Human rights defenders continue to pay a high price – including death, disappearance and torture – 10 years after the United Nations General Assembly adopted a declaration enshrining their protection, rights advocates said today, calling on governments to ensure their safety.
“A climate of impunity for violations committed against defenders prevails in numerous countries of the world,” five UN and regional rights representatives said in a joint warning on the anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
“In every region of the world, defenders, and often their beloved ones, continue to be subjected to threats, killings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, surveillance, administrative and judicial harassment, defamation, and more generally, stigmatization by State authorities and non-State actors,” they added, while noting achievements such as regional mechanisms set up in Africa, Europe and the Americas to closely monitor the situation.
These steps have significantly contributed to implementing the Declaration in their respective regions, by raising awareness on the work of defenders, designing protection frameworks and strategies, and promoting their human rights activities.
But rights defenders still face illegitimate restrictions on the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, access to funding, and freedoms of association, including registration, peaceful assembly, and movement, the five said.
“Of particular concern for the signatories of this joint statement is the plight of defenders who, due to the sensitivity of their work, are most exposed to attacks and abuses,” they added. “These include women defenders, defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, on rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons, on rights of indigenous peoples and persons belonging to minorities, and fighting impunity for serious crimes and corruption, as well as youth defenders.
“They need specific and enhanced protection as well as targeted and deliberate efforts to make their working environment a safer, more enabling and accepting one,” they declared.
Calling on States other stakeholders to recognize the defenders’ activities as legitimate human rights work, ensure the removal of all obstacles, and take proactive measures to support such work, they stressed that the primary responsibility for such protection lies with Governments.
“Very often firm public stands in support of human rights defenders can transform a situation of vulnerability into one of empowerment for defenders. The new decade ahead must be one in which the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are made a reality worldwide,” they concluded.
The joint statement comes ahead of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to be commemorated worldwide tomorrow.
The five are: UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya; Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Reine Alapini-Gansou; Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe Thomas Hammarberg; Director of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Janez Lenarcic; and Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Santiago A. Canton.