In his address1 at the opening session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on 11 September 2017, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported on the human rights situation in many member-states. He noted the numerous reports received by his Office on the arrest, detention and prosecution of human rights defenders, journalists and social media activists.
He cited the harassment, criminal prosecution and denial of State protection of those who work for the rights of the most vulnerable groups in India – including those threatened with displacement by infrastructure projects such as the Sardar Sarovar Dam in the Narmada river valley.
He observed that many Pakistani “journalists and human rights defenders face daily threats of violence.” The threat of vigilante violence existed even for “allegations of blasphemy, or suggestions that blasphemy laws require revision to comply with the right to freedom of thought and religion.” He also observed that the excessive application of the Pakistani digital space law and regulations on non-governmental organization (NGO) activities had “limited critical voices and shrunk democratic space.”
He said that the Philippine President’s “order to police to shoot any human rights workers who ‘are part of’ the drug trade or who ‘obstruct justice’ is yet another blow to the reputation of the Philippines and its people's rights.”
He noted the delegitimization of human rights organizations in Israel through a 2016 law that considered their work in the Occupied Territory as “anti-Israeli” and through the Prime Minister’s plan to “extend restrictions limiting foreign funding for human rights organisations.” He also noted that the Palestinian human rights defenders faced “harassment, including arrests for social media postings and peaceful protests.” While in both the West Bank and in Gaza, he observed that there appeared to be a “crackdown by the Palestinian authorities on human rights defenders, particularly on journalists and news websites – including legislative measures, arrests and harassment of individuals and bans on websites.”
He expressed concern for the “action taken against defence lawyers” in China.
He was alarmed by the severe restrictions imposed by the Bahraini government on “civil society and political activism through arrests, intimidation, travel bans and closure orders, with increasing reports of torture by the security authorities.”
In 2015, the United Nations Committee against Torture expressed concern about the detention of lawyers in China. It was2
deeply concerned about the unprecedented detention and interrogation of, reportedly, more than 200 lawyers and activists since 9 July 2015. Of those, 25 remain reportedly under residential surveillance at a designated location and 4 are allegedly unaccounted for. This reported crackdown on human rights lawyers follows a series of other reported escalating abuses on lawyers for carrying out their professional responsibilities, particularly on cases involving government accountability and issues such as torture and the defence of human rights activists and religious practitioners.
The Committee likewise cited other abuses such as
detention on suspicion of broadly defined charges, such as “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”, and ill-treatment and torture while in detention. Other interferences with the legal profession have been, reportedly, the refusal of annual re-registration, the revocation of lawyers’ licences and evictions from courtrooms on questionable grounds…
The Committee is concerned that these reported “abuses and restrictions may deter lawyers from raising reports of torture in their clients’ defence for fear of reprisals, weakening the safeguards of the rule of law that are necessary for the effective protection against torture (art. 2).”