Rights of Defenders

HRHF’s Rights of Defenders project identifies 16 standards related to the rights of human rights defenders. These 16 standards are informed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and relevant landmark international resolutions.

16 Standards

Publicly support Human Rights Defenders

Introduction

Political leaders, as well as business, media, and religious leaders, must “acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in the promotion of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”

They should do so through “public statements, policies or laws. . . including by condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders.”

Public recognition of the valuable role of human rights defenders is an essential element to ensure their protection.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly 

Resolution 48/134 (1993): Paris Principles

NHRIs have a key role in supporting HRDs: (g) “In view of the fundamental role played by the non-governmental organizations in expanding the work of the national institutions, develop relations with the non-governmental organizations devoted to promoting and protecting human rights, to economic and social development, to combating racism, to protecting particularly vulnerable groups (especially children, migrant workers, refugees, physically and mentally disabled persons) or to specialized areas.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 2 imposes obligations on States to adopt appropriate administrative and legal frameworks to support the defence of human rights.

Article 8 recognizes the right of HRDs to have effective access to participation in the conduct of public affairs, including the right to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Article 15 imposes obligations on States to promote and facilitate the teaching of human rights at all levels of education, and to educate public officials on human rights.

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 4: “Urges States to acknowledge through public statements, policies or laws the important and legitimate role of individuals, groups and organs of society, including human rights defenders, in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as essential components of ensuring their recognition and protection, including by condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders (…);”

OP 12: “Encourages States to develop and put in place sustainable public policies or programmes that support and protect human rights defenders at all stages of their work in a comprehensive manner;”

OP 13: “Reaffirms the utility and benefit of consultations and dialogue with human rights defenders related to public policies and programmes, including for protection purposes, and encourages States to appoint focal points or to employ other relevant mechanisms for human rights defenders within the public administration;”

OP 21: “Encourages leaders in all sectors of society and in their respective communities, including political, military, social and religious leaders and leaders in business and the media, to express public support for the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in society, including women human rights defenders, and in any cases of violence and discrimination against them to take a clear stance in rejection of such practices;”

OP 24: “Encourages national human rights institutions to pay due attention to the situation of human rights defenders, including through consultations with relevant stakeholders on issues such as legislation, policies and administrative measures that affect the defence of human rights, and to develop and support the documentation of violations and abuses against human rights defenders in a comprehensive manner;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 16: “Underlines the value of national human rights institutions, established and operating in accordance with the Paris Principles, in the continued monitoring of existing legislation and consistently informing the State about its impact on the activities of human rights defenders, including by making relevant and concrete recommendations;”

OP 18: “Invites leaders in all sectors of society and respective communities, including political, social and religious leaders, and leaders in business and media, to express public support for the important role of human rights defenders and the legitimacy of their work;”

Resolution 40/11 (2019)

OP 6: “Urges States to acknowledge, through public statements, policies, programmes or laws, the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in the promotion of all human rights, democracy and the rule of law as essential components of ensuring their protection, including by respecting the independence of their organizations and by avoiding the stigmatization of their work, including with regard to the environment;” 


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders 

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/31/55) (2017)

Para. 113: “The Special Rapporteur recommends that States:

(a) Enact legislative and policy frameworks with a view to establishing national protection programmes for defenders, in consultation with defenders and civil society. In States with a federal structure, federal legislation should be the basis for the programme, and federal authorities should have oversight over the programmes that are administered by local governments; (…)

(d) Disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders through policy measures and awareness-raising campaigns;

(e) Provide training to relevant government officials, including police, military and other security officers, as well as members of the judiciary, on the legitimate role of defenders and their rights, in accordance with international human rights law.”

Report to the General Assembly  A/73/215 (2018)

Para. 71: “The Special Rapporteur recommends that all stakeholders engaged in the protection of human rights defenders: (…)

(b) Ensure that their policies and/or practices fully recognize the important role of human rights defenders as important contributors to State and non-State processes and as rights holders crucial to the realization of human rights;

(c) Encourage and value the genuine, free and full participation of the broad and diverse community of human rights defenders in the development of programming, policies and practice relevant to their human rights work.”

Para. 72: “The Special Rapporteur recommends that States:

Adopt necessary legislative and administrative measures, including good practices noted by the Special Rapporteur (see A/HRC/31/55), to ensure that human rights defenders enjoy a safe and enabling environment, including through the introduction of guidelines on human rights defenders, the creation of national protective and coordination mechanisms and legislation formally guaranteeing the rights in the Declaration.”


13th International Conference of National Human Rights Institutions

Marrakech Declaration (2018)

Section A: “(c) Contribute to the establishment of national protection systems for human rights Defenders (…)

(d)Advance positive narratives on the importance of human rights in every aspect of our societies, and on the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders (…)

(e) Raise awareness about the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, translate it into local languages and disseminate it widely;

(f) Support the State in implementing the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. (…)”

Don’t criminalise defending human rights

Introduction

States must ensure that “the promotion and the protection of human rights are not criminalised,” and that human rights defenders “are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work.” Everyone’s right to enjoy universal human rights includes the right to defend such rights without undue hindrance.

Criminalisation of human rights defenders in this context is any attempt to discredit, undermine, sabotage, or impede their work through the use of the legal system or the manipulation of the public discourse.

States must avoid measures that aim at stigmatising, delegitimising, challenging, and ultimately criminalising work in defence of human rights. States should instead take an active role in implementing standards that ensure a safe environment for human rights defenders, including through ensuring that legislation does not exert control over human rights defenders and their activities.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

  • Article 2.1: “Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by adopting such steps as may be necessary to create all conditions … as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction, individually and in association with others, are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice.”
  • Article 12.2: “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 5: “Strongly condemns the violence against and the targeting, criminalization, intimidation, torture, disappearance and killing of any individuals, including human rights defenders, for reporting and seeking information on human rights violations and abuses, and stresses the need to combat impunity by ensuring that those responsible for violations and abuses against human rights defenders, including against their legal representatives, associates and family members, are promptly brought to justice through impartial investigations;”

OP 10: “Calls upon States to (…) ensure that:

(b) Human rights defenders, their family members, associates and legal representatives are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work, including by ensuring that all legal provisions, administrative measures and policies affecting them, including those aimed at preserving public safety, public order and public morals, are minimally restrictive, clearly defined, determinable, non-retroactive and compatible with the obligations and commitments of States under international human rights law;

(c) Measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security are in compliance with their obligations and commitments under international law, in particular under international human rights law, and do not jeopardize the safety or arbitrarily hinder the work of individuals, groups and organs of society engaged in promoting and defending human rights, while clearly identifying which offences qualify as terrorist acts by defining transparent and foreseeable criteria;”

Resolution 73/174 (2018)

OP 12: “Further urges States to safeguard the work of civil society by ensuring that counter-terrorism laws and measures are consistent with and are applied in a manner that fully respects human rights, particularly the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association;”

OP 28: “(…) calls upon States to ensure that measures to counter terrorism and violent extremism conducive to terrorism and to preserve national security do not hinder the work and safety of such organizations and are in compliance with the obligations of States under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 11: “Further calls upon States to ensure that all legal provisions and their application affecting human rights defenders are clearly defined, determinable and non- retroactive in order to avoid potential abuse to the detriment of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and specifically to ensure that:

The promotion and the protection of human rights are not criminalized, and that human rights defenders are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work, whether they operate individually or in association with others, while emphasizing that everyone shall respect the human rights of others;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

 General Comment No 34 (2011)

Para. 23: “States parties should put in place effective measures to protect against attacks aimed at silencing those exercising their right to freedom of expression. Paragraph 3 (of art. 19) may never be invoked as a justification for the muzzling of any advocacy of multi-party democracy, democratic tenets and human rights. Nor, under any circumstance, can an attack on a person, because of the exercise of his or her freedom of opinion or expression, including such forms of attack as arbitrary arrest, torture, threats to life and killing, be compatible with article 19.45 Journalists are frequently subjected to such threats, intimidation and attacks because of their activities.46 So too are persons who engage in the gathering and analysis of information on the human rights situation and who publish human rights-related reports, including judges and lawyers.47 All such attacks should be vigorously investigated in a timely fashion, and the perpetrators prosecuted,48 and the victims, or, in the case of killings, their representatives, be in receipt of appropriate forms of redress.”


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to Human Rights Council A/HRC/20/27  (2012)

Para. 84: “The Special Rapporteur calls upon States:

(c) To ensure that no one is criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, nor is subject to threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals;”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to Human Rights Council A/HRC/25/55 (2013)

Para. 131: “Member States should:

(a) Ensure that defenders can conduct their work in a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework. In this vein, refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities, abolish all administrative and legislative provisions that restrict the rights of defenders, and ensure that domestic legislation respects basic principles relating to international human rights law and standards;”


Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism

Report to the Human Rights Council  (A/HRC/40/52)(2019)

Para. 46: “Many States have adopted laws that that loosely invoke national security, national interest or public order as all-encompassing categories that often include any act criminalized solely through the subjective lens of the impact that it may have, including those “affecting national security, political and social stability” and “dangerous to the political, economic or social system”. Many activities of civil society organizations, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and political opponents will fall under such laws, whose main objective is to criminalize legitimate expressions of opinion and thought. “

Para. 54: “Contained within concerted efforts to silence civil society, legislative restrictions have sometimes been reinforced by governmental smear campaigns… whose objective is to delegitimize civil society and tarnish the reputation of its actors, by loosely characterizing them as “terrorists”, implying that they are “threats to national security” or “enemies of the State”, even by lobbying other States or through international forums. Such methods increase the vulnerability of all civil society actors, contributing to the perception that they are legitimate targets for abuse by State and non-State actors.”

Para. 56: “There is increasing use of spurious criminal proceedings under security legislation against civil society. In many cases, it appears that charges under security legislation are brought to legitimize other measures taken against civil society actors, such as house raids, arrests, detention (often lengthy) and travel bans.”

End Restrictions on NGO funding

Introduction

States should not impose restrictions on potential sources of funding for human rights activities, other than “those ordinarily laid down for any activity unrelated to human rights to ensure transparency and accountability.”

NGOs should be free to engage in fundraising activities under the same regulations that apply to other entities and the State, whether working on human rights or other activities. In this sense, States must not adopt regulations targeting NGOs, particularly those working on human rights.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Article 22:

  1. “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.
  3. Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art 5:For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (…)

(b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; (…)”

Art 13: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means, (…).”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 10: “Calls upon all States (…) to ensure that:

(d) Where legislation and procedures governing the registration and funding of civil society organizations exist, they are transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious, inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, with national legislation being in compliance with international human rights law;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 8: “Calls upon States to respect, protect and ensure the right to freedom of association of human rights defenders and, in this regard, to ensure, where procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations exist, that these are transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, expeditious and inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, in accordance with national legislation, and are in conformity with international human rights law;”

OP 9: “Calls upon States to ensure that reporting requirements placed on individuals, groups and organs of society do not inhibit functional autonomy, and that restrictions are not discriminatorily imposed on potential sources of funding aimed at supporting the work of human rights defenders other than those ordinarily laid down for any other activity unrelated to human rights within the country to ensure transparency and accountability, and that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the geographic origin of funding thereto;”

Resolution 27/31 (2014)

OP 10: “Calls upon States to ensure that domestic provisions on funding to civil society actors are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments and are not misused to hinder the work or endanger the safety of civil society actors, and underlines the importance of the ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources for their work;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

Korneenko et al. v. Belarus, communication No. 1274/2004

Para. 7.2: “(…) The right to freedom of association relates not only to the right to form an association, but also guarantees the right of such an association freely to carry out its statutory activities. The protection afforded by article 22 extends to all activities of an association (…)”


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/20/27 (2012)

Paras. 95-100:

  • “A regime of notification to establish an association should be in force. Associations should be established after a process that is simple, easily accessible, non-discriminatory, and non-onerous or free of charge. Registration bodies should provide a detailed and timely written explanation when denying the registration of an association. Associations should be able to challenge any rejection before an impartial and independent court.”
  • “Any associations, including unregistered associations, should be allowed to function freely, and their members operate in an enabling and safe environment.”
  • “Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structure and activities and to make decisions without State interference.”
  • “Associations should enjoy the right to privacy.”
  • “Associations should be able to access domestic and foreign funding and resources without prior authorization.”
  • “Suspension or involuntarily dissolution of associations should be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/23/39)(2013)

Para. 8: “The ability to seek, secure and use resources is essential to the existence and effective operations of any association… The right to freedom of association not only includes the ability of individuals or legal entities to form and join an association but also to seek, receive and use resources – human, material and financial – from domestic, foreign, and international sources.”

Para. 9: “Legal frameworks and policies related to resources have a significant impact on the freedom of association; they can strengthen the effectiveness and facilitate the sustainability of associations or, alternatively, subjugate associations to a dependent and weak position. (…)”

Para. 20: The following contravene international law:

“(…) outright prohibitions to access funding; requiring CSOs to obtain Government approval prior to receiving funding; requiring the transfer of funds to a centralized Government fund; banning or restricting foreign-funded CSOs from engaging in human rights or advocacy activities; stigmatizing or delegitimizing the work of foreign-funded CSOs by requiring them to be labeled as “foreign agents” or other pejorative terms; initiating audit or inspection campaigns to harass CSOs; and imposing criminal penalties on CSOs for failure to comply with the foregoing constraints on funding.”

Para. 37: “(…) associations should be accountable to their donors, and at most, subject by the authorities to a mere notification procedure of the reception of funds and the submission of reports on their accounts and activities.”

Para. 38: “The transparency and accountability argument has been used to exert extensive scrutiny over the internal affairs of associations, as a way of intimidation and harassment. The Special Rapporteur warns against frequent, onerous and bureaucratic reporting requirements, which can eventually unduly obstruct the legitimate work carried out by associations. (…)”

Para 82: “In relation to freedom of association, the Special Rapporteur calls upon States:

  1. adopt a regime of notification for the formation of associations, and to allow for the existence of unregistered associations;
  2. To ensure that associations – registered and unregistered – can seek, receive and use funding and other resources from natural and legal persons, whether domestic, foreign or international, without prior authorization or other undue impediments, including from individuals; associations, foundations or other civil society organizations; foreign Governments and aid agencies; the private sector; the United Nations and other entities;
  3. To recognize that undue restrictions to funding, including percentage limits, is a violation of the right to freedom of association and of other human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  4. To recognize that regulatory measures which compel recipients of foreign funding to adopt negative labels constitute undue impediments on the right to seek, receive and use funding;
  5. To adopt measures to protect individuals and associations against defamation, disparagement, undue audits and other attacks in relation to funding they allegedly received.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/38/34 2018)

Para. 28: “(…) Repressive legislation is used to crack down on dissent, by creating a complex legal environment with burdensome requirements relating to the functioning of civil society organizations and groups. In the name of transparency, associations are required to comply with complicated, restrictive and invasive regulations in order to operate. Such laws often contain clauses that threaten associations with deregistration, loss of legal existence or even criminal prosecution for non-compliance. (…)”

Para. 30: “(…) Some restrictions require NGOs to align their activities with government policies, with heavy sanctions for NGOs that fail to do so. Some legislation also excludes certain areas of work, by broadly labelling them as “political” or “harmful to national security”.”

Respect NGO Independence

Introduction

States should “fully recognise the importance of the independent voice of human rights defenders and other civil society actors,” including by “respecting the independence of their organisations.”

States must not interfere with the work of NGOs or use means to pressure or exert control over them in a way that compromises their independence and autonomy. The Human Rights Council has expressly called upon States to ensure that administrative requirements respect the functional autonomy of civil society actors. 

Civil society is strong because it is independent, including from both governmental authorities and donors. NGOs freely choose their leadership and individuals join associations of their choice. This independence is essential to hold authorities accountable and to challenge non-State actors.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Article 22:

  1. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.
  3. Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art. 5:For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (…)

(b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; (…)”

Art. 13: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means, (…).”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 10: “Calls upon all States (…) to ensure that:

(d) Where legislation and procedures governing the registration and funding of civil society organizations exist, they are transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious, inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, with national legislation being in compliance with international human rights law;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 8: “Calls upon States to respect, protect and ensure the right to freedom of association of human rights defenders and, in this regard, to ensure, where procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations exist, that these are transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, expeditious and inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, in accordance with national legislation, and are in conformity with international human rights law;”

OP 9: “Calls upon States to ensure that reporting requirements placed on individuals, groups and organs of society do not inhibit functional autonomy, and that restrictions are not discriminatorily imposed on potential sources of funding aimed at supporting the work of human rights defenders other than those ordinarily laid down for any other activity unrelated to human rights within the country to ensure transparency and accountability, and that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the geographic origin of funding thereto;”

Resolution 27/31 (2014)

OP 10: “Calls upon States to ensure that domestic provisions on funding to civil society actors are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments and are not misused to hinder the work or endanger the safety of civil society actors, and underlines the importance of the ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources for their work;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

Korneenko et al. v. Belarus, communication No. 1274/2004

Para. 7.2: “(…) The right to freedom of association relates not only to the right to form an association, but also guarantees the right of such an association freely to carry out its statutory activities. The protection afforded by article 22 extends to all activities of an association (…)”


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/20/27 (2012)

Paras. 95-100:

  • “A regime of notification to establish an association should be in force. Associations should be established after a process that is simple, easily accessible, non-discriminatory, and non-onerous or free of charge. Registration bodies should provide a detailed and timely written explanation when denying the registration of an association. Associations should be able to challenge any rejection before an impartial and independent court.”
  • “Any associations, including unregistered associations, should be allowed to function freely, and their members operate in an enabling and safe environment.”
  • “Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structure and activities and to make decisions without State interference.”
  • “Associations should enjoy the right to privacy.”
  • “Associations should be able to access domestic and foreign funding and resources without prior authorization.”
  • “Suspension or involuntarily dissolution of associations should be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/23/39)(2013)

Para. 8: “The ability to seek, secure and use resources is essential to the existence and effective operations of any association… The right to freedom of association not only includes the ability of individuals or legal entities to form and join an association but also to seek, receive and use resources – human, material and financial – from domestic, foreign, and international sources.”

Para. 9: “Legal frameworks and policies related to resources have a significant impact on the freedom of association; they can strengthen the effectiveness and facilitate the sustainability of associations or, alternatively, subjugate associations to a dependent and weak position. (…)”

Para. 20: The following contravene international law:

“(…) outright prohibitions to access funding; requiring CSOs to obtain Government approval prior to receiving funding; requiring the transfer of funds to a centralized Government fund; banning or restricting foreign-funded CSOs from engaging in human rights or advocacy activities; stigmatizing or delegitimizing the work of foreign-funded CSOs by requiring them to be labeled as “foreign agents” or other pejorative terms; initiating audit or inspection campaigns to harass CSOs; and imposing criminal penalties on CSOs for failure to comply with the foregoing constraints on funding.”

Para. 37: “(…) associations should be accountable to their donors, and at most, subject by the authorities to a mere notification procedure of the reception of funds and the submission of reports on their accounts and activities.”

Para. 38: “The transparency and accountability argument has been used to exert extensive scrutiny over the internal affairs of associations, as a way of intimidation and harassment. The Special Rapporteur warns against frequent, onerous and bureaucratic reporting requirements, which can eventually unduly obstruct the legitimate work carried out by associations. (…)”

Para. 82: “In relation to freedom of association, the Special Rapporteur calls upon States:

  1. adopt a regime of notification for the formation of associations, and to allow for the existence of unregistered associations;
  2. To ensure that associations – registered and unregistered – can seek, receive and use funding and other resources from natural and legal persons, whether domestic, foreign or international, without prior authorization or other undue impediments, including from individuals; associations, foundations or other civil society organizations; foreign Governments and aid agencies; the private sector; the United Nations and other entities;
  3. To recognize that undue restrictions to funding, including percentage limits, is a violation of the right to freedom of association and of other human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  4. To recognize that regulatory measures which compel recipients of foreign funding to adopt negative labels constitute undue impediments on the right to seek, receive and use funding;
  5. To adopt measures to protect individuals and associations against defamation, disparagement, undue audits and other attacks in relation to funding they allegedly received.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/38/34 2018)

Para. 28: “(…) Repressive legislation is used to crack down on dissent, by creating a complex legal environment with burdensome requirements relating to the functioning of civil society organizations and groups. In the name of transparency, associations are required to comply with complicated, restrictive and invasive regulations in order to operate. Such laws often contain clauses that threaten associations with deregistration, loss of legal existence or even criminal prosecution for non-compliance. (…)”

Para. 30: “(…) Some restrictions require NGOs to align their activities with government policies, with heavy sanctions for NGOs that fail to do so. Some legislation also excludes certain areas of work, by broadly labelling them as “political” or “harmful to national security”.”

Avoid Registration and Legal Restrictions

Introduction

“Where legislation and procedures governing the registration and funding of civil society organisations exist,” they should be “transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious, and inexpensive.” Legislation affecting the activities of human rights defenders must be “clearly defined, determinable, and non-retroactive.” It must not inhibit the “functional autonomy” of NGOs. Any limitations placed on human rights defenders must be “lawful, proportionate, non-discriminatory and necessary,” and should “allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration.”

States do not need to adopt measures to govern the registration of civil society; they can do so, but it is not mandatory. In many countries with a high level of civil society engagement and indeed an enabling environment, prior registration is not mandatory.

Procedures governing the registration of civil society organisations play an important role in the control of civil society space. With this in mind, the power to limit the right to freedom of association must be appropriately framed. States should not impose lengthy, burdensome or overly bureaucratic registration processes, as this would undermine the effective functioning of NGOs.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Article 22:

  1. “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
  2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those which are prescribed by law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. This article shall not prevent the imposition of lawful restrictions on members of the armed forces and of the police in their exercise of this right.
  3. Nothing in this article shall authorize States Parties to the International Labour Organisation Convention of 1948 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize to take legislative measures which would prejudice, or to apply the law in such a manner as to prejudice, the guarantees provided for in that Convention.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art. 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (…)

(b) To form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups; (…)”

Art. 13: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms through peaceful means, (…).”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 10: “Calls upon all States (…) to ensure that:

(d) Where legislation and procedures governing the registration and funding of civil society organizations exist, they are transparent, non-discriminatory, expeditious, inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, with national legislation being in compliance with international human rights law;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 8: “Calls upon States to respect, protect and ensure the right to freedom of association of human rights defenders and, in this regard, to ensure, where procedures governing the registration of civil society organizations exist, that these are transparent, accessible, non-discriminatory, expeditious and inexpensive, allow for the possibility to appeal and avoid requiring re-registration, in accordance with national legislation, and are in conformity with international human rights law;”

OP 9: “Calls upon States to ensure that reporting requirements placed on individuals, groups and organs of society do not inhibit functional autonomy, and that restrictions are not discriminatorily imposed on potential sources of funding aimed at supporting the work of human rights defenders other than those ordinarily laid down for any other activity unrelated to human rights within the country to ensure transparency and accountability, and that no law should criminalize or delegitimize activities in defence of human rights on account of the geographic origin of funding thereto;”

Resolution 27/31 (2014)

OP 10: “Calls upon States to ensure that domestic provisions on funding to civil society actors are in compliance with their international human rights obligations and commitments and are not misused to hinder the work or endanger the safety of civil society actors, and underlines the importance of the ability to solicit, receive and utilize resources for their work;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

Korneenko et al. v. Belarus, communication No. 1274/2004

Para. 7.2: “(…) The right to freedom of association relates not only to the right to form an association, but also guarantees the right of such an association freely to carry out its statutory activities. The protection afforded by article 22 extends to all activities of an association (…)”


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/20/27 (2012)

Paras. 95-100:

  • “A regime of notification to establish an association should be in force. Associations should be established after a process that is simple, easily accessible, non-discriminatory, and non-onerous or free of charge. Registration bodies should provide a detailed and timely written explanation when denying the registration of an association. Associations should be able to challenge any rejection before an impartial and independent court.”
  • “Any associations, including unregistered associations, should be allowed to function freely, and their members operate in an enabling and safe environment.”
  • “Associations should be free to determine their statutes, structure and activities and to make decisions without State interference.”
  • “Associations should enjoy the right to privacy.”
  • “Associations should be able to access domestic and foreign funding and resources without prior authorization.”
  • “Suspension or involuntarily dissolution of associations should be sanctioned by an impartial and independent court in case of a clear and imminent danger resulting in a flagrant violation of domestic laws, in compliance with international human rights law.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/23/39)(2013)

Para. 8: “The ability to seek, secure and use resources is essential to the existence and effective operations of any association… The right to freedom of association not only includes the ability of individuals or legal entities to form and join an association but also to seek, receive and use resources – human, material and financial – from domestic, foreign, and international sources.”

Para. 9: “Legal frameworks and policies related to resources have a significant impact on the freedom of association; they can strengthen the effectiveness and facilitate the sustainability of associations or, alternatively, subjugate associations to a dependent and weak position. (…)”

Para. 20:  The following contravene international law:

“(…) outright prohibitions to access funding; requiring CSOs to obtain Government approval prior to receiving funding; requiring the transfer of funds to a centralized Government fund; banning or restricting foreign-funded CSOs from engaging in human rights or advocacy activities; stigmatizing or delegitimizing the work of foreign-funded CSOs by requiring them to be labeled as “foreign agents” or other pejorative terms; initiating audit or inspection campaigns to harass CSOs; and imposing criminal penalties on CSOs for failure to comply with the foregoing constraints on funding.”

Para. 37: “(…) associations should be accountable to their donors, and at most, subject by the authorities to a mere notification procedure of the reception of funds and the submission of reports on their accounts and activities.”

Para. 38: “The transparency and accountability argument has been used to exert extensive scrutiny over the internal affairs of associations, as a way of intimidation and harassment. The Special Rapporteur warns against frequent, onerous and bureaucratic reporting requirements, which can eventually unduly obstruct the legitimate work carried out by associations. (…)”

Para 82: “In relation to freedom of association, the Special Rapporteur calls upon States:

  • adopt a regime of notification for the formation of associations, and to allow for the existence of unregistered associations;
  • To ensure that associations – registered and unregistered – can seek, receive and use funding and other resources from natural and legal persons, whether domestic, foreign or international, without prior authorization or other undue impediments, including from individuals; associations, foundations or other civil society organizations; foreign Governments and aid agencies; the private sector; the United Nations and other entities;
  • To recognize that undue restrictions to funding, including percentage limits, is a violation of the right to freedom of association and of other human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • To recognize that regulatory measures which compel recipients of foreign funding to adopt negative labels constitute undue impediments on the right to seek, receive and use funding;
  • To adopt measures to protect individuals and associations against defamation, disparagement, undue audits and other attacks in relation to funding they allegedly received.”

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/38/34 2018)

Para. 28: “(…) Repressive legislation is used to crack down on dissent, by creating a complex legal environment with burdensome requirements relating to the functioning of civil society organizations and groups. In the name of transparency, associations are required to comply with complicated, restrictive and invasive regulations in order to operate. Such laws often contain clauses that threaten associations with deregistration, loss of legal existence or even criminal prosecution for non-compliance. (…)”

Para. 30: “(…) Some restrictions require NGOs to align their activities with government policies, with heavy sanctions for NGOs that fail to do so. Some legislation also excludes certain areas of work, by broadly labelling them as “political” or “harmful to national security”.”

End all Forms of Reprisals

Introduction

States must “refrain and ensure adequate protection from any act of intimidation or reprisals against those who cooperate, have cooperated or seek to cooperate with international institutions, including their family members and associates.”

This standard extends not only to situations in which human rights defenders cooperate with the UN, Council of Europe or other international organisations, but generally to every situation in which human rights defenders face reprisals related to their work. It includes retaliation for their advocacy work on human rights, and for their reporting on and seeking information on human rights violations and abuses.

Increased international visibility of human rights defenders has long been a key component of their security. Unfortunately, cooperating with international mechanisms has also become a reason for many to fear intimidation and reprisals against them, their relatives, and their organisations.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (…)

(c)  To communicate with non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations.”

Article 9.4: “(…) everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies with general or special competence to receive and consider communications on matters of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Article 12.2:  “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Resolution 72/247 (2017)

OP 8: “Condemns all acts of intimidation and reprisal by State and non-State actors against individuals, groups and organs of society, including against human rights defenders and their legal representatives, associates and family members, who seek to cooperate, are cooperating or have cooperated with subregional, regional and international bodies, including the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms, in the field of human rights, and strongly calls upon all States to give effect to the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies, including the United Nations, its special procedures, the universal periodic review mechanism and the treaty bodies, as well as regional human rights mechanisms;”

Resolution 73/173 (2018)

OP 2: “Urges States to take concrete steps to prevent and put an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful protestors and human rights defenders for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including in relation to cooperation with the United Nations and other international mechanisms in the area of human rights, and in this regard strongly urges the release of such persons detained or imprisoned in violation of the obligations of States under international human rights law;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution  42/28 (2019)

OP 1: “Reaffirms the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, including the Human Rights Council, its special procedures, the universal periodic review mechanism and the treaty bodies, as well as regional human rights mechanisms, and bearing in mind that this is indispensable to enable the United Nations and its mechanisms to fulfil their mandates;”

OP 2: “Condemns all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, by State and non-State actors against individuals and groups who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights;”

OP 3: “Welcomes the efforts made by States to investigate allegations of acts of intimidation or reprisal and to bring perpetrators to justice, and encourages States to continue such efforts;”

OP 4: “Urges all States to prevent and refrain from all acts of intimidation or reprisal, both online and offline, against those who:

  1. Seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, or who have provided testimony or information to them;
  2. Avail or have availed themselves of procedures established under the auspices of the United Nations for the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and all those who have provided legal or other assistance to them for this purpose;
  3. Submit or have submitted communications under procedures established by human rights instruments, and all those who have provided legal or other assistance to them for this purpose;
  4. Are relatives of victims of human rights violations or of those who have provided legal or other assistance to victims;”

OP 5: “Urges States to take all appropriate measures to prevent the occurrence of acts of intimidation or reprisal, whether online or offline, including, where necessary, by adopting and implementing specific legislation and policies to promote a safe and enabling environment for engagement with the United Nations on human rights and to effectively protect those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights from any act of intimidation or reprisal;”

OP 6: “Also urges States to ensure accountability for any act of intimidation or reprisal against those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, to provide access to effective remedies for victims in accordance with their international human rights obligations and commitments, and to prevent any recurrence;”

OP 7: “Calls upon States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and pursuing accountability for all acts of intimidation or reprisal by State and non-State actors against any individual or group who seeks to cooperate, cooperates or has cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and by condemning publicly all such acts, underlining that these can never be justified;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment  No 36 (2018)

Para. 53: “Article 6 (right to life) reinforces the obligations of States parties to protect individuals against reprisals for promoting and striving to protect and realize human rights, including through cooperation or communication with the Committee, and that States parties must take the necessary measures to respond to death threats and to provide adequate protection to human rights defenders, including the creation and maintenance of a safe and enabling environment for defending human rights.”


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to Human Rights Council A/HRC/20/27  (2012)

Para. 84: “The Special rapporteur calls upon States: (…)  (c) To ensure that no one is criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, nor is subject to threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals;”

Report to General Assembly A/69/365 (2014)

Para. 90: “(…) The Special Rapporteur calls upon States members of multilateral institutions to: (…)

  • Prevent and refrain from all acts of reprisals against those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions;
  • Adopt and implement specific legislation and policies, and issue appropriate guidance to national authorities to effectively protect those engaging or seeking to engage with multilateral institutions;
  • Ensure accountability for any acts of reprisal through impartial, prompt and thorough investigations of any acts of reprisal, and access to effective remedies for victims;
  • Consider establishing national focal points on reprisals;”

Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/40/60 (2019)

Para. 109: “(b) Ensure that women defenders who engage with multilateral institutions and international and regional human rights bodies can do so without fear of persecution or violence and that any allegations or instances of reprisals are promptly investigated;”

End Arbitrary Detention and Arrest

Introduction

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile,” as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. States should ensure that no one is subjected to “detention without due process guarantees and the deprivation of liberty that amounts to placing a detained person outside the protection of the law.”

Arbitrary detention is the violation of the right to liberty outside of the confines of nationally recognised laws and international standards. This principle applies to all people, including human rights defenders – who are more subjected to these practices due to the nature of their activities.

Authorities in some countries use arbitrary detention – pre-trial and imprisonment – as a tool to systematically repress human rights defenders, journalists, and activists. This practice violates procedural fair trial rights and substantive human rights such as freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

“Article 9:

  1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.
  2. Anyone who is arrested shall be informed, at the time of arrest, of the reasons for his arrest and shall be promptly informed of any charges against him.
  3. Anyone arrested or detained on a criminal charge shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to release. It shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial, at any other stage of the judicial proceedings, and, should occasion arise, for execution of the judgement.
  4. Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful.
  5. Anyone who has been the victim of unlawful arrest or detention shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 2.1: “Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by adopting such steps as may be necessary to create all conditions necessary in the social, economic, political and other fields, as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction, individually and in association with others, are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice”.

Article 12.2: “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 8: “Calls upon States to take concrete steps to prevent and put an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, and in this regard strongly urges the release of persons detained or imprisoned, in violation of the obligations and commitments of States under international human rights law, for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, including in relation to cooperation with the United Nations or other international mechanisms in the area of human rights;”

OP 10: “Calls upon all States (…) to ensure that:

(b) Human rights defenders, their family members, associates and legal representatives are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work, including by ensuring that all legal provisions, administrative measures and policies affecting them, including those aimed at preserving public safety, public order and public morals, are minimally restrictive, clearly defined, determinable, non-retroactive and compatible with the obligations and commitments of States under international human rights law;

(c) Measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security are in compliance with their obligations and commitments under international law, in particular under international human rights law, and do not jeopardize the safety or arbitrarily hinder the work of individuals, groups and organs of society engaged in promoting and defending human rights, while clearly identifying which offences qualify as terrorist acts by defining transparent and foreseeable criteria;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 6: “Calls upon States to ensure that human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests, in accordance with national legislation consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law and, in this regard, to ensure that no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearance, abuse of criminal and civil proceedings or threats of such acts;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment No  34 (2011)

Para. 23: Under no circumstance “(…) can an attack on a person, because of the exercise of his or her freedom of opinion or expression, including such forms of attack as arbitrary arrest, torture, threats to life and killing, be compatible with article 19. (…) All such attacks should be vigorously investigated in a timely fashion, and the perpetrators prosecuted and the victims, or, in the case of killings, their representatives, be in receipt of appropriate forms of redress. “

General Comment  No 35 (2014)

Para. 17: “Arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of the rights as guaranteed by the Covenant is arbitrary, including freedom of opinion and expression (art. 19),  freedom of assembly (art. 21), freedom of association (art. 22), freedom of religion (art. 18) and the right to privacy (art. 17). Arrest or detention on discriminatory grounds in violation of article 2, paragraph 1, article 3 or article 26 is also in principle arbitrary. (…)”

 


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to Human Rights Council A/HRC/31/66 (2016)

Para. 45: “No one may be subject to arbitrary arrest or detention. In the context of assemblies this has particular import for the criminalization of assemblies and dissent. Arrest of protestors to prevent or punish the exercise of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, for example on charges that are spurious, unreasonable or lack proportionality, may violate these protections. Similarly, intrusive pre-emptive measures should not be used unless a clear and present danger of imminent violence actually exists. “Mass arrest” of assembly participants often amounts to indiscriminate and arbitrary arrests.”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to Human Rights Council A/HRC/25/55 (2013)

Para. 131: “Member States should: (a) Ensure that defenders can conduct their work in a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework. In this vein, refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities, abolish all administrative and legislative provisions that restrict the rights of defenders, and ensure that domestic legislation respects basic principles relating to international human rights law and standards;”


United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

United Nations Basic Principles and Guidelines on Remedies and Procedures on the Right of Anyone Deprived of Their Liberty to Bring Proceedings Before a Court (AHRC/30/37)(2015)

Principle 1 – “Right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty

Recognising that everyone has the right to be free from arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of liberty, everyone is guaranteed the right to take proceedings before a court in order that that court may decide on the arbitrariness or lawfulness of the detention, and to obtain without delay appropriate and accessible remedies.”

Para. 10: “In the Basic Principles and Guidelines, deprivation of liberty covers the period from the initial moment of apprehension until arrest, pretrial and post-trial detention periods, and is regarded as “arbitrary” in the following cases:

(a) When it is clearly impossible to invoke any legal basis to justify the deprivation of liberty (such as when a person is kept in detention after the completion of his or her sentence, or despite an amnesty law applicable to the detainee, or when a person detained as a prisoner of war, is kept in detention after the cessation of effective hostilities);

(b) When the deprivation of liberty results from the exercise of the rights or freedoms guaranteed by articles 7, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20 and 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and, insofar as States parties are concerned, by articles 12, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26 and 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

(c) When the total or partial non-observance of the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial, established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the relevant international instruments accepted by the State concerned, is of such gravity as to give the deprivation of liberty an arbitrary character.”

Accept Dissenting Views

Introduction

States must ensure that “dissenting views may be expressed peacefully.” In this regard, they must refrain from taking measures aimed at criminalising freedom of expression and limit penalties for defamation, to “ensure proportionality and reparation commensurate to the harm done.”

Human rights defenders must feel secure, protected, and empowered to peacefully express their views, without pressure, self-censorship, or fear of reprisals. This means creating an environment in which a vibrant and strong civil society can flourish. Leaders should avoid stigmatising people with dissenting views and prevent attacks against human rights defenders who express dissenting views, including conducting proper investigations into such acts against them.

There is a trend for States to try to silence human rights defenders that express dissenting views, especially critics of the government and those divulging cases of corruption or reporting on human rights abuses. Similarly, after years of progress, States are now adopting more restrictive legislation that criminalises defamation online and offline.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 7:

“Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance.”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 12/16 (2009)

OP 5: (p). Calls upon States to refrain from imposing restrictions “(i) Discussion of government policies and political debate; reporting on human rights, government activities and corruption in government; engaging in election campaigns, peaceful demonstrations or political activities, including for peace or democracy; and expression of opinion and dissent, religion or belief, including by persons belonging to minorities or vulnerable groups;”

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 11: “(…) Further calls upon States to ensure that all legal provisions and their application affecting human rights defenders are clearly defined, determinable and non- retroactive in order to avoid potential abuse to the detriment of fundamental freedoms and human rights, and specifically to ensure that: (…)

(j) Dissenting views may be expressed peacefully (…)”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment  No 34 (2011)

Para. 20: “(…) The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues and to inform public opinion without censorship or restraint. (…)”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the General Assembly (A/73/215)(2018)

Para. 21. (…) The Declaration also protects the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas, allowing all people to be part of the progressive development of human rights ideas and to be actively engaged in setting new directions for the human rights project. This right recognizes that some of these new ideas may be culturally, religiously or politically controversial; it is precisely this potential for controversy that demands space for free and open discussion and debate. (…)”

Ensure Free Access and Choice of Media

Introduction

States must ensure that human rights defenders have “access to and use of information technologies and the media of one’s choice, including radio, television. and the Internet.”

Any unjustified and abusive action taken by governments to control and monitor online or offline media, such as censorship of the Internet, is a violation of the right to freedom of expression. People should be able to access and use information technologies or media of their choice. They should not face external pressure or abusive control by public authorities.

In some countries, authorities have blocked independent media that are critical of the government and cover human rights-related issues. They have sought to shut down social media accounts of independent media outlets, bloggers, and human rights defenders.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

“Article 19:

  1. « Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.»
  2. « Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.»
  3. « The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;

(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals. »

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 6: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others:

(a) To know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including having access to information as to how those rights and freedoms are given effect in domestic legislative, judicial or administrative systems;

(b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms;

(c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters.”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 10: “Calls upon all States (…) to ensure that:

(f) Information, such as evidence of serious violations of human rights, held by public authorities is not unnecessarily classified or otherwise withheld from the public, and States adopt transparent, clear and expedient laws and policies that provide for the effective disclosure of information held by public authorities and a general right to request and receive such information, for which public access should be granted, except within narrow and clearly defined limitations;”

Resolution 72/175 (2017)

OP 12: “Condemns unequivocally measures in violation of international human rights law aiming to or that intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online and offline, aiming to undermine the work of journalists in informing the public, and calls upon all States to cease and refrain from these measures, which cause irreparable harm to efforts at building inclusive and peaceful knowledge societies and democracies;”

OP 13: “Calls upon States to ensure that measures to combat terrorism and preserve national security or public order are in compliance with their obligations under international law and do not arbitrarily or unduly hinder the work and safety of journalists, including through arbitrary arrest or detention or the threat thereof;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 12/16 (2009)

OP 5: “Calls upon States (…) (p) (…) to refrain from imposing restrictions (…) on:

(i) Discussion of government policies and political debate; reporting on human rights, government activities and corruption in government; engaging in election campaigns, peaceful demonstrations or political activities, including for peace or democracy; and expression of opinion and dissent, religion or belief, including by persons belonging to minorities or vulnerable groups;

(ii) the free flow of information and ideas, including practices such as the banning or closing of publications or other media and the abuse of administrative measures and censorship;

(iii) access to or use of information and communication technologies, including radio, television and the Internet;

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 7: “Underlines that the access to and use of information technologies and the media of one’s choice, including radio, television and the Internet, should be promoted and facilitated at the national level, between States and at the international level as an integral part of the enjoyment of the fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression, and also encourages international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communications technologies in all countries;”

OP 11: “(…) Calls upon States to ensure that (…):

(e) Information held by public authorities is proactively disclosed, and that transparent and clear laws and policies provide for a general right to request and receive such information, for which public access should be granted, except for narrow and clearly defined limitations;

(f) Restrictions are not invoked on access to information regarding grave violations of human rights;”

Resolution 32/13 (2016)

OP 1: “Affirms that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in particular freedom of expression, which is applicable regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, in accordance with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;”

OP 9: “Condemns unequivocally all human rights violations and abuses, such as torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, expulsion, intimidation and harassment, as well as gender-based violence, committed against persons for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms on the Internet, and calls upon all States to ensure accountability in this regard;”

OP 10: “Also condemns unequivocally measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law, and calls upon all States to refrain from and cease such measures;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

 General Comment No 34 (2011)

Inspired by Para 3. Freedom of opinion and expression are the cornerstones of every free and democratic society and a necessary condition for the realization of the principles of transparency and accountability that are, in turn, essential for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Para. 13: “(…) The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. (…)”

Inspired by Paras. 15 and 18. Article 19 of the ICCPR provides not only for the right to seek, receive and impart information, but also the “right to know” and the right of access to information held by public bodies. This includes the right by the media to have access to information on public affairs, and of the general public to receive media output.  By granting the exercise of these freedom regardless of frontiers and through any media of one’s choice, article 19 defines two fundamental tenets of the freedom of the media, namely pluralism and the “right to choose”, and online rights and the “right to connect”. Therefore, States parties should take all necessary steps to foster the independence of these new media and to ensure access of individuals thereto.

Para. 20: “(…) The free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues and to inform public opinion without censorship or restraint. (…)”


Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

Report to the General Assembly (A/70/361) (2015)

Recommendations to States:

“Ensure that national legal frameworks provide for the right of access to information in accordance with international standards”

Para. 60 “(…) Adopt or revise and implement national laws protecting the confidentiality of sources”

Para. 62 “(…) Adopt or revise and implement national legal frameworks protecting whistle-blowers”

Para. 65 “(…) Establish personal liability for those who retaliate against sources and whistle-blowers”

Para 66 “(…) Actively promote respect for the right of access to information”

Facilitate Peaceful Protests

Introduction

States should ensure that “human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests.” To do so, they should facilitate peaceful protests by “providing protestors with access to public space and protecting them, without discrimination, where necessary, against any form of threat and harassment.”

States should take all means necessary to ensure that law enforcement officials do not use excessive or disproportionate force during peaceful protests. States must refrain from using unjustified pretences to abusively restrict the right to protest, such as through misusing anti-terrorism or national security measures. Rather, they should facilitate access to the public space and ensure the smooth holding of protests, without undue use of violence by law enforcement officials. Countries’ legal frameworks must contain effective, clear, and reasonable provisions on the right to protest; limitations should be a last resort. The right to protest lies in the recognition and protection of rights that include freedoms of expression and opinion, association, and peaceful assembly

Human rights defenders play a pivotal role in ensuring that protest and criticism are expressed in a peaceful and constructive manner. Yet, there is a systematic and deliberate pattern of authorities employing a crackdown on defenders and civil society groups during periods where public engagement is most needed, such as elections.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Article 21: “The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Article 25: “Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions:

(a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;

(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;

(c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art. 5: “For the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels: (a) To meet or assemble peacefully;”

Art. 12.1: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Resolution 73/173  (2018)

OP 3: “(…)

(a) Strongly condemns the use of harassment, intimidation and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and killings by State and non-State actors to violently suppress and silence individuals, including young people and students, for participating in peaceful protests, including protests to call for democratic reforms;

(b) Urges States to pay particular attention to the safety and protection of women and women human rights defenders from acts of intimidation and harassment, as well as gender-based violence, including sexual assault, in the context of peaceful protests;

(c) Calls upon all States to pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and media workers observing, monitoring and recording peaceful protests, taking into account their specific role, exposure and vulnerability;”

OP 7: “Underlines the necessity of addressing the management of assemblies, including peaceful protests, so as to contribute to their peaceful conduct and prevent injuries and loss of life among protestors, those observing, monitoring and recording such assemblies, bystanders and officials exercising law enforcement duties, and urges States to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses through judicial or other national mechanisms, based on law and in conformity with their international human rights obligations and commitments, and to provide all victims with access to remedy and redress, including in the context of peaceful protests;”


 United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 15/21 (2010)

OP 1: “Calls upon States to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including in the context of elections, and including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, human rights defenders, trade unionists and others, including migrants, seeking to exercise or to promote these rights, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of the association are in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law;”

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 6: “Calls upon States to ensure that human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests, in accordance with national legislation consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law and, in this regard, to ensure that no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearance, abuse of criminal and civil proceedings or threats of such acts.”

Resolution 25/38 (2014)

OP 3: “Calls upon States to promote a safe and enabling environment for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association, including by ensuring that their domestic legislation and procedures relating to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association are in conformity with their international human rights obligations and commitments, (…)”

OP 4: “Urges States to facilitate peaceful protests by providing protestors with access to public space and protecting them, without discrimination, where necessary, against any form of threat and harassment, (…)”

OP 9: “Urges all States to avoid using force during peaceful protests and to ensure that, where force is absolutely necessary, no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force;”

OP 10: “Calls upon States, (…) to ensure that their domestic legislation and procedures are consistent with their international obligations and commitments in relation to the use of force in the context of law enforcement (…)”.

OP 18: “Recognizes the importance of documenting human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of peaceful protests, and the role that can be played by national human rights institutions, civil society, including non-governmental organizations, journalists and other media workers, Internet users and human rights defenders, in this regard;”

OP 19: “Urges States to ensure accountability for human rights violations and abuses through juicial or other national mechanisms, based on law in conformity with their international human rights obligations and commitments, and to provide victims with access to a remedy and redress, including in the context of peaceful protests;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment  No 25

Art. 25: “In order to ensure the full enjoyment of rights protected by article 25, the free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues without censorship or restraint and to inform public opinion. It requires the full enjoyment and respect for the rights guaranteed in articles 19, 21 and 22 of the Covenant, including freedom to engage in political activity individually or through political parties and other organizations, freedom to debate public affairs, to hold peaceful demonstrations and meetings, to criticize and oppose, to publish political material, to campaign for election and to advertise political ideas.»


Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association

Report to the General Assembly A/68/299  (2013)

Para. 56:  “The Special Rapporteur stresses that electoral periods are such an important time to build democratic, responsive and accountable institutions and that very strict and clear safeguards should be put in place by States to prevent undue interference in public freedoms, in particular in the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Further, in times of elections, States should make greater efforts to facilitate and protect the exercise of these core rights, which should be enjoyed by everyone, especially by members of groups at risk. In effect, genuine elections cannot be achieved if the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are curtailed.”

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/31/66 (2016)

Para. 68:  “All persons enjoy the right to observe, and by extension monitor, assemblies (…) The concept of monitoring encapsulates not only the act of observing an assembly, but also the active collection, verification and immediate use of information to address human rights problems. “

Para. 69: “A monitor is generally defined as any non-participant third-party individual or group whose primary aim is to observe and record the actions and activities taking place at public assemblies. National human rights institutions, ombudsmen, intergovernmental entities and civil society organizations all commonly act as monitors. Journalists, including citizen journalists, play an important role.”

Para. 70: “States have an obligation to protect the rights of assembly monitors. This includes respecting and facilitating the right to observe and monitor all aspects of an assembly, (…)”

Para.72:

“(a) States should ensure that a comprehensive community engagement strategy is in place that includes programmes and policies designed to build trust and communication among law enforcement officials, the media and other assembly monitors;

(b) Authorities should proactively engage with monitors by communicating consistently before, during and after an assembly; by providing access and information to members of the media and other monitors; and by considering and responding to monitors’ reports after assemblies;

(c) Authorities should routinely notify national human rights institutions or other relevant independent oversight bodies of anticipated assemblies and facilitate the access required for them to monitor properly all phases of the assembly;

(d) States should prohibit by law any interference with the recording of an assembly, including the seizure or damage of any equipment, except that pursuant to a warrant from a judge, where the judge considers that it has probative value.”

10 Guiding Principles for the Proper Management of Assemblies (A/HRC/31/66)

Guiding Principle No 6: Every person shall enjoy the right to observe, monitor and record assemblies.

Fight Against Impunity, Show Accountability

Introduction

States must “combat impunity by investigating and pursuing accountability for all attacks and threats by State and non-State actors against any individual, group or organ of society that is defending human rights.” To fight against impunity, States should “ensure an enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders and effective protection against acts of intimidation and reprisals against them, and conduct effective investigations into any such acts.”

Fighting impunity is essential for the security of human rights defenders. No matter the nature of the incident, attacks and threats against human rights defenders must be properly investigated, with the same diligence whether it is committed by a State or a non-State actor. The people responsible must be brought to justice.

Impunity for crimes against journalists is a particular issue. The personal dangers of being a journalist, and impunity for crimes against them, infect whole societies with fear of reprisals and self-censorship. This weakens democracies and deprives the population of the balanced information they need to make choices. In several countries, there is a higher chance of going to prison for being a human rights defender than for murdering journalists. Where States are unwilling to deter such killings, impunity silences the voice of the free press.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 9:

  1. “In the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the promotion and protection of human rights as referred to in the present Declaration, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected in the event of the violation of those rights.
  2. To this end, everyone whose rights or freedoms are allegedly violated has the right, either in person or through legally authorized representation, to complain to and have that complaint promptly reviewed in a public hearing before an independent, impartial and competent judicial or other authority established by law and to obtain from such an authority a decision, in accordance with law, providing redress, including any compensation due, where there has been a violation of that person’s rights or freedoms, as well as enforcement of the eventual decision and award, all without undue delay. (…)
  3. The State shall conduct a prompt and impartial investigation or ensure that an inquiry takes place whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms has occurred in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 5: “Strongly condemns the violence against and the targeting, criminalization, intimidation, torture, disappearance and killing of any individuals, including human rights defenders, for reporting and seeking information on human rights violations and abuses, and stresses the need to combat impunity by ensuring that those responsible for violations and abuses against human rights defenders, including against their legal representatives, associates and family members, are promptly brought to justice through impartial investigations”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 14: “(…) calls upon all States to: (…)

(b) fulfil the duty to end impunity for any acts of intimidation or reprisals by bringing the perpetrators to justice and by providing an effective remedy for their victims;”

Resolution 40/11 (2019)

OP 10: “Calls upon States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and pursuing accountability for all attacks and threats by State and non-State actors against any human rights defender, or against lawyers and legal representatives, journalists and media workers covering these issues, as well as against their family members and their associates, and by condemning publicly all cases of violence, discrimination, intimidation and reprisal, underlining that such practice can never be justified;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment No 31 (2004)

Inspired by Paras. 15-18: Impunity is an important element contributing to the recurrence of violations. States have the obligation to:

  • Investigate allegations of violations promptly, thoroughly and effectively through independent and impartial bodies
  • Establish appropriate judicial and administrative mechanisms for addressing claims of rights violations
  • Provide an effective and accessible remedy, which require that States make reparation to persons whose rights have been violated
  • Ensure that those responsible are brought to justice
  • Take measures to prevent a recurrence of the violation by providing victim-specific remedies but also general measures

United Nations Economic & Social Committee

Report of the independent expert to update the Set of principles to combat impunity (E/CN.4/2005/102/Add.1)(2005)

Principle I – Definitions (A) Impunity:

  • ““Impunity” means the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account – whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings – since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”

Combating Impunity: General Obligations – Principle 1. : General obligations of States to take effective action to comb at impunity:

  • “Impunity arises from a failure by States to meet their obligations to investigate violations; to take appropriate measures in respect of the perpetrators, particularly in the area of justice, by ensuring that those suspected of criminal responsibility are prosecuted, tried and duly punished; to provide victims with effective remedies and to ensure that they receive reparation for the injuries suffered; to ensure the inalienable right to know the truth about violations; and to take other necessary steps to prevent a recurrence of violations. “

Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/25/55  (2013)

Para. 74: “States should ensure prompt and independent investigation of all violations against defenders, and the prosecution of alleged perpetrators regardless of their status. They should also ensure for victims of violations access to just and effective remedies, including appropriate compensation. The provision of an effective remedy should be understood as access to judicial and administrative or quasi-judicial mechanisms. Investigation and prosecution should rest on an effective and independent judiciary.”

Report to the General Assembly A/74/159 (2019)(on impunity, right to access to justice)

Obstacles to the access of justice and accountability for violations against HRDs identified by the Special Rapporteur (paras. 49-86)

  • Lack of political will
  • Lack of recognition of HRDs by the State
  • Incidents are not reported
  • Violations that have no consequences in law
  • Lack of preventive actions by the State and lack of information/data on incidents
  • Limited or inadequate standards of protection at national level
  • Negligent practices in handling complaints
  • Failure to investigate instigators for responsibility for violations
  • Lack of resources and capacities
  • Influence of power groups

Guidelines to ensure due diligence in investigations of human rights violations against human rights defenders (paras. 92-128)

  • The defence of human rights must be a key element of the investigative strategy
  • Investigations should be geared towards determining degrees of responsibility and commensurate penalties
  • Differentiated and intersectional approach
  • The investigative strategy should involve analysis of contextual and risk factors
  • The methods of investigation should reflect the complexity of the violation
  • Investigations should include ways of proving harm and ensuring reparations

Para. 147: The Special Rapporteur recommends that States:

“(a) Incorporate into their domestic legislation the rights and obligations set out in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, after consultation with the various groups of human rights defenders;

(b)   Strengthen the independence of investigative and judicial bodies; establish legal safeguards against undue internal or external interference;

(c)   Eliminate de facto and de jure barriers that impede access to public information and to justice, taking into account the diversity of human rights defenders;

(d)   Adopt public policies to protect the right to defend human rights in safe environments, which recognize diversity (women; boys and girls; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; indigenous persons; persons of African descent; rural dwellers; and persons with disabilities) and the obstacles that different groups face, including impunity. Such policies should include mechanisms for periodic evaluation and be developed with the participation of beneficiary populations and experts; they should also be allocated adequate resources;

(e)   Assess the effectiveness of and strengthen national mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders, in order to integrate them into comprehensive public policies and facilitate the establishment of open channels for coordination with investigative bodies;

(f)    Criminalize acts of violence against human rights defenders appropriately, and impose consequences commensurate with their gravity (whether criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary in nature). Include effective mechanisms for access to comprehensive reparations;

(g)   Establish investigation policies that include the principles, guidelines and good practices described in this report. They should be flexible and contain mechanisms for regular evaluation. There should be a particular emphasis on identifying the intellectual authors;

(h)   Establish specialized bodies composed of independent, qualified professionals with training in and awareness of the defence of human rights, which use a differentiated approach and possess sufficient (material and human) resources for their operation;

(i)    Establish ad hoc investigative mechanisms that include international actors when there are indications of the involvement of State agents or there is reasonable doubt regarding the independence of bodies, for emblematic cases or cases of systematic violence against human rights defenders;

(j)    Enact the legal reforms required to ensure that victims, family members and representative organizations can participate at all stages of the investigation process;

(k)   Establish or strengthen mechanisms for the protection of witnesses and justice system personnel, taking into account the differentiated approach;

(l)    Record human rights violations committed against human rights defenders in a disaggregated manner, taking into account their specific characteristics and including actions taken by the State to ensure justice and the results achieved;

(m) As noted in a report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (A/HRC/41/35), independent mechanisms should be established to monitor and investigate the use of digital technologies for surveillance, to ensure that any such use is consistent with the principles of legality, necessity and legitimacy of objectives;

(n)   Prevent the involvement of the armed forces in public security tasks or control of social protests;

(o)   Establish independent and effective mechanisms for the supervision of all public security forces;

(p)   Protect the right to consultation of indigenous peoples and communities affected by extractive or other projects”

Uphold Responsibility of Business

Introduction

States should “adopt relevant policies and laws” to hold companies accountable for “involvement in threats or attacks against human rights defenders.” Non-State actors, including transnational corporations and other business enterprises, should “respect, promote and strive to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons, including human rights defenders.”

International bodies encourage non-state actors to assess the impact of their activities on human rights defenders affected by their activities. Non-State actors should refrain from and avoid being complicit in attacks, reprisals or acts of intimidation against human rights defenders, including those exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly, and protest against the business or its interests.

Environmental human rights defenders often highlight inconvenient truths for States and businesses, and for this can suffer from violence or other actions by both State and non-State actors. In some cases, they are demonised by their opponents as “antidevelopment” or “unpatriotic.” The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders has called for all actors to “urgently and publicly adopt a zero-tolerance approach to the killing of and violent acts against environmental human rights defenders, and immediately launch policies and mechanisms to empower and protect them.”

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art. 10: “No one shall participate, by act or by failure to act where required, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms (…) ” – business, and companies, as non-State actors.

UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (A/HRC/17/31, annex)(2011)

Build on three pillars:

  • The duty of States to protect their citizens from human rights abuses by third parties,
  • Corporate responsibility to respect human rights
  • Access for victims of business-related abuse to effective remedy

Resolution 72/247 (2016)

OP 12: “Urges non-State actors, including transnational corporations and other business enterprises, to respect, promote and strive for the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all persons, including human rights defenders, and underlines the need to ensure human rights due diligence and the accountability of, and the provision of adequate remedies by, transnational corporations and other business enterprises, while also urging States to adopt relevant policies and laws in this regard, including to hold all companies to account for involvement in threats or attacks against human rights defenders.


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 31/32 (2016):

OP 17: “Underscores in this regard the responsibility of all business enterprises, both transnational and others, to respect human rights, including the rights to life, liberty and security of person of human rights defenders, and their exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and participation in public affairs, which are essential for the promotion and protection of all human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights, and the right to development;”

OP 19: “Encourages all States to engage in initiatives to promote effective prevention, accountability, remedy and reparations with a view to protecting the human rights of everyone, including human rights defenders, including from human rights abuses by business enterprises;”

Resolution 26/22 (2014)

OP 2: “(…) Encourages all States to take steps to implement the Guiding Principles, including to develop a national action plan or other such framework;”

OP 5: “(…) welcomes  the efforts of the Working Group to develop guidance for the development and implementation of effective national action plans, including with regard to access to both judicial and non-judicial remedy, (…)”

OP 7: Requests OHCHR “(…) to facilitate the sharing and exploration of the full range of legal options and practical measures to improve access to remedy for victims of business-related human rights abuses, in collaboration with the Working Group, (…)”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the General Assembly A/72/170 (2017)

Para. 14: “Human rights defenders play a critical role in fostering corporate respect for human rights. Through their work, they can help to bring to the attention of States and business enterprises business-related impacts on human rights, address inconsistencies in the domestic legal and policy frameworks that may contribute to such impacts and support affected communities and individuals in seeking remedy where adverse human rights impacts have occurred.”

The Special Rapporteur identifies as key elements for the State to

  • Create an enabling environment (laws in place to protect, support and empower HRDs; laws to address human rights impacts of business enterprises and ensure human rights due diligence; facilitate access to information)
  • Protect HRDs from attacks by business communities, including judicial harassment/lawsuits (laws and policies aimed at protecting HRDs should include protecting HRDs which challenge businesses)
  • Ensure access to effective remedies (to effectively investigate and prosecute attacks against defenders by companies)

Key elements for business enterprises to:

  • Foster safe and enabling environment, ensure that business activities do not restrict, impair or interfere with HRDs’ rights
  • Include HRDs in human rights policy statements thus acknowledging corporate responsibility to respect the rights of HRDs
  • Conduct human rights due diligence and involve HRDs as key partners in the process
  • Disengage from business activities when human rights violations brought to light and remediate impacts to which it contributed
  • Assume responsibility for acts or omissions that led to human rights abuses
  • These responsibilities apply also investors, lending institutions and development banks

Para 90: “The Special Rapporteur calls upon States:

(a) To adopt legislation that creates due diligence obligations for companies registered in their jurisdictions and those of their subsidiaries, subcontractors and suppliers where there is a risk of human rights violations or abuses;

(b) To implement laws and policies which legitimize and guarantee the participation of communities and defenders in business-related decisions, including the rights of trade unions and the right to free, prior and informed consent;

(c) In consultation with defenders, to review their domestic regulatory framework to ensure that it, in substance or effect, does not impede the work of defenders to effectively and without risk of retaliation (including legal retaliation) address corporate human rights impacts;

(d) To adopt legislation requiring companies to publicly disclose information, including information on their corporate structure and governance, contracts, licences concessions, business relationships (investors, suppliers and other trading parties included), scientific information about company operations, and company filings;

(e) To publicly acknowledge, at the most senior levels of Government, the critical role that defenders play in helping to bring to the attention of States and business enterprises business-related impacts on human rights;

(f) To adopt national guidelines on human rights defenders and national action plans on business and human rights to ensure policy coherence and establish clear consequences when companies have been found to be linked to attacks against defenders;

(g) To promptly and impartially investigate all attacks against human rights defenders;

(h) To take all measures to provide for effective redress;

(i) To take measures, in policy and practice, to ensure that the security of defenders can be guaranteed at all times, including when accessing grievance mechanisms. Such measures should integrate intersectional, collective and holistic approaches.”

Para. 91: “The Special Rapporteur encourages companies:

(a) To assess the situation of civic freedoms and human rights defenders in the countries in which they operate, identifying gaps between international standards and national laws and practice;

(b) To ensure that their policy commitments on human rights reflect the critical role that defenders play in bringing human rights issues to their attention and address the risks they face in doing so;

(c) To actively engage with defenders and grass-roots civil society organizations in the elaboration of their human rights policies;

(d) To address the situation of and risks to company employees in their capacity as defenders, as well as external human rights defenders, and their opportunities to safely address business-related human rights grievances;

(e) To establish and implement processes for the remediation of adverse human rights impacts arising in any area of operations.”

Para. 92: “The Special Rapporteur calls upon investors and financial institutions:

(a) To include in ex ante impact assessments an analysis of the state of civic freedoms in the country of investment as well as the lender’s track record of engaging with defenders;

(b) To put into place gap-filling measures through which shortcomings are documented, including training for all staff, and ensure that respect for engagement with defenders and other stakeholders is duly reflected in contractual requirements;

(c) To withhold approval for investment where impact assessments reveal serious threats to civic freedoms and defenders at the country or local level;

(d) To develop guidelines that clearly communicate that criticism of activities financed by the institutions is an important part of improving the impacts of development efforts and that reprisals against defenders will not be tolerated;

(e) To approve such guidelines by the most senior management of these institutions, including guidance and specific training for staff on how to effectively engage with complainants and ensure their safety;

(f) To disclose all end users of financial intermediary loans and ensure that they bring their projects into line with safeguard requirements and human rights, whichever sets the higher standard, or stop lending to high-risk clients.”


United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights

Guidance for National Action Plans


Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Accountability and Remedy Project (ARP)

Enable more consistent implementation of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights with regard to access to remedy through judicial and non-judicial mechanisms in cases of business-related human rights abuse.

Protect Women Human Rights Defenders

Introduction

States should take “all measures necessary to ensure their protection” and integrate a “gender perspective in their efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights.” States should take an active role, including “appropriate, robust and practical steps” to protect women human rights defenders.

International bodies call on States to tackle impunity for violations against women human rights defenders, and for States to ensure the participation of women human rights defenders in the development of effective policies and programmes related to their protection. The resolutions also underline the specific violence that women human rights defenders face, such as gender-based violence, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, harassment, and verbal abuse and attacks on reputation – online and offline.

Women human rights defenders challenge gender inequality and stereotypes, advance sexual and reproductive rights, and promote women’s empowerment and participation in society. They are “more at risk of suffering certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation than their male counterparts,” as outlined by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Resolution 68/181 (2013)

OP 5: “Expresses particular concern about systemic and structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders of all ages, and calls upon States to take all measures necessary to ensure their protection and to integrate a gender perspective into their efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights;”

OP 7: “Urges States to acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of women human rights defenders in the promotion and protection of human rights, democracy, the rule of law and development as an essential component of ensuring their protection, including by publicly condemning violence and discrimination against women human rights defenders;”

OP 8: “Calls upon States to ensure that human rights defenders, including women human rights defenders, can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests and (…) in this regard to ensure that no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearance, abuse of criminal and civil proceedings or threats of such acts;”

OP 9: “Also calls upon States to exercise due diligence (…) to prevent threats, harassment and violence against women human rights defenders, who face particular risks, and in combating impunity by ensuring that those responsible for violations and abuses, including gender-based violence and threats against women human rights defenders, committed by State and non-State actors, including online, are promptly brought to justice through impartial investigations;”

OP 10: “Further calls upon States to ensure that the promotion and protection of human rights are not criminalized (…) and that women human rights defenders are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work (…);”

OP 14: “Urges States to strengthen and implement legal, policy and other measures to promote gender equality, empower women and promote their autonomy and to promote and protect their equal participation, full involvement and leadership in society, including in the defence of human rights;”

OP 15: “Invites leaders in all sectors of society and in their respective communities, including political, military, social and religious leaders and leaders in business and the media, to express public support for the important role of women human rights defenders and the legitimacy of their work;”

OP 17: “Strongly calls upon States to refrain from, and ensure adequate protection from, any act of intimidation or reprisal against women human rights defenders who cooperate, have cooperated or seek to cooperate with international institutions, including their family members and associates;”

OP 20: “Emphasizes the need for the participation of women human rights defenders in the development of effective policies and programmes related to their protection (…)  and the need to create and strengthen mechanisms for consultation and dialogue with women human rights defenders (…);”

OP 21: “Urges States to adopt and implement policies and programmes that provide women human rights defenders with access to effective remedies (…)”

OP 22: “Also urges States to promote and support projects to improve and further develop the documentation and monitoring of cases of violations against women human rights defenders (…)”

OP 23: “Encourages national human rights institutions to support the documentation of violations against women human rights defenders and to integrate a gender dimension into the planning and implementation of all programmes and other interventions related to human rights defenders (…);”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 21: “Encourages leaders in all sectors of society and in their respective communities, including political, military, social and religious leaders and leaders in business and the media, to express public support for the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in society, including women human rights defenders, and in any cases of violence and discrimination against them to take a clear stance in rejection of such practices;”

Resolution 72/247 (2017)

OP 11:  “Continues to express particular concern about systemic and structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders of all ages, and reiterates its strong call upon States to take appropriate, robust and practical steps to protect women human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective into their efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights, as called for by the General Assembly in its resolution 68/181;”

Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2017)

General Comment 35: on gender-based violence against women:

Para. 12: “(…) discrimination against women is inextricably linked to other factors that affect their lives including (….) the stigmatization of women who fight for their rights, including human rights defenders. (…)”

Para. 37: “States parties are called on “to encourage the media, advertising and information and communications technologies to eliminate discrimination against women, in their activity, including the harmful and stereotypical portrayal of women or specific groups of women, such as women human rights defenders, from their activities. (…)”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 12: “Expresses particular concern about systemic and structural discrimination and violence faced by women human rights defenders, and calls upon States to integrate a gender perspective in their efforts to create a safe and enabling environment for the defence of human rights;”

Resolution 35/18 (2017)

OP 3: “Calls upon States: (…)

(c) To consider reviewing all proposed and existing legislation on the basis of respective international obligations, with a gender-responsive perspective, involving, when necessary women human rights defenders, women’s and girls’ community-based organizations, feminist groups and youth-led organizations, and other relevant stakeholders;”

OP 5: “Calls upon States: (…)

(d) To provide training on a rights-based gender analysis for duty holders in all spheres and meaningful collaboration with civil society, including women’s and community-based organizations, feminist groups, women human rights defenders and girls’ and youth-led organizations;”

OP 13: “(…) urges States to create and support an enabling environment for the full participation of women’s civil society organizations and women human rights defenders in the creation, design and implementation of all relevant legislation and policies relevant to the human rights of women, as well as when adopting and implementing good practices conducive for the sustainable application of equality and empowerment measures for women (…)  with a gender- responsive perspective that takes into account the unique position and challenges faced by women human rights defenders;”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the Human Rights Council A/HRC/40/60 (2019)

Among challenges, the Special Rapporteur identified, inter alia:

  • Access to funding for women human rights defenders and organization working on women’s rights, both in terms of amounts, as well as recent restrictive donor policies, for example for abortion-related activities, which impact those working on sexual and reproductive rights, HIV, se, sexual orientation and gender identity rights and sex workers’ rights and access to health for marginalized women
  • A renewed emphasis on “traditional values” and a resurgence of conservative narratives, which subvert efforts to ensure that women in diverse circumstances enjoy substantive equality and the freedom to voice their opinions and participate meaningfully in processes that have an impact on their lives

The Special Rapporteur identified the following priorities for States to create a safe and enabling environment for women HRDs: (paras. 87-105)

  • Priority 1: Publicly recognize the importance of the equal and meaningful participation of women human rights defenders at every level and in every institution in society, devoting resources to achieve this aim in accordance with the principle of substantive
  • Priority 2: Ensure that women human rights defenders enjoy freedom of movement and have safe spaces and communication channels that enable them to meet and share ideas, experiences, resources, tactics and strategies regularly
  • Priority 3: Build a safe and enabling environment for women and all other human rights defenders to promote and protect human rights, ensuring that all non-State actors respect human rights and that all State actors respect, protect and fulfil human rights
  • Priority 4: Document and investigate all forms of risk, threats and attacks against women human rights defenders, ensuring that perpetrators – both State and non- State actors – are brought to justice and that these defenders have access to an effective remedy, including gender-responsive reparations
  • Priority 5: Develop protection mechanisms and initiatives that incorporate the Special Rapporteur’s seven principles underpinning good protection practices
  • Priority 6: Recognize that security must be understood holistically and that it encompasses physical safety, digital security, environmental security, economic stability, the freedom to practice cultural and religious beliefs and the mental and emotional well-being of women defenders and their families and loved ones
  • Priority 7: Recognize that sexism and discrimination against women, girl and gender non-conforming defenders exist in communities and human rights movements and take measures to address them
  • Priority 8: Ensure that funding enables women defenders in their diverse circumstances to promote and protect human rights in a continuous, sustainable and effective manner

Para. 108: “The Special Rapporteur recommends that Member States:

(a)  Protect the rights of women defenders, including by taking a public stand against all State and non-State actors who violate these rights, ceasing all attacks and threats against women defenders and investigating all that occur, ensuring that impunity does not prevail;

(b)  Ensure that women defenders enjoy a safe and enabling environment to exercise their rights, considering their specific and diverse needs. This includes addressing systemic and structural discrimination and violence that women defenders experience and enacting laws that recognize and protect the rights of all human rights defenders, with a specific focus on the needs of women defenders;

(c) Ensure that non-State actors – including businesses, faith-based groups, the media and communities – meet their legal obligations to respect human rights. The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are key for business enterprises;

(d) Prioritize the protection of women defenders in online spaces and adopt laws, policies and practices that protect their right to privacy and protect them from libel and hate speech;

(e) Dedicate part of their budget to strengthening the participation of women in human rights activities, ensuring that they are supported to respond meaningfully to issues in a sustainable manner;

(f) Refrain from interfering with funding provided to women for human rights work and ensure that legal and administrative frameworks do not restrict access to funding for human rights activism;

(g) Address barriers to the participation of women defenders in public life, including in regional and international human rights forums, such as travel bans, visa restrictions and their lack of identity or travel documents and resources;

(h)  Assess protection practices for women defenders against the seven principles underpinning good protection practices and examine ways of strengthening those practices.”

Protect Human Rights Lawyers

Introduction

Lawyers play a “critical role in upholding human rights” and should be able to “discharge their functions freely, independently and without any fear of reprisal.” To guarantee the independence of lawyers, States must take “effective legislative, law enforcement and other appropriate measures,” enabling lawyers to duly carry out their professional functions.

“Human rights lawyer” refers to any lawyer who provides legal counsel to victims of human rights violations, regardless of membership in a professional association.

The negative trend of increasing risks and threats to the human rights lawyers is documented in the report “Human Rights Lawyers at Risk,” prepared by Human Rights Houses and Human Rights House Foundation. This trend has grave consequences. Human rights lawyers are not able to work safely and efficiently, and their clients are not able to exercise their right to legal defence and protection. Leaders in all sectors of society must acknowledge publicly the important and legitimate role of human rights lawyers in the promotion of human rights, democracy and rule of law, and avoid stigmatisation of human rights lawyers. States should take extra measures to ensure the protection of lawyers and judges who are at greater risk due to their dual role: as legal professionals and as human rights defenders.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

“Article 14

  1. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The press and the public may be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order (ordre public) or national security in a democratic society, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice; but any judgement rendered in a criminal case or in a suit at law shall be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children.
  2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
  3. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality:
  • To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him;
  • To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;
  • To be tried without undue delay;
  • To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it;
  • To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
  • To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court;
  • Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.
  1. In the case of juvenile persons, the procedure shall be such as will take account of their age and the desirability of promoting their rehabilitation.
  2. Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to law.
  3. When a person has by a final decision been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his conviction has been reversed or he has been pardoned on the ground that a new or newly discovered fact shows conclusively that there has been a miscarriage of justice, the person who has suffered punishment as a result of such conviction shall be compensated according to law, unless it is proved that the non-disclosure of the unknown fact in time is wholly or partly attributable to him.
  4. No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Art. 9-3: “(…) everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, (…):

(c) To offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution  35/12 (2017)

OP 1: “Calls upon all States to guarantee the independence of judges and lawyers and the objectivity and impartiality of prosecutors, and their ability to perform their functions accordingly, including by taking effective legislative, law enforcement and other appropriate measures that will enable them to carry out their professional functions without interference, harassment, threats or intimidation of any kind;”

OP 7: “Emphasizes that lawyers should be enabled to discharge their functions freely, independently and without any fear of reprisal;”

OP 9: “Condemns all acts of violence, intimidation or reprisal, from any quarter and for any reason, against judges, prosecutors and lawyers, and reminds States of their duty to uphold the integrity of judges, prosecutors and lawyers and to protect them, and their families and professional associates, against all forms of violence, threat, retaliation, intimidation and harassment resulting from the discharging of their functions, and to condemn such acts and to bring perpetrators to justice;

OP 10: “Expresses its deep concern about the significant number of attacks against lawyers and instances of arbitrary or unlawful interference with or restrictions to the free practice of their profession, and calls upon States to ensure that any attacks or interference of any sort against lawyers are promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigated and that perpetrators are held accountable;”

OP 15: “Invites States to take measures, including by adopting domestic legislation, to provide for independent and self-governing professional associations of lawyers and to recognize the vital role played by lawyers in upholding the rule of law and promoting and protecting human rights”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment No. 32

Para. 34: “(…) lawyers should be able to advise and to represent persons charged with a criminal offence in accordance with generally recognized professional ethics without restrictions, influence, pressure or undue interference from any quarter.”


Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

Report to the General Assembly A/71/348 (2016)

Para. 99: “States should adopt domestic legislation that recognizes the vital and important role played by lawyers in upholding the rule of law and promoting and protecting human rights, in particular access to justice, the right to an effective remedy and the right to due process of law and a fair trial.”

Para. 100: “States should take positive and proactive measures to protect the independence of lawyers and ensure that they are in a position to discharge their professional functions without intervention or interference of any sort, including from non-State actors. In so doing, they should take effective measures to implement the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and other norms and standards relating to the independence and functions of lawyers in law and practice. Any attacks or interference of any sort against lawyers should be diligently and independently investigated and perpetrators should be prosecuted and sanctioned.”

Para. 101: “States should acknowledge, respect and protect the status of lawyers who promote and defend human rights as human rights defenders.”


World Conference on Human Rights

Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action 1993,  A/CONF.157/23, part 1 (1993)

Para. 27: “(…) The administration of justice (…) and, especially, an independent judiciary and legal profession in full conformity with applicable standards contained in international human rights instruments, are essential to the full and non-discriminatory realization of human rights and indispensable to the processes of democracy and sustainable development. (…)”


United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders

UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990)

  1. “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
  2. “Where the security of lawyers is threatened as a result of discharging their functions, they shall be adequately safeguarded by the authorities.”
  3. “Lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.”
  4. “No court or administrative authority before whom the right to counsel is recognized shall refuse to recognize the right of a lawyer to appear before it for his or her client unless that lawyer has been disqualified in accordance with national law and practice and in conformity with these principles.”
  5. “Lawyers shall enjoy civil and penal immunity for relevant statements made in good faith in written or oral pleadings or in their professional appearances before a court, tribunal or other legal or administrative authority.”
  6. “It is the duty of the competent authorities to ensure lawyers access to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or control in sufficient time to enable lawyers to provide effective legal assistance to their clients. Such access should be provided at the earliest appropriate time.”
  7. “Governments shall recognize and respect that all communications and consultations between lawyers and their clients within their professional relationship are confidential.”
  8. “Lawyers like other citizens are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly. In particular, they shall have the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights and to join or form local, national or international organizations and attend their meetings, without suffering professional restrictions by reason of their lawful action or their membership in a lawful organization. In exercising these rights, lawyers shall always conduct themselves in accordance with the law and the recognized standards and ethics of the legal profession.”
  9. “Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its functions without external interference.”
  10. “Disciplinary proceedings against lawyers shall be brought before an impartial disciplinary committee established by the legal profession, before an independent statutory authority, or before a court, and shall be subject to an independent judicial review.”

Protect Defenders of Minorities

Introduction

Human rights defenders working on issues affecting minorities play a legitimate and important role. “Individuals and associations defending the rights of persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority beliefs or views” should not face “stigmatisation and discrimination.”

Some activists face greater and more specific risks than others, including defenders who challenge social and cultural norms, do not fit stereotypes and prescribed roles, or who challenge power structures in society. Specifically, this includes defenders of persons belonging to sexual minorities and defenders working on the rights of minorities and indigenous people. These defenders are often stigmatised and subjected to threats and attacks from members of society because of who they are or what they do, as underlined by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.

Despite the harsh context in which they work, defenders of minorities succeed in highlighting the situation of persons belonging to minorities and drawing the attention of the international community.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)

Article 2.1: “Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 12. 2: “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”

The State obligations with regard to the nine key rights  contained in the Declaration (the right to be protected; the right to freedom of assembly; the right to freedom of association; the right to access and communicate with international bodies; the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right to protest; the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas; the right to a remedy; and the right to access funding) apply to all HRDs, including to protect from violations committed by State and non-State actors.

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 15: “Expresses concern about stigmatization and discrimination that target or affect individuals and associations defending the rights of persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority beliefs or views, or other groups vulnerable to discrimination, and calls upon States to ensure that legislation does not target the activities of individuals and associations defending the rights of persons belonging to minorities or espousing minority beliefs;”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 32/31 (2016)

OP 3: “Reminds States of their obligation to respect and fully protect the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of all individuals, inter alia, the rights to freedom of expression and opinion and to assemble peacefully and associate freely, online as well as offline, including for persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and that respect for all such rights, in relation to civil society, contributes to addressing and resolving challenges and issues that are important to society, (…)”

OP 5: “Emphasizes the importance of civil society space for empowering persons belonging to minorities and vulnerable groups, as well as persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, and in that regard calls upon States to ensure that legislation, policies and practices do not undermine the enjoyment by such persons of their human rights or the activities of civil society in defending their rights;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment No 31 (2004)

Inspired by Para. 10: Article 2.1 establishes that the rights recognised in the Covenant should be guaranteed by the State to all individuals within its territory and under its jurisdiction.


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the General Assembly  A/73/215 (2018)

Para. 21: “(…)The Declaration also protects the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas, allowing all people to be part of the progressive development of human rights ideas and to be actively engaged in setting new directions for the human rights project. This right recognizes that some of these new ideas may be culturally, religiously or politically controversial; it is precisely this potential for controversy that demands space for free and open discussion and debate.(…)”

Para. 23: “As with all human rights, the rights within the Declaration are owed to all individuals without discrimination on any ground, including gender, disability, race, ethnicity, language, religion, political or other opinion, nationality or class. The prohibition of discrimination also extends to sexual orientation and gender identity.  Defenders working on the human rights of marginalized groups or on socially or culturally sensitive topics too often face discrimination on the part of agents of the State and, unfortunately, within society and even civil society. This is particularly true when human rights defenders themselves are from marginalized groups (…)”

Protect Families of Human Rights Defenders

Introduction

More than just protecting human rights defenders, States should “refrain from, and ensure adequate protection from, any act of intimidation or reprisals against… their family members and associates.”

Family members rightly benefit from the standards and protections set forth for human rights defenders, as they face the same risks by affiliation to relatives or friends who undertake human rights activities.

Family members of human rights defenders are increasingly under pressure in repressive States. In some countries, the families of defenders are subject to administrative and legal persecution. This includes the seizure of their assets and bank accounts, travel bans, large tax penalties, threats to their jobs or livelihoods, and even imprisonment.

Relevant International Resolutions & Declarations

United Nations General Assembly

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (1998)

Article 2.2: “Each State shall adopt such legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure that the rights and freedoms referred to in the present Declaration are effectively guaranteed.”

Article 8:

“1. Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to have effective access, on a non- discriminatory basis, to participation in the government of his or her country and in the conduct of public affairs.

  1. This includes, inter alia, the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organizations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Resolution 70/161 (2015)

OP 4: “Urges States to acknowledge through public statements, policies or laws the important and legitimate role of individuals, groups and organs of society, including human rights defenders, in the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, as essential components of ensuring their recognition and protection, including by condemning publicly all cases of violence and discrimination against human rights defenders (…)”

OP 10: “(b) Human rights defenders, their family members, associates and legal representatives are not prevented from enjoying universal human rights owing to their work, including by ensuring that all legal provisions, administrative measures and policies affecting them, including those aimed at preserving public safety, public order and public morals, are minimally restrictive, clearly defined, determinable, non-retroactive and compatible with the obligations and commitments of States under international human rights law;”

Resolution 72/247 (2017)

OP 8: “Condemns all acts of intimidation and reprisal by State and non-State actors against individuals, groups and organs of society, including against human rights defenders and their legal representatives, associates and family members, who seek to cooperate, are cooperating or have cooperated with subregional, regional and international bodies, including the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms, in the field of human rights, and strongly calls upon all States to give effect to the right of everyone, individually and in association with others, to unhindered access to and communication with international bodies, (…)”


United Nations Human Rights Council

Resolution 22/6 (2013)

OP 14: “Strongly calls upon all States:

(a) To refrain from, and ensure adequate protection from, any act of intimidation or reprisals against those who cooperate, have cooperated or seek to cooperate with international institutions, including their family members and associates;

(b) To fulfil the duty to end impunity for any such acts of intimidation or reprisals by bringing the perpetrators to justice and by providing an effective remedy for their victims;”

OP 18: “Invites leaders in all sectors of society and respective communities, including political, social and religious leaders, and leaders in business and media, to express public support for the important role of human rights defenders and the legitimacy of their work;”

Resolution 40/11 (2019)

OP 10: “Calls upon States to combat impunity by conducting prompt, impartial and independent investigations and pursuing accountability for all attacks and threats by State and non-State actors against any human rights defender, or against lawyers and legal representatives, journalists and media workers covering these issues, as well as against their family members and their associates, and by condemning publicly all cases of violence, discrimination, intimidation and reprisal, underlining that such practices can never be justified;”


United Nations Human Rights Committee

General Comment  No 16 (1988)

Para. 1: “Article 17 provides for the right of every person to be protected against arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence as well as against unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. In the view of the Committee this right is required to be guaranteed against all such interferences and attacks whether they emanate from State authorities or from natural or legal persons. The obligations imposed by this article require the State to adopt legislative and other measures to give effect to the prohibition against such interferences and attacks as well as to the protection of this right.”


Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders

Report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/31/55) (2017)

Among good practices in relation to the protection of HRDs States should acknowledge that defenders are interconnected. They should not focus on the rights and security of individual defenders alone, but also include the groups, organizations, communities and family members who share their risks (Principle V).

Report to the General Assembly  A/73/215 (2018)

Para. 72: States should “Adopt necessary legislative and administrative measures, including good practices noted by the Special Rapporteur (see A/HRC/31/55), to ensure that human rights defenders enjoy a safe and enabling environment, including through the introduction of guidelines on human rights defenders, the creation of national protective and coordination mechanisms and legislation formally guaranteeing the rights in the Declaration.”

Background

In 2018, Human Rights House Foundation launched the Rights of Defenders project. It coincided with the 20th anniversary of the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. HRHF’s Rights of Defenders project identified 16 standards related to the rights of human rights defenders. These 16 standards are informed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and relevant landmark international resolutions.

The Rights of Defenders resources – developed by Human Rights Houses and HRHF – promote and build an understanding of international standards and provide clear, accessible, and targeted insight into the standards and the context that surrounds them.

The resources developed, including a booklet outlining all of the standards, is translated into multiple languages. The Rights of Defenders booklet is divided into 16 standards, inspired by the strong content of landmark resolutions on human rights defenders and their work, adopted at the United Nations and Council of Europe. It condenses the main points of each standard as outlined in the resolutions.

Download all of the resources, and read more about our 2018 Rights of Defenders project here.