Photo: Norway delegate introduces resolution at the 78th session of the UNGA’s Third Committee. Credit: Screen capture from UN Web TV.

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UNGA78: 25 years on, States to redouble efforts to fulfil their obligations in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

Following substantial negotiations, UN Member States once again found common ground and reiterated their commitment to providing a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in the Third Committee's adoption of this biennial resolution by consensus.

In presenting this text to the Third Committee, the representative from Norway acknowledged that ‘despite the recognition of the right to promote and protect human rights 25 years ago, defenders continue to suffer intimidation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, and some are killed because of their work’.

With a focus on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and 25th anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, this resolution encourages States to raise awareness of the contribution of human rights defenders and enhance efforts to fulfill their obligations in these instruments. 

‘We welcome strengthened language in the resolution acknowledging the legitimate role of women human rights defenders, and critically highlighting the persistence of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, actions to undermine their legitimacy, as well as the stigma, silencing and gender-based violence they face’, said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy. ‘Beyond this, for the first time, the resolution highlighted the role of women human rights defenders in combating gender-based discrimination and violence, and promoting access to sexual and reproductive health care services’, added McEvoy.

ISHR also welcomes other developments in this resolution, including:

  • the recognition of the important and legitimate role of human rights defenders in conflict and post conflict situations
  • the acknowledgement of the work of human rights defenders to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and and advocacy for their realisation
  • the recognition of the contributions of children in defending human rights, democracy and the rule of law
  • calls on States to refrain from internet shutdowns, and measures that restrict access to or dissemination of information, including digital technologies
  • references to human rights defenders working to address racism and racial discrimination
  • strengthened language condemning acts of intimidation and reprisal intended to hinder and prevent the cooperation with the United Nations and 
  • calls on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect and make publicly available information on threats, attacks and cases of arbitrary detention. 

The adoption of this resolution as a consensus text is an achievement, as negotiations were substantive and disagreement with some aspects of the text were expressed during the adoption. A consensus text also means concessions were made on some language, for example the maintenance of a reference to ‘morality and public order’, and proposals for strengthened language on surveillance, national security, counter terrorism, visas and reprisals not included in the final text. In this context, we welcome support for a strong text expressed by many States during the negotiations, vocal and broad support for the final text expressed during the adoption, as well the its 80 cosponsors¹

In a world where we are experiencing inequality, rising tensions and where the political divides are growing wider, protecting those who stand up for the human rights of us all is more important than ever before. 

¹Cosponsors: Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Afghanistan, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia (Plurinational State), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Côte D’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Myanmar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, San Marino,  Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

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