A major new report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, to be discussed at the March 2016 session of the Human Rights Council, documents good policies and practices in the protection of defenders and makes concrete recommendations to States, business enterprises, donors and other stakeholders to ensure a safe and enabling environment for defenders' work.
(Geneva) - A major new report by the UN expert on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, documents good practices and policies in the protection of defenders and makes concrete recommendations to States, business enterprises, national human rights institutions, donors, civil society organisations and other stakeholders to ensure a safe and enabling environment for defenders' work. The report also articulates seven key principles that should inform the development and implementation of any measures to support and protect defenders.
Many of the key findings and recommendations contained in the report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders (A/HRC/31/55) are consistent with those advocated by ISHR and twelve national NGOs in a joint submission to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in October 2015.
Key among these is a recommendation that, in consultation with civil society, States should develop and implement specific national laws and mechanisms to protect defenders and to investigate and ensure accountability for threats and attacks against them. ISHR’s work to develop a model national law on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders is specifically referenced in this regard.
‘A number of states have recently introduced legislation that provides a framework for the protection and promotion of the work of human rights defenders. National legislation can lead to a stable and coherent protection framework,’ the Special Rapporteur says in the report.
In addition to enacting laws, the Special Rapporteur recommends that States establish and adequately resource human rights defender protection mechanisms, in consultation with civil society and with a number of functions: ‘Such mechanisms offer a centralised institution to monitor and report on the situation of defenders and coordinate state response to threats. In addition, they can make recommendations to reform laws and policies that conflict with the rights of defenders or place them at risk.’
According to the Special Rapporteur, such mechanisms can also play a role in combating impunity, with the report recommending that States, ‘develop a mechanism to investigate complaints on threats or violations against defenders in a prompt and effective manner and initiate appropriate disciplinary, civil and criminal proceedings against perpetrators, as part of systemic measures to prevent impunity for such acts’.
Through the report, the Special Rapporteur endorses a ‘holistic’ approach to the protection of defenders, engaging the responsibility of a range of actors. Key insights and recommendations included in the report and advocated by ISHR in this regard include that:
In addition to making concrete recommendations, the Special Rapporteur also articulates seven key principles for all stakeholders that he considers should inform and underpin all policies and practices to protect and support defenders, namely:
The Special Rapporteur's report will be tabled and discussed at the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 3 March 2016. The Special Rapporteur, Michel Forst, will also participate in a high-level NGO side-event to discuss the report and, particularly, the situation and protection needs of defenders of economic, social and cultural rights, on 7 March 2016. Other panelists include former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.