United Nations General Assembly
23 December 2013
Human Rights Council
Agenda item 3
Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development
In the present report, submitted pursuant to Council resolutions 7/8 and 16/5, the Special Rapporteur provides an account of her activities during the reporting year and draws the attention of Member States to the 241 communications sent under the mandate during the past year.
The main focus of the report is on the work of the mandate since the Special Rapporteur took over in 2008, focusing on the main tools at her disposal, lessons learned and challenges in the discharge of her functions. The Special Rapporteur then elaborates on the main elements that, in her view, are necessary for defenders to be able to operate in a safe and enabling environment.
The Special Rapporteur provides her conclusions and recommendations.
Conclusions and recommendations
The Special Rapporteur is grateful to have been given the opportunity to examine and analyse the situation of defenders worldwide. With her voice and her mandate, she has strived to raise awareness and visibility about the challenges and risks that defenders face. She has also tried to highlight good practices and provide guidance on how to widen the space in which they conduct their work, making the environment safer and more conducive.
Defending human rights is not only a legitimate and honourable activity, but a right in itself. However, defending and claiming rights continues to be a dangerous activity in many parts of the world.
States have the primary responsibility to ensure that defenders work in a safe and enabling environment. Such an environment should include a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework; access to justice and an end to impunity for violations against defenders; a strong and independent national human rights institution; policies and programmes with specific attention to women defenders; effective protection policies and mechanisms paying attention to groups at risk; non-State actors that respect and support the work of defenders; safe and open access to international human rights bodies; and a strong, dynamic and diverse community of defenders.
The Special Rapporteur would like to put forward the recommendations below addressed mainly to States but also to other relevant stakeholders.
Member States should:
(a) Ensure that defenders can conduct their work in a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework. In this vein, refrain from criminalizing defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities, abolish all administrative and legislative provisions that restrict the rights of defenders, and ensure that domestic legislation respects basic principles relating to international human rights law and standards;
(b) Combat impunity for violations against defenders by ensuring that investigations are promptly and impartially conducted, perpetrators are held accountable, and victims obtain appropriate remedy. In this context, pay particular attention to violations committed by non-State actors;
(c) Raise awareness about the legitimate and vital work of human rights defenders and publicly support their work. In this respect, widely disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and make sure that human rights educational programmes, especially those addressed to law enforcement and public officials, include modules that recognize the role played by human rights defenders in society;
(d) Provide national institutions with broad and solid mandates, and make sure that they are adequately resourced to be able to operate independently and to be credible and effective. Publicly acknowledge and support the important role of these institutions, including in providing protection to defenders and fighting impunity;
(e) Ensure that violations by State and non-State actors against defenders, particularly women defenders, are promptly and impartially investigated, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. Furthermore, provide material resources to ensure the physical and psychological protection of defenders, including through gender-sensitive polices and mechanisms;
(f) Publicly acknowledge the particular and significant role played by women human rights defenders, and those working on women’s rights or gender issues, and make sure that they are able to work in an environment free from violence and discrimination of any sort;
(g) Provide the necessary training to public officials on the role and rights of defenders and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, particularly to those who are in direct contact with communities of defenders;
(h) Ensure that public policies, including development policies and projects, are developed and implemented in an open and participatory manner, and that defenders and communities affected are able to actively, freely and meaningfully participate;
(i) Make sure that defenders can actively participate in the universal periodic review process, including by raising awareness about the process, organizing open and meaningful consultations, including a section about the situation of defenders in the national report, and making concrete recommendations towards the improvement of the environment in which they operate;
(j) Ensure that acts of intimidation and reprisals against defenders who engage with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, and international human rights bodies are firmly and unequivocally condemned. Ensure that these acts are promptly investigated, perpetrators brought to justice and that any legislation criminalizing activities in defence of human rights through cooperation with international mechanisms is repealed.
The international community should:
(a) Acknowledge and support the legitimate work of human rights defenders, both through the public recognition of their role and the provision of technical and financial assistance to increase their capabilities or enhance their security if needed;
(b) Ensure safe and open access to international human rights bodies, in particular the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.
Non-State actors should:
(a) Respect and recognize the work of defenders in accordance with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and refrain from violating their rights or hindering their activities;
(b) Involve and consult with human rights defenders when carrying out country assessments and develop national human rights policies in cooperation with defenders, including monitoring and accountability mechanisms for violations of the rights of defenders;
(c) Familiarize themselves with the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and with human rights impact assessment of business operations;
Human rights defenders should:
(a) Actively participate in constructive dialogue with the State to encourage it to consolidate a safe an enabling environment for defenders, including by providing inputs on the potential implications of draft legislation;
(b) Familiarize themselves with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and disseminate it widely at the local level;
(c) Continue supporting the work of national human rights institutions by cooperating with them, and advocating for their strengthening;
(d) Continue working together through networks including by strengthening support networks outside capital cities to reach out to defenders working in rural areas;
(e) Strive for high standards of professionalism and ethical behaviour when carrying human rights activities;
(f) Continue to make full use of existing international and regional human rights mechanisms, including the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights.