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UN expert urges States to immediately cease long-term detention of human rights defenders for legitimate human rights work

Yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presented her report at the General Assembly's Third Committee on the long-term detention of human rights defenders.

In her report States in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders presented to the General Assembly’s Third Committee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs), Mary Lawlor, analyses the situation of human rights defenders in long – term detention, serving sentences of 10 years or longed as a result of their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The report contains examples of individual cases and makes recommendations to stakeholders to address and halt this trend. Based on our extensive experience working with HRDs, ISHR made a submission to the Special Rapporteur in response to a call for inputs earlier this year.

The trends identified in relation to long-term detention of human rights defenders include the widespread misuse of counter-terrorism and national security legislation, death sentences, torture as well as death during detention. Despite 28 official complaints from the current mandate-holder and her predecessor to 22 Member States on the long-term detention of 148 HRDs she noted that in response to the Special Rapporteur’s call to Member States for submissions to the present report, no State acknowledged holding any HRD in long-term detention.

The Special Rapporteur reminded States that the long term detention of HRDs by States violates their international commitments including the Declaration (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 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and international treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

The report emphasises the devastating impact of long-term detention of HRDs beyond themselves, to their families, their communities and to the civil societies to which they belong. During the interactive dialogue, several states acknowledged the value of the work of HRDs in ensuring human rights for all. the The UK delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 80 countries, condemning intimidation and reprisals, and calling on States to prioritise and support the meaningful participation of civil society at the UN. 

Russia questioned whether it is appropriate to doubt the legitimacy of  detentions based on trials fully complying with domestic law. To this the Special Rapporteur responded that the standards for protection of HRDs is clear in internationally agreed standards in the Declaration. “Human Rights Defenders are not above the law. I’m a great believer in rule of law. But states are not above international standards” she remarked. States such as China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia contended that the information contained in the case studies was inaccurate and the allegations unjustified.  In response, she urged China and Saudi Arabia to engage and provide her with an opportunity to visit these countries, providing the possibility to correct distortion of facts (if any).

As the dialogue took place at the same time as the elections to the Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024, the Special Rapporteur commented on the issue of reprisals against human rights defenders engaging with the UN that not engaging in reprisals must be a precondition to being elected to the Council so that the UN sends a zero-tolerance message on reprisals.

 

 

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