(4) HOW CAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS BE SUPPORTED AND PROTECTED IN THEIR WORK?

The fact  that  the  most  serious  human  rights  violations continue  to  be inflicted upon  human  rights defenders shows that  much more needs  to be done  to support  their role and protect  them  from harm. This chapter provides a number  of suggestions for action that  can be taken  to implement  the  Declaration  and  thereby  support   and  protect  human   rights defenders at the  local, national,  regional and  international levels. These suggestions are addressed to States, human  rights defenders themselves, civil society, the United Nations and, in some instances,  the private sector and  other  actors.  They do not  constitute an exhaustive  list of what  can be done,  but  they provide a basis on which more specific activities and strategies  can be developed  according  to the  needs  of each  region  and country.   The different  suggestions cover: 

❖  The legislative basis for the work of human  rights defenders and their  protection, including  the  rights to  freedom  of expression and association;

❖  Protection  by the law and courts in practice;

❖  Access to training and information;

❖  The roles  of  national  and  local authorities  and  of  the  United Nations, and the influential force of the private sector;

❖  Monitoring and dissemination  of information on the situation of human  rights  defenders through  the  media  and  informal  networks of civil society;

❖  Protection  and support  for human  rights defenders abroad;

❖  The responsibilities and high standards  required of human  rights defenders.

It is important to  emphasize  again  that  efforts  to  support  and  protect human  rights defenders will also help to secure  the  implementation of human  rights  standards. Protecting  defenders and  supporting  them  in their work should be central to the human  rights strategies  of States, to the  work of the  United Nations as a whole and  to the  activities of relevant non-governmental organizations. Support for human  rights defenders should  be an integral  aspect  of all international cooperation in the context  of development, democratization and similar processes.

A.     Action  by States

Annual General Assembly resolutions on the Declaration on human  rights defenders, beginning  in 1998, have called upon all States to promote and give effect to the Declaration.   Annual resolutions of the Commission on Human  Rights, beginning  in 2000,  have  also called upon  all States  to implement  the Declaration and to cooperate with and assist the Special Representative.  These resolutions reflect a political commitment by individual States  and  the  international community  to  act.  Suggestions  for specific action by States are set out in the following paragraphs.

1.      Using  the  Declaration on human rights defenders

❖  Conformity  of  domestic legislation with  the  Declaration: Ensure that  domestic  legislation is in conformity with the Declaration  on  human  rights  defenders. Give particular  attention to ensuring  that  there  are no  legislative obstacles  limiting defenders’  access to funding,  their independence or their rights to freedom  of association,  assembly and expression.

❖  The Declaration as a national legal  instrument: The adoption of the  Declaration as a legally binding  national  instrument would  strengthen  its  potential   as  a  support   tool  for  human rights and human  rights defenders. Its inclusion within a State’s domestic  legislation would facilitate its application  by the judiciary and respect  for it by State authorities.

Implementation  of  the  Declaration:  Implement   the Declaration’s provisions, monitor  the progress made and publish a report  every two years indicating what  steps have been  taken and those articles in relation to which concerns remain. Consider developing,  in consultation  with  civil society, and  publishing  a plan of action for the implementation of the Declaration.

Disseminate and provide training  on the  Declaration: Disseminate the Declaration through information and training programmes targeting,  for  example,  human   rights  defenders themselves,  State officials, intergovernmental organizations and the media.

2.      Protection in practice

❖  Monitoring: Ensure that  there  is a strong,  independent, well- resourced  mechanism—such as a national  human  rights  commission—that  can   receive  information   from  human   rights defenders on violations they are addressing  in their work or violations targeting them personally. Support the development of a regional  human  rights monitoring  mechanism  that  can provide additional  oversight and protection  to defenders.

❖  Justice  and  impunity:  Ensure  that   human   rights  defenders benefit from the  full protection  of the  judiciary and  that  violations committed  against  them  are promptly and fully investigated, with appropriate redress being provided.

❖  The role of local government: Emphasize the role and responsibilities of local government authorities  in supporting  and protecting human  rights defenders. Implementation of the Declaration should be pursued  at local as well as national  levels. Processes of decentralization of State authority  should acknowledge  that  responsibility for protecting  human  rights is a part of local, as well as national, governance. Local government officials should have access to human  rights education programmes and should be supported and encouraged by national  authorities  in their efforts to respect human  rights standards. Local authorities could be asked to contribute information  to the national  report on the implementation of the Declaration.

❖  Cooperation  with   the   Special   Representative:  Extend  a standing  invitation for a country  visit to the Special Representative  on human  rights defenders, as well as to other special  procedure   mandates  created   by  the  Commission  on Human  Rights. Respond  promptly to communications on cases raised by the Special Representative  and give due consideration to  recommendations  made   in  the   Special  Representative’s reports.

3.      Action by  individual State entities

❖  The legislative body  could adopt  an agenda that  supports  the Declaration  and  human  rights defenders; give particular  attention to ensuring  that  legislation, for example  on security, is not inappropriately  used to limit the work of human  rights defenders; establish a parliamentary  committee with oversight for defenders; and encourage individual parliamentarians to “adopt” defenders who are under  threat  and publicly advocate on their behalf.  This initiative could be developed  on behalf  of defenders within the State as well as those  in other  countries.

❖  The office  of  the  head  of  State  and/or Government could establish  a focal point  for human  rights  defenders to  ensure, among  other  things,  that  all government ministries take  action to welcome  and  support  work by human  rights defenders that relates to their areas of responsibility.

❖  The Ministry  of  Foreign  Affairs could  ensure  that  the  concerns of human  rights defenders working in other  countries  are reflected  in the  Government’s foreign  policy and  international trade actions; and provide support  to defenders fleeing persecution in other  countries  by facilitating their entry into the  State and  temporary   residence.   Some  Governments  have  adopted official policies on human  rights defenders and  instructed  their embassies  to provide special support  to them.

❖  The  Ministry  of  the  Interior  could  ensure  that  all internal security officials, including the police, receive human  rights training and  that  they  are  supportive  of the  role of human  rights defenders and  of the  rights and  responsibilities  defined  in the Declaration.

B.    Action  by non-State actorsincluding civil society and the  private  sector

❖  The  media  can  fulfill a  vital role  in support  of  human  rights defenders by providing information  on the  Declaration,  reporting  on  violations  committed   against  defenders and  nurturing public support  for defenders’  work. Initiatives to strengthen the role of the media in this regard could be taken  by media organizations and  other  non-governmental organizations and  might involve human  rights training or securing improved and regular access, by the media, to information  on human  rights concerns. The media could make particular efforts to counter  any attempts to  defame  human  rights  defenders, for  example  by promptly challenging  statements wrongly  accusing  defenders of  being terrorists, criminals or against  the State.

❖  Transnational corporations should  be attentive  to the  legitimate  concerns  of human  rights defenders addressed  to them. They should,  in  particular,  take  great  care  not  to  request   or encourage, explicitly or implicitly, repression by State authorities of defenders’  criticism of the activities of transnational corporations. Such corporations could also express concern  to authorities about  violations committed  against human  rights defenders, for example when negotiating trade and other agreements with the State.

❖ In developing  their approach to human  rights defenders, transnational  corporations   and   other   private   sector   entities could refer to the Declaration on human  rights defenders and to the   principles  of  the   United  Nations  Global  Compact   programme.

❖  Networks of  support:  Civil society in general  could  establish informal   monitoring   networks   to   ensure   that,   whenever   a   human  rights defender faces the threat  of a violation, the information  is quickly shared among  a wide group.  Such monitoring can have a strong  protective  role, helping to prevent  violations. Networks   should   be  established   at  the   local,  national   and regional levels. There should also be links with relevant international mechanisms, such as international human  rights non-governmental  organizations.

C.    Action  by United  Nations departments, offices and programmes

Annual General Assembly resolutions on the Declaration on human  rights defenders request  all concerned  United Nations agencies  and  organizations, within their mandates, to provide all possible assistance  and  support   to   the   Special  Representative   on   human   rights   defenders.  In addition, a series of United Nations initiatives such as the Secretary-General’s support  for the mainstreaming of human rights in the Organization’s development  programming, the  United  Nations  reform process  and  the  Millennium Campaign to promote the  development goals agreed by States at the 2000 Millennium Summit all encourage and in some  cases  require  strong United  Nations involvement  in the  implementation of human  rights standards. There are strong links between the role  and  objectives  of  human   rights  defenders  and  those   of  United Nations Country  Teams.  In fact,  the  Special Representative  indicated  in the 2003  report  to the Commission on Human Rights that  many United Nations  staff  are  themselves  human  rights  defenders and  that  human rights defenders are often key partners of the United Nations at the country level.  Thus support  by the United Nations system as a whole for the Declaration on human  rights defenders, and especially by United Nations Country Teams, is support  for the core goals of the Organization.

1.      At the  country level

United Nations Country Teams should be active in the implementation of the  Declaration  and  in  providing  support,   within  their  mandates, to human  rights defenders. Specific action could include:

❖  Promoting the  Declaration, its dissemination  and  translation into  local  languages, and  the  adoption of  its  provisions  into national legislation;

❖  Organizing private  meetings between the  heads  of United Nations country offices and human  rights defenders working in the  country  (including those  from within both  civil society and the  State),  during which  defenders can  present  human  rights concerns and recommendations relevant to the mandates of the United Nations agencies,  programmes or offices concerned;

❖  Taking note of human  rights concerns  that  affect the United Nations country  mandate and  raising those  concerns  with  the relevant State authorities;

❖  Allowing human  rights defenders working with non-governmental  organizations having a recognized  human  rights role to make use of United Nations facilities, such as a conference centre, to hold human  rights training programmes or similar workshops;

❖  Taking  note of  relevant  recommendations  made   by  the Special Representative  on  human  rights  defenders and  United Nations special rapporteurs.

Officials within  United  Nations  Country  Teams whose  work  may be  of particular relevance to human  rights defenders (depending on the country and office) include:

❖  The  United   Nations   Resident   Representative   or   Resident Coordinator;

❖  The  heads   of  the   various  United  Nations  offices  and   programmes,   including  ILO, OHCHR, UNAIDS, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNIFEM, WFP and WHO;

❖  Programme  Coordinators, Protection Officers and Human Rights Officers (notably within UNHCR, UNICEF, OHCHR and ILO);

❖  Staff responsible  for liaising with civil society;

❖  Staff working on good  governance;

❖  Staff responsible  for education and information  campaigns.

2.      At the  regional and  international levels

At the regional and international levels, the United Nations system can be extremely  supportive   of  human   rights  defenders. Specific action  can include:

❖  Ensuring  that  a focus on human  rights defenders, and  on the Declaration itself, is included in regional and international training programmes for staff;

❖  Analysing the  role  played by human  rights defenders in supporting   implementation  of  the   particular   United   Nations agency’s or programme’s mandate, and identifying any problems restricting defenders’  support  for that  mandate;

❖  Ensuring  that  a  focus  of  support   for  relevant  human   rights defenders is included in policy documents;

❖  Maintaining contact with regional organizations and networks of  human   rights  defenders working  on  human   rights  issues related   to  a  particular   United  Nations  mandate.   Remaining aware  of any protection  needs  that  defenders may  have  and advocating  in support  of them;

❖  Receiving  and  analysing  the   reports   and  recommendations  of the  Special Representative  on human  rights defenders and transmitting them  to the relevant country offices.

D.     Action  by human  rights  defenders

As discussed earlier in this Fact Sheet, human  rights defenders are found within State  authorities,  within civil society, in the  private sector  and  in numerous  other   capacities.  Thus  the  preceding   sections  A to  C  are addressed  to human  rights defenders themselves as well as to the broader categories  of State, non-State and intergovernmental actors. This final section provides some additional  suggestions for action by human  rights defenders as a group.

1.      Quality of work

❖  Establish and maintain  impartiality and transparency.

❖  Establish professional  practices  for reporting  on  human  rights violations.

❖  Develop credibility through  accurate  reporting.

❖  Help to ensure  that  other  human  rights organizations maintain similarly high standards.

❖  Insofar as conditions  and  national  laws respect  the  Declaration on  human   rights  defenders  and   other   international human rights instruments, ensure that laws and regulations  concerning, for example, the registration of non-governmental organizations are respected by human  rights defenders.

2.      Training

❖  Organize  regular  human  rights training  workshops  for yourself and your colleagues  and also for others,  such as police, journalists,  teachers   and  the  public  in  general.   Training  for  human rights  defenders  should  include  training  on  professionalizing their work as well as on relevant security precautions.

❖  Events such as these  can serve the additional  purpose  of drawing  attention to  human   rights  concerns  and  to  the  work  of human  rights defenders.

3.      Networks and  channels of communication

❖  Create  support  networks  among  human  rights  defenders and also with other  key actors,  such as the  media,  the  church,  civil society in general  and  relevant  private  sector  actors.  Networks are especially important at the local, national and regional levels, but are also useful at the international level.

❖  Networks  can  be  used  to  monitor  the  safety  of human  rights defenders, rapidly disseminate  information  about  a defender at risk and also ensure  that  the defender community  is broad  and representative of the  full range  of human  rights.  When  using networks  to  transmit  information  on  human  rights  abuses  in general, defenders should identify their key partners and provide them  with information  in an easily usable form.

❖  These channels of communication could include a public dissemination strategy.

4.      Analysis

❖  Clearly define  the  fundamental problems  facing  human  rights defenders in particular States and develop recommendations to the relevant authorities  on how these  could be addressed.

5.      Supporting improved State protection for human rights

❖  Advocate  for  the  appointment of  officials with  human  rights training to key positions such as Minister of Justice, key judges and prosecutors, chief of police, etc.

❖  Promote the establishment of State and independent institutions that  will implement  and protect  human  rights standards.

❖  Encourage  State  authorities  to  investigate  human  rights  violations and urge an end to impunity.

6.      Protection strategies

❖  Define a strategy  and  procedures  for the  urgent  protection  of human   rights   defenders  facing   threats.   A  strategy   should include criteria for deciding whether the situation of risk justifies communicating information  to  the  regional  and  international protection  networks,  in which case great  care must be taken  to present  accurate  and complete  information.

❖  A  protection   strategy   should   include  referring   cases  to  the Special Representative  on human  rights defenders.

7.      Using  the  Declaration on human rights defenders

❖  Making the  best  possible use of the  Declaration should  form a part of any human  rights defender’s strategy.

❖  The Declaration can be disseminated and be the subject of training campaigns,  and human  rights defenders can advocate  for it to be adopted into national legislation or for a plan of action for its implementation, tailored to the local situation.

(Source: Fact Sheet No.29, Ch. 3, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)

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