An Urgent Need to Advance Peace

At the 2018 Stockholm Forum

By Dr Marina Caparini
STOCKHOLM, May 10 2019 – Let us be blunt: the world is in crisis. Peace, human rights, our planetary ecosystem, and our systems of conflict management and global governance are under enormous strain.

Global military expenditures reached 1.8 trillion in 2018, their highest level in real terms since the Cold War, driven by great power competition between the US and China. The ‘Doomsday clock’ is now set at 2 minutes to midnight, as the world has moved closer than ever to nuclear self-destruction as a result of US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (the Joint Common Plan of Action (JPOA)), and withdrawal from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, and uncertainties about North Korea’s nuclear plans.

And, buttressed by regular reports about the growing effects of global warming, rapidly declining biodiversity and the extinction of thousands of species, climate change is now widely acknowledged by citizens and experts in many countries as the world’s biggest threat.

The past decade has seen a reversal of the long-term trend of declining civil wars. According to the UN-World Bank publication Pathways to Peace, the world has seen sharp increases in the number of internal armed conflicts in the world over the past decade, most involving numerous non-state armed groups, and such conflicts are both increasingly internationalized and protracted.

Mostly as a result of conflict, some 68.5 million people are currently displaced, with the overwhelming majority of refugees residing in poor or middle-income countries. While there are often multiple, complex causes of conflict, key structural factors include weak institutions in combination with political and economic exclusion.

In developing and post-industrial states alike, factors such as growing income inequalities and the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption are undermining governance and faith in the ability of states and the political class to uphold the public good. Across the world we are witnessing a rise in populism rooted in anti-pluralism and exclusionary nationalist politics, attacks on the basic democratic tenets and a crisis of democracy.

With the global rolling back of human rights, there is a shrinking of civic space and dramatic decline in countries considered safe for journalists and for human rights defenders and women’s rights defenders.

And within the leading global governance bodies, such as the UN Security Council, divisions among major powers and failure in leadership to constructively address current crises in Libya, Sudan, Yemen and Venezuela are calling into question the continued credibility of such arrangements.

Within this fraught context, leading individuals from the humanitarian, development and security fields will be convening in Stockholm next week*. The Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, cohosted by SIPRI and the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, will discuss how the world can better respond to emergencies and crises, and how it can stabilize and strengthen prospects for peace and longer term development.

By bringing together subject and regional specialists, humanitarian workers, human rights defenders, peace researchers, police and military representatives, political leaders and policy makers, the Forum seeks to stimulate essential, sometimes difficult, conversations among those who are working to support peace, rule of law and development embodied by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The international and professional diversity of those who will attend reflects the recognition of the need for interdisciplinary understanding of drivers of conflict, coordination across sectors and comprehensive approaches in responding to violence, hunger and injustice.

Substantial participation by representatives from the Global South reflects the need to develop truly people-centred approaches that are context specific, politically informed and locally owned. It embodies the realization that technocratic, template approaches to preventing conflict and assisting shattered states and societies are not acceptable and do not work.

With its commitment to advancing peace through evidence-based data, research and analysis, SIPRI is proud to co-host the Forum and to contribute to global efforts to find solutions to the grave problems that confront us.

*Follow the Forum Plenary live-stream on 14 and 16 May: Opening Session and High-Level Panel on Mediation: Closing High-Level Panel on Inclusive Peace:

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The implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA) key to encourage sustained international action against racism, say panellists at UN debate

By Geneva Centre
GENEVA, May 10 2019 (IPS-Partners)

(Geneva Centre) – As a new deadly tidal wave of violence, hate speech and exclusion sweeps across the world, it is now high time for the international community to a joint stand against racism, racial discrimination and intolerance and to address the fundamental structural root causes of these scourges through the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA).

This was the key thread of the “Emergency Assembly on the Rise of Global Racism” that was held on 9 May at the United Nations Office in Geneva. The Assembly was organized jointly by the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, the World Against Racism Network and the Global Coalition for the International Decade for People of African Descent.

We are gathered today to reach out, to revive public awareness and to warn against the worrying rise of extremist ideologies. They are taking openly aggressive forms particularly through Islamophobia, Afrophobia, anti-Arabism, Christianophobia and anti-Semitism. Innocent people in all parts of the world continue to suffer daily from this scourge one could describe as ‘social cancer,” the Executive Director of the Geneva Centre and moderator of the conference Ambassador Idriss Jazairy said.

The Executive Director of the Geneva Centre said that prejudice based on culture, fostering intolerance and promoting religious discrimination constitutes a denial of the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was the antinomy of a culture of peace, tolerance and most of all of empathy in a spirit of human fraternity, he underlined to the audience:

“Although the DDPA was adopted 18 years ago, it continues to remain fully valid up to this day. It calls for a consolidated strategy to restore rights and dignity for all. Taking into account recent trends witnessed in New Zealand, Sri Lanka and California, we are challenged to counter this scourge. It is empathy and not ethnicity that creates a community and lays the foundation for sustainable and inclusive societies.”

Ambassador Jazairy likewise warned against compounded forms of racism such as those targeting women wearing headscarf in Europe who are discriminated both as Muslims and as women whose freedom of choice as to their own bodies is challenged. He appealed to decision-makers to apply the Outcome Declaration “Moving Towards Greater Spiritual Convergence Worldwide in Support of Equal Citizenship Rights” adopted by the 25 June 2018 World Conference on religions and equal citizenship rights that received personal endorsement by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

He also drew the attention of the meeting to the historical event organized by the government of the United Arab Emirates on 4 February 2019 bringing together HH Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar His Eminence Ahmed-el Tayib who adopted the now famous document on “Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

No country can claim to be free of racism, racism remains a global concern

In his keynote speech, the Ambassador and Permanent Observer of the African Union to UN in Geneva HE Ajay Kumar Bramdeo warned that the resurgence of global racism is taking more violent and aggressive forms “Trends of intolerance and xenophobia are increasing, both in intensity and scale, We must all recognise that no country can claim to be free of racism, that racism is a global concern, and that tacking it should be a universal effortAmbassador Bramdeo said.

Ambassador Bramdeo underscored the importance of enhanced international cooperation to address all forms and manifestations of racism and appealed to all States to ensure the effective implementation of the DDPA. He appealed to the forthcoming meeting of the Group of Independent Eminent Experts to come to the “obvious conclusion that the DDPA continue to be one of the most important documents in the global fights against racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance.”

HM Dòwoti Désir-Hounon Houna II, Chair of NGO Committee for the Elimination of Racism, Afrophobia & Colorism underlined that the rise of Afrophobia and discrimination against people of African descent is on the rise in societies worldwide. The DDPA – she said- articulates methodologies to address these ‘social ills’. Decision-makers must therefore ensure the effective implementation of the DDPA and develop anti-racist policies to counter these scourges, Queen Hounon Houna II from Benin said in a video statement.

The Secretary at the World Against Racism Network and Secretary-General of the International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations (ISMUN) Mr Jan Lonn thanked the wide-ranging audience for their interest in this crucial issue. He underlined the fact that this conference was being held in the UN, which was born after the anti-fascist backlash of the Second World War. It was highly symbolic as the DDPA now needed further support and action from UN member States for implementation at national level as well as within UN bodies such as the Human Rights Council, ECOSOC and the General Assembly. He also stressed the need for much greater awareness promotion in terms of a global campaign against racism.

The Executive Councillor of the Executive Council of the City of Geneva Mr Remy Pagani observed that the struggle against all forms and manifestations of racism and exclusion is a long-term challenge which has to be addressed resolutely. He recalled how dangerous it could be to be exclusively inward-looking and reject the Other. He mentioned that Geneva had a special responsibility in this regard, as historically, it has been for centuries a refuge for victims of persecution in other countries of Europe and today represents a city which is the humanitarian capital of the world. In conclusion, he stated that the commitment of all those present to promote justice, equality and peace was essential and invaluable.

The Chair of the National Forum Civil Society of People of African Descent in the Netherlands Dr Barryl Biekman stated that the socio- economic neglect and marginalization of people of African descent in the Netherlands, partially influenced by historical and present-day developments, must be challenged. She stated that the betterment of the position of people of African descent can only be achieved and by changing negative mind-sets on all levels and by collectively focusing on inclusivity of the multiple perspectives present in the Dutch multicultural society.

UN human rights mechanisms must take the lead in addressing racism

The Chair of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent Dr Ahmed Reid referred to the Working Groups’ Thematic Report to the UN General Assembly on stereotypes. He added that it was a cruel paradox that in the year of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, racism, racial discrimination, afrophobia, xenophobia, nativism and related intolerance is continuing to prevail all over the world. He stressed the need to fight stereotyping of people of African descent through black criminalization and black profiling both of which contribute to racial violence. He concluded by proposing that racism be fought through a culture of encounter and dialogue and real empowerment of all segments of society.

The Chair of the Group of Independent Eminent Experts on the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action Ms Edna Roland shared with the audience the four major issues that the Group she chairs had identified. The first was the question of racist hate speech and its use or misuse by politicians to try to influence public opinion and hence the results of elections. The second consisted in considering and analysing and understanding racism as being a result of history, in particular colonialism. Thirdly, she observed that the Sustainable Development Goals do not mention the ethics and issues of racism which represent an impediment to development. She suggested therefore that national governments should include this in their national SDP implementation plans provisions concerning the implementation of the DDPA. Lastly, she stressed the need to develop a multi-year outreach programme to implement the DDPA including mobilizing NGOs and seeking new ideas to fight against xenophobia, racism and related intolerance.

Faith communities can strengthen the international community to end racism

Reverend Dr Jin Yang Kim, Coordinator of Pilgrim-teams for Justice and Peace World Council of Churches (WCC), said in his statement that faith communities must play an active role in countering the rise of global racism. Reverend Yang Kim highlighted that the WCC actively addresses racism and racial discrimination in collaboration with churches worldwide and undertakes pilgrim visits to countries in Asia.

These pilgrim team visits will be informed about the status of relevant UN recommendations on racial discrimination prior to visiting countries. Such recommendations are those which have been issued by the Human Rights Council (OHCHR) under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism, by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism, regarding the country to be visited,” Reverend Yang Kim stated.

In a video message by the UN Representative of the United Methodist Church and President of the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the UN (CoNGO), Mr Levi Bautista warned against the aggressive display of hatred, racism and bigotry played out in different societies. He appealed to decision-makers and civil society representatives to join forces in dismantling and eradicating racism in all of its forms and manifestations.

Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance all work, singularly and collectively, to diminish our common humanity. They thrive at the intersections of race, caste, colour, age, gender, sexual orientation, class, landlessness, ethnicity, nationality, language and disability,” Mr Bautista said echoing the main observations of the Ecumenical statement delivered by the Nobel laurate and Archbishop Desmond Tutu during the holding of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban.

There was a general agreement that the world is witnessing a political tidal-wave of racism which was a shared concern. The rise of populist and nationalist parties in Europe and in the Americas was exploiting the hatred of the other by political parties to gain votes in national elections. There was acceptance of the fact that racism was not circumscribed to certain regions, but an evil of global proportions.

Therefore, it called not for grandstanding and holier-than-thy-neighbour attitudes but for joining forces from North and South, East and West, to counter and roll-back such trends. Furthermore, the conference deplored the absence of any reference to the DDPA in the SDGs of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN and considered that national implementation plans should include such a reference. Finally, emphasis was put by the meeting on the implementation of a multi-year awareness promotion agenda and of addressing the issue of racism already at primary school level.

South Africans Look to Re-elected Government to Rebuild a Stagnant Economy

Millions of South Africans headed out in large numbers, some braving cold and wet weather to cast their ballot in the country’s sixth democratic elections on May 8, 2019. Courtesy: Crystal Orderson

By Crystal Orderson
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, May 10 2019 – Millions of South Africans headed out in large numbers, some braving cold and wet weather to cast their ballot in the country’s sixth democratic elections this week. The 2019 election was one of the most competitive and contested elections that also saw a whopping 48 parties on the national ballot—up 300 percent from a mere 10 years ago.

For years South Africa’s majority was excluded from this democratic right by the minority apartheid government and the first time they were able to vote was in 1994. The ruling African National Congress, ANC, has won every election since then and there was never any doubt that the ruling party will would again remain in power. However, it was the margin of victory that was key in these elections.

The ruling party received over 58 percent of the vote along with another mandate to rule the country for the next five years. The main issues for citizens in this election was more jobs, a better economy and an end to rampant corruption. For the ANC to keep momentum and make an impact, it will have to deliver on these issues over the next two years.

Senior Economist Dawie Roodt told IPS that the main issue now is what President Cyril Ramaphosa’s plans are for the economy and dealing with corruption. “Another issue we are watching is the appointment of the new cabinet and the ministers he will appoint in the key portfolios like finance. The challenges are daunting and there are a  few key priorities how is he going to deal with Eskom and some other economic issues like job creation and the state’s debt levels.”

A Mandate for Change
In this election, Ramaphosa needed a victory to turn the tide against corruption and service delivery protests. In 2014, the ANC won 62.15 percent of the votes, with the Democratic Alliance, DA, receiving 22.23 percent while new political kid on the block, the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF, took 6.35 percent.

In 2014 voter turnout was at 73,48 percent and this week it dropped by nine percent to around 65 percent—with the decline coming as a surprise to many.

The lack of show at the polls indicates a disillusioned electorate, unhappy with the current state of politics. Ramaphosa will have to work hard to get the electorate to believe in the country again.

Economist Khaya Sithole told national radio station 702 Talk Radio that Ramaphosa needs to keep the momentum of the changes to the economy. “He has the 12-24 months to deliver on the promises of jobs and people will question him if he is going to do the right thing or not.”

Roodt says South Africans voted for Ramaphosa so that he can make the changes needed and there is renewed hope that he will announce a smaller and leaner cabinet to implement these changes.

“Ramaphosa promised us a smaller government and cabinet. I am however not too concerned around the size of the cabinet, I just want to see that we efficient people to be in charge, ministers are often also appointed because of their loyalties and not per se for the job they do,” said Roodt.

All eyes on Ramaphosa
Casting his ballot in Soweto on election day, Ramaphosa told a large media contingency that this year’s vote served to remind people of the 1994 elections.

“In 1994 our people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country and today this is what I am picking up.”

The 66-year-old Ramaphosa added that the vote was also about confidence and about the future, admitting that the party had failed in some cases.

“Over the 25 years, we have achieved a great deal. We have not yet filled the glass. The glass is half full,” he said.
South Africans are desperate for a turn around. The extent of corruption under former President Jacob Zuma’s rule, have left many feeling hopeless, angry and disillusioned.

In recent years, South Africans have become poorer, struggling to support their families with a sluggish economy. With one in three people without jobs, there is growing desperation to see change. And all eyes are on Ramaphosa, who is under enormous pressure to save the sinking ship.

Ailing economy
And South Africans want the new ANC-led government to be decisive in its decisions to re-build a stagnant economy and create much-needed jobs.

The other headaches for Ramaphosa include:

  • increasing debt—SA’s debt to GDP ratio will peak at just over 60 percent in 2023/2024;
  • continued low growth projections—the growth forecast for 2019 was revised downwards from 1.7 percent to 1.5 percent;
  • and failing state-owned entities, like the power utility Eskom.

Ramaphosa has set himself an ambitious task of attracting 100 billion dollars in new investments that he believes will kick start the ailing economy.

Eskom the albatross around South Africa’s neck

Ramaphosa will have to do some tough things, including cutting the number of ministries, reducing the massive government wage bill, and cleaning up corrupt state-owned entities, like Eskom.

Eskom is the largest utility in Africa yet it is also the albatross around Ramaphosa’s neck. The government has had to bail it out with millions of taxpayer’s dollars. The power utility has a debt burden of more than 28 billion dollars and rating agencies see this as one of the biggest risks to Africa’s most industrialised economy.

During Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s Budget Speech in March, he outlined financial support of about five billion dollars to the cash-strapped utility over three years, with support totalling about 10 billion dollars over the next decade as part of the government’s rescue plan.

Roodt said that at the moment the agenda for Eskom is to basically “just survive”. “The dismal state of Eskom is that they are in debt and they need billions to just survive,” he said.

Roodt added he wanted to see action from Ramaphosa concerning Eskom’s excessive wage bill.
“There are far too many people being paid excessive wages and there are about between 20 and 30 000 to many people working there, we need to cut down and trim Eskom.”

Economists argue this is not enough. Ramaphosa will have to go ahead with the break up of the entity and will have to look at public-private partnerships—but the trade union federation may not support this.

This is part of the problem for Roodt. “Cutting the workforce will not be easy—unions are part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC, you will need strong political leadership and hopefully Ramaphosa will have the mandate.”

The tripartite alliance is an alliance between the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Traditionally the latter two parties have always stood with the ANC in elections. However, in 2017, the SACP contested the country’s municipal elections. For this week’s elections the SACP contested once again as part of the tripartite alliance.

All eyes will be on Ramaphosa, a seasoned negotiator who chaired the country’s constitutional-making process, to see how he handles this matter.

What now? Some of the tasks ahead…..

There are 400 seats in the national assembly and during the 2014 election, the ANC had 249 seats, down from the 264 seats it had from the 2009 election. In 2019 this is likely to be less, and at the time of print, the ANC had over 200 seats. This will mean that the ANC will have a majority to make the changes that are needed.

After a decade of former president Zuma’s rule, rampant corruption, maladministration and the high unemployment rate have created a ticking time bomb for the country. Ramaphosa wants to bring renewal to South Africa to ensure job creation and an end to rampant corruption.

He has promised this would be the major issues on his agenda. South Africans will have to wait and see whether he will be committed to this once he takes office at the Union Buildings in Pretoria in June.

The Age of the Internet Calls for Younger Leaders

Muhammadu Buhari, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Selorm Branttie
ACCRA, May 10 2019 – Days before Algeria’s 82-year-old strongman president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was ousted from power, the country made one last ditch attempt to keep control: it shut down the internet.

A few weeks later, 75-year-old Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s rule ended with a picture of mainly female protestors going viral on social media platforms.

If there has been any common threads in the unseating of authoritarian African leaders in the past few months, then it has been age and the internet.

Indeed, the main contenders in Nigeria’s recent general elections were the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, 76, and Abubacar Atiku, 72. Together with the likes of Cameroon President Paul Biya, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and a host of other African leaders, they share one thing in common: they are all over 70.

Yet, they are still keen on their presidential ambitions with some even amending constitutional provisions to extend their tenures – sometimes from hospital beds in other countries.

Only five percent of Africans are aged 65 and above, but the political expectation is that this five percent should set the agenda for the 70 percent or so Africans who are under 35 years of age. Already, the average life expectancy across Africa is between 61 and 65 years, which means that all these leaders are, statistically speaking, already living on borrowed time.

If there has been any common threads in the unseating of authoritarian African leaders in the past few months, then it has been age and the internet.

As more technology has become available to an average person in Africa, the continent’s technology challenge has  moved beyond access to harnessing tech innovations to how it can improve performance in areas like education, or health. We need leaders who value and are fluent in these new technologies and their promise.

Countries like Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Chad and Mali have some of the lowest human development indices in the world according to the UNDP’s Human Development Indices for 2018. These countries are also ones with some of the highest costs per 1 gigabyte of internet data — at around $10.

Despite these costs, across the continent are real examples of how the internet is changing lives. The mobile economy in 2017 alone added US$150 billion to African economies

But the internet revolution in Africa is encountering a bottleneck: elderly African leaders. And the reality is that these laggards are mostly  born generations before the rise of the internet. It has become obvious that the struggle of Africa’s older leaders to understand technology has had dire consequences for their citizens.

In July 2018, Uganda put a tax on social media and mobile money payments to raise revenue and “control gossip”. Within a day, certain accounts indicated a 60 percent drop in transactions. By December 2018, Uganda had lost 5 million internet users as a direct result of these taxes. The sharp drop in remittances meant that businesses were impacted in areas like agriculture, remittances from urban areas to family and relatives in rural areas as well as  basic e-commerce.

The Global Network Initiative reports that  between 0.4 percent and 1 percent of a country’s daily GDP is lost because of internet shutdowns, or about $6.6 million per 10 million users daily.

On January 15, 2019, Zimbabwe shut down internet connectivity for three days in a bid to quell public protests. According to Netblocks, this shutdown affected an estimated 17 million people and cost the nation’s economy some $17 million dollars.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s greatest asset is its youth. There are 420 million people between 15-35, of which just more than 30 percent are unemployed, according to the African Development Bank. Because the median age of an African today is 19.4 years, leaders should focus on transforming  African economies to become centers of entrepreneurial success.

Dr Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, currently Africa’s youngest leader at 42, believes that strengthening e-commerce and virtual government is more important than running state monopolies. By selling off half of the state-owned Ethio Telecom, he has demonstrated the willingness to open up the telcom sector to innovation.

Of course, it can also be said that younger African leaders are not always best equipped to modernize their nations. Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, 61, has improved e-governance and innovation to the point where his country ranks just behind Mauritius in a World Bank assessment of African business environments. His younger neighbor, the 54-year old Pierre Nkurunziza in Burundi, however still ranks among the lower performers in Africa 14 years in power after gaining power at the age of 40.  Youth itself is not necessary, but a youthful, outward-looking mindset is.

Many African leaders are also aware that the internet can provide the very tools that can threaten their political control.  They will be watching warily the situation in Algeria, where activists have used the internet as part of a campaign to challenge 82-year-old president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who has been in power for two decades.

One easy way African countries could revitalize their political leadership would be to limit political leaders to the civil service retirement age.

In Nigeria, the presidential contest was declared for Buhari, who at age 76 is 16 years older than the mandatory retirement age for Nigerian civil servants. Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed, on the other hand, would have to work another 13 years to even qualify for early retirement in his country.

African voters should ask themselves which type of leader is better equipped to guide their countries into the future.

Selorm Branttie is the Global Strategy Director of mPedigree, which designed the world’s first SMS based anti-counterfeiting solution. He is very passionate about how technology can create a new future for Africa and the global south.  

Rise of Right-wing Nationalism Undermines Human Rights Worldwide

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, May 10 2019 – The rise of right-wing nationalism and the proliferation of authoritarian governments have undermined human rights in several countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

As a result, some of the international human rights experts – designated as UN Rapporteurs – have either been politically ostracized, denied permission to visit countries on “fact-finding missions” or threatened with expulsion, along with the suspension of work permits.

The Philippines government, a vociferously authoritarian regime, has renewed allegations against Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The Deputy Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations, Brigadier General Antonio Parlade, told reporters that the United Nations had been infiltrated by the Communist Party of the Philippines through Tauli-Corpuz.

But a group of UN human rights experts denounced the politically-inspired charges against a longstanding UN envoy on human rights.

“The new accusations levelled against Ms. Tauli-Corpuz are clearly in retaliation for her invaluable work defending the human rights of indigenous peoples worldwide, and in the Philippines,” the experts said

Anna-Karin Holmlund, Senior UN Advocate at Amnesty International, told IPS “We have witnessed several deeply worrying personal attacks by UN Member States against the independent experts, including personal attacks, threats of prosecution, public agitation and physical violence in the past year”.

“It is clear they are targeted for simply doing their job,” she added.

On occasion, she noted, these have been carried out by members of the UN Human Rights Council that are expressly required to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

“Such attacks are part of a disturbing trend of a shrinking space for human rights work more broadly in many places around the world,” declared Holmlund.

Meanwhile, the Government of Burundi has closed down the UN Human Rights Office triggering a protest from Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva.

And under the Trump administration, the US has ceased to cooperate with some of the UN Rapporteurs, and specifically an investigation on the plight of migrants on the Mexican border where some of them have been sexually assaulted—abuses which have remained unreported and unprosecuted.

The government of Myanmar has barred a UN expert from visiting the country to probe the status of Rohingya refugees.

In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, postponed an official visit to Morocco because the government “has not been able to ensure a programme of work in accordance with the needs of the mandate and the terms of reference for country visits by special procedures.”

He was scheduled to visit the country from 20 to 26 March “to examine the impact of measures aimed at ensuring the independence and impartiality of the judiciary and prosecutors, and the independent exercise of the legal profession.”

“It is most regrettable that the suggestions of places to visit and schedule of work were not fully taken into consideration by the Government. It is an essential precondition for the exercise of the mandate of Special Rapporteur that I am able to freely determine my priorities, including places to visit,” he said.

Referring to the situation in Colombia, Robert Colville, Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said May 10: “We are alarmed by the strikingly high number of human rights defenders being killed, harassed and threatened in Colombia, and by the fact that this terrible trend seems to be worsening”

“We call on the authorities to make a significant effort to confront the pattern of harassment and attacks aimed at civil society representatives and to take all necessary measures to tackle the endemic impunity around such cases.”

In just the first four months of this year, he pointed out, a total of 51 alleged killings of human rights defenders and activists have been reported by civil society actors and State institutions, as well as the national human rights institution.

The UN Human Rights Office in Colombia is closely following up on these allegations. This staggering number continues a negative trend that intensified during 2018, when our staff documented the killings of 115 human rights defenders.

And last month, Israel revoked the work permit for Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director of Human Rights Watch, prompting a protest from the United Nations.

“This ruling threatens advocacy, research, and free expression for all and reflects a troubling resistance to open debate,” a group of UN experts said. “It is a setback for the rights of human rights defenders in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Dr Palitha Kohona, a former chairman of the Israeli Practices Committee, mandated to monitor human rights violations in Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, told IPS that official visits to the West Bank were barred by Israel (“and not for want of trying”) but not to Gaza, which they could not.

He said several approaches were made through the Israeli Missions in New York and Geneva to seek approval to interview persons on the ground in the West Bank, but to no avail.

“In 2011, we waited an extra day in Amman hoping to get approval which was never forthcoming. A ministerial visit by delegates from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to the West Bank was stopped at the Allenby Bridge by Israel”.

The Rafah crossing was controlled by Egypt and the Gaza authorities. Entry to Gaza for the Committee was through Sinai following a long bus ride from Cairo across the Sinai desert, said Dr Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

“I visited Gaza twice in 2010 and 2011 with the Committee. I believe that these were the only two occasions that the Committee was able to visit Gaza.”

Egypt itself seemed to make the entry uncomfortable for the Committee, perhaps to keep Israel happy, he said.

In 2011, the Committee was held up for over four hours at the Rafah Crossing to Sinai. “Eventually I had to contact the Sri Lanka embassy in Cairo by phone to get us across”.

According to a report in the New York Times March 10, Leilana Farha, the UN Special Envoy for Housing was “shocked” to discover that some of the Egyptians she interviewed in Cairo’s poor areas “had suffered reprisals for talking to her.”

“Some were flung from their homes by officials, their belongings strewn in the streets. Others were harassed by the security services or barred from leaving Egypt,” said the report from New York Times correspondent Declan Walsh in Cairo.

“The foreign ministry accused Farha of fabricating stories and implied that she was a terrorist sympathizer, bent on smearing Egypt”.

The Times said “such defensive, conspiratorial talk is standard fare on Egypt’s television stations, which are heavily influenced by (Egyptian President) el-Sisi’s government. And it has seeped down into the street.

The United Nations currently has 38 Rapporteurs or independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council in Geneva to investigate violations of the legitimate political, economic and legal rights of individuals and minorities worldwide going as far back as 1982.

These fact-finding missions, undertaken by UN Rapporteurs, cover a wide range of issues, including investigations into torture, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary executions, involuntary disappearances, racism, xenophobia, modern day slavery and the abuse of the rights of migrants and indigenous peoples.

Urmila Bhoola of South Africa, Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, told IPS she has visited Niger, Belgium, Nigeria, El Salvador, Mauritania, Paraguay and, lastly Italy, in October 2018.

She pointed out that “country visits are only conducted upon invitation from governments”.

“I have issued requests for country-visits to many countries but due to the mandate’s name and focus, member states are often reluctant to invite the mandate on contemporary forms of slavery, to conduct a visit”.

In this sense, she pointed out, member states may not openly refuse a visit but may not reply to country visit requests.

According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, member states generally cooperate with the independent human rights experts in the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

The number of States that have never received a visit by a mandate holder has diminished to 22. And the number of States that have issued a ‘standing invitation’ to Special Procedures has now reached 120 Member States and 1 non-Member Observer State.

Some States receive more than one visit per year. Each year, on average, Special Procedures conduct around 80 visits to different States.

At this time, said a spokesperson, “ we have not been notified of any changes concerning cooperation with Special Procedures by the United States’ Permanent Mission here in Geneva. Indeed, they have been in contact with several mandate holders recently”.

In December, 2017 the Government of Myanmar informed the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar that all access to the country has been denied and cooperation withdrawn for the duration of her tenure.

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