Special Rapporteur: Combat impunity and enact laws to protect human rights defenders

14.10.2014

The need to combat impunity for attacks against human rights defenders, together with the enactment of specific laws and policies to protect their work, have been identified as key priorities by the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, in his inaugural report.

Michel-Forst-Special-Rapporteur-Human-Rights-Defenders

(Geneva) – The need to combat impunity for attacks against human rights defenders, together with the enactment of specific laws and policies to protect their work, have been identified as key priorities by the new UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, in his inaugural report (also available in French).

The report, which will be presented to the General Assembly in New York next week, sets out a vision and priorities for the mandate over the coming three years, including a focus on groups of human rights defenders who are ‘most exposed’ or at risk, such as those working to promote economic, social and cultural rights, the rights of minorities, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women human rights defenders, and those working on issues of business and human rights or on accountability for past violations. According to the Special Rapporteur, each of his ‘future thematic and mission reports will contain a specific section dedicated to analysing the development of trends and particular threats facing the most exposed groups’.

Building on the recommendation of the previous Special Rapporteur that States enact specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders, Mr Forst’s inaugural report identifies a need to ‘intensify efforts to convince governments to develop specific national measures, following the examples of Brazil, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and Mexico’ and foreshadows a future study focusing on the importance of national laws and mechanisms and ways to improve their effectiveness. He also pledges to play a significant role in the identification and dissemination of ‘good practices’ in the implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, including through a more visible social media presence for the mandate, such as Facebook and Twitter.

The report expresses grave concern at the related issues of lack of cooperation with the mandate by some States, and the intimidation and reprisals faced by many human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations in connection with their engagement with international and regional human rights mechanisms. The Special Rapporteur is ‘struck by the number and gravity of threats’ against those who cooperate with the UN, the report says, including ‘threats against the defenders themselves or their families, defamation campaigns, death threats, physical violence, abductions, hounding by law enforcement, assassinations or various forms of harassment and intimidation by the police’. In this connection, the Special Rapporteur pledges to follow up more actively and systematically with States in relation to the investigation and remediation of alleged threats and attacks against defenders, together with the implementation of recommendations to ensure their protection. He also pledges to provide ‘regular and detailed information to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly’ on the status of States’ responses to communications and implementation of recommendations, bringing much needed additional transparency and pressure to bear in this regard.

The need to ensure accountability and combat impunity for attacks against defenders comes through as a strong theme in the Special Rapporteur’s report, with Mr Forst identifying that ‘it is partially because of the de facto impunity enjoyed by perpetrators of reprisals against defenders that the phenomenon grows and expands’ and pledging that ‘one of the main lines of his work will be to combat the culture of impunity’. It is likely that the Special Rapporteur will dedicate a forthcoming report to this topic.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur identifies a need to further intensify cooperation with other UN mandate holders, together with the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders appointed by regional mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In this regard, it is notable that the Special Rapporteur has already issued joint statements with other mandate holders, such as the Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Association and Assembly, on issues including the detention of Bahraini human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaja, the use of anti-terrorism legislation to criminalise human rights defenders in Ethiopia, and the passage of draconian anti-protest legislation in the Australian state of Tasmania.

Contact: Phil Lynch, Director, International Service for Human Rights, on p.lynch@ishr.ch or + 41 76 708 4738

Photo: UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Category:

Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN General Assembly
  • Third Committee of the UN General Assembly
Country
  • Brazil
  • Colombia
  • Ivory Coast
  • Mexico