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Rights defenders increasingly branded “enemies of the State” over development projects, UN expert warns

'Enemies of the State'

29 October 2013

NEW YORK / GENEVA (29 October 2013) – Human rights defenders working on behalf of communities affected by large-scale development projects are increasingly being branded ‘anti-government’, ‘against development’ or even ‘enemies of the State’, a UN independent expert has warned.

Human rights defenders trying to help communities affected by projects such as the construction of hydroelectric power stations, dams, and roads or the operations of various extractive industries were being “harassed, stigmatized and criminalized for doing their work,” the Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya said on Monday in a report* to the UN General Assembly.

They also faced threats, including deaths threats, and physical attacks. “But rather than being against development, defenders play an important role in advancing it,” she highlighted.

In her report, Ms. Sekaggya calls for a rights-based approach to large-scale development projects, which would include the principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation, protection, transparency and accountability, including access to appropriate remedy.

“It is essential that communities and those defending their rights are able to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in assessment and analysis, project design and planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects,” said Ms. Sekaggya. Such participation can contribute significantly to defusing tensions, she added.

“It is crucial that relevant information about large-scale development projects is available and accessible,” the expert said. A lack of transparency could not only increase the vulnerability of defenders and the affected communities, but also seriously undermine the credibility and legitimacy of both State and private involvement in such projects.

Ms. Sekaggya also stressed that, “States have an obligation to provide protection to those claiming their legitimate right to participate in decision-making processes and voicing their opposition to large-scale development projects.”

“It is essential that those who wish to report human rights concerns and violations can safely do so,” the Special Rapporteur said, highlighting that private enterprises and donors, as well as States, can contribute to ensuring accountability.

Margaret Sekaggya, a lawyer from Uganda, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in March 2008 by the UN Human Rights Council. She is independent from any Government and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur:

(*) Check the full report:

Check the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights:

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