GENEVA, BANJUL, STRASBOURG, WARSAW and WASHINGTON D.C.,
Ten years after the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, defenders continue to pay a high price while advocating for and protecting human rights, be they civil, political, economic, social or cultural.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of a landmark instrument adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly in 1998. The Declaration has offered new possibilities for the support and protection of defenders and their activities, by articulating existing human rights in a way that makes them easier to apply to the reality of human rights defenders.
In 2000, the UN mandate on the situation of human rights defenders was established to support States in their implementation of the Declaration. It has contributed to the protection of thousands of human rights defenders throughout the world, given visibility to them and to the Declaration, and encouraged the development of networks and coalitions of human rights defenders. The mandate has also included a gender perspective in its work, and raised awareness about the situation of defenders most at risk and about violations committed against them.
In recent years, regional mechanisms have been established in Africa, Europe and the Americas to closely monitor the situation of human rights defenders and urge States to ensure an enabling environment for their work, in accordance with international and regional human rights obligations. They have significantly contributed to the implementation of the Declaration in their respective regions, by raising awareness on the work of defenders, designing protection frameworks and strategies, and promoting their human rights activities.
Despite all these achievements, in every region of the world, defenders – and often their beloved ones – continue to be subjected to threats, killings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, surveillance, administrative and judicial harassment, defamation, and more generally, stigmatization by State authorities and non-State actors.
They face illegitimate restrictions on the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, access to funding, and freedoms of association -including registration-, peaceful assembly, and movement. A climate of impunity for violations committed against defenders prevails in numerous countries of the world. Of particular concern for the signatories of this joint statement is the plight of defenders who, due to the sensitivity of their work, are most exposed to attacks and abuses. These include women defenders, defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, on rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons, on rights of indigenous peoples and persons belonging to minorities, and fighting impunity for serious crimes and corruption, as well as youth defenders. They need specific and enhanced protection as well as targeted and deliberate efforts to make their working environment a safer, more enabling and accepting one.
The signatories of the joint statement call on Member or participating States of their respective organizations and other stakeholders to recognize the activities of human rights defenders as legitimate human rights work, ensure the removal of all obstacles, and take proactive measures to support such work.
They stress that the primary responsibility for the protection of human rights defenders lies with Governments, and that very often firm public stands in support of human rights defenders can transform a situation of vulnerability into one of
empowerment for defenders.
The new decade ahead must be one in which the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are made a reality worldwide.
* Mrs Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders;
Mrs Reine Alapini-Gansou, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
Mr Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe;
Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR); and Dr Santiago A. Canton, the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.