Human Rights Council urged to protect activists attending its session

Laura Dupuy.
(Photo: Human Rights Council)

While UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opened this week the 21st session of the Human Rights Council urging the 47 member states to show they take their mandate of promotion and protection of human rights seriously, civil society organizations are asking for measures to prevent reprisals against activists attending the meeting in Geneve.

Non governmental organizations (NGOs) representatives had held a meeting on 5 Sep with the President of the Human Rights Council, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, to express concerns relating to the civil society participation, including the potential for reprisals against activists.

Reprisals were mentioned as a particular worry in the case of those human rights defenders participating in the universal periodic review (UPR) on Bahrain in the light of threats made against them.

A NGO suggested that a general statement condemning reprisals against those who cooperate with UN human rights organizations should be issued at the opening of the session, as a preventative measure. NGOs noted that the Office of the President has a duty to ensure that civil society has a voice in the UN free from threats.

“While the High Commissioner [for Human Rights Navy Pillay] and several [UN] special procedures have condemned repeatedly the attacks against the opposition and human rights defenders, the Human Rights Council should condemn in broader terms the situation and call for the release of individuals detained for the exercise of their freedom of expression and right to assembly, and set up an independent monitoring of the evolution of the situation,” warned the International Federation for Human Rights this Wednesday.

A key focal point of the discussion with Dupuy was the nominee for election to the Advisory Committee from Bahrain, Saeed Mohamed Al Faihani, current. Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Al Faihani has served for many years in various Government positions, including as Ambassador to the UN in Geneva.

There was a push by various NGOs to exclude Mr Al Faihani because he holds a decision-making position in the Bahraini government. A Council’s resolution states that, ‘[i]ndividuals holding decision-making positions in Government or in any other organization or entity which might give rise to a conflict of interest with the responsibilities inherent in the mandate shall be excluded’ from the Advisory Committee.

The President commented that it would be necessary to look in more detail at what is meant by a ‘conflict of interest’.

The 21st session will be Ms Lasserre’s last session as the Council’s President. The next will come from the Eastern European Group.

Activities of the FIDH during the session

“Throughout the three weeks session, FIDH will mobilise, in support of its member organizations, to address issues of impunity and tailor a much needed response of the international community to situations in the Sudans, Mali, the Maldives, Afghanistan, Bahrain and Syria,” announced the Federation in a press release.

“Notwithstanding its Universal Periodic Review and declarations made by the Government at the international level, the human rights situation in Bahrain continues to deteriorate,” warned the FIDH. “The repression against dissident voices has taken a tougher stance, with the heavy sentencing of 20 political opponents, and the detention and prosecution of human rights activist Zainab Al Khawaja and FIDH Deputy Secretary-General Nabeed Rajab.”

“We are concerned that impunity has fuelled further grave human rights violations” in Sudan, declared FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen. According to the press release, “civilians pay a heavy toll in the conflicts in Southern Kordofan, Blue Nile states or contested provinces like Abyei. The humanitarian situation in Darfur remains a matter of concern. In the North, youth protests are repressed through an excessive use of force, and dissident voices, be them from journalists or human rights defenders are silenced, victims of arbitrary arrests and intimidation.”

In the new state of South Sudan, added the FIDH, “women still suffer violence and discriminations, freedom of expression for human rights defenders and the media are neither safeguarded nor respected, and arbitrary arrests and detentions remain too frequent.”

In the Maldives, “FIDH has documented the deterioration of freedom of assembly and freedom of the media, as well as the development of police brutality and arbitrary arrests,”.and “was able to witness the rise of the influence of radical groups detrimental to women’s rights.”

The HR Council should also “draw its attention to the consolidation of democracy, of the rule of law and of the economic and social rights of women and men of Mali,” according to the Federation.

Souhayr Belhassen also asked the Council to focus in Afghanistan, which “numerous challenges regarding women’s rights, women’s participation to public life, transitional justice, vetting of the security sector and reform of the judiciary cannot be met without a strong and sustained support from the community of states”.

The International Service for Human Rights: