A year for human rights defenders

The United Nations and Council of Europe continue to develop standards that protect and support human rights defenders.

Advocating for the international community to recognise the importance of human rights defenders – through such resolutions – is a priority for HRHF, as is working with Human Rights Houses to promote the implementation of resolutions at home.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a new resolution on human rights defenders in December 2017 by consensus, in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 2018. Achieving consensus at the UNGA was not easy, and came after several years of bitterly contested resolutions.

Back in 1998, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was the first legal instrument that recognised the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection. The Declaration was a clear commitment on the part of all UN member states to respect the rights of human rights defenders at the national and international levels. The Council of Europe adopted a similar Declaration in 2008.

Subsequent resolutions have been passed by the UNGA and by the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) on a regular basis. Since 2013, the resolutions have aimed at building stronger international standards for the protection of human rights defenders. However, consensus has been broken in recent years, and States such as Russia and China have sought to oppose the passage of resolutions.

Nevertheless, these resolutions have continued to develop standards associated with the protection and support of human rights defenders, for which HRHF and various Human Rights Houses advocated. This includes a resolution in 2013 setting forth 20 standards based on international human rights law and specifically on women’s human rights defenders in 2015.

The 2017 resolution has created a favourable context for a positive narrative around human rights defenders and their achievements in 2018. 

HRHF will promote and build understanding of the standards, and provide tools to help Human Rights Houses and others hold their governments accountable to them. We will also do our part in reporting to the UN General Assembly on the situation of human rights defenders in the countries where we work.