High Commissioner, please put human rights defenders up front

September 20, 2018

In a briefing paper for the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, ISHR has set out ten concrete and practical ways in which the High Commissioner and her Office can contribute to protecting human rights defenders and promoting a safe and enabling environment for their work at the international and national-levels.

Supporting and empowering these defenders – and protecting them against those governments, corporations and fundamentalists whose currency is prejudice, profit or privilege – should be the new High Commissioner’s highest priority. She should consult closely with defenders, speak out and pursue accountability when they are attacked, push for laws and mechanisms to protect them at the national level, and ensure that the UN human rights system is safe, accessible and effective for them,‘ ISHR Director Phil Lynch said.

The ISHR briefing paper complements a broader civil society letter supported by more than 750 civil society [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/09/08/civil-society-sends-letter-to-new-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-bachelet/].

Recommendations for the High Commissioner to support human rights defenders

  1. Be proactive in regularly consulting and working in partnership with human rights defenders and other independent civil society actors.
  2. Make clear and regular statements on the essential role played by human rights defenders and the need to ensure they can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear or hindrance, acknowledging the protection needs of particular groups of defenders.
  3. Speak out and demand accountability on cases of threats, attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders, including by calling for and supporting impartial investigations, prosecution of perpetrators, and effective remedies for victims.
  4. Push and work with States to fulfil the commitments laid out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including through repealing restrictive legislation and developing specific laws, policies and mechanisms to protect defenders.
  5. Establish a comprehensive set of indicators to assess State fulfilment of human rights obligations related to human rights defenders, which could be used as an evidentiary basis for assessing compliance.
  6. Build strategic alliances with States, civil society, academics, business enterprises and other actors with a shared interest in human rights, ensuring an enabling environment for civil society and respect for the rule of law.
  7. Define an operating procedure at OHCHR to ensure that all offices establish and apply minimum standards in regard to their work on and with human rights defenders.
  8. Encourage the Secretary General to carry out a full audit of UN work on human rights defenders and to develop an organisation-wide policy on supporting and protecting defenders. More generally, work closely with the Secretary-General to ensure that all UN agencies contribute to, and coordinate on, the protection of defenders and ensuring an enabling environment for their work.
  9. Encourage the development and implementation of an effective UN-wide policy on preventing and addressing reprisals and strongly support continuation and adequate resourcing of the mandate of the UN Senior Official on reprisals.
  10. Work to ensure that UN human rights bodies and mechanisms are accessible, effective and protective for human rights defenders, in particular by ensuring that any reform efforts are informed by the full and meaningful participation of civil society. Strong leadership from the High Commissioner is essential to ensure that the process to strengthen the Treaty Bodies in 2020, and the General Assembly mandated status review of the Human Rights Council in 2021, are underpinned by these principles.

http://www.ishr.ch/news/high-commissioner-put-human-rights-defenders-front

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