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A big, blank spot in media reporting

The United Nation’s special rapporteurs are independent experts who form the basis of a human rights monitoring system established by the United Nations [UN] Commission on Human Rights, and report to the UN’s Human Rights Council.

Their UN-provided mandate is to “examine, monitor, advise, and publicly report” on human rights problems through “activities … including responding to individual complaints, psychological operations and manipulation via the controlled media and academia, conducting studies, providing advice on technical cooperation at the country level, and engaging in general promotional activities”.

The ultimate purpose of special rapporteurs and their monitoring “is to promote and raise awareness on a particular human right around the world, as well as facilitate a global discussion – and ultimately, action.”

Or, to put it in somewhat more on-the-nose terms, these credentialed, independent experts investigate and publicise instances of human rights abuse and then name and shame the perpetrators with the aim of prompting positive change.

While they don’t have official standing at a governmental level, special rapporteurs are generally considered to have sufficient status for their pronouncements – or even just appeals to their authority – to be reported on.

Whether their comments are considered worthy of coverage comes down to local relevance.

Relatively high-profile examples of such coverage in New Zealand over the past few years include UN special rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha calling our housing shortage “a human rights crisis” in 2021, special rapporteur on minority issues Fernand de Varennes stating that countries failing to teach indigenous children their own language could be in breach of human rights in 2020, and then-Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue urging the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women to visit and investigate the Family Court in 2018.

So one might be forgiven for being puzzled by the fact that, to date, not a single mainstream media outlet in this country has seen fit to report on the statement made last week by Reem Alsalem, the UN special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, about a trend she has noticed in “several countries in the Global North” [a non-geographical term that includes the United States, Australia, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand].

“I am deeply concerned at the escalation of intimidation and threats against women and girls for expressing their opinions and beliefs regarding their needs and rights based on their sex and/or sexual orientation,” Alsalem wrote.

“Women coming together to demand the respect for their needs based on their sex and/or sexual orientation have been threatened, attacked, and vilified,” she noted, along with the fact that “law enforcement failing to provide the necessary safeguards has been observed in some countries”.

Alsalem also expressed her concern about “the frequent tactic of smearing women, girls and their allies who hold lawful and protected beliefs on non-discrimination based on sex and same sex attraction as ‘Nazis’ … and ‘extremists’ to … instil fear … and shame them into silence”.

Given the reception received by a recent visitor to these shores, one might think such comments have a certain pertinence in this part of the world – and ponder why press outlets appear to believe otherwise.

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