#HRC34 | High-level officials kick off Council session, emphasise critical role of defenders

06.03.2017

Dignitaries emphasised the key role that a vibrant civil society plays in promoting and protecting human rights during the High-Level Segment of the Human Rights Council’s 34th session.

Public recognition of the work of defenders is key to their protection and to a sustained human rights movement. During the opening day of the UN Human Rights Council, several dignitaries from the UN and governments worldwide stressed that civil society participation is instrumental for the work of the Council.

ISHR welcomes in particular the statement made by the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, appreciating the work of human rights defenders (HRDs):

‘The United Nations is on your side. And I am on your side.’

The Secretary General also reminded States of their responsibility to ensure that HRDs can operate without fear of reprisals and intimidation.

‘Human rights defenders must be able to freely participate in the Council and engage more broadly with the UN without fear of reprisal.  This is critical to our work and to the credibility of Member States.’

The President of the General Assembly, Peter Thomson, also highlighted the importance of civil society by calling States, the UN and civil society to work shoulder to shoulder and advance with common purpose.

High-level speakers expressed concern regarding increasing restrictions to civil society space, particularly against HRDs and journalists.

  • Delegates from Botswana, the Czech Republic, Costa Rica, the European Union, France, Malta, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg, among others, reiterated their support to the work of HRDs and journalists and stressed the importance of guaranteeing their protection.
  • Delegates from Germany, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and the United Kingdom, among others, condemned acts of reprisals against HRDs and emphasised that HRDs must be able to participate and engage with the Council without fear of intimidation or reprisals.

The pivotal role defenders play in promoting sustainable development was also recognised. Georgia underscored the importance of strengthening the role of NGOs and safeguarding civil society’s space to ensure they are heard.

‘Without close cooperation with all stakeholders, it is impossible to secure the sustainable development of the country.’

‘These statements highlight that defenders not only play a vital role for accountability and democracy, they are also fundamental for the implementation of sustainable development goals’, ISHR Human Rights Council Advocacy Director Michael Ineichen said.

ISHR commends the statements delivered by high-level authorities recognising the importance of civil society and HRDs.

‘The upcoming renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders represents an opportunity to strengthen State action to fully guarantee the rights of HRDs’, Mr Ineichen said. ‘Moreover, statements condemning acts of reprisals send a strong message to the Council, the President and the Bureau, to take all the necessary measures to prevent reprisals and ensure that those who perpetrate these acts are held to account’. 

In a letter to member States of the Human Rights Council, a global coalition of leading civil society organisations has called for the consensus renewal of the mandate of the UN expert on human rights defenders. Read more about the letter here