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United Nations

A/HRC/25/55



General Assembly

Distr.: General

23 December 2013


Original: English
Human Rights Council
Twenty-fifth session

Agenda item 3



Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil,
political, economic, social and cultural rights,
including the right to development


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya

Summary

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.





Contents


Paragraphs Page

I. Introduction 1–3 3

II. Activities during the reporting period 4–25 3

A. Communications transmitted to States 4 3

B. Country visits 5–7 3

C. Cooperation with the United Nations system and intergovernmental


organizations 8–15 4

D. Invitations by Governments 16–17 5

E. Cooperation with non-governmental organizations 18–25 5

III. The work of the mandate (2008–2013): challenges and lessons learned 26–53 6

A. Country visits 27–33 6

B. Thematic reports and resolutions 34–38 7

C. Communications and public statements 39–50 7

D. Raising awareness about the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders 51–53 9

IV. Elements of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders 54–126 10

A. Conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework 62–72 11

B. Fight against impunity and access to justice for violations
against defenders 73–76 12

C. Strong, independent and effective national human rights institutions 77–83 13

D. Effective protection policies and mechanisms, including public support
for the work of defenders 84–97 14

E. Special attention for risks and challenges faced by women defenders and


those working on women’s rights and gender issues 98–101 16

F. Non-State actors’ respect and support of the work of defenders 102–106 17

G. Safe and open access to the United Nations and international human rights
bodies 107–119 17

H. Strong, dynamic and diverse community of human rights defenders 120–126 19

V. Conclusions and recommendations 127–134 20

A. Conclusions 127–130 20



B. Recommendations 131–134 21

I. Introduction

  1. The present report is the sixth and last submitted to the Council by the Special Rapporteur, and the fourteenth thematic report submitted by the mandate holder on human rights defenders since 2000. The report is submitted pursuant to Council resolutions 7/8 and 16/5, requesting her to report regularly.

  2. After providing an overview of her activities during the reporting period, the Special Rapporteur provides her own reflections on the work of the mandate since she was appointed in 2008, focusing on the main tools at her disposal, lessons learned and challenges in the discharge of her functions.

  3. Based on the work of the mandate, 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. In the final chapter, the Special Rapporteur provides her conclusions and recommendations.

II. Activities during the reporting period

A. Communications transmitted to States

  1. Between 1 December 2011 and 30 November 2012, the Special Rapporteur sent 241 communications to 78 States. At the time of writing, 109 responses had been received, indicating a 45 per cent response rate — approximately the same as the previous year. Observations on communications sent during the period and on the corresponding responses by Governments are included in addendum 3 to the present report (A/HRC/25/55/Add.3).

B. Country visits

  1. During the reporting period, the Special Rapporteur visited the Republic of Korea from 29 May to 6 June 2013, and Togo from 7 to 11 October 2013. She would like to thank both Governments for accepting her requests to conduct country visits and facilitating them. Separate reports on these visits have been submitted as addenda 1 and 2 to the present report, respectively (A/HRC/25/55/Add.1 and 2). Both the Republic of Korea and Togo have submitted comments thereon (A/HRC/25/55/Add.4 and 5).

Pending requests

  1. As of December 2013, the Special Rapporteur has the following outstanding visit requests: Bahrain (2012), Belarus (2002, 2003, 2004, 2010, 2011), Bhutan (2001, 2002), Burundi (2012), Cambodia (2012), Chad (2002, 2003, 2004), China (2008, 2010), Dominican Republic (2012), Egypt (2003, 2008, 2010, 2012), Equatorial Guinea (2002), Fiji (2010, 2012), Indonesia (2012), Jamaica (2012), Kenya (2003, 2004), Kyrgyzstan (2012), Malawi (2012), Malaysia (2002, 2010), Maldives (2006), Mexico (2011), Mozambique (2003, 2004), Namibia (2011), Nepal (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2012), Oman (2012), Pakistan (2003, 2007, 2008, 2010), Philippines (2008, 2010, 2012), Russian Federation (2004, 2011), Saudi Arabia (2012), Senegal (2012), Singapore (2002, 2004), Sri Lanka (2008, 2010), Syrian Arab Republic (2008, 2010), Thailand (2012), Turkmenistan (2003, 2004), United Arab Emirates (2012), Uzbekistan (2001, 2004, 2007), Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela (2007, 2008, 2010), Viet Nam (2012) and Zimbabwe (2002, 2004, 2008, 2010, 2011). The Special Rapporteur regrets that some of these requests are long-standing, and hopes that States in question will give due attention and respond positively to her requests.

  2. The Special Rapporteur would like to thank the Governments of Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Turkey for having accepted her requests to conduct country visits. Owing to other prior commitments, the Special Rapporteur regrets that she was not able to carry out these visits before the end of her tenure. Concerning her request to visit Turkey, the Special Rapporteur would like to reiterate that she hopes that authorities will provide the mandate with sufficient time to visit the country in order to allow it to adequately assess the situation of defenders.

C. Cooperation with the United Nations system and intergovernmental organizations

  1. The Special Rapporteur has continued to place particular emphasis on cooperation with all bodies of the United Nations and other regional intergovernmental human rights organizations.

  2. From 28 to 30 January 2013, the Special Rapporteur convened consultations with the regional groups of Member States of the Human Rights Council to brief them about the work and challenges of her mandate, including her report on the use of legislation to regulate the activities on human rights defenders.

  3. From 22 to 23 February 2013, the Special Rapporteur participated in the consultation on human rights and the environment convened by the Independent Expert on human rights and the environment with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which took place in Nairobi.

  4. On 7 and 8 May 2013, the Special Rapporteur participated in the Twenty-sixth General Meeting of the International Coordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions in Geneva, where she presented her report on the role of national institutions in the defence and promotion of human rights, and in the protection of human rights defenders.

  5. From 10 to 11 June 2013, a staff member supporting her mandate participated in a meeting of stakeholders organized by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to develop recommendations on the protection of human rights defenders, which took place in Warsaw.

  6. On 28 October 2013, the Special Rapporteur presented her last report to the General Assembly (A/67/292). The report focused on the risks faced by defenders working in the context of large-scale development projects and proposed a human rights-based approach to development policy and projects.

  7. On 26 and 27 November 2013, the Special Rapporteur participated in the Sub-Regional Consultation on Strengthening the Protection Mandate of National Human Rights Institutions in Eastern Africa organized by OHCHR-Uganda and OHCHR Regional Office for East Africa, which took place in Kampala.

  8. On 5 and 6 December 2013, in the context of the European Union-NGO Forum on Human Rights, a staff member supporting her mandate participated in a round table on national public policies and protection mechanisms for human rights defenders, which took place in Brussels.

D. Invitations by Governments

  1. On 23 and 24 April 2013, the Special Rapporteur was invited to Berlin by the German Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs to brief its members about the work of her mandate, challenges and current trends. She also had meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the German Institute for Human Rights.

  2. She also delivered a keynote speech on 25 April 2013 at a conference on “Human Rights Defenders under Pressure: challenges of their work and how to support them”, organized by the German Embassy in the Czech Republic.

E. Cooperation with non-governmental organizations

  1. The Special Rapporteur has maintained fruitful cooperation with civil society at national, regional and international levels. She regrets that, owing to time constraints, she could not participate in all the conferences and seminars to which she was invited. On occasions where the Special Rapporteur could not be present herself, she endeavoured, to the extent possible, to have an OHCHR staff member participate on her behalf.

  2. On 30 January 2013, in connection with the meeting with regional groups of the Council, the Special Rapporteur participated in consultations with civil society in Geneva hosted by the International Service for Human Rights.

  3. From 2 to 4 April 2013, the Special Rapporteur participated in a conference entitled “Empowering defenders at risk” organized by Civil Rights Defenders, which took place in Stockholm.

  4. On 9 September 2013, a staff member participated in a workshop entitled “Human Rights Activism and Risk: Assessing the Global Impact of the European Union” at the Association of Human Rights Institutes Annual Conference. The workshop was organized by the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute with London Metropolitan University, the Centre for Applied Human Rights at University of York and Amnesty International, and took place in London.

  5. On 12 September 2013, the Special Rapporteur spoke at an international conference entitled “Civil Society under Assault: Global Repercussions and U.S. Responses”. This conference was sponsored by Freedom House and Human Rights First and took place in Washington, D.C.

  6. From 9 to 11 October 2013, a staff member participated in the Seventh Dublin Platform organized by Frontline Defenders.

  7. On 22 October 2013, a staff member participated at the African Human Rights Defenders Awards, given on the margins of the fifty-fourth ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and organized by the Pan-African Human Rights Defenders Network, which took place in Banjul.

  8. On 13 November 2013, the Special Rapporteur delivered a lecture in the context of a conference entitled “Worldwide under pressure – Human Rights Defenders”, hosted by Brot für die Welt and the German Institute for Human Rights in Berlin.

III. The work of the mandate (2008–2013): challenges and lessons learned

  1. The Special Rapporteur was appointed in May 2008 and feels privileged to have been given the opportunity to assess the situation of human rights defenders for six years. During this period, the Special Rapporteur has made use of all tools available to uphold the responsibilities of her mandate and contribute to the empowerment, visibility and protection of defenders all over the world.

A. Country visits

  1. During her tenure, the Special Rapporteur has conducted 10 country visits. She has visited two countries in Africa — Democratic Republic of the Congo (2009) and Togo (2009 and 2013); two in Europe and Central Asia — Armenia (2010) and Ireland (2012); one in North Africa — Tunisia (2012); two in Asia — India (2011) and Republic of Korea (2013), and two in Latin America — Colombia (2009) and Honduras (2012).

  2. Country visits have been excellent opportunities for the Special Rapporteur to learn about the situation of defenders on the ground, their challenges and successes, the risks they face and the strategies they use to continue their work. Visits have also been a useful tool to constructively engage with States, at all levels, to discuss the main issues affecting the environment in which defenders work and to raise awareness about the importance of their work.

  3. The Special Rapporteur has seen the impact of her visits in many different ways. For instance, after her visit to Colombia and meeting with the President, the latter issued a public statement acknowledging and supporting the work of defenders in the country. After her visit to Honduras, as a result of her recommendations, the authorities initiated consultations on the draft law and project of developing a mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders and journalists.

  4. The Special Rapporteur was the first mandate holder to conduct country visits jointly with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Togo, 2008, A/HRC/10/12/Add.2; and Tunisia, 2012, A/HRC/22/47/Add.2). She sees this as good practice, as it helps raise the profile of the visit, facilitates follow-up by the regional mechanism and relevant stakeholders, and creates synergies between international and regional mechanisms.

  5. The Special Rapporteur has, however, faced significant challenges in the context of country visits. She regrets that many of her visit requests have not received a response, or been acknowledged without further follow-up or rejected. In the context of some of her visits, she has noted with concern that the safety of the witnesses and other people who met with her was not always ensured and that they did not receive adequate protection. After her visit to Colombia in 2009, the Special Rapporteur was disturbed to learn that the organizer of a meeting with her in Barranquilla had been threatened a few hours prior to the meeting (A/HRC/13/22/Add.3, para. 15). Also, during her visit to India in 2011, a defender who made a statement on his case to the Special Rapporteur was arrested and then released on bail (A/HRC/19/55/Add.2, para. 165).

  6. The Special Rapporteur has also faced challenges in following up on her country visits owing to a lack of resources. She has conducted one follow-up visit during her mandate (Togo, 2013, A/HRC/25/55/Add.2) and has followed up on country situations through communications on individual cases and legislative changes where possible. Her annual report on observations on communications has also been used to follow-up on country situations. The Special Rapporteur encourages all stakeholders, particularly at the national level, to continue with their efforts to follow up on her recommendations.

  7. In addition to the official country visits, the Special Rapporteur has greatly appreciated the invitations that have been extended to her by State institutions, universities and non-governmental organizations to participate in conferences, events and workshops where she presented her views on the situation of human rights defenders and the role of her mandate. These visits have offered her invaluable opportunities to raise awareness about the role of defenders and engage with different stakeholders on the issue.

B. Thematic reports and resolutions

  1. The Special Rapporteur has presented a total of 12 thematic reports to the Council and the General Assembly. She is grateful for the valuable exchange of views and interesting insights that she has received during these discussions.

  2. The Special Rapporteur has made use of her reports to elaborate on issues which she considers important to raise awareness about the key role that defenders play and expose the challenges they face. Through this work, she hopes to have contributed to suggesting some of the basic elements which should be in place to provide defenders with a safe and enabling environment.

  3. The Special Rapporteur is pleased to note that States have adopted thematic resolutions that build on some of her reports, both to the Council and the General Assembly, on key issues for human rights defenders.

  4. In 2011, the Council adopted resolution 13/13 on the protection of human rights defenders in which States are urged to take timely and effective action to prevent and protect against attacks on and threats against defenders. In March 2013, the Council adopted resolution 22/6 focusing on the use of legislation, which is a landmark text and represents a strong stance taken by States against the misuse of legislation and criminalization of defenders. In November 2013, the General Assembly adopted a resolution on women human rights defenders, which is a cornerstone in acknowledging and supporting the important and legitimate work done by women defenders and those who work on women’s rights and gender issues.

  5. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the fact that the Council and the General Assembly have taken strong stances and sent clear messages to the international community on essential issues concerning defenders, building on her thematic work.

C. Communications and public statements

  1. The Special Rapporteur has made use of communications and press statements to engage in dialogue with Member States on human rights issues, including by raising cases of individual defenders and legislative developments that might negatively affect the environment in which defenders work.

  2. During her tenure,1 the Special Rapporteur has sent more than 1,500 communications, of which some 1,000 were urgent appeals and approximately 500 were letters of allegation, to around 130 States. The Special Rapporteur has often made use of communications in conjunction with other mandates, which has allowed her to address cases and situations in a more comprehensive manner and emphasize the indivisibility, interdependence, and interrelatedness of all human rights. The majority (90 per cent) of her communications have been joint communications with other mandates, such as freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, arbitrary detention, summary executions and torture. She has followed up on about one third of the communications or cases sent during her tenure.

  3. The breakdown by region shows that approximately 420 communications were sent to countries in the Asia-Pacific region (28 per cent); approximately 400 to countries in the Latin American region (26 per cent); more than 250 to the Middle East and North African region (17 per cent), about 230 to countries in Europe, North America and Central Asia (15.2 per cent) and approximately 200 to countries in Africa (13 per cent).

  4. In these communications, the Special Rapporteur has highlighted the situation of more than 4,500 individuals, of whom approximately 950 were women. She has sent approximately 50 communications on cases of reprisals against groups or individuals for having engaged with the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, and international human rights bodies. Overall, she has received replies to half of the communications sent during her tenure. However, only 40 per cent of the replies have substantively addressed the issues raised in the communications. The Special Rapporteur regrets that response rate of Governments to these communications has been very low, particularly given the seriousness of the nature of the allegations received and the urgency of some of the cases and situations.

  5. The Special Rapporteur believes that communications are an essential tool for the work of the mandate, as they address urgent cases that require the immediate attention of States. In addition, they allow her to raise concerns about situations and patterns and thereby could be instrumental in preventing violations against defenders. The Special Rapporteur firmly believes that communications have a strong humanitarian and protective dimension.

  6. Communications are also used to address legislative developments and call the attention of authorities and legislators to the potential negative impact of such changes on the environment in which defenders operate.

  7. Since 2012, a report with observations on communications has been presented annually. This report includes information on the communications sent during the previous reporting cycle and the replies received by States. It also includes observations by country in which the Special Rapporteur monitors and follows up selected individual cases, and makes remarks about specific contexts and patterns.

  8. The Special Rapporteur has also used communications as the empirical basis for thematic reports, such as on the challenges and risks faced by women defenders and those working for women’s rights and gender issues (A/HRC/16/44), and on the situation of certain groups at risks (A/HRC/19/55). She views these reports as a way to follow up on communications sent over a period of time and, mindful of the limitations and partial nature of the data, to offer analyses of patterns and trends.

  9. Together with country visits, communications keep the mandate close to the reality on the ground and can contribute to improving the situation of thousands of defenders worldwide. One positive example of the impact of a communication was the joint allegation letter sent by the Special Rapporteur, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to Chile in January 2012 regarding the draft Law on Strengthening the Preservation of Public Order addressing alleged restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The Government of Chile responded indicating that changes had been introduced into the draft law that took into account the concerns expressed by the three mandate holders (A/HRC/22/47/Add.4, para. 85).

  10. The Special Rapporteur has faced serious challenges while using communications during her tenure, mainly owing to the daunting volume of cases she receives and the lack of resources available to properly address all cases which would merit attention from the mandate.

  11. The Special Rapporteur is gravely concerned about information and credible allegations that she has received about cases and individuals who face reprisals for engaging or trying to engage with the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, and international human rights bodies. The Special Rapporteur has publicly condemned these acts as unacceptable. She has also called on States to refrain from intimidating defenders who engage with international human rights bodies, and to effectively protect them by launching prompt and impartial investigations into allegations and prosecuting those responsible for these violations.

  12. The Special Rapporteur has also chosen to use her voice to draw the attention of particular countries, as well as the international community. She has issued more than 70 public statements during the past six years about the situation of defenders in 28 countries. These statements have addressed a variety of issues, such as general situations, including elections and legislative changes negatively affecting the situation of defenders, and individual cases regarding defenders, including reprisals against those have attempted to engage with the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, or with legislative changes negatively affecting the situation of defenders.
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