GENEVA – “Human rights defenders are the front line of efforts to confront discrimination and all violations of rights – their work is vital, yet they are frequently under threat and must be better protected,” said a group of 55 United Nations independent human rights experts in a joint statement to mark Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010.
“They do not bear arms, they do not use violence - defenders use only their voices and persistence to challenge injustice peacefully. However, too often it is human rights defenders themselves who require protection from human rights abuses.
“Because of their determination and their effectiveness in bringing to light human rights concerns, they endure threats, intimidation, stigmatization and harassment. In some cases they face arbitrary detention and may become the victims of torture, disappearance or execution.
“In circumstances where it is safer to remain silent, such brave men, women and children have always spoken out – we must ensure that they always will. Their voices must not be silenced.
“Human rights defenders have advanced the human rights agenda and brought the principles of Universal Declaration closer to reality in their societies, promoting equality, the rule of law and justice through their commitment and sacrifices. They have helped shape the laws and policies that establish that no-one should be the victim of discrimination.
“Human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations are essential to the functioning of free and fair societies in which anyone, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, gender, politics or sexual identity, has the right to object to inequality or mistreatment and to seek justice and redress. In every sphere of human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political or social, the work of human rights defenders is crucial.
“Every day, while performing our United Nations responsibilities, we meet individuals and organizations that reveal injustice, discrimination and human rights violations that would otherwise remain hidden.
“The information we receive from them allows us to turn the international spotlight on violations, support and encourage their efforts and their causes, and stand with them as allies. The concerns that we are able to raise with Governments and in international bodies are often set in motion by a single act of selflessness. We could not function without them.
“However, human rights defenders are often stigmatized, they are called enemies of the State or terrorists in an attempt to delegitimize their work and activities. Attacks against them and their work and reputation constitute a very dangerous pattern, which can worsen the already fragile environment in which they operate.
“States must address the human rights concerns raised by defenders and fulfill their obligation to protect them and respect their rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly and association. Each State should ensure that its policies, institutions and actions, including those of its police and security forces, conform with international human rights norms and standards.
“States must also recognize and respond to the continued targeting of human rights defenders by non-State actors, which have lead to the deaths of community leaders, lawyers, journalists, women defenders, social activists and many others working to expose violations or corruption. Ending impunity for attacks against them is essential to ensure their security.
“On this Human Rights Day, the UN experts join the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and others in paying tribute to human rights defenders who act against discrimination globally and call for their greater protection. We must all be human rights defenders.
“Special procedures” is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Currently, there are 31 thematic and 8 country mandates, with 55 mandate holders. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights provides these mechanisms with support for the fulfillment of their mandates.
For more information on the work and mandates of the Special Procedures and their Coordination Committee, please visit the website: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm