States should support UN resolution on women human rights defenders: Nobel Peace Prize winners

21.11.2013

A coalition of women Nobel Peace Prize winners from around the globe has called on States to support an historic international initiative on the protection of women human rights defenders.

(New York) – A coalition of women Nobel Peace Prize winners from around the globe has called on States to support an historic international initiative on the protection of women human rights defenders.

States are negotiating a draft resolution for adoption by the UN General Assembly next week. It is the first time that the UN’s top body has been called on to specifically consider the situation of women human rights defenders, a category which includes both women who defend human rights and men who defend women’s rights and rights related to gender.

In an open letter to the Foreign Ministers of every government, the Nobel peace laureates wrote: ‘Women human rights defenders face harassment, arrests, torture, sexual violence, death threats and killings. For this reason, we applaud the UN General Assembly for tabling a draft resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders.’

The Nobel Peace Prize winners signatory to the letter include Jody Williams of the USA who was honoured in 1997 for her work to ban landmines, Shirin Ebadi who received the 2003 Prize for her efforts to promote women’s rights in Iran, Leymah Gbowee of Liberia who was recognized in 2011 for her work to rehabilitate child soldiers, Mairead Maguire who was honoured in 1976 for her extraordinary efforts to end violence in Northern Ireland, and Rigoberta Menchu Tum who in 1992 became the first indigenous person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her work towards indigenous rights and justice in Guatemala.

Welcoming the draft resolution, the Nobel Peace Prize winners wrote that, ‘The resolution is long overdue. The resolution acknowledges the important contribution of women human rights defenders to the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, rule of law, development, as well as peace and security. In addition, the resolution highlights the specific risks and obstacles that women human rights defenders face, and the protection measures that States must implement for them to be able to carry out their work safely and without fear of reprisals.’

The women Nobel peace laureates also emphasized, however, that ‘much remains to be done’.

‘The resolution’s key message – that women human rights defenders face specific challenges and require specific protection – is very much in keeping with the work of the UN. For this reason, we are very disappointed that only a small minority of States are supporting the resolution by co-sponsoring the text,’ they wrote.

Welcoming the letter, Eleanor Openshaw, who leads the Women Human Rights Defender Program of the International Service for Human Rights, said ‘The successful adoption of this draft resolution is crucial.’

‘The resolution would contribute to an international environment in which the work of women human rights defenders is recognised as not only legitimate but invaluable. It would provide practical guidance to States on how best to protect women human rights defenders and ensure that they can work in a safe and enabling environment.’

With negotiations at a critical juncture, ISHR is calling on States from all regions to support the resolution, which has been led by Norway.

'Women's rights are universal and support for a strong resolution should be similarly universal,' Ms Openshaw said.

The open letter from the Nobel Women’s Initiative is available here.

The draft text of the resolution is available here.

An open letter signed by over 70 non-governmental organisations from across Africa calling on African States to support the draft resolution is available here.

An overview of the action you can take to support the draft resolution, posted by the Association for Women's Rights in Development, is available here.

Contact:

New York - Madeleine Sinclair, ISHR Legal Counsel, on m.sinclair@ishr.ch or +1 917 544 61 48

Geneva - Eleanor Openshaw, ISHR Women Human Rights Defender Program Manager, on e.openshaw@ishr.ch or  + 41 789 442 552