The legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders at the national level is crucial to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable legal restrictions. Recognising this, ISHR has started work on an ambitious project to develop a model national law on the protection of human rights defenders.
The legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders is crucial to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable legal restrictions. As the former UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders wrote in her report to the March 2014 session of the Human Rights Council:
One of the key elements of a safe and enabling environment for defenders is the existence of laws and provisions...that protect, support and empower defenders...The adoption of laws that explicitly guarantee the rights contained in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is crucial in that it could contribute to building an enabling environment and give these rights legitimacy.
Despite this, and almost 15 years after its adoption, very few States have acted to incorporate the international Declaration on Human Rights Defenders into national law. Worse still, governments in all regions are increasingly enacting laws which restrict and even criminalise the work of human rights defenders and NGOs.
In response to these gaps and trends, ISHR is working in partnership with key regional, sub-regional and national human rights defender groups from around the world to develop a model national law on human rights defenders and to advocate for its adoption at the international level and its enactment locally.
‘Enacting the rights of human rights defenders in national law would be a significant step towards transforming the international promise of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders into a national-level reality.’ – Gustavo Gallon, Director of the Colombian Commission of Jurists
The model law will assist States to develop laws, policies and institutions at the national level to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from reprisals and attacks. The model law will also serve as a valuable tool for human rights defenders advocating for stronger legal recognition and protection of their important work.
ISHR has already mobilised significant support for this ambitious project from human rights defenders working at national regional and international levels, with the concept being strongly endorsed by human rights defenders attending the African Commission in October 2013, defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability at the November 2013 Peoples’ Forum on Business and Human Rights in Bangkok, and by a meeting of international law experts in Vienna held in June 2013. The project has also harnessed support from progressive States, with Ireland and Liechtenstein pledging financial support, and from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
'To support and protect human rights defenders, parliaments should make the Declaration a national legal instrument in order to facilitate its application by national authorities and to ensure adherence thereto by the judiciary and State authorities.' - Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Fact Sheet No 29, p. 33
In addition to being called for by human rights defenders, the UN Human Rights Council itself has also spoken on the issue of the need for specific national laws to protect defenders, adopting a landmark resolution in March 2013 which calls on States to amend laws which target or criminalise human rights defenders, including laws which restrict NGO access to foreign sources of funding, which criminalise 'homosexual propaganda', or which limit freedom of expression, assembly or association on discriminatory grounds. The Council went further again in September 2013 when it adopted a resolution calling on States to enact specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders from reprisals.
In 2015, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders identified, and several States in the Council endorsed, the need to develop and further strengthen specific legislation on the recognition and protection or human rights defenders. Both Burkina Faso and Sierra Leone stated during their oral interventions that they are consulting civil society on such legislation, while during an ISHR side-event the representative of Tunisia indicated that Tunisia would welcome technical assistance from the Special Rapporteur to draft a national human rights defender law.
For further information about this project, please contact: