Human rights defenders: Our ‘Gandhis’, ‘Mandelas’, ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Malalas’ deserve support and protection
GENEVA (8 December 2015) – Ahead of the International Human Rights Defenders Day on Wednesday 9 December, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst called for better support and protection of defenders by States, funders and the general public.
“They are ‘Gandhis’ and ‘Mandelas’. They are ‘Rosa Parks’ and ‘Malalas’. They are also ordinary individuals, lawyers, women activists, community leaders, journalists, unionists and environmentalists who strive to re-claim our rights and promote our freedoms.
They are called human rights defenders, countless individuals and groups advocating for human rights, educating and raising awareness of situations around the world, and holding governments to account for their actions.
For that reason, international law clearly recognises the crucial role of rights defenders to effectively eliminate human rights violations. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders calls on States to support them and protect them from harm.
In spite of this, when activists fight to unmask injustice, challenges and obstacles are thrown in their path to restrict and dissuade them from persevering. So much so that two weeks ago, on 24 November, 54 Governments refused to join 117 other UN General Assembly member States in voting to support a key resolution to recognize the role of defenders, support their work and ensure their protection.
National laws are often enacted to criminalise the human rights defenders’ work or cut their funding. They are unfairly portrayed in adverse terms to intimidate or silence them. They face enormous risks and threats as a result of the work they do, or because of who they are.
Some specific groups are often singled out for targeting. Defenders working on women’s rights, LGBTI-rights, rights related to land, environment and corporate responsibility, along with indigenous rights, face ever more perilous risks and are constantly under attack.
In commemoration of the International Human Rights Defenders Day on 9 December, I call on States to support and protect human rights defenders at the international, regional and national levels through building defenders-friendly alliances and adopting concrete measures to protect rights activists.
I urge Parliamentarians to be vigilant against laws that restrict civil society space, criminalise human rights activities and stifle funding for defenders.
I ask funders to give priority to human rights defenders both through un-earmarked core funding and specific project resources, in consultation with defenders themselves and through minimal red tape requirements.
I also call on civil society and rights defenders to better organise peer-support and self-protection networks and mechanisms to address current threats and risks, as well as to prevent and warn of future challenges.
And to the general public, I ask them to recognise the important role of numerous activists who ceaselessly seek to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms for the good of the whole society, and to engage their governments and parliaments to support defenders in their countries and in their foreign policy.
In our strife for freedom, equality and justice, it is imperative that we empower and protect human rights defenders – our heroes, our sentinels who fight our human rights battles. They deserve our unequivocal support.”
Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders:
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The Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.