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Key UN experts warn that voices against discrimination must not be silenced

GENEVA (9 December 2010) – A group of 55 United Nations independent human rights experts* called upon States all over the world to protect human rights defenders, and to recognize and respond to the continued targeting of 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 stop discrimination and injustice.

“They do not bear arms, they do not use violence - defenders use only their voices and persistence to challenge injustice peacefully,” said Najat Maalla M'jid, Chair of the Committee representing the UN experts. “However, too often it is human rights defenders themselves who require protection from human rights abuses.”

“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,” Ms. Maalla M'jid said.

In a joint statement to mark Human Rights Day, the independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council praise all those individuals and organizations that reveal injustice, discrimination and human rights violations that would otherwise remain hidden: “We could not function without them.”

“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 group of UN experts stressed. “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.

“However,” warned the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, “they are often stigmatized and called enemies of the State or terrorists in an attempt to delegitimize their work and activities. Attacks against their work and reputation constitute a very dangerous pattern, which can worsen the already fragile environment in which they operate.”

The group of experts urged States to address the human rights concerns raised by defenders and fulfill their obligation to protect them. They also asked them to respect the defender’s rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly and association. In their view, 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.

“Ending impunity for attacks against human rights defenders is essential to ensure their security,” Ms. Sekaggya said, underscoring that “in every sphere of human rights, civil, cultural, economic, political or social, the work of human rights defenders is essential.”

(*) Read the full statement of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures on behalf of mandate holders of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the occasion of Human Rights Day, 10 December 2010: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=10587&LangID=E

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“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.

Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/index.htm

Thematic mandates: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/themes.htm

Country mandates: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/chr/special/countries.htm

For more information and media requests, please contact Dolores Infante-Cañibano (Tel: +41 22 917-9730 / email: dinfante@ohchr.org)