Impact of the work of Special Procedures: Prevention and/or cessation of human rights violations

Global tech companies enhance app use monitoring to prevent human rights violations

In October 2019, the Special Rapporteur on slavery was interviewed by the BBC with regard to tech companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook-owned Instagram, which have allegedly enabled an illegal online slave market by providing apps used for the buying and selling of domestic workers online. An undercover investigation exposed app users in Kuwait engaging in modern slavery, including by offering a child for sale. The documentary had a strong public impact and as a result, Facebook responded by reportedly banning one of the hashtags involved and by taking down 703 accounts from Instagram. Due to the strong interest in the issue of online slave markets, the Special Rapporteur, jointly with the BBC, organized a public film screening of the documentary during the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights 2019. Some 200 people attended the screening and the subsequent panel discussion. The need for tech companies to include human rights considerations in their business was stressed at the event, as the lack thereof leads to the dehumanization of thousands if not millions of lives of vulnerable women and girls who are sold online as housemaids. The BBC documentary in which the Special Rapporteur participated also left a mark in the classroom of a secondary school in New York: A teacher wrote to the Special Rapporteur that her students were reading a book about white, female slaveholders in the U.S. South. She said that "the BBC documentary on slavery in Kuwait helped my students reconsider gender in the context of labour relations. When they saw the clip with the girl who was sold and her mistress, so many of the themes of our studies became more than "dusty history." According to the school teacher, the students wrote a reflection comparing the work of the Special Rapporteur on slavery to the 19th century abolitionists and they were inspired by the "concept of using the law to liberate people", as the Special Rapporteur suggested in the documentary.

Other impact: Mechanisms of redress /Accountability

Release of indigenous human rights defender

During her country visit to Guatemala in May 2018, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples visited several indigenous human rights defenders in jail for defending the land rights of their communities. In one of the emblematic cases, an indigenous human rights defender named Abelino Chub was acquitted in April 2019, 11 months after the Special Rapporteur‘s visit. According to the stakeholders, the attention that the Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples drew to his case (end of mission statement, report, reiterated on social media) was key to secure his acquittal. Civil society organisations commented on the significance of the international attention drawn to the case by the Special Rapporteur and that it constituted a watershed moment for indigenous land rights in Guatemala.

Other impact: Mechanisms of redress / Victim support

Release of Mayor of Cochabamba, Bolivia

On 12 March 2020, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention welcomed the decision by a court in Cochabamba to end the detention of Mayor José María Leyes, who was deprived of his liberty following a trial replete with violations of due process guarantees, including judicial independence and the presumption of innocence. The release of Mr. Leyes took place only a few days after the group of experts communicated its Opinion No. 61/2019 to the Government of Bolivia, in which it declared his detention arbitrary and in violation of fundamental human rights. In its opinion, the Working Group concluded that the pre-trial detention was intended to prevent Mr. Leyes from exercising his functions in the municipality of Cochabamba, thus denying his right to participate in public affairs. In this regard, the experts found that “the judicial process was not carried out in an impartial and independent manner and the executive branch had unduly interfered with the judiciary, ensuring that Mr. Leyes was kept in pre-trial detention and therefore could not perform his functions as mayor”. The Working Group's experts stressed that the release of Mr. Leyes is not the end of this matter, but marks a turning point in his case. “The authorities must now conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the violation of Mr. Leyes’ rights, as well as adopt reforms so that cases like this do not recur,” they said, noting that “international law imposes an obligation to provide comprehensive reparation for human rights violations”.

Other impact: Contribution to governmental and/or judicial process

Release of juvenile offender from death row in Lahore, Pakistan

Following communications from special procedures over a five-year period regarding a juvenile offender who has spent 21 years on death row in Pakistan, the Punjab Home Department recognized his eligibility for commutation, and the Lahore High Court issued order commuting the person’s death sentence to life imprisonment. The court subsequently released the victim after clearing him of charges in 2020. Lawyers for the victims thanked the Special Rapporteurs for taking an active interest in this case and raised Iqbal’s case with the Government of Pakistan. The mandates of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, joined in the call. It is believed by the victims’ lawyer that the intervention of the mandate holders was crucial in persuading the Government of Pakistan to grant relief to Iqbal.

Other impact: Contribution to governmental and/or judicial process

Egypt releases LGBTIQ+ human rights defender from prison

On 20 March 2019, eight Special Procedures mandate holders issued a joint urgent appeal (EGY 4/2019) concerning the alleged arbitrary arrest and detention of Ms. Malak Al-Kashif, a transgender woman and LGBTIQ human rights defender who had been detained since 6 March 2019 for calling for peaceful protests to denounce how the Ramses Station Accident was handled by the authorities. Following the coordinated solidarity and focused attention in her case from outside Egypt, including by Special Procedures, Ms. Malak Al-Kashif was released on 16 July 2019.

Other Impact: Mechanisms of Redress – Victim Support

Thailand withdraws extradition order and Australia grants citizenship to a refugee

On 7 December 2018, the Special Rapporteur on torture and the Working Group on arbitrary detention issued a joint communication alleging that Mr. Hakeem Ali Mohamed Alaraibi, a refugee and former member of Bahrain's national football team, faced the imminent risk of being deported from Thailand to Bahrain despite the clear possibility of being persecuted and tortured (THA 5/2018). Following that communication, and in agreement with the Government of Bahrain, the Government of Thailand confirmed that the extradition order had been formally withdrawn and that Mr. Alaraibi had been released (Thailand's 14 March 2019 reply). Subsequently, the Prime Minister of Australia also confirmed that Mr. Alaraibi was granted citizenship.

Other Impact: Mechanisms of Redress – Victim Support

Supreme Court in Korea upholds conscientious objection as a valid reason to refuse military service and releases two conscientious objectors from prison

The Working Group on arbitrary detention adopted Opinion No. 40/2018 on 20 August 2018 concerning two individuals who have each been sentenced to terms of imprisonment because of their contentious objection to undertaking military service in the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/WGAD/2018/40). On 30 August 2018, the Working Group's opinion was submitted the Supreme Court of Korea for its consideration. Subsequently, on 1 November 2018, the Supreme Court, drawing upon the jurisprudence of international bodies, ruled that that conscientious objection was a valid reason to refuse military service under the State's domestic legislation (Military Service Act), and the two conscientious objectors were then released. While there was other public advocacy for change in the Republic of Korea, the Working Group's opinion played a part in changing domestic law through its citation in the Supreme Court proceedings.

Other Impact: Contribution to Governmental and/or Judicial Processes and Legislative Reform

European Union suspends project in Kenya resulting in reduced social tensions and preventing forcible evictions

Following several communications by the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples (OTH 1/2018; KEN 1/2018; KEN 7/2017; KEN 1/2017; KEN 1/2014), an EU funded project to be implemented by the government of Kenya was suspended, which stopped forcible evictions of the Sengwer indigenous people from their forest lands and a reduction of social tension.

Afghanistan pardons and releases young journalist initially sentenced to death and then to 20 years in prison

After being held for nearly two years, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, a young journalist who was sentenced to death and then to 20 years in prison in Afghanistan for downloading an article about the rights of women in Islam, was pardoned and released. In the meantime, he has left the country for fear of reprisals. The issue had been raised in a joint urgent communication sent by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, and the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances on 28 January 2008 (AFG 1/2008).

Other Impact: Mechanisms of Redress – Access to Reparation Mechanisms and Victim Support