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International Women Human Rights Defenders Day – Sunday 29 November 2015


High time to protect sexual and reproductive rights defenders in the Americas

GENEVA / WASHINGTON DC (26 November 2015) – Ahead of the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day on 29 November, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, called for strengthened protection of women defenders promoting sexual and reproductive rights in the Americas.

“It is not an easy job, and sometimes can be plain dangerous.

Sexual and reproductive rights defenders seek to ensure that women and men know and exercise their human rights to access services, information and education in the field of sexual and reproductive health. They also unmask multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination and injustice based on gender identity and sexual orientation, and in many occasions they help victims of sexual violence.

Women rights activists defending sexual and reproductive rights across the Americas face increased risks and multiple threats, from smear campaigns and stigmatisation to physical and sexual attacks.

And these defenders become particularly vulnerable in countries where access to services related to sexual and reproductive health, such as safe abortion or emergency contraception, is extremely restricted or criminalized.

Not only do these women rights defenders face the same risks as many other rights activists, but they are further exposed to retaliation and violence because they challenge power structures based on patriarchy and deeply-held gender stereotypes about the role of women in society.

They are also targeted due to their own real or perceived sexual orientation and gender or that of individuals who they represent.

All too often, these women defenders are subjected to personal violations such as discrimination, harassment, intimidation, physical and social violence. Regrettably those violations are perpetrated by State authorities and non-State actors alike, including by religious and community leaders who aim to discredit and silence them.

To commemorate this year’s International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, I call on the international community and States to publicly and unequivocally recognize the work of such women human rights defenders, to protect them, and to ensure that perpetrators of violations against those activists are investigated and prosecuted. I recommend the implementation of gender-specific protection measures and programmes for women human rights defenders.

It is high time that we follow the customary motto ‘all human rights for all’ by extending equal and effective protection to all women defenders, including those working on sexual and reproductive rights.”

Mr. Forst’s statement was endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Dainius Puras; the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Dubravka Simonovic; the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom or opinion and expression, David Kaye; as well as the Inter-American Rapporteur on the rights of human rights defenders, José de Jesús Orozco.


Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in 2014. Mr. Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. For more information, log on to:

Read the Special Rapporteur’s reports on the global threats facing human rights defenders, and on the situation of women human rights defenders: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

The UN human rights experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, 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. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx

Inter-American Rapporteur on the rights of human rights defenders: http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/defenders/mandate/Functions.asp

For more information and media requests please contact Jamshid Gaziyev (+41 22 9179183 / jgaziyev@ohchr.org)

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

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