States must protect human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations – UN expert
04 March 2020
GENEVA (4 March 2020) – Human rights defenders working in conflict and post-conflict situations should enjoy greater recognition, protection and support for their work, said a UN expert in his latest report presented to the Human Rights Council.
“Defenders in conflict settings are courageous men and women who provide emergency relief, ensure access to civilians and document civilian casualties and violations of international law,” said Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“In post-conflict settings, they may help claiming back the homes of displaced people and challenge impunity. Some are children calling for peace and equal access to education.”
In his report, the UN expert called on States and non-State actors to implement and strengthen protection mechanisms for defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations.
“In too many cases their contributions go unnoticed, while they face multiple threats to their safety due to conflict related insecurity or the very nature of their work, for example when they denounce violations committed by warring parties. Women defenders are particularly exposed to gender based violence, including sexual violence,” Forst said.
According to his report, defenders in conflict and post-conflict situation face serious restrictions on their freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Their activities are restricted in the name of national security, public order and counter-terrorism; or through obstacles such as NGO registration, access to funding, suspension of online communications and cyber-attacks. Journalist and NGO staff members face arrest and criminal charges for denouncing human rights violations.
“More countries have recently experienced violent conflict than at any point in the last thirty years. Human rights defenders operating in these situations of intense pressure are too often solely responsible for their own protection,” the UN expert said.
“Specific legislation, guidelines and mechanisms to protect them should therefore be systemically implemented in order to safeguard their important role in promoting peace, human rights, security and justice.”
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 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.