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 actors—including 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.
❖ 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.
❖ 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)