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States should end reprisals against anti-corruption human rights defenders

As the world celebrates the international anti-corruption day and the 24th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders on this day, 9 December 2022, ISHR and 81 other organisations and individuals co-signed this public statement.

We, the undersigned organisations and individuals, urge all UN Member States to end reprisals against anti-corruption human rights defenders, and to respect, protect, promote, and fulfil the human rights of everyone including those working to promote and defend the rights of other people and to fight and expose corruption.

Anti-corruption human rights defenders – journalists, members of civil society organisations, whistleblowers, and others – play a crucial role in the prevention of and in the fight against corruption and the promotion of human rights. Over the years, they have been instrumental in investigating and exposing corrupt practices and in demanding transparency and accountability and the protection of human rights. We observe, however, that those who work to expose corruption are often not recognised as human rights defenders, and their efforts may be invisible to the wider human rights community or seen as separate from or peripheral to human rights work.

We note that the role and active involvement of anti-corruption human rights defenders in anti-corruption efforts has been widely recognised in many international and regional anti-corruption instruments, including the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) adopted in 2003. Among other things, UNCAC requires States parties to promote the “active participation” of anti-corruption defenders, by “respecting, promoting and protecting the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption” (Article 13). In addition, the political declaration on corruption adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2021 reaffirmed the commitment of the international community to recognise the important role that civil society, academia, the private sector and the media play in the detection, prevention and fight against corruption.

We are seriously concerned about the escalating reports of violence, threats, harassment, intimidation, attacks and persecution of anti-corruption human rights defenders and the impunity following this persecution in several States. Anti-corruption human rights defenders continue to face a real risk of physical attack, arbitrary arrest, and prosecution simply for exercising their human rights including freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. And States continue to pass laws to restrict access to information while failing to take effective actions to prevent harassment, intimidation and attacks against those who dare to expose corruption and its impacts on human rights, and to bring suspected perpetrators of the attacks to justice.

We note that the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in her recent report documents several cases of violence, threats, intimidation, harassment, attacks and persecution against anti-corruption human rights defenders. According to the report, hundreds of defenders all over the world face smear campaigns, criminalisation, and judicial harassment, and are killed every year for their peaceful work in defense of the rights of others. Very few perpetrators are brought to account for these murders, which only enables the cycle of killings to continue.

We also note that some attacks on defenders are gender-based and that many defenders have been targeted for their work in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic or for fighting against corruption affecting their local communities. Women human rights defenders working against corruption are also often attacked not only for what they do but for who they are.

Continuous threats and attacks against anti-corruption human rights defenders

We continue to receive reports of increasing threats and attacks against anti-corruption human rights defenders, including whistleblowers. These constitute clear violations of internationally recognised human rights including life, freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, access to information and media freedom.

The threats, intimidation, harassment and persecution also amount to a breach of the legal obligations of States under the various human rights treaties to which they are parties. We believe it is imperative to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of anti-corruption defenders to ensure the effective promotion and protection of the rights of other people, and to improve the implementation of States’ legal obligations under the various human rights and anti-corruption treaties to which they are parties.

We therefore call on all UN Member States to:

  • Foster a safe and enabling environment, to ensure that anti-corruption defenders are able to freely carry out their activities in full respect of their human rights and in the defence of the human rights of other people and the fight against corruption without fear of reprisals;
  • Adopt and implement legislative and other measures for the protection of anti-corruption human defenders, if they do not exist, in line with human rights and anti-corruption standards;
  • Effectively respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights of everyone to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly including of those working to promote and defend the rights of other people and to fight and expose corruption, in accordance with Article 13 of UNCAC;
  • End impunity by thoroughly, impartially, independently, transparently and effectively investigating reports of attacks against defenders in their States, and bringing to justice suspected perpetrators, and ensuring access to justice and effective remedies for victims;
  • Publicly recognise the value of the work of anti-corruption human rights defenders and denounce threats and attacks against them, consistent with the provisions of UNCAC, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

 

Signatories

Organisations

  1. Accountability Lab, United States/South Africa
  2. Action pour les personnes vulnérables (APV), Guinea
  3. African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), Nigeria
  4. AfricanDefenders, Uganda
  5. American University Washington College of Law, United States
  6. Amnesty International, United Kingdom/ Senegal
  7. Appui à la Promotion du Développement Intégré (APRODI), Guinea
  8. Article 19, United Kingdom
  9. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), Thailand
  10. Association Songtaaba des femmes unies pour le développement ASFUD, Burkina Faso
  11. AWTAD Anti-Corruption Organization, Yemen
  12. Be Just, Inc., United States
  13. Bekker Compliance Consulting Partners, LLC, United States
  14. Blueprint for Free Speech, United Kingdom
  15. Bunge Mashinani Initiative, Kenya
  16. Centre de Recherche sur L’Anti-Corruption, Democratic Republic of Congo
  17. Centre d’Excellence du Droit de l’Environnement (CEDE), Guinea
  18. Centre for Free Expression, Canada
  19. Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa
  20. CiFAR – Civil Forum for Asset Recovery e.V., Germany
  21. CIVICUS, South Africa
  22. Coalition des Défenseurs des Droits de l’Homme au Bénin (CDDH-Bénin), Benin
  23. Commission nationale des droits humains, Burkina Faso
  24. Conseil Consultatif des enfants et jeunes de Guinée, Guinea
  25. Corporate Crime Observatory, United Kingdom
  26. Créativité et développement (C-DEV), Guinea     
  27. Defenders Coalition, Kenya
  28. Environmental Investigations Agency, United States
  29. Federation of Environmental and Ecological Diversity for Agricultural Revampment and Human Rights (FEEDAR & HR), Cameroon
  30. FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, France
  31. Front Line Defenders, Ireland
  32. Global Witness, United Kingdom
  33. Government Accountability Project, United States
  34. Gulf Centre for Human Rights, Lebanon
  35. Haki Africa, Kenya
  36. Improve Your Society Organization (IYSO), Yemen
  37. Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), Namibia
  38. International Commission of Jurists Kenya (ICJ-Kenya), Kenya
  39. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Switzerland
  40. Les Mêmes Droits pour Tous (MDT), Guinea
  41. Ligue Congolaise de Lutte contre la Corruption (LICOCO), Democratic Republic of Congo
  42. Lutte pour le Changement (LUCHA), Democratic Republic of Congo
  43. Malagen, The Gambia
  44. Mexiro AC, Mexico
  45. Protect, United Kingdom
  46. Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), Senegal/South Africa
  47. Publiez Ce Que Vous Payez, Senegal
  48. Réseau de Lutte Contre la Faim (RELUFA), Cameroon
  49. Réseau des Associations Guinéennes des Volontaires pour le Développement (RAGVD-GUINEE), Guinea
  50. Réseau des Organisations de la Société Civile pour l’Observation et le Suivi des Elections en Guinée (ROSE), Guinea
  51. Réseau Guinéen des Maisons et Foyers des Jeunes et de la Culture (REGUIMAJEC), Guinea
  52. Sembrando Sentido, United States
  53. Sherpa, France
  54. Siasa Place, Kenya
  55. Social justice centres Working Group, Kenya
  56. SpeakOut SpeakUp Ltd, United Kingdom
  57. The Daphne Caruaza Galizia Foundation, Malta
  58. The Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, Switzerland
  59. The Institute for Social Accountability (TISA), Kenya
  60. The Sentry, United States
  61. Tiger Eye Social Foundation, Ghana
  62. Tournons La Page Togo, Togo
  63. Transparency International Bangladesh, Bangladesh
  64. Transparency International Cambodia, Cambodia
  65. Transparency International Italy, Italy
  66. Transparency International Secretariat, Germany
  67. Transparency International Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
  68. Uzbek Forum for Human Rights, Uzbekistan/Germany
  69. WAFRICA Guinée, Guinea
  70. Whistleblower-Network, Germany
  71. Whistleblower International Network (WIN), United Kingdom
  72. Women Human Rights Defenders Hub, Kenya
  73. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Switzerland
  74. Xnet, Spain
  75. Yemen organization for combatting human trafficking, Yemen
  76. الإنسان – Watch for Human Rights (Watch4HR), Yemen

Individuals

  1. Bangoura Aminata Edith, Women’s rights activist, Guinea
  2. Professor David Lewis, Head of the Whistleblowing Research Unit, Middlesex University, United Kingdom
  3. Dr Aled Williams, Principal Adviser, U4 Anti-Corruption Research Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway
  4. Dr Costantino Grasso, Reader in Business and Law, Manchester Metropolitan University, United Kingdom
  5. Amb. (ret) Francisco Villagran de Leon, Lecturer, Elliott School of International Affairs, United States
  6. Feras Hamdouni, Development professional, Syria

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