States’ responsibility towards the protection of women human rights defenders: 20 years after the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
UN Headquarters, New York 26 July 2018
- Ivana Radačić, Chair, UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice
- Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- Andrew Gilmore, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Head of OHCHR New York Office
- Lolita Chavez, Council of the Kiché People (Consejo de Pueblos Kiché Guatemala)
- Lydia Alpizar, Mesoamerican Women Defenders Initiative
- Brenda Kugonza, Uganda Women Human Rights Defenders Network (Uganda)
- Asha Kowtal, All India Dalit Women’s Rights Forum (India)
- Marusia Lopez, Jass (Just Associates)
- Guadalupe Marengo, Amnesty International
- Alda Facio, UN Working Group on discrimination against women in law and in practice
- Pooja Patel, International Service for Human Rights
- Miriam Miran, OFRANEH (Honduras)
- Mélanie Sonhaye Kombate, West-African Human Rights Defenders Network (Togo)
Main issues raised:
Participants called attention to the particular situation of risks and vulnerability faced by women human rights defenders (WHRDs), especially those working on environmental issues, the rights of minorities, including indigenous and dalit people, LGBTI rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHRs). Specific challenges facing WHRDs include: physical assaults, denial of medical treatment, degrading searches, threats to their families and communities, public defamation and attacks against their “honor”, media attacks against their physical appearance, arbitrary detention, sexual and gender-based violence, and killings. WHRDs are also at risk of being rejected by their communities and of being revictimized if they report acts of violence.
All panelists and several other WHRDs from the Philippines, Brazil, Indonesia, Colombia and Spain attending the event testified about the challenges they have encountered as WHRDs. These range from structural gender-based discrimination, surveillance, breaking in, criminalization and arrests, to kidnappings and assassination attempts.
Overall, participants insisted on the need to address the growing impact of religious extremism and corporations (in particular extractive industries) on WHRDs. Calls were also issued to tackle the structural causes of discrimination against women, regressive trends with regards to the rights of women (particularly through the rise of an anti-rights discourse in Eastern-Europe and Latin-America), the shrinking of civil society space as well as sexism and misogyny, including within the human rights movement. In this regard, participants underscored the need to adopt an intersectional approach to the protection of WHRDs, tackle impunity and ensure that risk analysis and protection mechanisms include a gender perspective. There were also calls for bottom-up, creative and long-term mechanisms aimed at better protecting WHRDs.
Serious concerns were expressed about the record number of reprisals against WHRDs in 2017 which led to the UN’s growing engagement in the protection of WHRDs against reprisals, including the SG annual report on cooperation with the UN, more frequently referred to as the “reprisals report”. For the first time, this report will be presented to the Human Rights Council. Reference was made to OHCHR’s important contribution in ensuring the inclusion of WHRDs in the Outcome Document of the 2018 Commission on the Status of Women (CSW).
Key recommendations for States: