Despite the Burundian government’s efforts, the human rights situation in the country remains a matter of concern. During the presentation of its report, the Commission of Inquiry underscored the necessity to take more significative actions to pave the way towards sociopolitical stabilization and democracy.
In 1998, after 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopted the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The adoption of the Declaration was a critical point in human rights history – and a proud moment for ISHR – because it recognised in international law the extreme importance and legitimacy of human rights activity, and the need to protect it along with those who carry it out.
What does the Declaration say?
Also known as the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Declaration defines a human rights defender as anyone working for the promotion and protection of human rights. This broad definition encompasses professional as well as non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers and anyone else carrying out, even on an occasional basis, a human rights activity.
The Declaration articulates existing human rights in a way that makes it easier to apply them to the situation of human rights defenders. It specifies how the rights contained in the major human rights instruments, including the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, apply to defenders. It also outlines the specific duties of States and the responsibility of everyone with regard to defending human rights.
The rights protected under the Declaration include:
- the right to be protected;
- the right to freedom of assembly, and of association;
- the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and to advocate for their acceptance;
- the right to criticise government bodies and agencies and to make proposals to improve their functioning;
- the right to provide legal assistance or other advice and assistance in defence of human rights;
- the right to unhindered access to and communication with non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations, and international bodies;
- the right to access resources for the purpose of protecting human rights, including the receipt of funds from abroad.
Where are we at today?
In 2000, the UN took a positive step by establishing a specific mandate on human rights defenders (now known as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders), to help monitor and press for the implementation of the Declaration.
The bad news is while the Declaration puts a responsibility on States to implement and respect all of its provisions, particularly the duty to protect human rights defenders from harm as a consequence of their work, in reality many States are still failing to do so.
Authoritarian governments restrict civil society, suppress dissent, and refuse to respect human rights laws. When criticised for doing so, they jail, harass, disappear, torture and even murder those human rights defenders who stand up in protest.
Part of the problem is that neither States nor human rights defenders are sufficiently familiar with the Declaration. The UN expert on human rights defenders’ Commentary to the Declaration was developed to help address this issue and is a good source of additional information on the subject.
ISHR believes the situation for human rights defenders has to change, and there is an urgent need to translate the promise of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders into a reality. Much of our work is focused on achieving this. Find out more about what we do here.
If you’d like to be part of supporting the men and women who risk their lives by challenging authority, exposing violations and campaigning for global human rights change, you may like to donate to ISHR’s work.
Source: this page contains excerpts from ‘Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights’, Fact Sheet No. 29, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
ISHR welcomes the Council’s historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and to promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
Faced with the appropriation of their name, Peruvian NGO Madres en Acción is pushing back, filing a legal action to recover it. In an amicus brief in support of the action, ISHR argues that trademark law is being used to attack defenders and this must stop.
With three more human rights defenders detained arbitrarily in recent days, once again the Human Rights Council was asked to do more to put pressure on Venezuela to allow dissenting voices in the country to be heard. Independent civil society makes a critical contribution to the construction of societies built on the respect of human rights.
In the first case on violence against trans people heard by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the Court held Honduras responsible for the transfemicide of human rights defender Vicky Hernández.
Public servants, journalists, and indigenous defenders have suffered targeting and reprisals from an increasingly brazen government, confirming the urgent need to adopt legal mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders.
ISHR joins human rights organisations from across the globe in calling for the unconditional and immediate release of prominent Bahraini human rights defender Abdul-Hadi al-Khawaja, who turned 60 on 5 April.
The Martin Ennals Foundation has granted Yu Wensheng, a leading Chinese human rights lawyer, the 2021 Martin Ennals Award. Lawyer Yu was among the three finalists to the Award selected by a jury of ten global human rights organisations - among which ISHR -, along with Loujain AlHathloul from Saudi Arabia and Soltan Achilova from Turkmenistan.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
ISHR and NGO partners warmly welcome the UN Committee against Torture’s decision to host their first review of a State party since the beginning of the global pandemic, and the consideration of individual complaints which had also been suspended. With this decision, all UN Treaty Bodies have now taken steps to ensure the continuity of their mandate, including periodic reviews, which are crucial to State accountability.