Defending defenders

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, is urging greater efforts on behalf of those who defend human rights, noting that while there has been some progress, in many countries their work has become more difficult and more dangerous.

Protestors campaigning for democratic reforms gathered in Cairo, Egypt, February 2011 © EPA/KHALED ELFIQIThe Declaration on human rights defenders, adopted in 1999, sets out the rights and responsibilities essential for the promotion and protection of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. “Implementing the Declaration is an essential precondition for creating an environment that enables human rights defenders to carry out their work”, Sekaggya says.

However, “more than 12 years after its adoption by the General Assembly, the Declaration is an instrument that is not sufficiently known either by Governments or by human rights defenders themselves”, adds the UN expert.

As a result, Sekaggya has released a detailed guide aimed at building a greater understanding of the Declaration on human rights defenders, at all levels – both governmental and among relevant non-state actors - that is intended to contribute to the development of a conducive environment for the work of defenders.

The “Commentary to the Declaration on human rights defenders” is essentially a guide that maps the rights set out in the Declaration, offers a detailed analysis of each of them, and sets out the preconditions necessary for their implementation.

“This Commentary aims to enhance the capacity of human rights defenders to ensure respect for the rights to which they are entitled under the Declaration”, Sekaggya says.

Specific reference is made to the situation of women human rights defenders who “are more at risk than their male counterparts of suffering certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation”, Sekaggya says.

The “Commentary” is organized in 10 sections, each addressing a right in the Declaration: the right to right to be protected, the right to freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of association, the right to access and communicate with international bodies, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to protest, the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas, the right to an effective remedy, and the right to access funding.  

In 2011 and 2012, the UN Human Rights office is highlighting the role of human rights defenders, and urging others to engage in the effort to end all forms of discrimination.

During a recent visit to Mexico, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay urged recognition and protection for human rights defenders. “Without these brave people,” she said, “all of us risk having our human rights eroded.” 

26 August 2011