Menu

Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network

Human Rights Defenders

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

 Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1

Visitors

641383

Protection of Human Rights Defenders

 
Where is the right protected?

The State‘s (note: a state refers to a nation state) duty to protect the rights of defenders is derived from each State‘s primary responsibility and duty to protect all human rights, as established in:

- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 2),
- The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 2),
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (Article 3),
- The European Convention on Human Rights (Article 1),
- The African Charter on Human and Peoples‘ Rights (Article 1), and
- The American Convention on Human Rights (Article 1).
The right to be protected and the Declaration on human rights defenders

The State‘s duty to protect human rights defenders is provided for in the preamble to the Declaration as well as in its articles 2, 9 and 12:

Article 2 1. Each State has a prime responsibility and duty to protect, promote and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms, inter alia, by adopting such steps as may be necessary to create all conditions necessary in the social, economic, political and other fields, as well as the legal guarantees required to ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction, individually and in assohe violation of those rights. […]

Article 12 1. […] 2. The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration. 3. In this connection, everyone is entitled, individually and in association with others, to be protected effectively under national law in reacting against or opposing, through peaceful means, activities and acts, including those by omission, attributable to States that result in violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as well as acts of violence perpetrated by groups or individuals that affect the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

As the Declaration on human rights defenders contains a series of principles and rights that are based on human rights standards enshrined in other legally binding international instruments, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the State‘s duty to protect all human rights includes the protection of the rights of human rights defenders. Thus, for instance, the right to life, the right to privacy, and the rights to freedom of association and expression should be protected from violations not only by State agents, but also by private persons or entities. This duty should apply at all times (A/65/223, para. 31).

What does the right to be protected entail?

State’s obligation to protectStop Human Rights Violations
ciation with others, are able to enjoy all those rights and freedoms in practice. 2. Each State shall adopt such legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure that the rights and freedoms referred to in the present Declaration are effectively guaranteed. Article 9 1. In the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the promotion and protection of human rights as referred to in the present Declaration, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to benefit from an effective remedy and to be protected.


States bear the primary responsibility for protecting individuals, including defenders, under their jurisdiction, regardless of the status of the alleged perpetrators (A/HRC/13/22, para. 42). The State‘s duty to protect the rights of defenders from violations committed by States and non-State actors is derived from each State‘s primary responsibility and duty to protect all human rights, as enshrined in article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which establishes the obligation of States to guarantee to all individuals within their territories and subject to their jurisdiction the rights recognized in the Covenant without discrimination (A/65/223, para. 30).


The obligation to protect and the principle of non-discrimination Article 3 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women establishes guarantees of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms for women: ―States Parties shall take in all fields, in particular in the political, social, economic and cultural fields, all appropriate measures, including legislation, to ensure the full development and advancement of women, for the purpose of guaranteeing them the exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms on a basis of equality with men.


The obligation on States to protect includes both negative and positive aspects. On the one hand, States must refrain from violating human rights. According to the Human Rights Committee: ―States Parties must refrain from violation of the rights recognized by the Covenant, and any restrictions on any of those rights must be permissible under the relevant provisions of the Covenant. Where such restrictions are made, States must demonstrate their necessity and only take such measures as are proportionate to the pursuance of legitimate aims in order to ensure continuous and effective protection of Covenant rights. In no case may the restrictions be applied or invoked in a manner that would impair the essence of a Covenant right.

On the other hand, States should act with due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish any violation of the rights enshrined in the Declaration. In other words, States should prevent violations of the rights of defenders under their jurisdiction by taking legal, judicial, administrative and all other measures to ensure the full enjoyment by defenders of their rights; investigating alleged violations; prosecuting alleged perpetrators; and providing defenders with remedies and reparation (A/65/223, para. 34). Examples of actions or omissions which contravene the State´s duty of due diligence include the failure to provide effective protection to defenders at risk who have documented attacks and threats by non-State actors or who have been granted interim protection measures by regional human rights mechanisms (A/65/223, para. 35).

State’s responsibility for the acts of non-State actors

In the context of human rights violations by third parties, the obligation to protect, first, involves ensuring that defenders do not suffer from violations of their rights by non-State actors. Failure to protect could, in particular circumstances, engage the State‘s responsibility (A/65/223, para. 29). For instance, acts and omissions committed by non-State actors under the instructions, control or direction of the State can, under certain circumstances, give rise to State responsibility. One example of a situation might be where a State creates or equips armed groups, such as paramilitaries or armed bands, and instructs them to attack human rights defenders. In this instance, the paramilitaries could be considered de facto State organs, and the commission of acts in breach of international law against defenders could be attributed to the State (A/65/223, para. 41).


In cases involving non-State actors — including private companies and illegal armed groups — it is paramount that prompt and full investigations are conducted and perpetrators brought to justice. Failure by States to prosecute and punish such perpetrators is a clear violation of article 12 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Addressing the issue of impunity is a key step to ensuring a safe environment for defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 42).

State responsibility in relation to actions and omissions of non-State actors as 2 ICCPR General Comment No. 31: The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant, CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, 26 May 2004, para. 6.


Declaration on human rights defenders provided in article 12, paragraph 3, of the Declaration has been reiterated by numerous human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Committee and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the right to life and freedom of association and expression, should be protected from violations not only by State agents, but also private persons or entities (A/HRC/13/22, para. 43).

Responsibility of non-State actors

Although States bear the primary responsibility for protecting human rights defenders, it is necessary to recall that the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is addressed not only to States and human rights defenders, but to everyone. It is set forth in article 10 of the Declaration that, ―no one shall participate, by act or by failure to act where required, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms (A/HRC/13/22, para. 44 and A/65/223, para. 2). In addition, the Declaration reaffirms the responsibility of everyone not to violate the rights of others, encompassing the responsibility of non-State actors to respect the rights of human rights defenders, in the preamble as well as in articles 11, 12.3 and 19 (A/65/223, para. 22).

Accordingly, all non-State actors, including armed groups, the media, faith-based groups, communities, companies and individuals should refrain from taking any measures that would result in preventing defenders from exercising their rights. On the contrary, non-State actors can, and should, play a preventive role by promoting the Declaration as well as the rights and activities of human rights defenders (A/65/223, para. 22).

In relation to private national or transnational corporations, the mandate refers to the responsibility of companies to respect human rights, as emphasized by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, Mr. John Ruggie, in his report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/8/5), submitted in 2008. The Human Rights Council endorsed the Special Representative‘s policy framework for business and human rights, as elaborated in his report. The framework rests on the three principles of ―protect, respect and remedy‖: the State duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses; the corporate responsibility to respect human rights; and the need for more effective access to remedies.4 The Human Rights Council later emphasized that transnational corporations and other business enterprises have a responsibility to respect  encompasses people, organizations, groups and corporations not composed of State agents or not being State organs (A/65/223, para. 1).

On March 2011, the Special Representative, Mr. John Ruggie issued the ―Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights", for the consideration of the UN Human Rights Council at its June 2011 session. The Principles delineate ―how States and businesses should implement the UN ‗Protect, Respect and Remedy‘ Framework in order to better manage business and human rights challenges.‖


See http://www.business-humanrights.org/SpecialRepPortal/Home/Protect-Respect-Remedy-Framework/GuidingPrinciples.

Commentary to the human rights (see Human Rights Council resolution 8/7).5 Consequently, business enterprises also have a responsibility to respect the rights of human rights defenders (A/65/223, para. 23).

The mandate has also stated that discharging the responsibility to respect human rights requires due diligence. This concept, which is derived from, but should be distinguished from, a State‘s due diligence responsibility, should be understood to mean that companies must ensure that their activities do not infringe upon the rights of others, including human rights defenders. This implies that companies should identify and prevent human rights violations against defenders that may result from their activities and operations. Companies should engage with human rights defenders while implementing the four components of the human rights due diligence standard, as elaborated by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights (A/65/223, para. 25).

Harmonizing domestic legal frameworks with the Declaration

States should harmonize their domestic legal frameworks with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. To enhance the protection of defenders and ensure that the rights and freedoms referred to in the Declaration are guaranteed, it is paramount that States review their national legal frameworks and abolish legal or administrative provisions impeding the work and activities of defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 63).

In this context, States should verify that their security legislation, including their intelligence and counter-intelligence legislation, is not used to impede the work of defenders. States should also translate and disseminate the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and organize training for law enforcement officials and judges on the rights contained in the Declaration (A/HRC/13/22, para. 64).

Protection measures and programs

States have developed different measures and protection programmes to ensure the personal safety of human rights defenders at imminent risk. Many States use their witness protection programs as their only mechanism to ensure the protection of human rights defenders at risk. However, the mandate has stressed that witness protection programs are not sufficient to provide for the safety of defenders since in most cases they have not been designed for that purpose and do not take the specific needs of human rights defenders into account (A/HRC/13/22, paras. 71, 73 and 74).

Other States have put in place protection mechanisms and measures at the national level to contribute to the physical protection of defenders.

The corporate responsibility to respect human rights (see A/HRC/14/27, paras. 54-78) is recognized in soft-law instruments such as the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, and it constitutes one of the commitments that companies undertake when joining the United Nations Global Compact (A/65/223, para. 24).


Measures range from establishing specialized investigative units for crimes against human rights activists, setting up an early warning system, providing police protection and bodyguards, and establishing programmes for emergency placement of defenders in another region or country (A/HRC/13/22 paras. 77, 79, 81 and 82 and E/CN.4/2006/95, para. 45).

Many of these measures and mechanisms, however, have received some criticism with regard to their efficiency and sustainability. For example, the outcome of the risk assessments has reportedly failed to match, in several instances, the real situation of vulnerability faced by the defenders requesting protection. Furthermore, protective measures have, on some occasions, failed to address the specificities of the profile of defenders pertaining to gender, ethnic affiliation, leadership position and place of residence (A/HRC/13/22/Add.3, para. 111). There have also been cases in which the bodyguards assigned for the protection of defenders have reportedly spied on them and transmitted information to the intelligence agency (Ibid., para. 112). Human rights defenders have also raised concerns about the privatization of the protection measures, which would allow members of private security companies to provide protection to them. Defenders fear former paramilitaries could be employed, and could similarly spy on them and transmit information to intelligence services, in pursuit of economic benefits (Ibid., para. 113).

Consequently, many defenders have refused police protection as they are not confident that they would be properly protected. Furthermore, the large number of Government entities and ministries in charge of implementation of the programmes often causes confusion and a lack of confidence within the community of defenders (Ibid., paras. 80, 83 and E/CN.4/2006/95, para. 56).

Concerning protection measures and programs to protect women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues, the information received indicates that in the vast majority of cases there are no specific mechanisms in place or, where they do exist, they are often hampered by a lack of implementation, political will or gender-sensitivity (A/HRC/16/44, para. 90). More specifically, existing protection measures and mechanisms are often limited and lack a gender-specific approach (A/HRC/16/44, para. 92).
A factor reported as hindering the development or implementation of State-based policies or practices for the protection of women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues is the lack of will on the part of Government authorities, including the police. Government or police officials may themselves share the prevailing conservative and patriarchal views of the community in general towards women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues, and thus may have little or no enthusiasm to intervene effectively for their protection in spite of their obligation to do so (A/HRC/16/44, para. 96). Another factor affecting the efficiency of protection mechanisms is that they do not recognize non-State actors as part of the group of perpetrators of violations.

Commentary to the of the rights of women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues (A/HRC/16/44, para. 92).

While a set of protection mechanisms must be put in place in order to prevent violations against human rights defenders, the mandate has underscored that such measures can only represent temporary protection from an imminent danger. Adequate protection requires a comprehensive and transversal policy from Governments to establish an appropriate environment where the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders is respected, the legal framework is in line with the Declaration‘s provisions, and those taking adverse actions against defenders can be brought to justice (E/CN.4/2006/95, para. 45).

Lastly, in discharging their duty to protect, States parties to international and regional human rights instruments must also implement the interim measures provided by international and regional human rights mechanisms, such as the precautionary measures granted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, so as to prevent violations by non-State actors, including corporations (A/65/223, para. 32).

The obligation to protect in States with a federal structure

The mandate has noted that the federal structure of certain States has sometimes impeded the prosecution of human rights violations, in particular those committed against human rights defenders. Regardless of the structure of a State, federal authorities retain the primary responsibility to protect human rights defenders and guarantee that their rights are protected. Federal Governments should therefore take all necessary measures to ensure that the transfer to States of the jurisdiction to prosecute and try human rights violations committed against defenders is effective (A/HRC/13/22, para. 45).

The United Nations treaty bodies have repeatedly stated that the application of State obligations shall extend to all parts of federal States without any limitation or exception. States with a federal structure should therefore ensure that the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is fully applicable throughout their territory. Whenever possible, unified provisions should be adopted and the rights contained in the Declaration should be directly enforceable by State courts (A/HRC/13/22, para. 46).

Ending impunity

The mandate is concerned about the paucity of practical initiatives to physically protect human rights defenders effectively. Only a few countries have adopted legislation or taken effective measures to put an end to the numerous and violent attacks against defenders. Impunity continues to prevail and no specific compensation mechanisms for human rights violations committed against human rights defenders have been created (A/HRC/13/22, para. 112). Addressing the issue of impunity, in line with article 12 of the Declaration, is a key step to ensuring a safe environment for defenders. The degree of security enjoyed by

human rights defenders will determine the capacity to expose human rights violations and to seek redress for victims of such violations (E/CN.4/2006/95, para. 59).

Common restrictions and violations

Since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights, many intergovernmental and non-governmental regional mechanisms for the protection of defenders have been created and declarations and resolutions adopted (A/HRC/13/22, para. 69). Despite these achievements, in every region of the world, defenders, including women human rights defenders – and often their beloved ones – continue to be subjected to intimidation, threats, killings, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, surveillance, administrative and judicial harassment and more generally, stigmatization by State authorities and non-State actors. The Special Rapporteur sends an average of 350 communications to Governments per year, including allegation letters and urgent appeals. Of these, about one third of the communications concerned women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues (A/HRC/16/44, para. 35).

Defenders face illegitimate restrictions on the exercise of their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, access to information, access to funding, and freedoms of association - including registration - peaceful assembly, and movement. A climate of impunity for violations committed against defenders prevails in numerous countries. Since the beginning of her mandate, the Special Rapporteur has identified specific situations impeding the work of human rights defenders and leading to a highly insecure environment (A/HRC/13/22, para. 26).


a) Stigmatization: The growing characterization of human rights defenders as ―terrorists, ―enemies of the State or ―political opponents by State authorities and State-owned media is a particularly worrying trend, as it is regularly used to delegitimize the work of defenders and increase their vulnerability. (A/HRC/13/22, para. 27). Aside from the ―political‖ stigmatization to which both women defenders and their male counterparts are subjected in certain contexts, including accusations of being fronts for guerrilla movements, terrorists, political extremists, separatists, foreign countries or interests, women human rights defenders often face further stigmatization by virtue of their sex or the gender- or sexuality-based rights they advocate. As noted by the Special Rapporteur, such work can be perceived as challenging established socio-cultural norms, tradition or perceptions about the role and status of women in society.

As a result of this, women defenders often find themselves and their work subjected to stigmatization by both State and non-State actors. A common accusation directed in particular at those working on women‘s rights, gender issues, and LGBT rights, is the assertion that these defenders are somehow advocating or attempting to import ―foreign‖ or ―Western‖ values which contradict national or regional culture. State agents or representatives are often alleged to be responsible for such stigmatization (A/HRC/16/44, para. 85).


The mandate has, on repeated occasions, expressed serious concerns in relation to this phenomenon, since it contributes to the perception that defenders are legitimate targets for abuse by State and non-State actors (A/HRC/13/22, para. 27). Acknowledging the work and roles of groups, organs or individuals in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is of primary importance. This is the first step towards a safe working environment for defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 29).

b) Prosecution of defenders and criminalization of their activities: States increasingly resort to legal actions to violate the human rights of defenders denouncing human rights violations. Defenders are arrested and prosecuted on false charges. Many others are detained without charge, often without access to a lawyer, medical care or a judicial process, and without being informed of the reason for their arrest (A/HRC/13/22, para. 31).

Example In July 2010, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, together with the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, sent an urgent appeal regarding the sentencing of the president of a human rights organization and also a commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, to three years imprisonment. According to information received, a criminal court started hearing his case on 18 February 2010, on the charges of ―weakening national sentiments and encouraging racist and sectarian feelings‖, and ―transferring false and exaggerated news that weaken national sentiments‖ under the penal code. Five subsequent hearings were conducted on 10 March, 6 April, 4 May, 27 May and 6 June. The final hearing and sentencing took place on 23 June 2010, and he was sentenced to three years imprisonment. According to information received, a number of procedural fair trial guarantees were not complied with during the trial. The defense lawyers called 11 (eleven) witnesses to testify during the trial and it is alleged that the President of the criminal court forbid all defense witnesses from testifying and did not take into account the evidence submitted by the defense. The conviction was based on three secret reports of the intelligence service, even though defence lawyers had presented credible evidence undermining the authenticity of the reports. Further his lawyers were not allowed to visit and meet with him in jail without authorization from the bar association. On several occasions, the bar association refused to allow his lawyers to visit him in jail. During consultations with his lawyer there was a prison guard present. This case has previously been addressed by the Special Procedures Mechanisms in communications dated 3 August 2009 and 10 December 2009. In these communications concern was raised that the disbarment and criminal charges against this defender were reportedly related to his peaceful and legitimate activities in defence of human rights, including as a lawyer. We are yet to receive a reply to the communications we addressed to the Government (A/HRC/16/44/Add.1 paras. 2170 to 2174).

Communications issued by the mandate indicate that the judicial harassment and criminalization of human rights defenders‘ activities by States‘ authorities has not decreased. Some States tend to systematically invoke national security and public safety to restrict the scope of activities of defenders. In many countries, trade unionists, members of NGOs and social movements face repeated arrests and criminal proceedings for charges of ―forming criminal gangs, ―obstructing public roads, ―inciting crime, ―creating civil disobedience or ―threatening the State security, public safety or the protection of health or morals. Moreover, human rights defenders, including defence lawyers, providing legal assistance to other defenders or victims of human rights violations are threatened, denied access to courthouses and their clients, and arrested and charged under various criminal provisions. The multitude of arrests and detentions of defenders also contributes to their stigmatization, since they are depicted and perceived as troublemakers by the population (A/HRC/13/22, para. 32).

Some States continue to resort to ambiguous security laws to arrest and detain human rights defenders, often without charges. In some States, national intelligence and security services have the power to detain human rights defenders without charge for a prolonged period of time. In some instances, agents of intelligence and security services are granted immunity from prosecution, and can therefore commit human rights violations against defenders in total impunity. Defenders may also face arrests, detention and harsh sentences, including the death penalty, under various State secret laws. The Special Rapporteur is concerned that legislation on State secrets often lacks clarity on what constitutes a State secret and that States frequently resort to such legislation to silence defenders and political opponents. The activities of defenders are also often criminalized and their freedom of association and expression violated through the use of extremely broad provisions of criminal codes (A/HRC/13/22, para. 34).



Analysis of the communications sent by the mandate also reveals a worrying trend of criminalization of the activities carried out by women human rights defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues throughout the world. Many communications reported arrests and further acts of criminalization including criminal investigations, charges, trials, and sentences varying from fines to administrative detentions to lengthy prison terms (A/HRC/16/44, para. 70). Allegations of irregularities relating to due process and fair trial procedure are commonplace (A/HRC/16/44, para. 71).

Those at risk include women defenders working on the rights of religious and national minorities; women‘s rights, including family planning and reproductive rights; housing rights; democratic reform; impunity for alleged use of torture; women defenders working on human rights issues related to conflict; pro-democracy advocates; those denouncing violations to the European Court of Human Rights; and women journalists. In other countries, those most at risk appear to be women activists for indigenous rights along with other women community leaders, campesino and rural activists, environmentalists, and lawyers (A/HRC/16/44, para. 73, 77 and 79).


The prevalence of the alleged use of torture, as well as other forms of ill-treatment and mistreatment of women human rights defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues while in detention is alarming (A/HRC/16/44, para. 81). In some countries, there is a a worrying trend of the alleged committal of women defenders to psychiatric institutions, wherein they may be subjected to forced medication, as a form of punishment for their work, along with other forms of mistreatment such as assaults and beatings or sleep deprivation (A/HRC/16/44, para. 82).

c) Role of non-State actors: These past few years, the safety of defenders has been increasingly threatened by a growing number of non-State actors in a climate of impunity (A/HRC/13/22, para. 38). Individuals acting on their own or as part of groups, whether in collusion with States or not, have been increasingly involved in attacks on human rights defenders. Guerillas, private militias, vigilante groups and armed groups have been implicated in violence against defenders, including beatings, killings and various acts of intimidation (A/HRC/13/22, para. 39).


Private companies have also been directly or indirectly involved in acts of violence against defenders. In this regard, the mandate has underlined the situation of defenders working on economic, social and cultural rights, who are increasingly vulnerable, since their work is not always recognized as human rights work (A/HRC/13/22, para. 39). Private corporations have allegedly been impeding the activities of defenders working, inter alia, on labour rights, the exploitation of natural resources, the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities (A/65/223, para. 9). In certain countries, attacks have been perpetrated against defenders who supported indigenous communities affected by gold and silver mining by transnational companies (A/65/223, para. 15). Also, in several cases brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur, it has been alleged that local authorities had colluded with the private sector or that private companies had aided and abetted the commission of violations against human rights defenders (A/65/223, para. 11).

In addition, community leaders and faith-based groups are increasingly resorting to the stigmatization of, and attacks against, defenders working on issues such as the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (A/HRC/4/37/Add.2, para. 32), violence against women and domestic violence. In numerous instances, defenders have been threatened with ostracism or pressured to stop their work in defence of human rights. Furthermore, the information received shows that women human rights defenders working in the area of domestic violence and other types of violence against women are often pressured by the family members of victims or threatened by the perpetrators or their own family members to drop cases (A/65/223, para. 16).

In some parts of the world, the media has been involved in violations committed against human rights defenders, notably in relation to violations of their right to privacy. In certain States, human rights defenders have been subjected to denigration campaigns in the press (although sometimes the perpetrators were State-owned outlets). The mandate strongly condemns such stigmatization, which often causes defenders to be portrayed as ―troublemakers and consequently legitimizes attacks against them (A/65/223, para. 17).

The mandate has been made aware of cases in which newspapers have directly incited homophobia or portrayed defenders working on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights as homosexuals (A/65/223, para. 18). Stereotypical portrayals and insults have also been used against women defenders working on issues such as rape, domestic violence and female genital mutilation (A/65/223, para. 19). Example In 2009, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, together with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, sent an urgent appeal regarding physical attacks against two members of an organization working with sexual minorities and a media campaign against human rights defenders who work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) human rights organizations. According to the information received, a newspaper published an article, self-described as a 'killer dossier', listing the names of several human rights defenders and other LGBTI people. The article contained pictures, names, physical descriptions, details about professions and places of residence, negative stereotyping and accusations of ―spreading the gay and lesbian vice in schools‖. This was followed by a public petition presented to Parliament by an NGO requesting new laws providing harsher punishment for homosexuality. This NGO has taken the lead in organising an anti-LGBTI campaign and fomenting anti-LGBTI sentiments. 

This campaign--which TV, radio and printed media echoed--is fostering a climate of hostility and is encouraging attacks against LGBTI defenders. Following this campaign, LGBTI defenders have reportedly been the subject of an increased level of harassment and threats, including death threats, and killing. Such a smear campaign will further incite hatred and violence against human rights defenders and members of the LGBTI community (A/HRC/13/22/Add.1, paras. 2314 to 2320). 

d) Sexual violence and rape: Violations faced by women defenders may take a gender-specific form, ranging from verbal abuse based on their sex, to sexual abuse and rape. Cases of the latter are particularly prevalent in situations of conflict, which are often characterized by an environment of complete impunity for perpetrators (A/HRC/16/44, para. 24). Sexual assaults, including instances of gang rape in detention of LGBT activists, have also been reported. The alleged perpetrators of these acts were mostly unknown/ unidentified but also included  members of the police, military, armed groups, or local members of the community (A/HRC/16/44, para. 87).

 


In certain cultural and social contexts, issues relating to rape and sexual abuse of women remain taboo. Women working on such issues, including victims seeking redress, organizations representing victims or granting them shelter, and organizations working with sex workers, among others, often face a hostile response from both society and State as a result of their work (A/HRC/16/44, para. 88). Further, in certain contexts, if a woman human rights defender is subjected to rape or sexual abuse as a result of her work, she may be perceived by her extended family as having brought shame on both the family and the wider community.8 Indeed, even when no rape or sexual abuse has occurred, women defenders are often subjected to stigmatization and ostracism by community leaders, faith-based groups, families and communities who consider them to be jeopardizing religion, honour or culture through their work (A/HRC/16/44, para. 24).

Good practices and recommendations

- Respecting defenders’ rights. States should respect and protect the rights of human rights defenders in accordance with the Declaration on human rights defenders (A/65/223, para. 63).

- Protection and recognition for defenders most exposed to attacks and violations. States should make more efforts to recognize and protect women human rights defenders and defenders working to promote economic, social and cultural rights, as well as those working to uphold the rights of minorities, indigenous peoples and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Those defenders need specific and enhanced protection, as well as targeted and deliberate efforts to make the environment in which they operate a safer, more enabling and more accepting one (A/63/288 Annex, para. 8).

- Providing legitimacy to the work of defenders. States should refrain from stigmatizing the work of human rights defenders. Recognition of the status and role of human rights defenders and the legitimacy of their activities in public statements is the first step to preventing or at least reducing threats and risks against them (A/HRC/13/22, para. 114 a).

- Harmonizing domestic laws with the Declaration. States should consider adopting the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as a part of domestic legislation and establish focal points for human rights defenders within the office of the Head of State or Government, or other relevant ministries. (A/HRC/13/22, para. 114 a). The mandate also calls on States to disseminate Declaration on human rights defenders not only among State agents but also to individuals, groups and organs of society and other non-State actors, including faith-based groups, the media, private and State-owned companies (A/65/223, para. 62).

- Enacting legislation on the protection of defenders. States should adopt national and provincial laws on the protection of human rights defenders, with a specific reference to the work of women human rights defenders. These laws should be developed in consultation with civil society and on the basis of technical advice from relevant international agencies (A/HRC/13/22/Add.2, para. 97).

- Guidelines for protection programs. States can use the following minimum guidelines regarding protection programmes for human rights defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 113 and 111):

a) Human rights defenders should be consulted throughout the setting up or review of protection programmes;


b) The structure of a protection programme should be defined by law;
c) In federal States, the structure of a protection programme should be defined by federal legislation. The administration of such a programme should be overseen by the Federal Government even in cases where it is in practice administered by States;


d) Protection programmes should include an early warning system in order to anticipate and trigger the launch of protective measures. Such a system should be managed centrally and risk assessments should involve different groups of human rights defenders;


e) Specific trainings on human rights, gender issues and on the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders should be a prerequisite for the selection of police and other law enforcement officials that would be involved in the programme;


f) The physical protection of defenders should not be outsourced to third parties unless they are properly trained. Their selection and recruitment should be made with the consultation of human defenders;


g) Adequate financial resources should be devoted to such programmes. In this regard, a better assessment of the security needs of human rights defenders will enable States to better cost such programmes. Third States should contribute to the development or review of sustainable and well-financed protection programmes.


h) Protection programmes and measures should address the specificities of the profile of defenders pertaining to gender, ethnic affiliation, leadership position and place of residence.


i) The Government should fully guarantee that personnel assigned to the protection of human rights defenders do not gather information for intelligence purposes. Any ongoing illegal intelligence activities targeting human rights defenders should stop immediately (A/HRC/13/22/Add.3 paras. 157 and 159);


- Protection of women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues. States should use the following recommendations (A/HRC/16/44, para. 109):


a) Publicly acknowledge the particular and significant role played by women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues in the consolidation and advancement of plural and inclusive societies as a first step to the prevention or reduction of the risks that they face;


b) Protect women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues from violations perpetrated by State and non-State actors by acknowledging such violations and by offering effective security measures;
c) Ensure that violations against women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues committed by State and non-State agents are promptly and impartially investigated and that those responsible are punished in an appropriate manner. Fighting impunity is essential for the security of this group of defenders;


d) Specifically involve women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues in any consultation with human rights defenders, whether it be in the context of protection programmes or otherwise;
e) Ensure that programmes for the security and protection of human rights defenders integrate a gender perspective and address the specific risks and security needs of women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues;
f) Promote projects to improve and further develop the documentation of cases of violations against women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues;
g) Increase material resources for the immediate protection of women defenders and those working on women‘s rights or gender issues and make sure that they can be mobilized in a flexible manner to guarantee their effective physical and psychological protection; and
h) Ensure that cases of sexual violence against defenders are attended to by personnel who are qualified from a gender perspective. The victim must be consulted during each step of the process.
- Implementing interim protection measures. States should implement the interim measures of protection granted by international and regional human rights mechanisms to human rights defenders by, inter alia, taking immediate steps to provide them with appropriate protection (A/65/223, para. 64).

- Accountability of non-State actors. Non-State actors and private entities should abide by the Declaration on human rights defenders and refrain from endangering the safety of defenders and/or impeding their work (A/HRC/13/22, para. 44 and A/65/223, paras. 53 and 54).
- Accountability of national and transnational corporations. National and transnational corporations should (A/65/223, paras. 56 to 60):
a) Involve and consult with human rights defenders when carrying out country assessments;
b) Develop national human rights policies in cooperation with defenders, including monitoring and accountability mechanisms for violations of the rights of defenders;
c) Fully implement the recommendations of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on business and human rights on the corporate responsibility of respect;
d) Act with due diligence and ensure that their activities will not infringe the rights of others, including human rights defenders;
e) Promote the role and activities of human rights defenders.

- The role of national institutions. National human rights institutions are encouraged to prioritize the protection of human rights defenders on their agenda and establish focal points for human rights defenders, to play an important role in fostering the dissemination of the Declaration and to investigate complaints made by human rights defenders (A/HRC/13/22, para. 114 c).

- The role of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is encouraged to develop a comprehensive strategy to protect human rights defenders, including against threats and reprisals by non-State actors (A/65/223, para. 80).

This material comes from the Commentary to the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  by UN Rapporteur on the special situation of Human Rights Defenders.

"It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals, because  they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." -Anne Frank

"Please use your freedom to promote ours."

-Aung San Suu Kyi, Burmese
Democracy Leader and Nobel Peace Laureate

"When I dare to be powerful -- to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid." -Audre Lorde

"I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees."

-Charles Houston

"I feel morally and intellectually obliged to simply conceded that the death penalty experiment has failed....  From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." -Former US Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun

"If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain. If I can ease one life the aching, or cool one pain, or help one fainting robin unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain."
-Emily Dickinson

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

― Leo Buscaglia

Medical Whistleblower Advocacy Network

MEDICAL WHISTLEBLOWER ADVOCACY NETWORK

P.O. 42700 

Washington, DC 20015

MedicalWhistleblowers (at) gmail.com

CONTACT


"Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself."  Confucius

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt- Excerpt from the speech "Citizenship In A Republic", delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910