National policies must be informed by and protect human rights defenders

18.09.2015

States should enact specific laws for the protection of human rights defenders and consult and engage defenders in the development and implementation of all national policies with human rights implications, a cross-regional coalition of 15 NGOs told the UN Human Rights Council today.

(Geneva) – States should enact specific laws for the protection of human rights defenders and consult and engage defenders in the development and implementation of all national policies with human rights implications, a cross-regional coalition of 15 NGOs told the UN Human Rights Council today.

In a statement coordinated by ISHR, national NGOs from all regions told the Council that ‘for any national policy to be effective in the protection of human rights on the ground, human rights defenders must be at the core of its development. They are the motors of true human rights change.’

The coalition emphasised, however, that for defenders to play their vital role in promoting good government and the rule of law, States must develop ‘concrete policies’ to guarantee a safe and enabling environment for defenders’ work.

In addition to enacting and effectively implementing human rights defender protection laws, States must also repeal laws and policies that restrict and criminalise defenders’ work. In this regard the coalition cited examples including ‘restrictions on NGO funding in India; restrictions on the establishment and operation of NGOs under the NGO Bill in Uganda; limits on freedom of association in Australia; the systematic demolition of the rule of law in Hungary; and foreign agent and anti-LGBT propaganda laws like Kyrgyzstan’s.’

The coalition also emphasised that a conducive legal environment is only one element of ensuring a safe and enabling environment for defenders and other civil society actors, highlighting also the need for States to make high-level public statements in support of defenders, and to prevent and ensure accountability and an end to impunity for stigmatisation, threats and attacks against them. This was echoed in an important statement to the Council by the Netherlands, which said:

‘Human rights defenders and civil society organisations … should have the freedom to organise and speak out. In many countries they cannot and this is making the world a less open and a more dangerous place. The space for civil society is shrinking and human rights defenders face reprisals for their work at home and at the UN. Sometimes even the lawyers of human rights defenders are gagged, apparently to discourage them from representing their clients. Journalists face similar reprisals; over the last decade more than 700 journalists have been killed for doing their job and only 1 out of 10 of their murderers gets punished. The international community should stand and act united to protect these important voices.’

The statements came as the UN Human Rights Council debates an OHCHR report and a proposed resolution on the topic of ‘national policies and human rights’. In line with ISHR advocacy and recommendations, the OHCHR report recognises the need for ‘special measures’ to protect defenders and address attacks and reprisals against them, the desirability of national action plans on business and human rights including ‘measures to protect human rights defenders’, and the importance of States adopting guidelines for their diplomatic missions on the protection of defenders, ‘along the lines of policies developed by Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland’.

Speaking in relation to the proposed resolution which will be adopted by the Council on 1 or 2 October, ISHR’s Tess McEvoy said, ‘It is imperative that the resolution explicitly recognise both the invaluable role of human rights defenders in informing the development and implementation of national policies and the obligation of States to enact specific laws and measures for their protection’.

The cross-regional group of human rights organisations informing and supporting the statement coordinated and delivered by ISHR comprise:

  1. Civil Society Organisation Network for Development (RESOCIDE) – Burkina Faso
  2. Coalition Ivoirienne des Defenseurs des Droits de l'Homme – Côte d’Ivoire
  3. Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz – Colombia
  4. Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum – Uganda
  5. Human Rights Defender Network – Sierra Leone – Sierra Leone
  6. Human Rights Law Centre – Australia
  7. Human Rights Movement Bir Duino – Kyrgyzstan
  8. Hungarian Civil Liberties Union – Hungary
  9. Indian Social Action Forum – India
  10. International Service for Human Rights – Switzerland
  11. JASS – Honduras
  12. Propuesta Civica – Mexico
  13. Seguridad y Democracia (Sedem) – Guatemala
  14. Task Force Detainees – Philippines
  15. Terra de Direitos – Brazil

Contact: Tess McEvoy, Human Rights Lawyer and Advocate, International Service for Human Rights, on t.mcevoy@ishr.ch

Category:

Topic
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • National HRDs laws/policies
Country
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Netherlands
  • Uganda