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Challenges faced by human rights defenders

Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders

Human rights violations committed against defenders, and other difficulties they confront

Not all human rights work places human rights defenders at risk, and in some States defenders are generally well protected. However, the severity and scale of human rights violations  against defenders and the need for recognition of their important contribution to the realization of human rights were one of the primary motivations behind the adoption of the Declaration on human rights defenders and the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders.

The Special Rapporteur has expressed concern for the situation of human rights defenders in all countries, including both emerging democracies and countries with long-established democratic institutions, practices and traditions. Nevertheless, special emphasis has been placed on countries where: (a) internal armed conflict or severe civil unrest exists; (b) the legal and institutional protections and guarantees of human rights are not fully assured or do not exist at all.

A great many human rights defenders, in every region of the world, have been subject to violations of their human rights. They have been the target of executions, torture, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, death threats, harassment and defamation, as well as restrictions on their freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly. Defenders have been the victims of false accusations and unfair trial and conviction. They are also targeted with acts of intimidation and reprisals for their cooperation with the United Nations on human rights issues.

Violations most commonly target either human rights defenders themselves or the organizations and mechanisms through which they work. Occasionally, violations target members of defenders' families, as a means of applying pressure to the defender. Some human rights defenders are at greater risk because of the nature of the rights they seek to protect. Women human rights defenders might confront in addition risks that are gender-specific and require particular attention.

In most cases, acts committed against human rights defenders are in violation of both international and national law. In some countries, however, domestic legislation which itself contravenes international human rights law is used against defenders.