Human Rights House Foundation welcomes the report of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and takes this opportunity to thank him for his extensive work in raising the rights of human rights defenders during his six years as mandate holder. Among his achievements was his role in the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on human rights defenders, and the reminder to us all of the positive, essential and frontline role that Defenders play in protecting the rights of all people in our societies.
A focus on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations is timely. In his report, the Special Rapporteur highlights the positive and important role that defenders play in these contexts, including “their fact-finding and advocacy work” that ensure human rights stay “on the agenda”.
However, human rights defenders in such contexts face overlapping challenges which increase their vulnerabilities.
In the Chechen Republic in Russia, the hostile environment makes it very difficult for human rights defenders to operate. Recent violent attacks on 6 February, and harassment against the investigating journalist Elena Milashyna from Novaya Gazeta and the lawyer Marina Dubrovina in Grozny, and also against their families, illustrate the huge risks Defenders play when undertaking their work in post-conflict situations. We call on the Russian authorities to protect human rights defenders in the Chechen Republic so that they can carry out their work, and to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into the attacks to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Heightened sensitivities toward the work of Defenders can also increase their vulnerability. In South Ossetia in Georgia, the prominent human rights defender Tamara Mearakishvili has faced legal actions taken by the de facto authorities after efforts to expose government corruption. Mearakishvili has undertaken important and legitimate human rights activities and she should be afforded all protections due to human rights defenders. We urge Russia to use its influence in this situation to ensure charges against Mearakishvili are dropped and to ensure “protection against forcible transfer or deportation” as highlighted in the Special Rapporteur’s report.
We ask the Special Rapporteur, whether he can elaborate on the practical responsibility of legitimate, de facto, or occupying authorities to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in conflict or post-conflict settings?