, in which the UN, for the first time, documented human rights violations against people of diverse sexual orientation and gender identities. The world had to listen.

At the time LGBTI human rights defenders commented that by “publishing this report the United Nations has unequivocally affirmed that the protections guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights apply to each and every one of us.”

It took a long time to get there. It started in 1984 when more than 1000 LGBT persons marched towards the UN headquarters in New York demanding an end to violence and to discriminatory immigration laws, as well as the declassification of homosexuality as a disease.

Six years later, on 17 May 1990, the World Health Organisation – a UN agency – finally said it loud and clear: homosexuality is not a mental illness. We continue to celebrate the International Day against LGBTI-phobia on that day! However, it fell short in making the same move when it comes to trans identities - such declassification would only be achieved in 2018 and officially adopted one year later.

Since that moment, our communities have continued to express themselves and have their voices  heard within the UN. LGBTI organisations have been providing information and data, engaging with and taking the floor with UN human rights bodies. In 1994, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that sodomy laws violate international laws. One year later, lesbian women were an important presence at the Beijing World Conference on Women. In 2008, 66 member States openly declared their concerns about violations of rights based on SOGI. And in 2011, Colombia led 85 States in a statement urging the Human Rights Council to address these important human rights issues.

The first adopted SOGI resolution, however, marked a significant turning point. Since that moment, the UN has continued to issue reports documenting human rights violations against our communities, and over the years, activists have continued to speak proudly and openly in UN meetings, pushing for change on the ground.

In 2014 a second resolution followed, this time led by a core group of Latin American States. And in 2016, another milestone was reached: the UN created a specific mandate to address violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Council then voted to renew this crucial human rights expert’s position in 2019, with a record number of supporting votes and co-sponsorship by 52 States from all regions of the world. The renewal of the SOGI mandate was supported by 1,312 civil society organisations from 174 States and territories, showing how crucial the SOGI mandate has been in the work of our communities around the world.

In 2020, in another historic first, 36 States from all regions of the world came together during the 45th session of the Human Rights Council to call on all States “as a matter of urgency, to protect the autonomy of intersex adults and children and their rights to health, and to physical and mental integrity so that they live free from violence and harmful practices”, as stated by  the Permanent Mission of Austria on behalf of the 36 States. The cross-regional joint statement is a landmark in the work of the Council on raising awareness about the human rights of persons of diverse sex characteristcs.

Today, during the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, States came together and announced the formation of a  Group of Friends of the mandate of the UN Independent Expert on SOGI: an important commitment to continue focus on specific human rights situations facing our communities, and to defend their rights from mounting attacks and hostility.

“The Group  is “an informal partnership of countries composed of 27 States* working together proactively in the context of the Human Rights Council in support of the work of the mandate of the Independent Expert on SOGI”, as stated by  the Permanent Mission of Argentina during the Interactive Dialogue with the mandate holder today on behalf also of Chile and Uruguay. 

The Group aims to support the work of the Independent Expert on SOGI (IE SOGI), make collective statements, organise and co-sponsor events to raise awareness about violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, make collective diplomatic efforts  for the renewal of the mandate, and cooperate and support the work of civil society partners.

In the report presented today, the IE SOGI provides an analysis of the current state of international human rights law in relation to the recognition of gender, and gender identity and expression, in connection with the struggle against violence and discrimination in its different forms.The report also concludes that gender-based approaches and legal recognition of gender identity and expression provide the human-rights based framework to fulfil those duties in international law.

Reacting to the report, the Permanent Mission of Uruguay, on behalf of the Group of Friends welcomed its presentation and said that it “contributes to a better understanding of the existing connection between the equal enjoyment of human rights by womens, girls, LGBT, and gender diverse and intersex persons, considering that violence and discrimination against persons belonging to these groups have common root causes” and also stated that “we highlight the importance of advancing legal gender recognition based on self-identification.”

As we look forward, we will continue to work together toward enhanced respect, dignity, equality and a world free from violence and discrimination for our communities, for everyone!

*  Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Denmark, Greece, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Israel, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Norway, Netherlands, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States, Sweden, Switzerland.



Photo: Unsplash/Margaux Bellott 

NGO Committee | States must facilitate not impede access for NGOs


Faced with an all-time high number of new applications the Committee Chair encouraged brisk consideration of applications - 1 minute per application - which enabled the Committee to consider 860 in all. Whilst 430 organisations were recommended for consultative status - a record number for the subsidiary body according to UN reports - the applications of NGOs that have been questioned repeatedly were once again deferred in the vast majority of cases.  

The participation of civil society in the session was limited to NGO applicants engaging in the Q&A exchange with Committee members. These NGOs could only participate in person, denying NGOs that were unable to be present in person in New York (due to barriers caused by resource limitations and COVID-19) the opportunity to expedite their accreditation through the Q&A. No other NGO observers were allowed in the room.

That NGO applicants can only participate in Q&As in person has long been a controversial issue. Covid-19 made the inequitable nature of this practice all the more evident and was called out by several states in their statements. Mexico emphasised the importance of equitable access for NGOs and the opportunity for this objective to be furthered through digital tools and virtual platforms. Welcoming digital tools and virtual platforms, the United States expressed the importance of NGOs having a voice and the need to address massive backlogs. The need for transparency in the functioning of the NGO Committee was emphasised by both the US and Greece. In his closing remarks, Committee Chair Mohamed Sallam from Sudan stated that building upon this session, the Committee could consider expanding civil society participation in the future, including through virtual means.

The EU in its statement expressed concern about long-deferred cases, citing five examples for particular attention.  One of those highlighted was the cases of the International Dalit Solidary Network IDSN that has been considered by the Committee for 14 years. In regard to the EU tactic, ISHR's Maithili Pai noted, ‘The naming of individual cases is a welcome first step. However, given the unjustifiably prolonged periods for which certain NGOs are being deferred, States must take a strong position and be prepared to call a vote.’

With no votes called on the recommendation of accreditation for an NGO, fewer sparks flew between Committee members than in previous sessions. However, both Pakistan and Sudan disputed the legitimacy of a number of NGOs, some of which have already received ECOSOC accreditation, something challenged by others in the room. This kind of questioning of the legitimacy of accredited NGOs is not uncommon in the Committee. Where on previous occasions NGOs have been denied the right to respond to accusations made against them, it was encouraging that Committee members confirmed that NGOs be allowed a right to reply.  

Looking ahead: 

The next NGO Committee session will run from 30 August to 10 September this year.  

'This will be the moment for the Committee to address the discriminatory impact of the current Q&A system', noted Pai.

The next elections to the NGO Committee will take place in April 2022. Members of ECOSOC, the parent body of the NGO Committee, will have the opportunity to vote for a whole new membership. 'We urge the Committee and member states to fulfil their responsibility to enable civil society access and participation to the UN, and to promote reforms towards a fairer, and more expeditious accreditation process', said Pai.  


Contact: Eleanor Openshaw: and Maithili

Photo: ISHR.


Treaty Bodies | NGOs concerned with countries rejecting online reviews


The disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic on the scrutiny of UN Treaty Bodies is creating a problematic and growing protection gap worldwide. In a welcome effort to overcome these challenges, UN Treaty Bodies started holding special online sessions to review State parties. However, consent is being sought from the State parties to be reviewed online, which has resulted in a number of States easily escaping scrutiny.

A joint NGO submission to the 33rd meeting of UN Treaty Bodies chairpersons suggests that instead of seeking the content from States parties, the UN Treaty Bodies ought to inform them about online reviews. The letter recommends the Committees to draw inspiration from the practice of regional human rights bodies, who merely inform States about reviews, rather than seeking their approval. 

"Out of 14 online reviews undertaken or planned online by the Committees since the start of the pandemic, 7 of them have been of Western States" says ISHR's Vincent Ploton. "It is hugely detrimental to the whole system that countries that most direly need to be scrutinised can so easily escape by refusing the modalities of online reviews. We hope that going forward a fair regional balance of States parties will be reviewed by the Committees," he concludes.

Illustration: ISHR

HRC46 | Principled action needed as China steps up efforts to rein in accountability



Kicking off the 46th session of the UN’s Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet underscored in her global update that in China ‘fundamental rights and civic freedoms continue to be curtailed in the name of national security and COVID-19 response’. This includes ‘arbitrary detention and unfair trials’ of human rights defenders and lawyers, as well as the investigation of ‘more than 600 people’ under Hong Kong’s National Security Law.

Setting the scene

The situation in Hong Kong, Uyghur and Tibetan regions was also on the Council’s opening agenda, raised by foreign ministers of 13 countries, including Germany, Japan, Denmark, Canada and the United States, as well as the European Union’s foreign policy head. Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu reiterated concerns at UN and civil society findings on Uyghurs, and ‘expect[s] transparency’ as it ‘continue[s] to follow developments around a visit by the High Commissioner’. Sustained international concern reflects growing evidence of atrocities committed against Uyghurs and Turkic Muslims, including serious allegations of systematic rape and sexual abuse; pervasive interference in religious life; and forced separation of children from their families, as noted by UN religious freedom expert in his report on anti-Muslim hatred presented to the Council.

Over two and a half years after publicly requesting prompt and unhindered access to Xinjiang, Bachelet still reiterates the ‘need for independent and comprehensive assessment of the human rights situation’, while remaining ‘confident’  that her dialogue with the Chinese government will result in ‘mutually agreeable parameters for [her] visit’. In response, the Chinese government regretted she had ‘launched wanton accusations against China based on unfounded information’.

‘Looking at China’s hard-line statements, one cannot but wonder what the High Commissioner considers constructive dialogue,’ said Sarah Brooks, Programme Director at the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

‘Two and a half years since her first request, we still have no transparency over any meaningful steps taken by China or by the High Commissioner to advance a visit with unhindered access’, said Brooks. ‘She should urgently start remote monitoring and reporting, following her predecessor’s steps on Kashmir and Venezuela; otherwise, the Chinese authorities may simply run out the clock’.

Describing rights violations carried out on an ‘industrial scale’ as ‘beyond the pale’ in a strongly-worded statement, UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab pointed to States’ ‘collective duty to ensure this does not go unanswered’. From the position of a re-elected Council member, Raab urged the Council to ‘live up to its responsibilities’ by adopting a resolution to secure such ‘urgent and unfettered access’ to UN human rights experts.

Politics vs. principle

In the weeks of Council debate that followed, twenty (20) States shared concerns over China’s human rights situation in exchanges with the High Commissioner, and UN experts on human rights defenders and on torture.  Austria called attention to ‘severe human rights violations disproportionately targeting Uyghurs’, including in ‘political re-education camps’, while Czechia urged the immediate release of human rights defenders Yu Wensheng, Ilham Tohti, Tashpolat Tiyip and Li Yuhan, as well as Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam. While adopting a more careful approach, even a few Global South countries have also taken note; Ghana briefly raised concerns and ‘urge[d] the Chinese government at all times to continue to protect and uphold the human rights of all its citizens’.

Against this, China has pooled increasing diplomatic support among a loose group of countries (list below) to back two joint statements delivered by Belarus and Cuba, expressing support for actions on Hong Kong and Xinjiang respectively. Worryingly, a number of countries, such as Tunisia, Ecuador or Colombia, who have nurtured a profile of being progressive players in multilateral fora, have reportedly been pressured into supporting these statements, or echoing this ‘national sovereignty’ narrative in their bilateral addresses to the Council.

‘Transactional diplomacy, including on vaccines, flourishes in an environment where foreign policies lack principle’, stressed Raphael Viana David, ISHR’s Asia Programme Officer: ‘by not addressing the situation on its merits, those countries deliberately chose to turn a blind eye to mounting allegations of sexual violence, persecution, and mass detention’.

‘States caught up in this diplomatic deal-making are deaf to the very voices that should be steering any discussion of human rights violations, wherever they occur: that of victims and human rights defenders’, he adds.

In a dialogue with the High Commissioner, Chinese human rights lawyer Teng Biao urged her to stand in solidarity with independent civil society, and voices in Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Tibet and elsewhere. Click here to read the full statement, or watch the video below:

Avoiding scrutiny at any cost

Concerns expressed by the ‘Special Procedures’ mandate holders appointed by the Council  were met during the session with an equal level of intransigence, taking the shape of attacks on individual experts, and threatening assertions on the Special Procedures system itself. A statement by the Chinese delegation accusing the UN religious freedom expert of ‘serv[ing] as a political tool for anti-China forces’ prompted the Council’s Vice-President to interrupt the official for ‘derogatory and inflammatory remarks (…), not acceptable under the rules’. The mere mention of whistleblower doctor Li Wenliang by the UN’s cultural rights expert, to illustrate the impact of Covid-19 measures on scientific freedom in her report, was met with a condemnation of her ‘ignorance’ for ‘speaking ill of China’, as the delegation urged her to ‘look within herself and address her mistakes and misunderstandings’.

Despite the effort to strong-arm diplomatic support, such attacks on the Council’s mechanisms and its mandate may still alienate many rights-respecting States. The core group of countries that systematically support China and repeatedly reference the UN Charter to urge avoiding ‘interfering in internal affairs’ and undermining State sovereignty remains somewhat limited – and mostly without credibility, as they often find themselves under deserved scrutiny for human rights violations. And the opportunities for garnering positive pushback continue to grow: a group of 53 countries, from Chile and Costa Rica to Georgia and South Korea, reminded the Council in a US-led statement that the UN Charter ‘also affirms that human rights are universal’, and that States have a duty to ‘ensure that human rights violations and abuses are addressing, including holding those responsible to account’. They called on all States to devote energies to protect rights everywhere ‘rather than shielding governments from criticism’.


For more information, please contact Sarah M Brooks (at or on Twitter at @sarahmcneer); or Raphael Viana David (at r.vianadavid@ishr.chT or on Twitter at @vdraphael).


States signatories (69) to joint statement on Hong Kong delivered by Belarus during the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders: Afghanistan, Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros, Republic of Congo, China, Cuba, DPRK, Djibouti, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kiribati, Kuwait, Laos, Lesotho, Lebanon, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal , Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tonga, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, UAE, Tanzania, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

States signatories (64) to joint statement on Xinjiang delivered by Cuba during the General Debate on Item 4 (64): Algeria, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, China, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cuba, DPRK, Djibouti, Dominica, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Kiribati, Laos, Lesotho, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, UAE, Tanzania, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe.


Image credits: Izabela Markova - cropped artwork (CC-BY-NC-SA)

HRC46 | Repeated calls to protect civic space and the independence of institutions in Venezuela


Following the recent renewal of the mandate of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela and with the ongoing work of OHCHR in the country, the Human Rights Council received three oral updates. The High Commissioner reported on cooperation between OHCHR and Venezuela and on the human rights situation in the country, and the Chair of the fact-finding mission spoke of  accountability efforts for past violations.

‘Oral updates provide members with the opportunity to track cooperation by Venezuela and the implementation of UN recommendations to the country,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw.

The High Commissioner’s first update focused on what she considered to be advances made and indications of areas for future cooperation between OHCHR and Venezuela.

This was notable given Venezuela’s President Maduro’s statement made at the start of the Council session, in which he contrasted the cooperation and technical assistance provided by OHCHR with what he termed the ‘inquisitor’ mechanism – the fact-finding mission – which, he claimed, was established by states seeking to achieve regime change in the country.  He seemed to suggest that the drive for accountability put engagement with OHCHR at risk, noting, ‘we will not reduce our cooperation with OHCHR as a result of the ideological push by these states’.

‘The High Commissioner’s approach has commonly been to emphasize dialogue and cooperation over an enumeration of ongoing violations or weaknesses in cooperation, which can be controversial’ noted Openshaw.

‘Of course, accountability should never be sacrificed to secure (limited) cooperation’, she added.

Bachelet was clearer about the need for accountability in her update on the human rights situation in the country, something that chimed with parts of the update from the Chair of the fact-finding mission.  The Chair spoke of ongoing impunity for violations and targeting of protestors. She confirmed that there was no sign of improvement since the presentation of the mission’s report findings in October last year.

Furthermore, she noted that, despite delays in recruiting staff due to the liquidity crisis facing the UN the mission’s work has continued.  It has put out a new call for information and documentation relevant to its mandate.    

Concerns about harassment and criminalization of civil society were voiced by OHCHR and the Mission, as well as several states.

Ecuador spoke of the ‘Law on Hatred’  being used to ‘silence dissent via an non-independent judicial process’ and emphasized the need restore democracy in Venezuela.  The UK asked what the international community should do to protect Venezuelan civil society.

ISHR was pleased to join Cepaz in delivering a statement on the threats and attacks against civil society – including the detention of members of Azul Positivo – and the lack of implementation of the raft of recommendations issued by the UN to date. 

In the dialogue with states, questions were asked about cooperation with Special Procedures, as only one Special Rapporteur has so far visited the country since the Council requested 10 be allowed to visit. In addition, some states mentioned the desire for a permanent OHCHR presence in the country to be established with a full protection and prevention mandate.

OHCHR will provide the Council with a detailed assessment of the implementation of the recommendations made to Venezuela, at the Council session in June, and the fact-finding mission will provide its next report to the Council at the session in September.  

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: image from UN WebTv.

HRC46 | Colombia, Honduras and Guatemala in focus


Each year, the Human Rights Council receives reports on the situation of human rights in countries where the Office of the High Commissioner is present. This session of the Council celebrated a dialogue on Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras. Click to watch recorded statements


Any discussion about human rights in Colombia will and must include the killings of human rights defenders. "Frontline's Defenders 2020 report shows that HRD assassinations in Colombia are seven times higher than any other country", said ISHR's Valeria Castellanos. "Defenders are not safer now than they were during the armed conflict". 

In her presentation, the High Commissioner observed a significant intensification of violence in Colombia, particularly due to the expansion of non-state armed groups. She highlighted the need to deploy civil institutions and authorities for the prevention of violence and the expansion of human rights guarantees. 

NGO Comisión Colombiana de Juristas echoed the recommendations of the High Commissioner and her calling on Colombia to double down its efforts for the implementation of all chapters of the peace agreement. 

Twitter: @Coljuristas

Colombia responded by acknowledging the danger faced by human rights defenders and stating that the source of such violence is the number of armed criminal groups involved in illegal activities, especially drug trafficking. 


The erosion of civic space in 2020, with attacks and intimidation to human rights defenders, including journalists, was one of the topics highlighted by the High Commissioner. In February, Decree 5257 was adopted, reforming regulations of non-governmental organizations for development, and - according to the High Commissioner - this decree may represent a problem for the work of human rights defenders. Regarding the issues of impunity and corruption, Guatemala's government commented that public institutions on the matter had been reinforced, particularly relevant prosecutors. 


The High Commissioner pointed out that since 2016, there has been a contraction of civic space in Honduras, with such a trend intensifying in 2020. Social protests became more common this year. Human rights defenders have been attacked and the killing of activists and journalists has obtained little to no action from the part of the judicial system. The High Commissioner underlined that national bodies for the protection of human rights in Honduras have weakened with time and are still saturated by problems of corruption and impunity. 

In response to the presentation of the High Commissioner, Honduras reaffirmed the importance of cooperative work for the protection of human rights defenders and ensured being open to future visits from Special Procedures of the Council. 

Finally, Latin American states took advantage of the opportunity during the session to express their preoccupation with the reduced financial support to the OHCHR in the region. Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, and Peru solicited further aid for the protection of victims of human rights violations. 


For any further information, please contact Eleanor Openshaw by email ( or on Twitter (@eleanoropenshaw).

Foto: Flickr / UN Geneva

CDH46 | Colombia, Honduras y Guatemala bajo el foco


Cada año, el Consejo de Derechos Humanos recibe informes sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en los países donde hay presencia de oficinas de la Alta Comisionada de Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos. Esta sesión del Consejo celebró un diálogo sobre Colombia, Guatemala y Honduras.Ver declaraciones grabadas


Cualquier discusión sobre la situación de los derechos humanos en Colombia hablará y debe hablar del nivel de asesinatos de las personas defensoras. 'El informe de 2020 de Frontline Defenders muestra que los asesinatos de personas defensoras en Colombia son siete veces más altos que en cualquier otro país", dijo ISHR's Valeria Castellanos. 'Las personas defensoras no están más seguras ahora que durante los años de conflicto'.

En su presentación, la Alta Comisionada observó una significativa  intensificación de la violencia en el país, principalmente debido a la expansión de grupos armados no estatales. Destacó la necesidad del despliegue de instituciones civiles y autoridades para la prevención de violencia y la expansión de garantías de derechos humanos.

La ONG Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, hizo eco de la recomendación de la Alta y de su llamamiento a Colombia a que redoblara sus esfuerzos para la implementación de todos los capítulos del acuerdo de paz.  


Twitter: @Coljuristas

Colombia respondió para decir que se encuentre al tanto de los peligros enfrentados por personas defensoras de derechos humanos y que la fuente de esta violencia son los grupos criminales armados envueltos en actividades ilícitas, particularmente el tráfico de drogas. 


La erosión del espacio cívico durante 2020,  con ataques e intimidaciones a defensores de derechos humanos, incluyendo periodistas, fue uno de los temas resaltados por la Alta. En el mes de febrero se adoptó la Ley 5257, la cual reforma regulaciones dirigidas a organismos no-gubernamentales para el desarrollo y - según la Alta Comisionada -  puede ser problemática para la labor dirigida por personas defensoras de derechos humanos. Con respeto a cuestiones de impunidad y corrupción, el gobierno de Guatemala comentó que se habían fortalecido instancias públicas en la materia, particularmente las fiscalías correspondientes.


La Alta Comisionada resaltó que desde 2016 ha habido una contracción en el espacio cívico en Honduras, siendo esta una tendencia que se intensificó en el año 2020. Protestas sociales se hicieron más comunes en este año. Personas defensoras han sido atacadas y asesinatos de activistas y periodistas han obtenido reducidas o nulas acciones por parte del sistema judicial.  La Alta Comisionada comentó que los cuerpos nacionales para la protección de derechos humanos en Honduras se han debilitado con el paso del tiempo y siguen impregnados por problemáticas sistémicas de corrupción e impunidad. 

Respondiendo a la presentación de la Alta Comisionada, Honduras reafirmó la importancia del trabajo conjunto para la protección de defensores de derechos humanos y su apertura a visitas por parte de los Procedimientos Especiales del Consejo.

Finalmente, varios estados latinoamericanos aprovecharon la sesión para mencionar su preocupación por el reducido financiamiento de la OACNUDH en la región. Urugay, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Panamá y Perú solicitaron más apoyo para la protección de víctimas de violaciones de derechos humanos.


Para cualquier información adicional, entrar en contacto con Eleanor Openshaw por email ( o en Twitter (@eleanoropenshaw).

Foto: Flickr / UN Geneva


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