States must ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders

10.03.2014

States must ensure that human rights defenders are able to operate in a safe and enabling environment, free from restrictions and attacks, the International Service for Human Rights said in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council today. 

(Geneva) - States must ensure that human rights defenders are able to operate in a safe and enabling environment, free from restrictions and attacks, the International Service for Human Rights said in a statement to the UN Human Rights Council today. 

Delivering a statement during the Council’s dialogue with Margaret Sekaggya, the current UN expert on human rights defenders, ISHR welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report as a comprehensive articulation of the laws, policies and practices that States should put in place to protect defenders and called on States to take immediate steps in this regard.

'15 years on from the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders it is time for States to take the next step and enact its provisions into national law,' said Michael Ineichen, ISHR’s Human Rights Council Advocacy Director.

'States should also review and repeal laws and policies which restrict and even criminalise defenders' important work,' Mr Ineichen said.

The Special Rapporteur's report documents that human rights defenders in all regions – including journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and those who work to promote women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons – continue to face ‘extraordinary risks’. According to the report, these risks include defamation, attacks, detention, torture and even killings. The report also documents an increased incidence of violations against people and communities opposed to mining, construction and development projects, with protesters attacked both by State and non-State actors.

'The work of human rights defenders is crucial to democracy, development, good governance and the rule of law. ISHR calls on States to recognise the value of defenders' work and address the risks and restictions they face, including by investigating and ensuring accountability for attacks,' Mr Ineichen said.

During the interactive dialogue a number of States expressed the view that human rights defenders should always act within the limits of national law and that restrictions on defenders can be justified on the basis of notions such as 'public morals' and 'national security'.

'Any national law which purports to restrict human rights defenders should itself accord with international human rights norms,' said Mr Ineichen. 'Laws that restrict NGO access to foreign funds, that criminalise advocacy for LGBT rights, and that severely restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly manifestly fail this basic test.'

During its statement, ISHR also highlighted the continuing incidence of reprisals against human rights defenders. 'Sadly, such reprisals - such as in the case of Chinese defender Cao Shunli - continue with impunity and largely unchallenged by the international community,' Mr Ineich said. 'ISHR calls on the Council, its President and mechanisms to take concrete action where a State is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute threats or attacks against human rights defenders.'

ISHR also used the opportunity to thank the current Special Rapporteur for her excellent work in the mandate. 'The UN expert on human rights defenders is an important pillar of advice, support and protection for defenders around the world, especially when their national context is restrictive,' Mr Ineichen said.

Norway is currently leading negotiations on a resolution calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. 'We look to the Council to give substantive follow-up to the report, including by renewing a strong mandate and providing political support to the expert analysis and recommendations of the Special Rapporteur’, Mr Ineichen said.

Download the statement to the Council.

Contact: Michael Ineichen, m.ineichen@ishr.ch, +41 78 827 77 86

Category:

Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
Mechanism
  • UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs
  • UN Human Rights Council