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Civil society stresses importance of access, role of defenders at meeting with UN Secretary-General

Members of six international NGOs spoke with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris, urging them to ensure civil society groups and human rights defenders can safely and easily access UN human rights mechanisms.

Human rights defenders work for a world that is more just, equal and sustainable for all; to achieve this vision, they play a central role in securing the full realisation of all human rights for all people: this key message was delivered during the 27 February meeting by ISHR Executive Director Phil Lynch, ISHR Programme Director Pooja Patel and representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Center for Reproductive Rights, ILGA World and FIDH.

The occasion of both the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders provides an important opportunity to promote the participation of civil society at the UN, highlight the vital role of defenders and take concrete actions for their protection, the participants said.

Participants further stressed the positive impact of hybrid meeting modalities, including online meetings or the use of pre-recorded statements, as tools to enhance civil society participation in UN human rights processes. They encouraged the Secretary-General and High Commissioner to push for these to be maintained and extended to bodies where they may not yet be fully implemented, also flagging the need to adequately fund some of the pillars of the UN human rights mechanism currently under stress, particularly the Treaty Bodies and the petitions system.

 NGO representatives also highlighted the value of UN-wide recommendations regarding civil society participation, including in the Secretary-General’s Call to Action for Human Rights and the UN Guidance Note on Protection and Promotion of Civic Space, welcoming Guterres’ commitment to follow up, audit and report on the implementation of these guidelines.  

Finally, participants called on the Secretary-General to continue to speak out publicly and denounce both grave, systemic human rights violations – from Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, to China’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, to the Taliban’s gender apartheid in Afghanistan, to Israel’s policy of apartheid against the Palestinians – as well as acts of reprisals committed by States against prominent human rights activists, such as Kashmiri defender Khurram Parvez.

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