Human Rights

"[R]ecognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world."

-Preamble to the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

Abstract: Safeguarding Medical Care and Humanitarian Action in the UN Counterterrorism Framework

April 15, 2019

In her report Safeguarding Medical Care and Humanitarian Action in the UN Counterterrorism Framework, Alice Debarre poses the question of how UN and UN member state counterterrorism frameworks affect and interact with International Humanitarian Law (IHL). She does this through exploring what prevents IHL and counterterrorism frameworks from working together, specifically the principle of impartiality, which is significantly complicated by the lack of consensus on a definition for terrorism, terrorist act, or terrorist, and how designated terrorists should be treated under IHL. In this section she also references a status that has negatively impacted many an NGO: material support. Because medical personnel and aid groups are bound by medical ethics as well as IHL (specifically impartiality) under both UN and their host country’s counterterrorism laws, delivering aid becomes ever more difficult and risky as more and more counterterrorism laws are applied.

Read more.

New Website Focuses on Freedoms of Assembly and of Association Worldwide

January 28, 2014

“Civil society is possibly the best mechanism we have to ensure pluralism, broadmindedness, tolerance, civic participation, and democracy. It is not just a single voice, it is a chorus. If the government silences this chorus, they will have taken away people’s autonomy. And it is never treasonable to defend this right,” Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, says on his new website.

On the website, visitors can learn more about their rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, view reports and get country-specific information, and participate in discussions with the UN Special Rapporteur.

See related reports from Kiai:

Special Rapporteur Highlights Use of CT Laws to Stifle Civil Society

The United Nations' new Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association Clement Voule has released his first report to the Human Rights Council. In it, he identifies eight global trends with regard to these rights, including the "use of legislation to suppress the legitimate exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association." In particular, he cites new or amended counterterrorism laws that undermine the rights of civil society. Read the report

New CSIS Report Examines Negative Impact of Counterterrorism Measures

April 17, 2018

"The world has witnessed an alarming rise in restrictions placed on civil society actors to curtail their space and operations, impeding upon the realization of their rights to the freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly - frequently in the name of countering terrorism and protecting national security, among other drivers," according to a March 2018 report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Counterterrorism Measures and Civil Society: Changing the Will, Finding the Way. ( Read more

UN Special Rapporteur’s Assessment of the United States’ Civil Society

April 25, 2018

In July 2016, Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, visited the United States on an official mission to assess the civil society’s freedoms of assembly and association. While regarding the United States as “a nation of ...resilience,”  Kiai stressed its current struggle “to live up to its ideals on a number of important issues.”

Kiai’s findings were largely unsurprising. He pinpointed the issue of racial, social and economic inequality as the most critical  when assessing assembly and association rights in the U.S.

“Racism and the exclusion, persecution and marginalization that come with it, affect the enabling environment for the exercise of association and assembly rights,” Kiai said.

Additionally, Kiai noted that economic inequality, unnecessarily militarized policing at some peaceful protests, intimidation of activists, lack of accountability for rights violations, disproportionate counter-terrorism measures, and increasing corporate power also largely influences and constraints civil society in America).

Country Visit: United States Of America (A/HRC/35/28/Add.2)

What Happens in New York ...

April 17, 2018
Andrea Hall

It has been said of the UN that “what happens in Geneva stays in Geneva.” But what about New York?

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, insists that civil society organizations should be showing up for the UN’s counterterrorism work in New York and “making life uncomfortable for them.”

In late March, I had the privilege of attending a small roundtable with Aoláin, who is in her second year of a three-year UN mandate. During this event, she spoke passionately about the importance of civil society and the need to protect it from the adverse effects of counterterrorism, one of four priorities she has set out for her term. (The other three are states of emergency, legal regimes and gender effects of counterterrorism.) “We are increasingly seeing a global security regime that is impinging on the norms of the law of armed conflict and weakening human rights,” she said.  

States of emergency have a co-relationship with human rights abuses and restriction of due process, Aoláin noted. Once you have a presumption of necessity, unregulated definitions of terrorism triumph, she explained. These are “loose, vague and highly problematic definitions” that are self-serving, she said, adding, “Anyone who disagrees or simply doesn’t fit in with the prevailing political discourse” becomes branded a terrorist. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that there is a “comfortable consensus” that no one state will criticize another state on its definition of terrorist, she noted.

But will the work of civil society find its way into the UN? Many nonprofits do not have the bandwidth to pursue this work, and perhaps only the largest groups reliably know their way around this forum and its entry points. Funders need to realize the importance of this work and incorporate adequate resources into grants to civil society organizations. Aoláin pointed out that the Special Rapporteur exists within the UN counterterrorism architecture, sitting on all working committees and included in all high-level conversations, because the UN wasn’t willing to create a full-time human rights piece within the counterterrorism framework. Thus, the lion’s share of this work must fall to civil society. 

States of Emergency are No Excuse for Sustained Human Rights Violations

March 21, 2018

In the first report since her appointment in August 2017, Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, details the relationship between states of emergency and sustained human rights violations. In the report (A/HRC/37/52, 27 February 2018), she encourages governments to adopt guidelines while countering terrorism to address the problems of permanent emergencies.

“Recalling that human rights law considers war as a justified legal basis for the declaration of emergency … the post-9/11 articulations of fighting a global war on terror may have muddied the legal and rhetorical waters on the legal basis for emergency powers,” the report states.

C&SN Testifies Before IACHR

December 11, 2017

Just three days before International Human Rights Day, Charity & Security Network joined CIVICUS Alliance, the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law ICNL) and a defendant in the J20 criminal trial stemming from the Inauguration Day protests to present testimony on restrictions of the freedoms of association and peaceful assembly in the U.S. before the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights.

Charity & Security Network’s Andrea Hall presented data from the February 2017 report, Financial Access for U.S. Nonprofits, on the financial access difficulties that nonprofits are having in accessing banking services. Her testimony outlined how this problem, which includes account closures and wire transfer delays, severely impedes the organizations’ ability to carry out their programs. Access to funds is integral to the right to freely associate.

Bobbie Traut of CIVICUS led the panel and gave an overview of the problems with freedom of association and assembly in the U.S. today, highlighting data available in the CIVICUS Monitor. Charity & Security Network is a research partner on the Monitor.

Nick Robinson of ICNL discussed the serious threats to freedom of peaceful assembly that have passed or are pending in various state legislatures. He also explained that the militarization of local police has created a hostile and dangerous environment for protestors that includes kettling and the use of chemical agents without proper warning. That information is contained in ICNL's protest law tracker

Elizabeth Lagesse is a defendant in what is known as the J20 criminal trial. She is also a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit against the Washington, D.C. metropolitan police concerning the same events. Lagesse is facing multiple criminal charges associated with the protest, including felony rioting, inciting a riot and conspiracy to riot, even though prosecutors have admitted in court that they have no evidence that she harmed any people or property. More than 230 protesters, journalists and legal observers were arrested. As prosecutors have aggressively pursued these charges, they have depicted political organizing as a political conspiracy, she said, and described the prosecution’s disruption to the lives of her and her co-defendants, each of whom face up to several decades in prison. She also noted the chilling impact of these cases on other protesters. 

The U.S. government was then given an opportunity to respond to the civil society panel’s presentation. They used this time to present a history lesson on freedom of speech in the United States. Following their remarks, the IACHR commissioners publicly scolded the U.S. government representatives for making “no reference to what is happening” in their remarks, and noting their serious concern with the problems outlined by civil society. The only way things can change is by admitting there has been a regression, … and that the regression is caused by the highest levels of power in the U.S. government,” said IAHCR chairwoman Margarette May Macaulay. She added that the situation with the J20 defendants is “unacceptable” and that she expected the U.S. government’s answer to focus on that. Finally, she noted that given the current state of civil liberties in the U.S., the country’s founders must be “turning in their graves.”

View the video of the hearing

View a photos of the event here and here