Human Rights Current Affairs - 2019
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The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights (UN Human Rights Prize) was announced recently by María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the 73rd Session of United Nations General Assembly. The winners of 2018 award are:
- Asma Jahangir – Pakistan’s late human rights activist
- Rebeca Gyumi – A Tanzanian human rights activist
- Joenia Wapichana – Brazil’s first indigenous lawyer
- Front Line Defenders – A human rights organisation of Ireland
About the UN Human Rights Prize
These awards were instituted by the General Assembly of United Nations in 1966 and are intended to honour and commend people and organizations which have done outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other United Nations human rights instruments. The first awards were given in 1968 and are given every five years since then.
About 2018 Winners
Late Asma Jahangir (died Feb. 2018) was the fourth Pakistani woman to receive the prestigious award. She was an advocate from Pakistan, known for her persistent advocating for women’s rights and discrimination against minorities. She was first woman to serve as president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan. She was critical of Pakistan’s military, intelligence and armed groups. She faced death threats, imprisonments and beatings several times. She co-founded and chaired the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan; helped passing of a legislation against bonded labour in Pakistan; and worked on blasphemy cases.
Rebecca Gyumi is a Tanzanian advocate and founder of the Msichana Initiative in Tanzania. This is an NGO which advocates for girls’ right to education. In 2016, Gyumi had won a landmark case on child marriages after petitioning against the 1971 Tanzania Marriage Act which allowed girls as young as 14 to get married.
Joenia Wapichana is an indigenous lawyer from northern Brazil, and she became first indigenous woman to be elected to the Congress. She was the first indigenous lawyer to speak in front of the Supreme Federal Court and more than a decade before that she became the first indigenous person to graduate from law school in the country.
Front Line Defenders
Front Line Defenders is an Ireland based charity that provides support to human rights defenders having lives and health at risk through advocacy, grants, security and training. It was founded in 2001 in Ireland’s capital, Dublin.
Trivia: So far, only one Indian personality – Baba Amte has been awarded United Nations Human Rights Prize. Baba Amte was given this prize in 1988.
India was elected to United Nations’ Human Rights Council’, the main body of UN charged with promoting and monitoring human rights for period of three years beginning January 1, 2019. In this secret ballot election held in 193-member UN General Assembly (UNGA) India secured 188 votes in Asia-Pacific category, the highest number of votes among all candidates. Total 18 new members in the five regional categories were elected by absolute majority (i.e. minimum of 97 votes are required to get elected through secret ballot). From Asia-Pacific region category, Fiji with 187 and Bangladesh 178 votes were also elected along with India. This was fifth time India has been elected to UNHRC, previously was elected 2006-2009, 2011-2014 and 2014-2017.
United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
UNHRC is an inter-governmental body within United Nations system. It is responsible for strengthening promotion and protection of human rights around globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them. It was created by UNGA on 15 March 2006 by adopting resolution 60/251 to promote human rights globally. It had replaced former UN Commission on Human Rights. It is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
Members: UNHRC is made up of 47 UN member states which are elected by UN General Assembly (UNGA) with specific number of seats allocated for each five region of the globe viz. African States (13 seats), Asia-Pacific States (13 seats), Eastern European States (6 seats), Latin American and Caribbean States (8 seats) and Western European and other States( 7 seats). Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a row.
Functions: Members of the council work to engage countries on improving human rights. They make decisions ranging from exposing violations to recommending that UN Security Council make referral to International Criminal Court (ICC). UNHRC does not have authority to take action but can exert significant pressure on violating country. It can also set up special rapporteurs with mandate to investigate and report human-rights violations and abuses.
Note: United States under President Donald Trump Administration had withdrawn from UNHRC earlier this year after it questioned legitimacy of the council because of presence of several dictatorial regimes violating human rights on it.