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!

UAE | The United Arab Emirates must be held accountable for torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders


The Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR), the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE (ICFUAE) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) have released their submission to the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT), which was postponed this year due to the COVID-19 crisis until April 2021 at the CAT’s  71st session. 

“The upcoming review of the UAE is all the more urgent in light of the country's persistent non-compliance with the Convention against Torture,” says Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “Despite the State ratifying the Convention in 2012, torture continues to be widespread in the UAE criminal justice system, from arrest and interrogation to detention.” This initial review comes almost eight years after the UAE’s ratification of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Degrading or Inhuman Treatment or Punishment.

“We’re particularly concerned that human rights defenders, including GCHR’s Advisory Board member Ahmed Mansoor, are being kept in permanent solitary confinement in unhygienic conditions, which puts their mental and physical health in jeopardy,” says Khalid Ibrahim, GCHR Executive Director. In addition, with the spread of COVID-19 in UAE prisons, the lives of all prisoners are currently at risk, whether they are held in isolation or in overcrowded cells. 

According to the report, “The UAE authorities have prosecuted and imprisoned scores of human rights defenders, political activists, journalists and critics, and systematically silenced peaceful dissenting voices. The crackdown on the right to freedom of expression has been so severe that, today, freedom of speech and civic space are virtually non-existent in the country.” 

“Under the pretext of national security, the UAE authorities have subjected human rights defenders and activists to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, prolonged isolation, torture and other ill-treatment, unfair trials and harsh prison sentences, solely for their peaceful human rights activities, including engaging with UN mechanisms,” says Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR Human Rights Council Programme Manager.

“Such practices reflect the authorities’ utter disregard for fundamental rights and human dignity, and inflict an immeasurable mental and physical toll on prisoners’ health. As such, we remain deeply concerned about Maryam Al-Balushi, a young Emirati woman, who after years of suffering degrading treatment and solitary confinement was left with no choice but to attempt suicide in an isolation cell in Al-Wathba prison,” says Sofia Kaltenbrunner, ICFUAE Campaign Manager. 

In this report, GCHR, ICFUAE, ISHR and OMCT summarise the situation concerning torture in the UAE, including its laws and international obligations; the practice of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in prisons in the UAE, with specific cases of human rights defenders and other prisoners including women; the use of forced confession; the lack of redress for victims of torture; and the reaction of the State to reports of torture; in addition to providing recommendations to the UAE. 

Click here to read the full report.


Impact | Independent external review of ISHR


The independent evaluation report describes ISHR as ‘the ‘go-to’ organisation when civil society is engaging with the UN human rights system’; ‘an effective and influential organisation which is strengthening the work of human rights defenders by providing training, capacity-building, collaborative advocacy initiatives and access to international and regional mechanisms and policymakers.’
Working in coalitions is described as being ‘part of ISHR’s DNA’. The report also cites the Model Law on the protection of human rights defenders as ‘an excellent example of how international commitments can be translated and contextualised into impact at the national level.’
Additionally, the report highlights that:

  • Being the secretariat for the HRCnet bears witness to ISHR's central position and reputation for being the bridge between the international and national (grassroots) levels.
  • ISHR’s training programmes, including its flagship Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP), are seen by all interlocutors as an integral component of its overall support for human rights defenders and as a highly relevant aspect of its work.
  • ISHR’s reporting in progress reports and annual reports are very accessible and combine ‘looking back’ accountability and results with ‘looking forward’ (new/amended goals) in a manner that may be inspirational for other organisations.
  • The reporting from ISHR is thorough and precise with clear performance indicators and means of verification given, qualitative or quantitative. There seems to be a sound culture for learning and evaluation practices, with ‘real-time’ and ‘near-time’ evaluation praised in one evaluation. The annual reports include month by month human rights developments and ISHR contributions to these.

 ‘Independent evaluations are crucial to our institutional monitoring and learning processes’ says ISHR’s Vincent Ploton. ‘We regularly commission evaluations of specific ISHR projects and publish the findings on our website. What’s particularly valuable with this independent evaluation is that it covers nine international NGOs active in the human rights field. We have taken a range of measures in accordance with the findings of previous external reviews, and we look forward to engaging in future similar processes,’ Ploton concludes.


ISHR stands in solidarity with all those calling for racial justice and radical reform


We are inspired by the leadership and courage shown by those organising peaceful protests to call for change and by the human rights defenders and journalists working on the frontlines to document violations and defend rights. We are appalled by attacks against them by law enforcement officers and public officials.

Journalists and human rights defenders must be safe and free to do their vital work. Indeed, law enforcement officers and public officials are tasked with ensuring their rights are respected - not violated. Attacks against journalists and human rights defenders must be fully and independently investigated and perpetrators held accountable, in the U.S. and everywhere they occur. 

The rights to equality and non-discrimination, to freedom of expression, to freedom of assembly and protest, and to defend human rights are all indispensable to fair, safe and just communities in the U.S. and across the world. These rights must be respected and protected. We pledge to work within ISHR and with our colleagues in human rights movements to address issues of racism and systemic discrimination, to promote diversity and inclusivity, and to support human rights defenders, including those working on police brutality, in their demands for justice.

ISHR is committed to highlighting how the voices of the families of those killed by police in the U.S., including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Michael Brown, and the organisations supporting them are driving the UN to call for action to stop the killings and address deep-seated racism and inequality. This is necessary but not sufficient; we echo the call of the UN independent human rights experts and the Chair of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that ‘this is a time for action and not just talk’.

This is why we've joined more than 600 organisations, from the U.S. and around the world, in calling on the UN Human Rights Council to hold a Special Session on the situation of human rights in the U.S.

The international community has a critical role to play in advancing independent, expert inquiry into systemic racism in law enforcement in the U.S., starting with the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, and the concerns of excessive use of force against protestors and journalists since George Floyd's murder.


Photo: Flickr / Miki Jourdan













Supporter profile l Patricia Schulz

Picture of Patricia Schulz - Donor for the International Service for Human Rights

As a young woman, I participated in feminist organisations in Geneva and also financially supported Geneva-based organisations engaged in achieving gender equality. I value social justice, equality, respect, fairness and dignity. Later, donating was for me a ‘compensation’ for not being an activist myself anymore - due to my profession and subsequent lack of time.

My parents didn’t attend university, but they created an enterprise and worked together. They always told me and my brother that if we wanted to study, they would support us. They were happy and proud that both of us succeeded in our university studies and went on to have interesting careers. I don’t have children, but I am aware that due to poverty and inequality, far too many parents must experience desperation at not being able to provide their children with good education, food, health care, as my parents could. This thought has been with me all the time and that’s why I engaged with children’s sponsorship programmes, as well as projects for rural development, water and literacy, especially for women and girls.

About five years ago, I decided to donate 10% of my income each year to local, Swiss and international non-governmental organisations as an expression of solidarity and gratitude for the luck I’ve had in my life. To have an impact, NGOs need money.

I first came across ISHR in 2011, when I joined the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), tasked with monitoring how States implement the Convention on non-discrimination of women and gender equality. I discovered and admired the work of ISHR and decided to become a regular donor two or three years ago.

When I was the director of the Swiss Federal Office for Gender Equality, I collaborated with women’s organisations and valued their contribution to the realisation of gender equality and non-discrimination in Switzerland. As a member of the CEDAW Committee, I dealt frequently with the appalling retaliation against women human rights defenders by States, private corporations and various armed groups. I measured how vital the voices of women human rights defenders were, and how profoundly NGOs help the treaty bodies accomplish their mission to support implementation of human rights in all countries.

The work of NGOs like ISHR is indispensable, even if they cannot fully compensate for the lack of, or insufficient, public policies and competent State institutions in a country to ensure civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights for all the people. Donating makes me feel connected to other donors and mainly to the people at the receiving end, who resist acts of violence, engage to overcome climate change and extreme weather conditions, and fight to obtain basic necessities and rights such as food, good education and health systems or decent housing and access to justice. I wish to share with others - and to do this by supporting NGOs I trust, such as ISHR, because I know that their work has an invaluable impact on the ground.


If you are interested in becoming a regular supporter or would like to make a donation, please contact our Fundraising officer Eva Homolkova, or donate on our website.

HRC44 | Three key principles should guide UN's work on civil society, says new report


With countless recent examples of restrictive and repressive measures taken to silence or discredit civil society actors, the UN’s new report drawing together examples of some good practices across the UN, is timely. Re-stating the vital contribution of civil society actors, the report goes on to cite examples of good practices of UN entities engaging with and protecting civil society. The report recommendations – aimed at encouraging improvement across the UN system as well as by States - echo several which ISHR has consistently voiced .

ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw said that good practice examples to inspire reform by the UN and States were valuable.

‘In days where we’ve seen journalists being arrested in Minneapolis and an increasing number of defenders murdered in Colombia – as just two such examples - we need States and UN bodies to revise and strengthen their practice to ensure the voice of civil society is heard and safeguarded,’ she noted.

The new UN report repeatedly states the value of the contribution of civil society.  It cites examples of UN bodies working at country level to build capacity of local civil society actors; challenging barriers to the participation of civil society in decision-making positions in country, or calling for the protection of the lives of protestors. It also cites several examples of bodies that have defined policies and guidelines for engaging with civil society.

‘The report contains examples where discussion between different stakeholders has been formalized and where their input is part of the process from policy inception to implementation,’ noted Openshaw.

One such example is the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), created by the UN General Assembly which styles itself as ‘a unique inter-agency forum for coordination, policy development and decision-making involving the key UN and non-UN humanitarian partners’.

‘This example of civil society having a seat at the table in recognition of the experience and expertise they bring to the issue makes more evident the lack of such opportunities in other spaces, particularly in human rights bodies,’ said Openshaw.

The report also highlights clear gaps. One of the key findings is the absence in 2/3 of UN mechanisms of means to contest restrictions on civil society participation or access to information.

Whilst the report makes no explicit reference to Covid-19, having sought input prior to the onset of the pandemic, it does contain recommendations that speak to shifts in practice the pandemic has engendered.It notes how the impact of any modifications should be assessed to ensure civil society is not disadvantaged or disproportionately affected.This is one of several recommendations ISHR and other civil society have been making over time.

‘It's great to see that the UN has reflected the recommendations of civil society groups such as ISHR, who have experience working with defenders and engaging with UN and regional organisations,’ noted Openshaw. ‘It’s but one example of civil society expertise adding value.’

The need for the UN to improve and make more consistent its work to promote, engage with and safeguard civil society has been a long-term call.The Secretary General made such a recommendation in his 2018 report on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and again in his recent Call to Action for Human Rights. This new UN report was as a result of the request made by the Human Rights Council in 2018

A resolution on civic space is due to be negotiated this June at the Human Rights Council, although the modalities for the session are still being confirmed.

‘States must be categorical in their promotion and defence of the work of civic society, and encourage the UN and regional bodies to improve their practice,' noted Openshaw. 'We’d like to see the UN now move to defining a UN-wide strategy for working with and for civil society.'

‘We face so many challenges and civil society should be right at the heart of defining solutions,’ she added.

Along with the full report, the UN has produced a one-pager summarizing key report recommendations.

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: Joao Araujo Pinto



Reprisals | New ISHR report: Reprisals related to engagement with the African human rights system must be addressed


Version française

ISHR's new report to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights demonstrates the need for the ACHPR and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the African human rights system. ISHR’s report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the first annual report of the Focal Point on Reprisals, Commissioner Remy Ngoy Lumbu. 

ISHR’s report documents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals that must be addressed. Cases of intimidation and reprisals featured in the submission range from States maligning and stigmatising defenders to banning them from travel and detaining them.  ‘Such reprisals violate human rights and fundamental freedoms that regional and international systems are obliged to promote and protect. Moreover, they also seriously impede bodies and mechanisms' abilities to discharge their mandates effectively, threaten their integrity, and undermine the credibility of their work in the field of human rights’, said Adelaïde Etong Kame, ISHR Africa Programme Manager.  

In Malawi and Cameroon, defenders engaging with the ACHPR are threatened, stigmatised, harassed and attacked. In Burundi, increased monitoring by regional and international human rights mechanisms has been met with increased risk, stigmatisation and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In Mauritania, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. In Egypt, defenders engaging with the African human rights system have been maligned, intimidated, and detained. 

The report also documents how recent hosts of ACHPR sessions, in particular Mauritania and Egypt, have hindered and restricted access to the sessions, through visa denials, intimidation, harassment, and undue restrictions at the sessions themselves. ‘The free engagement of individuals and groups with the ACHPR is critical to its efficiency and effectiveness. We call on the ACHPR to seek assurances from prospective host States that they will guarantee free and unhindered access of civil society to the sessions of the ACHPR and the NGO Forum’, said Etong Kame.  

ISHR’s submission also documents undue restrictions on accreditation, namely the case of the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), who have had their observer status to the ACHPR withdrawn, in violation of the rights of freedom of expression, association, and unhindered access to and communication with international bodies of CAL and its members, on discriminatory bases.

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘In that regard, the task for the Focal Point and the ACHPR is now to take up these cases and ensure they are addressed with the perpetrating governments. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators will be emboldened’, said Etong Kame.  



The Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the ACHPR was appointed in 2014 as the Focal Point on reprisals in Africa. At the last session of the ACHPR, the Focal Point, Remy Ngoy Lumbu, launched the policy and information note on how to communicate with his mandate regarding reprisals (linked here in EnglishFrench), which gives more clarity on the work of the mandate and encourages defenders to engage with the mandate on this important issue.  The Focal Point on Reprisals called for submissions to his first annual report (link to the call here in EnglishFrench). The first report will be presented to the ACHPR in October 2020. The report will summarize main trends and contain a selection of cases brought to the attention of the focal point, with the decision to include cases made on the basis of the principles of do no harm and informed consent. The relevant reporting period is 12 May 2014 (when the mandate was originally created by a resolution of the ACHPR) until 12 May 2020. In subsequent years, the relevant reporting period will be the previous year.


Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the African human rights system, Submission to the Focal Point on Reprisals of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, May 2020.  


Adelaïde Etong Kame, Africa Programme Manager, ISHR,
Madeleine Sinclair, Co-Director of ISHR’s New York Office & Legal Counsel,

Photo: ISHR

COVID-19 | How the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is responding to the pandemic


Vea aquí la versión en español

With over 1000 people tuning in, on 7 May an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) ‘all stars’ team of ex and current Presidents and Commissioners spoke to the IACHR’s response to the Covid -19 crisis.  Along with outlining rapid preventative responses, they highlighted a range of issues that the crisis has brought to the fore that the IACHR will need to address. 

The pandemic has highlighted the deep inequalities in the region, said the Commissioners, with some governments taking a more authoritarian approach including in issuing a ‘state of emergency’ or ‘health emergency’ by decree with little oversight.  Those States with weaker institutional ‘counterweights’ risk faring worse in dealing with the crisis.  With States frequently seen to be paralyzed in finding appropriate responses, civil society has sought to fill the vacuum, reassert democratic values and use public space at a local level to demand rights.  

With this context in mind, the IACHR acted as a ‘space of conversation and commonsense’ speaking rationally against ‘falsehoods’, said ex - IACHR President Grossman. The purpose of the IACHR, agreed Commissioners, was to save lives, place victims and the most vulnerable at the heart of all responses, and work to strengthen democratic institutions and processes.

On the IACHR’s response to the crisis so far:

By mid-March the Commission had established a Rapid and Integrated Responses Coordination (SACROI, by its Spanish acronym) SACROI Covid-19 – a specialist task force – which is monitoring responses from States, and identifying urgent cases for precautionary measures.  The IACHR has received a multitude of requests for precautionary measures – designed to ensure a rapid response in serious and urgent situations -  during the crisis.

Resolution 1/2020 ‘Pandemic and Human Rights in the Americas’, adopted by the Commission in mid-April, provides wide-ranging policy recommendations for States.  The IACHR states that human rights defenders and journalists' work and movement should not be restricted as they ‘perform a key function during a public health emergency by reporting on and monitoring the actions of the State.’  It has also issued a series of statements on the protection of the most vulnerable.

Commissioners highlighted the importance of the role of civil society in assisting the Commission with its work, including in providing up to date information. They urged States to recognize the value of expert advice to ‘imagine’ an appropriate response and urged civil society to provide states with recommendations that were as concrete as possible to encourage implementation.

On what the IACHR needs to do now: 

‘Covid-19 has shone light on problems that we have ‘accepted’ and shouldn’t have’, said ex-IACHR President Cavallaro.   With that in mind, Commissioners discussed the need to ‘re-conceptualize’ some of their work, including on the rights to health and to water and sanitation, in regard to people in detention, and on the issue of a living wage or universal basic income. 

The ex and current Commissioners also noted that:

  • Increased poverty as a result of Covid-19 could well lead to social disturbance which States may seek to control with force. The Commission will need to be vigilant and warn of disproportionate responses.
  • Economic hardship may provide the pretext for arguments for privileging one right over another.  The Commission could assist by applying a human rights approach to navigating competing interests
  • States of emergency won’t end automatically and the Commission needs to keep vigilant.  ‘The crisis isn’t an opportunity for the State to do whatever it likes!’ said Commissioner Piovesan.
  • The Commission will need to work with CSO to prioritise cases related to victims of the current crisis seeking redress.
  • The Commission should step up its accompaniment of States in the formulation of public policy based on best practice. 
  • The Commission should increase interactions within financial entities – such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank – that will have a role in States’ economic recovery and need to be urged to work in line with the respect of human rights.  The responsibility of businesses was also cited.
  • The Commission should send cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, so it can act in ‘real time’ in regard to the crisis.
  • The impact of the Commission ultimately lies with the implementation of its recommendations, and coordination with civil society is key to that, as is retaining a permanent line of communication open with States.  Next month the Commission will launch its ‘follow-up system’ with an emphasis on assessing the impact of its work.


‘Will Covid-19 change the world? Will we see police States established in the region?  It is still unclear,' said Commissioner Urrejola Noguera, reflecting the depth of ongoing uncertainty. 

Overall though, Commissioners ended on a note of optimism and resolve.  Along with dangers, the pandemic provided opportunities to redefine approaches, they said.  Those seeking to drive back human rights protections will seek to make the most of the moment – was the argument – but the Commission must do the same. 

‘We must be on the offensive not the defensive,’ concluded Cavallaro. 

Contact: Eleanor Openshaw

Photo: IACHR 


Reprisals | UN and States can and must do more to prevent and address reprisals


ISHR's new report to the UN Secretary-General demonstrates the need for the UN and States to do more to prevent and ensure accountability for intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate or seek to cooperate with the UN. The report was prepared in response to the call for submissions to the annual report of the Secretary-General on cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights, aka the ‘Reprisals Report’. ISHR’s report outlines developments in the international and regional systems, and documents a number of cases. 

ISHR’s submission presents a disturbing pattern of intimidation and reprisals. Cases of reprisals featured in the submission range from States dangerously maligning defenders to killing them. In Venezuela, increased monitoring of the situation by the UN has been met with increased risk, stigmatization and harassment of defenders working with the mechanisms. In the Philippines, human rights defenders continue to be vilified by the government and accused of being terrorists. Defenders in Honduras, India, Thailand, Cuba, and Yemen continue to be threatened and harassed. In Russia and Cameroon, defenders who engaged with the UN have been refused entry to the country. Defenders working on China continue to be smeared and discredited and there continues to be no investigation into the death of Cao Shunli, who was jailed and died in custody for trying to provide information to the UN. Defenders in Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, remain in jail because they dared engage in international advocacy.  Other countries cited in the report include The Bahamas, Brazil, Burundi, Mexico, Morocco, and the United States.

The report includes follow-up information on a large number of cases, demonstrating that incidents of reprisals and intimidation are very rarely, if ever, adequately resolved. ‘One only needs to look at the cases that remain unresolved year after year, to know that something more must be done by the UN on follow-up. Otherwise, reprisals ‘work’ to dissuade engagement, and perpetrators are emboldened’, said Madeleine Sinclair, New York Office Co-Director and Legal Counsel.  

The primary duty to prevent and remedy reprisals lies with States—who must do more to prevent, investigate and ensure accountability for reprisals. ‘States must use the opportunity of the interactive dialogue on the Secretary-General’s report in September, as well as Item 5 debates, to raise specific cases and hold their peers accountable’, said Sinclair.  

The submission also highlights ISHR’s new study on new study, ‘Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities’Thestudy respondsto the challenge of severe intimidation leading to ‘self-censorship’ and proposes methodological approaches to strengthen the future capacity to measure and understand how intimidation tactics – both blunt and subtle – effectively inhibit human rights reporting and action, thus reinforcing impunity for States’ abuses. Among these is the dire need for better data. ‘As a starting point, the UN needs to harness its vast data collecting power to systematically track cooperation with its diverse human rights mechanisms so as to be able to track deterioration or improvements from year to year,’ said Sinclair. The study proposes that this, combined with data on human rights abuses, would enable the identification of countries where there is high abuse and low cooperation as well as those with high abuse and high cooperation. Best practice research can then extract lessons learned from countries with high levels of abuse and high levels of cooperation that may assist countries where intimidation has been more successful in sustaining inhibition.



Ending intimidation and reprisals against those who cooperate with the UN in the field of human rights, Submission to the UN Secretary-General on recent developments, cases and recommendations, May 2020.

Intimidation and its Impact on Engagement with the UN Human Rights System: Methodological challenges and opportunities, March 2020. 

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair, Co-Director of ISHR’s New York Office & Legal Counsel,

Photo: FlickR / Looking4poetry

Third Committee | First ever meeting held with civil society


In the first ever such encounter, civil society representatives from a range of NGOs engaged with member States of the Third Committee – the General Assembly’s main human rights body in New York –  on some successes from the recent Committee session, as well as concrete ways in which the Committee could better promote and protect rights.

Opening the meeting, the Chair of the Third Committee, Ambassador Braun of Luxembourg, said that the Committee could not work effectively without taking into account of the viewpoints of civil society.  The President of the General Assembly made a similar point, speaking of 'fostering dialogue'.   Even the unusual seating employed at the meeting - mixing member States and civil society speakers together -  underscored the notion of partnership between Member States and civil society.

‘This was an opportunity to showcase the value of critical and constructive engagement on issues of common concern,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. 

Speakers addressed a range of issues – from the rights of people with disabilities to digital rights, from freedom of expression to how best  to contribute to the prevention of armed conflict.

‘The diversity of interventions made evident the scope and depth of expertise civil society can bring to the table,' added Openshaw.  

During the conversation, ISHR spoke to the ways in which the Third Committee could itself assist in encouraging implementation of its own resolutions. 

‘The exchange with States allowed us to share our analysis – developed over many years engaging in UN spaces and with defenders nationally -  of ways to make resolutions as focused and action orientated as possible,’ said ISHR’s Zamzam Mohammed, who delivered the statement. 

Andrew Smith, of Article 19, presented an assessment of the highs and lows of the recent Committee session, in name of several human rights organisations, including ISHR.

States including Djibouti, Japan, Turkey, Norway and the US, took to the floor to commend the initiative of the Chair of the Committee, and speak of the value of civil society engagement and an interest in seeing similar meetings held in the future.  Pushback by a small number of States ahead of the meeting was barely referenced during the event.  

Costa Rica noted that discussion of increasing participation of different stakeholders in the work of the Committee should be considered in the context of efforts to revitalize and reinvigorate its work.

‘This was a very significant encounter,’ said Openshaw. ‘The Chair of the Committee, Ambassador Braun, has shown real leadership and innovation in bringing partners in the UN project together in this way.  We are hugely grateful to him for his initiative.’

'This kind of encounter must happen again,' she added. 

Contacts: Eleanor Openshaw,;  Zamzam Mohammed,

Photo: Lorena Russi

General Assembly | NGOs raise alarm about negative impacts on human rights of UN budget negotiations


ISHR joins 24 other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in raising the alarm about potentially serious negative impacts on human rights of budget proposals currently being debated at UN headquarters. 

NGOs sent an urgent letter to diplomatic delegations today, citing a number of worrying proposals under consideration by the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which is under pressure to finalise the UN budget by Christmas Eve. 

‘We are extremely alarmed by a number of aggressive proposals by the likes of China and Russia that would undermine the quality of the work and the effectiveness of critical human rights mechanisms,' said Madeleine Sinclair, ISHR’s New York Office Director and Legal Counsel. 

Several proposals seem to take aim at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including dramatically increasing scrutiny of the use of so-called extrabudgetary resources, or voluntary contributions from countries, which are a significant source of funds for the Office (around 59% of its income last year). ‘Some of these proposals can look rather innocuous at first but the reality is this would severely impact the Office’s ability to carry out its work to promote and protect human rights around the world’, said Sinclair.  

Other negative proposals NGOs are urging States to reject include arbitrarily cutting the travel budget for treaty body members and denying funding to webcast the meetings of the treaty bodies. Treaty bodies are the independent expert bodies set up to monitor States’ implementation of their obligations under human rights treaties.

‘Equally concerning are proposals that would threaten civil society's ability to engage with, participate in, and have information about, key UN proceedings,’ said Sinclair. China and the Group of 77 (a coalition of 135 developing nations) have proposed cutting funds for a staff person to support civil society engagement, and imposing greater limitations on access to the UN in Geneva. ‘Basically, China is chipping away wherever it can—in this case using the UN budget to undermine civil society’s ability to access and engage with these bodies and mechanisms’, said Sinclair. 

Finally, the NGO letter points to a number of proposals seemingly designed to radically limit or eliminate support (funding and staff) for UN mechanisms intended to promote accountability for serious human rights violations in Syria and Myanmar.

The NGOs call on Member States to offer strong support to the proposals that would adequately fund and otherwise ensure the proper functioning of the UN’s human rights bodies and mechanisms; to reject those proposals that would undermine their effectiveness; and to resist pressure to accept compromise agreements that would have an overall negative effect on the UN’s human rights activities.

Contact: Madeleine Sinclair,, +1-917-544-6148.

UN Photo/Cia Pak


Browse our articles:






ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders


ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments


ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender


After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.


ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network


ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council


ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide


ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals


Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground


Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders