IRCT calls on States to reject move at UN General Assembly to restrict protection of human rights defenders

IRCT calls on States to reject move at UN General Assembly to restrict protection of human rights defenders
25-11-2015
The IRCT joins NGOs from all over the world in calling for States to actively oppose an initiative at the UN General Assembly to delegitimise the work of human rights defenders and remove essential obligations to protect and enable their important work to promote implementation of human rights obligations.

The initiative, which is led by the African Group, China and Iran, is proposing a series of amendments to a UN General Assembly resolution on protection of human rights defenders, which would result in a significant weakening of the existing global standards for protections of human rights defenders, including torture rehabilitation centres, that provide much needed support to victims of human rights violations worldwide.

“At the IRCT, we are well aware of the importance of protecting those who support others as many of our members and partners operate in an environment where threats, harassment and direct attacks against their organisations, their staff and the many torture victims benefitting from their services is a permanent concern,” says Jamal Hammoud, responsible for the development of the IRCT’s protection programme.

In the absence of international treaties protecting this important undertaking, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders has provided the guiding principles for States to uphold. It is these principles that have once again come under threat.

The IRCT urges all our colleagues to raise the issue with their respective governments and share with their networks to generate further global action to preserve the resolution in its original language. Voting is expected to take place in New York on 25 or 26 November 2015.

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SUPPORT THE DRAFT RESOLUTION ON RECOGNIZING THE ROLE OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS AND THE NEED FOR THEIR PROTECTION
To: All Member States of the United Nations General Assembly
24 November 2015
Excellencies,
We write to you as a group of human rights defenders and civil society organizations located across the world working at national, regional and international levels. We write in regard to the draft resolution entitled ”Recognizing the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection“ currently being advanced in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, and due to be adopted on Wednesday 25 November 2015.

We urge your government to support the above mentioned resolution and to reject amendments, tabled by the African Group, China and Iran, designed to weaken the text.1

Among other things, the proposed amendments remove references to the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, delete or weaken language regarding the need for their protection, and delete whole paragraphs related to the need to combat impunity for violations and abuses against defenders and the need to ensure adequate procedural safeguards in judicial proceedings. A call for the release of defenders detained or imprisoned in violation of international human rights law, for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, is also proposed for deletion. In addition, the amendments introduce notions that States should only support and enable their work ‘as appropriate’, rather than in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other obligations arising under international human rights law .

Human rights defenders make a vital contribution to the promotion and respect for human rights, democratic processes, securing and maintaining peace and security, and advancing development in our countries. However, in doing this work, defenders often face a range of violations and abuses at the hands of State and non-State actors. States must acknowledge the role of defenders and the specific risks they face, and commit to ensuring their protection.

Fifteen years ago, all States agreed to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including State obligations to protect all human rights defenders working on all human rights. This commitment has been reiterated and built upon in subsequent General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions. We are therefore extremely concerned to hear that the above mentioned delegations have objected to several core elements of the draft resolution.

Based on consultations with over 500 defenders from 111 States, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders found that in the vast majority of States the situation for human rights defenders is deteriorating in law and in practice. He concluded that a lack of awareness regarding their vital and legitimate work, combined with a lack of political commitment and weak institutional arrangements for their protection, is placing them, their organisations and families at elevated risk.2

The resolution as drafted reflects a number of these findings and makes a series of recommendations for States and other actors. Importantly, this year’s text includes a key focus on the implementation of the resolution itself. This will hopefully prompt States and other actors to move beyond rhetoric in addressing the challenges faced by human rights defenders and take action to ensure the implementation of the calls in the resolution.

We urge all States to live up to their human rights commitments by supporting this resolution, by rejecting amendments designed to weaken it, and by taking concrete steps to protect human rights defenders.

1 The amendments are contained in UN documents A/C.3/70/L.69 – L.107, available here.
2 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to the General Assembly, available here.