On the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations, the UN General Assembly must take this opportunity to strongly reaffirm its support for human rights defenders.
On 22 October, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Michel Forst, presented his report to the General Assembly, based on regional consultations since October 2014. He concluded: “We are dealing with attacks designed to weaken the women and men who are combating injustice and putting themselves in harm’s way in order to defend the rights of those who cannot defend themselves.”
Norway, in its intervention at the General Assembly the same day, expressed concern at the shrinking space for human rights defenders, and announced that it will present a resolution on human rights defenders.
Norway called for the international community to send a united message in support of the work of human rights defenders. Similarly, Ireland denounced the criminalisation of human rights defenders. Similar positions were taken by Czech Republic, Poland, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Brazil, Lithuania, Colombia, United States, and Canada. The European Union said it was saddened that an increasing number of states are adopting legislation that limits the work of human rights defenders. The United Kingdom asserted that “everyone should be a human rights defender,” including the diplomats sitting in the General Assembly. This is a reminder that human rights defenders are not identified by their occupation, but by their actions.
Norway’s proposed resolution is an opportunity for the international community to address the increasingly threatening climate for human rights defenders in many countries in all regions of the world. The reality, as documented by the UN Special Rapporteur, is that “in very many countries, defending and promoting human rights remains an extraordinarily dangerous activity.” The international community must respond to this.
The General Assembly must make clear that states cannot criminalise, stigmatise, impede, obstruct, or restrict the work of human rights defenders. It should affirm that states cannot adopt legislation obliging human rights defenders to register on state lists suggesting to the public they are a threat to the national integrity or security.
Another worrying development witnessed in many countries is the imprisonment of human rights defenders. Time has come for the international community, with this General Assembly resolution, to clearly call for the release of all such detained human rights defenders.
The General Assembly must promote guarantees and protections for human rights lawyers, who are at particular risk of retaliation due to their work, and must address the plight of women human rights defenders. HRHN has documented the threats and persecution of human rights lawyers in its recent report, Human Rights Lawyers at Risk.
HRHN advocacy at UN General Assembly
Human Rights House Network is advocating for a new General Assembly resolution, as an answer to the increasingly worrying conditions under which human rights defenders work. HRHN sent a delegation to participate in the work of the General Assembly, including the negotiations on the resolution. The HRHN delegation includes Lara Aharonian, Director of the Armenian Women’s Resource Centre, and Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy at the Human Rights House Foundation.