On 19 September the Secretary-General’s report on reprisals was made public, including three of five cases ISHR has been actively campaigning for, namely the cases of Vanessa Mendoza (Andorra), Kadar Abdi Ibrahim (Djibouti) and the situation of civil society in Hong Kong.
On 15 October 2019, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst presented his report (A/74/159) to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee on the issue of impunity for attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders. This was followed by an interactive dialogue with States. This is the last time Forst will address the Third Committee in the capacity of Special Rapporteur.
Forst voiced specific concern about digital attacks against youth and women human rights defenders, and expressed the need to protect them. He also expressed concern at specific attacks on human rights defenders living in isolated environments, as well as those working on sexual and reproductive rights and on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
‘Impunity is used as a weapon by those who wish to undermine the rule of law and silence those struggling to uphold human rights. I echo Forst’s comment that impunity is a political choice, otherwise how do we explain that around 98 percent of killings of human rights defenders in certain countries remains unpunished?’ asked ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.
The Special Rapporteur – and the United States – highlighted individuals and groups from various countries who are victims of reprisals. These included:
The Special Rapporteur’s report made recommendations to States on ways to effectively combat impunity. These included:
- Strengthening mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders;
- Criminalising acts of violence against human rights defenders; and
- Adopting policies that protect the right to defend human rights whilst also recognising the obstacles that certain groups such as women human rights defenders and those protecting the rights of LGBTI and indigenous persons face.
These recommendations were echoed in a side event organised by ISHR and Amnesty International on 16 October, where women human rights defenders from Yemen and Myanmar provided harrowing accounts of attacks they face in their respective contexts.
Responses to the report
Several States voiced their support for the report and the mandate, including Norway who called on all States to support this year’s resolution on Human Rights Defenders currently being negotiated.
Notwithstanding the adoption by consensus of a definition of human rights defenders in the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the usual detractors – including Russia and China – sought to delegitimise the work of human rights defenders by questioning whether the term is universally recognised. China went further to suggest that individuals were using the ‘flag of defending human rights’ to violate the law.
The role of non-State actors
Notwithstanding the primary responsibility of States to combat impunity for attacks against defenders, the Special Rapporteur again emphasised his call for non-State actors to protect human rights defenders, and concluded by referencing his 2017 report on Business and Human Rights (A/72/170).
ISHR would like to thank Norway for leading this year’s resolution on human rights defenders. We call on States to support a strong and robust resolution.
Contact: Tess McEvoy [email protected].
Photo Credit: Flickr, Jean-Marc Ferré
Graphic Credit: ISHR
The policy to silence and quash opposition to the Venezuelan government continues, says the UN’s body of experts on Venezuela in its report to the Human Rights Council.
Activists from all regions of the world joined ISHR and a coalition of 17 civil society organisations to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and to call for an update of this landmark document.