Human rights defenders have to be defended as much as they defend people’s rights
THEY are ordinary people – mothers, fathers, sisters, sons, daughters, brothers, friends. But for
They are the human rights defenders.
Last year, according to reliable sources, 321 of them were killed, in 27 countries. Their murders were directly caused by the work they do to ensure the rest of us enjoy the rights we claim as purely because we are human.
The mandate on the situation of human rights defenders was established in 2000 by the Commission on Human Rights (as a Special Procedure) to support
Countless others were tortured, raped and threatened, also for the work they do
In fact, 2018 was
It shouldn’t be like this.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Last year we marked 70 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 20 since the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The latter Declaration provides for the practical support and protection of human rights defenders as they go about their work.
It is addressed not just to states and to human rights defenders, but to everyone. It tells us that we all have a role to
This is a task we are not performing well.
Human rights should not need defenders, and human rights defenders should not need protection from the might of oppressive governments, corrupt multinationals and crooked legal systems. But this is an imperfect, human world.
Protection Mechanism for Rights Defenders, Journalists
Since 2000, when we UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders began our monitoring work, much progress has been made. There has been extensive discussion on how these courageous people should be protected, and there is a Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in a limited number of countries.
Sadly, it is often not properly
It is impossible to canvass each defender’s particular treatment or mistreatment by the authorities they face, or even that of communities of defenders. There are, however, trends.
On 23 October last year, Julián Carrillo, an indigenous rights defender from
On 22 August last year, Annaliza Dinopol Gallardo, a Filipina land rights defender known to her community as “Ate Liza”, was shot dead outside Sultan Kudarat State University in Tacurong City. She had four children.
This includes smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarised violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children.
Changing all this is our task for the future. Protection Mechanisms for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists need to be properly implemented and funded, at
Empowering rights defenders
We need to empower defenders and increase the abilities of those who are responsible for their protection to keep them safe. We also need to improve the accountability mechanisms these officials operate under.
To properly defend the defenders, we also need to
We need to acknowledge that defenders, just like all of us, live in this modern, interconnected world.
Protecting them means covering all aspects of their safety: physical, psychological and digital. It means doing so with flexibility. It also means that our protection needs to extend to their families, and the groups and
In recent years the world has taken a worrying turn away from respect for human rights. Increasingly, groups are becoming inward-looking, and nations nationalistic. We need human rights defenders now more than ever.
They also need us.
[Michel Forst is the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and a speaker at the International Civil Society Week 2019, in Belgrade, Serbia.]