Defending human rights is increasingly dangerous activity in many parts of the world, states latest UN report

January 19, 2014

The most recent report by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has been made public and will be officially presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It is the last report by this Rapporteur whose mandate will terminate. The report finds that human rights defenders – especially journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and those who work to promote women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons – face ‘extraordinary risks’. It highlights cases of defamation, attacks, detention, torture and even killings. The report also documents an increased incidence of violations against people and communities opposed to mining, construction and development projects, with protesters attacked both by State and private security forces. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in exposing and seeking accountability for violations by both governments and corporations. Their work is crucial to transparency, good governance and justice for victims,’ commented Phil Lynch of the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.ISHR-logo-colour-high

The report also documents the worsening ‘use of legislation in a number of countries to refrain the activities of human rights defenders and to criminalise them’, with cited examples including laws to ‘curb the promotion of homosexuality’ and to restrict NGO access to foreign funds. In the last four weeks alone, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, Malaysia and the Ukraine have enacted or applied laws to criminalise human rights defenders and to silence their critical voice,’ Mr Lynch added.

In addition to documenting violations, the report makes a wide range of recommendations to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can operate in a ‘safe and enabling environment.

For those too busy to read the whole new UN report [PDF]  here are the

V.    Conclusions and recommendations:

                   A.     Conclusions

1.    The Special Rapporteur is grateful to have been given the opportunity to examine and analyse the situation of defenders worldwide. With her voice and her mandate, she has strived to raise awareness and visibility about the challenges and risks that defenders face. She has also tried to highlight good practices and provide guidance on how to widen the space in which they conduct their work, making the environment safer and more conducive.

2.    Defending human rights is not only a legitimate and honourable activity, but a right in itself. However, defending and claiming rights continues to be a dangerous activity in many parts of the world.

3.    States have the primary responsibility to ensure that defenders work in a safe and enabling environment. Such an environment should include a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework; access to justice and an end to impunity for violations against defenders; a strong and independent national human rights institution; policies and programmes with specific attention to women defenders; effective protection policies and mechanisms paying attention to groups at risk; non-State actors that respect and support the work of defenders; safe and open access to international human rights bodies; and a strong, dynamic and diverse community of defenders.

4.    The Special Rapporteur would like to put forward the recommendations below addressed mainly to States but also to other relevant stakeholders.

                   B.     Recommendations

5.    Member States should:

(a)Ensure that defenders can conduct their work in a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework. In this vein, refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities, abolish all administrative and legislative provisions that restrict the rights of defenders, and ensure that domestic legislation respects basic principles relating to international human rights law and standards;

(b)Combat impunity for violations against defenders by ensuring that investigations are promptly and impartially conducted, perpetrators are held accountable, and victims obtain appropriate remedy. In this context, pay particular attention to violations committed by non-State actors;

(c)Raise awareness about the legitimate and vital work of human rights defenders and publicly support their work. In this respect, widely disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and make sure that human rights educational programmes, especially those addressed to law enforcement and public officials, include modules that recognize the role played by human rights defenders in society;

(d)Provide national institutions with broad and solid mandates, and make sure that they are adequately resourced to be able to operate independently and to be credible and effective. Publicly acknowledge and support the important role of these institutions, including in providing protection to defenders and fighting impunity;

(e)Ensure that violations by State and non-State actors against defenders, particularly women defenders, are promptly and impartially investigated, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Furthermore, provide material resources to ensure the physical and psychological protection of defenders, including through gender-sensitive polices and mechanisms;

(f)Publicly acknowledge the particular and significant role played by women human rights defenders, and those working on women’s rights or gender issues, and make sure that they are able to work in an environment free from violence and discrimination of any sort;

(g)Provide the necessary training to public officials on the role and rights of defenders and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, particularly to those who are in direct contact with communities of defenders;

(h)Ensure that public policies, including development policies and projects, are developed and implemented in an open and participatory manner, and that defenders and communities affected are able to actively, freely and meaningfully participate;

(i)Make sure that defenders can actively participate in the universal periodic review process, including by raising awareness about the process, organizing open and meaningful consultations, including a section about the situation of defenders in the national report, and making concrete recommendations towards the improvement of the environment in which they operate;

(j)Ensure that acts of intimidation and reprisals against defenders who engage with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and international human rights bodies are firmly and unequivocally condemned. Ensure that these acts are promptly investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and that any legislation criminalizing activities in defence of human rights through cooperation with international mechanisms is repealed.

6.    The international community should:

(a)Acknowledge and support the legitimate work of human rights defenders, both through the public recognition of their role and the provision of technical and financial assistance to increase their capabilities or enhance their security if needed;

(b)Ensure safe and open access to international human rights bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.

7.    Non-State actors should:

(a)Respect and recognize the work of defenders in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and refrain from violating their rights or hindering their activities;

(b)Involve and consult with human rights defenders when carrying out country assessments and develop national human rights policies in cooperation with defenders, including monitoring and accountability mechanisms for violations of the rights of defenders;

(c)Familiarize themselves with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and with human rights impact assessment of business operations;

8.    Human rights defenders should:

(a)Actively participate in constructive dialogue with the State to encourage it to consolidate a safe an enabling environment for defenders, including by providing inputs on the potential implications of draft legislation;

(b)Familiarize themselves with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and disseminate it widely at the local level;

(c)Continue supporting the work of national human rights institutions by cooperating with them, and advocating for their strengthening;

(d)Continue working together through networks including by strengthening support networks outside capital cities to reach out to defenders working in rural areas;

(e)Strive for high standards of professionalism and ethical behaviour when carrying human rights activities;

(f)Continue to make full use of existing international and regional human rights mechanisms, including the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: