HRC37 | Defenders are key to realise the Universal Declaration on Human Rights

28.02.2018

Human rights defenders risk their freedom and sometimes their lives to advocate for the rights of fellow human beings. On the occasion of the Human Rights Council's High-Level panel commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, ISHR stressed that the realisation of the UDHR depends on the work of human rights defenders and that States who restrict the work of defenders are in turn violating their obligations under the UDHR. 

2018 is not only the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), it also marks the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on human rights defenders which was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in 1998. 

The rights enshrined in the UDHR cannot be guaranteed without a safe and enabling environment for the people exercising and fighting to defend those rights. States who commit to guarantee the UDHR cannot restrict the work of defenders, nor fail to act upon their obligation to protect them.

20 years after the adoption of the Declaration, human rights defenders have perhaps never been more under threat. They are subjected to judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearance, physical violence and even murder.

Defenders are also attacked when they bring their voices to the international community. Last year, a report by the Secretary-General found evidence of a strategy on the part of some States to prevent the activities of individuals cooperating with the UN. The report also highlights that the incidence of reprisals is becoming broader and that the means used are increasingly blunt.

Impunity for attacks against defenders remains rampant as States are failing in their obligations to ensure prompt, impartial and effective investigations into these attacks and in providing access to remedies. 

"The realisation of the UDHR depends on the work of defenders, who risk their lives and their freedom to advocate for the rights of others," said Salma El Hosseiny, ISHR's Human Rights Council Advocate. "It is alarming that States are increasingly shrinking civil society space on one hand, and professing their commitment to guarantee the UDHR on the other hand", continued El Hosseiny. 

These unprecedented attacks against civil society and defenders amount to violations of the same rights to which they are advocating for.

States must translate their commitment to the UDHR by taking immediate and effective measures to ensure that defenders are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without any hindrance, to ensure accountability for all perpetrators, and access to remedies for victims.   

The Human Rights Council plays an important role in contributing to the realisation of the UDHR on the ground. Accordingly, any proposals to strengthen or enhance the efficiency of the Council should be measured through the lens of increasing its impact, rather than the relatively insignificant time or money it may save. Finally, it is imperative that any legitimate process to strengthen the Council include the meaningful participation of civil society in all stages.

Watch ISHR's oral statement here: 

Photo: UN Photo/Anne-Laure Lechat

Category:

Topic
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
Mechanism
  • UN Human Rights Council