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National laws must not restrain the work of rights defenders – UN expert

NEW YORK (2 November 2012) – “Legislation is used in a number of countries to restrain the activities of human rights defenders and criminalize them – in clear breach of international human rights law,” said today the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, during the presentation of her report* to the UN General Assembly. “National legislation needs to provide clear and non-discriminatory provisions in order to respect and facilitate their work.”

“Anti-terrorism legislation has risen to prominence in the last decade amidst concerns about public security. Unfortunately, anti-terrorism and public security legislation is sometimes used to harass and prosecute defenders in the name of public security,” said Ms. Sekaggya, who also cited concerns about due process and the limited possibilities for defenders providing legal assistance to get access to clients detained under such legislation.

The UN expert emphasized the constraints faced by defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights due to criminalization of same-sex relations in over 75 countries worldwide, as well as recent legislative moves to purportedly curb promotion of homosexuality.

She also noted trends of judicial harassment and threats against women human rights defenders, including those working on religious practices in relation to blasphemy legislation and defenders of sexual and reproductive rights in relation to legislation relating to public morals.

“There are a number of worrying developments with regard to legislation regulating associations, including their registration, functioning and funding,” the Special Rapporteur said. In her report, she documents how governments have introduced restrictions on which activities associations can engage in, banning areas such as political rights advocacy. Governments have also assumed wide supervisory powers, notably on management decisions of associations and access to their files.

“Access to funding is the area which has seen the most restrictions under recently enacted legislation.” Ms. Sekaggya said. “Restrictions on funding from abroad are being swiftly introduced in a number of States, with associations risking treason charges, having to declare themselves ‘foreign agents’ and to seek prior approval to do fundraising.” She stressed that none of these restrictions is justifiable under international human rights law.

Defamation legislation, access to information laws and legislation on classification of information and official secrets were other areas of concern highlighted by the independent expert.

“Legislation needs to be non-discriminatory, clearly defined, proportionate and necessary in order to ensure it is not applied arbitrarily and not used to hinder the work of human rights defenders,” Mrs. Sekaggya noted, urging States to ensure their national legislation respect principles relating to international human rights law.

The UN Special Rapporteur also drew attention to the role of prosecutors and judges, and urged them to ensure that politically motivated charges are not pursued and that proper investigations are carried out when deemed necessary.

Margaret Sekaggya, a lawyer from Uganda, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in March 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. She is independent from any Government and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur:

(*) Check the full report: http://undocs.org/A/67/292 or http://www.un.org/en/ga/third/67/documentslist.shtml

Check the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights:

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York: Fred Kirungi (+1 917 367 3431 / kirungi@un.org)
In Geneva: Dolores Infante-Cañibano (+ 41 22 917 9768 / dinfante@ohchr.org) or Kim Smeby (+41 22 917 9172 / ksmeby@ohchr.org) or write to defenders@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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