On the 6th to 29 of March 2017, six countries were subject to review by the HR Committee in its 119 Session. We present below a brief overview of concerns and recommendations on human rights defenders provided by the Human Rights Committee.

Bangladesh (7 recommendations)

Freedom of opinion expression and association

The Committee is extremely concerned of the 35 arrests of journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders under a law (Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Act of 2006 (amended in 2013)) that diminishes freedom of opinion and expression by using a vague terminology in order to defend “the image of the state”.Also, NGOs have faced limitations to operate through the Foreign Donations, because of Regulation Act, 2016, which restricts the ability of NGOs to secure resources and makes it an offence to make “inimical” or “derogatory” remarks against the Constitution or any constitutional body; the terms “inimical” and “derogatory” are undefined and can result in deregistration of the NGO in question (arts. 6, 19 and 22).

One can see a clear problem of legislation, to which the Committee answers with the following recommendations:

  • Protect them from unlawful killings, physical attacks and harassment; ensure that police and officials receive adequate training regarding the protection of human rights defenders; register complaints and thoroughly investigate all attacks on the life, physical integrity and dignity of these persons, bring perpetrators to justice and provide victims with appropriate remedies
  • Repeal or revise the laws mentioned above with a view to bringing them into conformity with the State party ’ s obligations under the Covenant, taking into account the Committee’s general comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression. In particular, it should clarify the vague, broad and open-ended definition of key terms in these laws and ensure that they are not used as tools to curtail freedom of expression beyond the narrow restrictions permitted in article 19 of the Covenant;
  • Repeal the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act, ensure that any legal provisions restricting access to foreign funding does not risk the effective operation of NGOs as a result of overly limited fundraising options, and ensure that NGOs can operate freely and without fear of retribution for exercising their freedom of expression.

Counter-terrorism

The Committee is also concerned about the use of unclear terminology in counter‑terrorism legislation, such as in the Special Powers Act, 1974, which grants the State broad powers of arrest and detention for the vague term “prejudicial acts”, and the broad definition of “terrorist act” in the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2009, which can lend itself to arbitrary and abusive implementation. Terrorism can reach a punishment of death penalty in this country, therefore, considering that some human rights defenders have been characterized as terrorists, they live in a constant risk of being sentenced to death.

Recommendations

  1. Counter-terrorism legislation is in full conformity with the Covenant;
  2. Acts of terrorism are defined in a precise and narrow manner, and that legislation adopted in that context is limited to crimes that would clearly qualify as acts of terrorism;
  3. The death penalty is not imposed for offences, such as the financing of terrorism, which do not constitute the “ most serious crimes ” within the meaning of article 6 (2) of the Covenant;
  4. Counter-terrorism measures are not used to restrict freedom of expression and opinion of journalists and human rights defenders.

Thailand (6 recommendations)

Freedom of Expression

The HR Committee is concerned about criminal proceedings, especially criminal defamation charges, brought against human rights defenders, activists, journalists and other individuals under the above-mentioned legislation, and about reports of the suppression of debate and campaigning, and criminal charges against individuals during the run-up to the Constitutional referendum in 2016 (arts. 19 and 25).

Recommendations

  1. The State party should consider decriminalizing defamation and, in any case, countenance the application of criminal law only in the most serious of cases, bearing in mind that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for defamation.
  2. The State party should also refrain from using its criminal provisions, including the Computer Crimes Act (2007), the Sedition Act and other regulations, as tools to suppress the expression of critical and dissenting opinions.
  3. It should take all measures to end prosecutions against those charged for exercising their freedom of opinion and expression during the constitutional referendum, and provide appropriate training to judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel regarding protection of freedom of expression and opinion.

 

Torture and ill-treatments

There have been reports of torture and other ill-treatment against human rights defenders as well as against civilians. Impartial investigations have been taken place after these torture reports, as well as after forced disappearances.

Recommendations

  1. Ensure that cases are reported and that prompt, impartial and thorough investigations are carried out into all allegations and complaints concerning the unlawful and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and the military, including torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, including in the context of the southern border provinces. It should also ensure that perpetrators are prosecuted and, if convicted, punished with appropriate sanctions.
  2. Promptly set up an independent mechanism for the prevention and suppression of torture and enforced disappearances.
  3. Reinforce the training of law enforcement officials and military personnel on full respect for human rights, including on the appropriate use of force and on the eradication of torture and ill-treatment, ensuring that all training materials are in line with the Covenant and the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Turkmenistan (2 recommendations)

Although the HR Committee did not use a definition “human rights defenders”, it precisely mentioned the following groups of people, who face threats and risks in Turkmenistan, among them journalists, activists, religious leaders and former government officials holding opposition views, who have been restricted from freedom of movement and expression in Turkmenistan.

Freedom of Expression

The Committee repeated its concern about laws and practices severely restricting freedom of opinion and expression, particularly, a continuous use of harassment, intimidation, torture and arbitrary arrests, detention and convictions on reportedly politically motivated charges as a retaliation tool against journalists, human rights activists, dissidents, members of religious groups and ethnic minorities, and members of non-governmental organizations interacting with foreigners, such as the political dissident Gulgeldy Annaniazov and freelance journalist Saparmamed Nepeskuliev, and those seeking to document forced labour in the cotton harvest, such as Gaspar Matalaev.

Recommendation

  1. The effective protection of the above-mentioned categories of persons against repression and ill-treatment and refraining from using administrative and criminal provisions and other regulations as tools to curtail freedom of expression and other protected conduct

Freedom of movement

The HR Committee concerned about arbitrarily travel restrictions on journalists, activists, religious leaders and former government officials holding opposition views, and on family members of these individuals.

Recommendation

  1. Refrain from imposing travel bans arbitrarily on persons in the categories mentioned above and guarantee respect for their freedom to leave the country.

The UN Human Rights Committee will next meet from the 3th  to  the 28th of July 2017 to review the following countries: Honduras, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, Mongolia, Pakistan Switzerland and Swaziland.


Serbia (1 recommendation)

Freedom of Expression

The Committee is concerned about how public officials have intimidated media workers and have persecuted journalist and members of civil societies.

Recommendation

  1. The HRC suggests to refrain from prosecuting journalists, human rights defenders and other members of civil society as a means of deterring or discouraging them from freely expressing their opinions

You will find more information here http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/treatybodyexternal/SessionDetails1.aspx?SessionID=1116&Lang=en

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