Governance Session 2: Adopting Common Positions

  1. Moderators: Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil and Nicholas Lusiani, ESCR-Net Secretariat, USA

Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: We are now going to continue the process which began in the morning on governance of ESCR-Net. We now will discuss a very important point for our Network-the issues of solidarity. Specifically, we are going to discuss adopting common positions, included here solidarity actions, to see about the possibility of giving a mandate to the Secretariat to emit solidarity actions on behalf of the entire Network, which does not exist at this time. I will pass the word to Niko Lusiani to describe to us how this issue has been dealt with so far by the Secretariat, in which various solidarity actions have been already developed. But first, I want to take advantage of this opportunity to thank the Network. In Paraná, Brazil recently, we faced the assassination of a Brasilian MST and Via Campesina leader, who was killed by a private military agents at the service of the Swiss biotech firm, Synegenta. In this case, ESCR-Net collected various offerings of solidarity. In the past month, the land which was at stake in the case has been turned over to the local government for use by family farmers in the area. This was an important victory of solidarity.

Nicholas Lusiani, ESCR-Net Secretariat, USA: Members often come to us and request that we take solidarity actions. Also, members have sent their own requests. ... Members has emphasize that there is a value-added in that ESCR-Net adopt more precise guidelines to take action. In recent years, ESCR-Net has undertaken a number of urgent actions appeals as ESCR-Net, CONAIE (Ecuador), CEDAL (Peru), Movimiento sin Terra (Brasil), Mosop (Nigeria). Today we are trying to focus on Urgent Action Appeals so that the Board and Secretariat have more precise guidelines from Members to carry out these actions.

Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: The Social Movement Working Group has been working on this issue in the past days, and has prepared for us a proposal, which suggests guidelines and criteria for urgent actions in solidarity. Please, Isabel.

Isabel Nyanguli, Butere Focused Women in Development, Kenya: Thank you. I will give the criteria for Urgent Action Appeals.


        B.  Criteria for Urgent Action Requests (Complete Document Available)

4.   The Network may issue urgent action appeals when it deems it necessary to address serious human rights violations, in particular, violations of economic, social and cultural rights. The use of urgent action appeals shall be guided by the indicators set out below:

  • (a.)    Actions immediately threatening life;
  • (b.)    Actions immediately threatening livelihood, defined as either economic or subsistence-based, including threats to the cultural and spiritual integrity of indigenous peoples with regard to land and resources;
  • (c.)    Actions threatening immediate or irreparable harm to minority, marginalized and/or vulnerable populations, including for example, forced evictions and displacements.

        C.  Procedure and Types of Urgent Action Responses

5.   An Urgent Action Request must be submitted by a Member of the Network on its own behalf. 

6.   The Request shall provide sufficiently reliable and verifiable information which may be in the form of written, audiovisual or other documentation.  The Secretariat may develop a form for ease of transmission of such information and may also gather additional information or documentation on the situation under consideration from third party sources.

7.   The response actions available to the Secretariat shall remain flexible in order to ensure rapid and effective action by the Network.  Urgent Action Responses may include: 

  • (a.)  Collective Actions. In times of imminent urgency, the Network will stand as a collective body in solidarity with the Member and allow the Secretariat to develop and sign an appropriate response in the time available for action.  For actions which allow for additional time to develop a response, the Secretariat will seek input from all Network Members to endorse a certain position as a collective body, giving a deadline for objections to be raised. Should no objections be raised, the Secretariat will sign on behalf of the Network. Should an objection be raised, the Secretariat will pursue the second option for urgent action, described below as "individual actions";
  • (b.)  Individual Actions. Should the Secretariat receive objections from Members to a particular Urgent Collective Actions, the Secretariat will reach out to the Members, asking them to endorse the request in their organizational or individual capacity. The Secretariat will then collect these endorsements, and present the action only on behalf of those organizations or individuals who have submitted their endorsement to the action;
  • (c.)  Campaign Support. Support for campaigns created by the impacted party in the form of issuing campaign requests through the ESCR-Net list serve or otherwise. 
  • (d.)  Other Actions.  Other response actions may be pursued, depending upon the particulars of the situation presented.  Such actions may include site visits, technical assistance, and other resources available through the Network.

8.  Urgent Action Responses, either collective or individual, may take the form of:

  • (a.)    A formal communication to the government and/or non-governmental actor(s) involved with the expression of specific concerns, along with demands or recommendations for action.
  • (b.)    A request to the government or non-government actor(s) for the urgent submission of additional information on the situation;
  • (c.) An offer to send to the parties involved one or more of the members of the Network in order to facilitate the implementation of international standards, provide technical assistance or otherwise as deemed appropriate by Network Members;
  • (d.) Formal communications to relevant human rights bodies or otherwise.

Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: We have now heard the proposal for guidelines on Urgent Actions, and so we would like now to hear from the Assembly about these criteria, as well as about the possibility of giving a mandate to the Secretariat to develop urgent actions, as none exists today.

        2.    Discussion

Renji Joseph, Alliance for Holistic and Sustainable Development of Communities (AHSDC), India: Thank you to those doing this work on the ground. I don't think we need to revise this document. I wholeheartedly support the document as it is.

Legborsi Saro Pyagbara, MOSOP, Nigeria: Solidarity actions are the soul of the Network. It is important that members are able to benefit from being a member of this Network and for my organization in particular, urgent actions are important benefit in terms of stepping in critical moments. It is also important to formalize this process because for some of us that work on the ground and the threats we face, it is important for us to know there is process by which to gain Network support.We support the text as it is and we encourage other organizations to see how they can support this effort. I would also like to thank the work of the Secretariat and other members in this area of support.

Ann Blyberg, IHRIP, USA: Have you also considered including ESC rights activists who are threatened with imprisonment and torture?

Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras: As a group working on the ground, where there is a serious real crisis, we would be grateful for the establishment of a mandate to be in solidarity with our colleagues.We are unable to individually validate and clarify different reports that we hear, but if ESCR-Net could verify these reports then it would allow activists to engage in support of these threatened groups.

Andrew Anderson, Frontline, Ireland: I want to support the text and support the addition from Ann to support activists that are imprisoned or tortured.We need guidelines so that we are able to respond as quickly as possible when people are being arrested. Frontline is willing to help in this.

Dalmas Otieno, Kituo Cha Sheria, Kenya: My concern is in the interventions that are proposed to include intergovernmental bodies. As we saw during and after the post election violence in Kenya, we can not underestimate the role of the African Union to help intervene during this period. Is it possible to include intergovernmental bodies?

Claire Mahon, ESC Rights Project, Switzerland: Urgent action responses states that we can make responses to more than one non-governmental actor, but only a singular government.But the discussions have shown that it is often more than one government that has extraterritorial obligations or are parties to a multi-lateral treaty relating to the violations. She proposes that we change from government to government(s) in the text.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: These suggestions will then be added to the text.

Leandro Scalabrin, Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens, Brasil: I would like to offer a proposal then on what was said so far. Under number 4 in the text, "Actions immediately threatening life and personal integrity", issues of torture and other CPR violations enter here.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: We will then put this forward as contemplated changes to the text, which will serve the team which later will finalize this document. Another of the proposals brought up under 8.b., is to change to "governmental or non-governmental actor(s)". Another proposal then is that all the urgent actions that will be taken will be done on the basis of sound, reliable information from the local actors, including those soliciting solidarity.

Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras: Repeating that all the comments made will be integrated, just to clarify how long do people have to submit other modifications?

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: We will discuss this another 10 minutes, and then we propose that we keep this open another 2 months, until the end of January to leave this open to send in written form to the Secretariat additional modifications.

Julie Cavanaugh Bill, Western Shoshone Defense Project, Newe Sogobia / USA: As a member of the group which drafted this document, we made an attempt to review the procedures currently in use by NGO's or UN treaty bodies and also incorporated by ESCR-Net previously. They also wanted it to remain as flexible as possible; i.e., para 7 "responses may include"which was meant to provide guidance but also allow for flexibility given the situation that presents itself.

Brenda Campbell, IWRAW-AP, UK: Regarding para 4(a): although she appreciates Julie's comments regarding flexibility, she believes that this paragraph should be extended to include actions immediately threatening serious physical or sexual violence and to incorporate all sorts of threats beyond life including other types of harm, maybe not even limiting it to "serious" physical or sexual violence, opening it to "physical or sexual violence" to widen the scope as much as possible.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: Without doubt, this contribution can also be added.

Hassan Shano, Waso Trustland Project, Kenya: Historical injustice should be included in the definition of justice because some communities have been persecuted for many years in many ways.

Suzanne Shende, Comité de Emergencia Garífuna de Honduras: I think that our colleagues suggestion of the inclusion of historical injustices can be considered, especially in the first two paragraphs which provide background for the statement. It is certainly relevant.

Unidentified Speaker: Wants to comment on the inclusion of historical injustices. She believes that what makes urgent actions effective is that they are used to prevent gross human rights violations. That doesn't mean we cannot take action regarding ongoing violations, but as a mechanism, urgent actions are not meant to prevent ongoing situations. She is of the view that historical injustices do not fall into this mechanism, but could be added into the background.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: Without doubt, this document serves to prevent violations, so this is a good recommendation here.

Ann Blyberg, IHRIP, USA: I am concerned that we are broadening this too far, with a very small Secretariat. She suggests that when the Drafting Committee comes together to consider the recommended amendments, they consider clearly how they affect ESCR. We are asking the Secretariat to do many other things, and there are other alternatives for other sorts of violations.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: One of the issues the Drafting Committee must consider is what will really be the value-added of this solidarity system.

Unidentified Speaker: If one would like to submit written comments, where can we send these?

  • Nicholas Lusiani, ESCR-Net, USA: Send comments to me in writing. Also, we have proposed to keep the process open until the end of January for written comments for the guidelines.

Brenda Campbell, IWRAW-AP, UK: It would be helpful for the Secretariat to send out the final draft after this point to decide what final amendments have been made.

Claire Mahon, ESC Rights Project, Switzerland: How will the Secretariat communicate with us when collective actions have been made, or where there are calls for urgent actions? When these guidelines for urgent actions are shared with us, will we also receive guidelines on how the Secretariat will communicate to the members regarding actions that have been taken under this new urgent action procedure.

  • Nicholas Lusiani, ESCR-Net, USA We don't as of yet have a communication procedure ironed out, but we will be in consultation until the end of January to make this clear. Not only is communication important about what actions occur, but also so that members can take action on their own behalf should they be inspired to do so.

Elin Wrzonki, FIDH, France: Sharing an experience we had at FIDH. We set up the Observatory for the protection of HR defenders, a joint program with another. We have two full-time staff in our organization, plus another somewhere else, plus other people working on this. You really need to consider institutional capacity, as this will give a lot of work to the Secretariat. We need to do actions, but maybe we should keep it to very specific cases, otherwise this will take up your whole time.

  • Darci Frigo, Terra de Direitos, Brasil: Important to point out the others here which are involved in HR defense and solidarity, Frontline, FIDH, Amnesty, and others. All these proposals will be taken into account. Who will volunteer to be in the Drafting Committee with the Secretariat, after the end of the term of open contributions?

Volunteer Drafting Committee: Secretariat, Julie Cavanaugh-Bill, Dagane (nonmember), Andrew (Frontline), and Michelle Kagari, Amnesty Int'l, agreed to put ESCR-Net in touch with the coordinators of AI's urgent action system for guidance or coordination.

Working Group Description: