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"More concerned than ever for human rights defenders," says UN expert

NEW YORK (23 October 2018) – Human rights defenders are being attacked and criminalised and face growing legal and administrative restrictions, a UN human rights expert said today, calling on States to renew their commitment to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on the 20th anniversary of its adoption.

“The Declaration has become a milestone in the human rights project and resources have been provided for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders. However, I am more concerned than ever,” Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, said in his latest report.

“We are facing an alarming panorama for human rights defenders. Their situation is deteriorating all over the world despite States’ obligations to ensure the protection of human rights defenders.”

Forst said despite the resources provided under the Declaration for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders, more than 1,000 had been killed between 2015 and 2017.

“The systemic, widespread impunity is a very bad signal sent to the families of the victims and to anyone standing up for human rights”, the Special Rapporteur told UN General Assembly. “Beyond these attacks and killings, it is ultimately our rights, our democracies that are in great danger.”

Forst also warned that the very existence of the UN mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders was being questioned.

The Special Rapporteur said this year’s 20th anniversary celebrations presented an opportunity not only to review the situation of human rights defenders but also to set out a vision for the human rights movement for the coming years. A series of events before the end of the year will include the second Human Rights Defenders World Summit in Paris from 29-31 October. In mid-December, a high-level plenary meeting in New York will discuss good practices and new opportunities in implementation of the Declaration.

Forst said the Declaration recognises the centrality of individuals and groups to the realisation of human rights. “Human rights defenders do not heroically stand in front of or apart from the rest of us; they are each of us and among us, they are ourselves, our parents, our neighbours, our friends and colleagues,” he said.

ENDS

The presentation of the thematic report at the General Assembly today will be live-streamed in the United Nations Web TV

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. Michel 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. He is a former UN Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti.

The Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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 system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms 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.

For more information and media requests please contact:  Gotzon Onandia (+ 41 79 444 54 01 /gonandia@ohchr.org) or write to defenders@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

This year, 2018, is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.