The United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, visited Honduras last week to assess the human rights situation in the country – particularly regarding the protection of human rights defenders and indigenous peoples – a visit that took place in the context of continued threats to human rights defenders in the country. [OHCHR Press Release: Honduras; IACHR Press Release] Also last week, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) reported that three members of Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, COPINH) were attacked when last month they came across a blockade and were chased until they were able to get away. [IACHR Press Release] The IACHR has noted a pattern of attacks against human rights defenders in the country; in August 2016, independent experts from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned that Honduras was “one of the most dangerous countries for human rights defenders,” especially for defenders of the environment and of the right of indigenous peoples to land and territory. [IACHR Press Release] United Nations human rights experts and the IACHR have called on the State to end impunity for attacks against human rights defenders through improved investigations and prosecutions. [IACHR Press Release] See, e.g., Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples on her visit to Honduras, UN Doc. A/HRC/33/42/Add.2, 21 July 2016, paras. 86-93. Honduras is obligated to protect the rights to life and to humane treatment under several international human rights treaties to which it is a party. See, e.g., American Convention on Human Rights, arts. 4, 5; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, arts. 6, 7. This is the second visit to Honduras by a United Nations senior official since the country agreed to open a United Nations Human Rights Office in May 2015. [OHCHR Press Release: Honduras] Read more
Search Results for: human rights defenders
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) recently published the Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa that recommends repealing harmful and discriminatory laws, ensuring compliance with existing international standards that impact human rights defenders, and developing standards on women human rights defenders, among other recommendations. Adopted earlier this year during the 2nd International Symposium on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa held from March 27 to April 1, 2017, in Cotonou, Benin, civil society, national human rights institutions (NHRIs), and States in the region developed the Declaration. See ACommHPR, Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (adopted on 1 April 2017). The Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Madame Reine Alapini-Gansou, organized the colloquium with the goal of strengthening the protection of human rights defenders in the pan-African region through an assessment of the progress made, and the development of new strategies capable of responding to the current needs of human right defenders. See ACommHPR, 60th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Intersession Activity Report (2017), para. 35. The Declaration identifies the abuse of counter-terrorism laws, undue restrictions on the right to freedom of association, violence and threats of violence against defenders and their families, reprisals, and the targeting of certain groups of defenders, among others, as challenges to the protection of human rights defenders, and recommends, in part, raising awareness through the documentation of violations and publication of reports. See Cotonou Declaration on strengthening and expanding the protection of all Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2017). This Declaration is one of seven declarations adopted by the ACHPR since its founding, and while the ACHPR has adopted resolutions on human rights defenders, the existing treaties, declarations, and general comments in the pan-African Human Rights System do not address human rights defenders specifically.
On October 3, 2016, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced a new mandate for the Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, to lead UN work on ending intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders. [United Nations Information Centre] In a recent report, Ban Ki-moon emphasized the range and severity that reprisals can take and their connection to engagement with and the functioning of the United Nations human rights system. See Human Rights Council, Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/HRC/33/19, 16 August 2016. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has similarly noted, in particular, the risk to human rights defenders who are also members of other vulnerable groups, such as women, and the need to put an end to impunity for attacks on them. See Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, UN Doc. A/70/217, 30 July 2015. The new mandate is in keeping with the Secretary General’s previous recommendation that United Nations bodies do more to respond to early warning signs before reprisals grow more severe. See Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, paras. 50-55. Civil society praised the Secretary General’s decision to entrust a senior official with leading these efforts. [ISHR] Read more
Human rights monitors have expressed alarm at China’s ongoing crackdown on those critical of the government. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, recently drew attention to the Chinese government’s continued oppression of human rights defenders and government critics, specifically referring to a wave of arrests and harassment of civil society actors that began after the implementation of a controversial National Security Law last July. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016; OHCHR Press Release: China Security Law 2015] Some 250 human rights lawyers, legal assistants, and activists have been arrested in the ensuing eight months, and an additional 15 human rights lawyers were arrested last month, a majority of whom face charges of subversion of state power and could face between 15 years to life in prison. Among those arrested are some of China’s most prominent human rights lawyers, including Li Heping and Wang Yu, both known for defending activists and political dissidents. [Guardian; Reuters] Mr. Zeid echoed human rights organizations in calling on China to release those lawyers who were arrested for performing their professional duties. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016; Amnesty: Activists; Human Rights Watch]
The High Commissioner also stressed the crucial role of civil society and public participation in ensuring national security and the rule of law. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has called for the Chinese government to ensure that its national security efforts do not oppress the rights of public interest workers to exercise their freedoms of expression, assembly, and association and has, therefore, criticized China’s ongoing treatment of human rights defenders as threats to the country’s peace and security. The oppression in China is part of an increasing global trend to use national security measures to dilute the power and freedom of human rights workers. Accordingly, Mr. Zeid urged governments to recognize and respect the importance of human rights and public participation in ensuring national security and upholding the rule of law. [OHCHR Press Release: China 2016] Read more
IACtHR 109th Ordinary Session Addresses Custodial Death in Guatemala, Abuses of Colombian Human Rights Defenders
The 109th Ordinary Session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) began on June 18 and concluded on July 1, 2015, in San Jose, Costa Rica. During this session, the Court publicly heard two cases, Chinchilla Sandoval and Others v. Guatemala and Yarce and Others v. Colombia. The first case concerned the ill-treatment, followed by the death, of a diabetic woman incarcerated in Guatemala, the second case concerned the situation of five Colombian human rights defenders. The Court was also scheduled to: hold a public hearing regarding Panama’s request for an advisory opinion; analyze the possibility of issuing judgments for three cases, hold a private hearing on compliance with two Barbados judgments, and celebrate the 21st Annual Meeting of Presidents and Judges of Tribunals, Courts, and Constitutional Chambers of Latin America. [IACtHR Press Release (Spanish only)]
Videos of the public hearings and events are available on the Court’s Vimeo page.
On March 10, 2015, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights published a decision condemning Sudan’s mistreatment of human rights defenders, which remains a pressing concern in the country. In the case of Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida and Amir Suliman v. Sudan, the African Commission held that the government of Sudan violated several articles of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights when authorities arrested, detained, and tortured three human rights defenders who were accused of espionage based on their cooperation with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. ACommHPR, Monim Elgak, Osman Hummeida and Amir Suliman v. Sudan, Communication 379/09, 15th Extra-Ordinary Session, 7-14 March 2014. Since 2005, the Office of the Prosecutor has been investigating several Sudanese political leaders and other individuals charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide in connection with the situation in Darfur.
MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Special Rapporteurship was created in 2004 during the Commission’s 35th Ordinary Session. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 69, Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 4 June 2004. The mandate was extended in 2014 to create and monitor a database of cases of reprisals against human rights defenders. See ACommHPR, Resolution 273, Resolution on Extending the Scope of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa (2014). The Special Rapporteurship’s purpose is to investigate the situation of human rights defenders in Africa, while developing strategies to increase their protection throughout the African Union (AU) Member States.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
The Commission appoints Special Rapporteurs either by a consensus or by a vote. See ACommHPR, Rules of Procedure of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 2010, Rule 23(2). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders was originally authorized for two years, but it has been renewed by the Commission several times. See, e.g., ACommHPR, Resolution 69, Resolution on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 4 June 2004; ACommHPR, Resolution 125, Resolution on the Renewal of the Mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, 28 November 2007. As of October 2014, each individual appointed as Special Rapporteur has been a Commissioner, simultaneously serving on the African Commission.
The Special Rapporteur undertakes a number of duties, including providing guidance on alleged violations, addressing cases of reprisals against human rights defenders, conducting visits to Member States, and promoting the implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in Africa.
Guidance on Alleged Violations
The Special Rapporteur provides the Commission with guidance in responding to communications filed that concern the protection of human rights defenders. The mandate holder may lend expertise or insight during the Commission’s considering of complaints related to his or her mandate.
Cases of Reprisals
The Special Rapporteur’s mandate requires the gathering information on cases of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society stakeholders. The Special Rapporteur is responsible for creating a database of these cases, effectively addressing them, and following up when necessary.
The Special Rapporteur may handle these cases in a variety of ways, including engaging the State in constructive dialogue, or issuing press releases publicizing the human rights violations. See Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 55th Ordinary Session (2014).
The Special Rapporteur may also propose that the Commission send an urgent appeal to a State concerning a case if it constitutes an emergency matter, as defined in Rule 79 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure.
Although not explicitly included within the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, the Special Rapporteur has undertaken country visits to Member States, with their consent. During these visits, which are also known as missions, the Special Rapporteur engages with government officials to learn about the challenges human rights defenders face. The Special Rapporteur collaborates with Member States to develop and recommend effective strategies to protect human rights defenders, and to follow up on the implementation of those recommendations.
According to Rule 60 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure, after the completion of a mission, the Special Rapporteur has a duty to publish a Mission Report, which may be found on its website. These reports contain general recommendations to the State, and often include specific recommendations to the international community and civil society, among others.
The Special Rapporteur is responsible for seeking and receiving information from individuals, governmental and non-governmental organizations and institutions, and other stakeholders concerning cases or situations that involve human rights defenders.
Along with information gathered from such actors and during missions, the Special Rapporteur disseminates and obtains information through promotional activities, such as regional workshops, conferences, and expert meetings. The Special Rapporteur often coordinates these activities with other relevant Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups under the Commission or the United Nations. See, e.g., Reine Alapini Gansou, Intersession Activity Report by Madam Reine Alapini Gansou Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa, Intersession Activity Report, 51st Ordinary Session (2012). The Special Rapporteur has also issued calls for articles and papers on the protection of human rights defenders in Africa.
On the basis of the information received, the Special Rapporteur may propose that the Commission take a certain action or decision, or he or she may raise awareness of an issue in his or her reports, press releases, or other activities.
The Special Rapporteur submits Intersession Activity Reports to the Commission each year, which outline the activities the Rapporteurship has undertaken. The Special Rapporteur has a duty to include reports on cases of reprisals within its Intersession Activity Reports. The Commission also prepares an annual Activity Report that it submits to the African Union Assembly, which includes information gathered from the Special Rapporteur, summarizing positive developments and areas of concern regarding human rights in Africa.
The Special Rapporteur may be contacted by:
Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
31 Bijilo Annex Layout, Kombo North District
Western Region P.O. Box 673 Banjul
- Email: The Special Rapporteur’s website contains an automated system to send the rapporteur emails, by selecting the “Contact Commissioner” link.
The Special Rapporteur does not accept individual complaints or requests for provisional measures. Such communications must be addressed to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. For additional information, see the Commission’s Guidelines for the Submission of Communications or IJRC’s resources on the African human rights system.
MANDATE OF THE RAPPORTEUR ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission created a Unit for Human Rights Defenders in 2001 and established the Rapporteurship during its 141st Session in 2011. See, e.g., IACHR, Press Release No. 28/11. Its purpose is to protect people who defend human rights throughout the Organization of American States (OAS) Member States. Human rights defenders are not only activists, but also “justice operators,” who ensure that individuals have access to justice, including judges, attorneys, and ombudspersons.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
One of the Commission’s seven Commissioners is selected to be the Rapporteur for a three-year term, which may be renewed once. Each Commissioner serves in an independent capacity and does not represent his or her country of citizenship. The Commissioner who holds the office undertakes his or her work on a part-time basis, including during the three times per year that the Commission is in session. One or more lawyers in the Commission’s Executive Secretariat, in Washington, D.C., assist the Rapporteur.
The Rapporteur has many duties, including conducting country visits to OAS Member States, undertaking specialized studies, and engaging in promotional activities. The studies help to develop international standards for protecting human rights defenders. The Rapporteurship also advises the Commission in its processing of individual petitions, cases, and requests for provisional and precautionary measures that involve protecting human rights defenders. On its website, the Rapporteurship lists the Inter-American decisions and judgments addressing the rights of human rights defenders.
The Rapporteurship conducts country visits to OAS Member States, with their consent. The Rapporteur is often accompanied by other members of the Commission or members of the Executive Secretariat staff. During country visits, the Rapporteur engages with government officials and civil society organizations, which allows the Rapporteur to expand his or her understanding of the problems human rights defenders and justice operators encounter. The Rapporteur uses this information to develop recommendations to Member States to assist them in fulfilling their international obligations. The Rapporteurship provides brief descriptions of its country visits on its webpage, and also links to sections of country reports published by the Commission following more general on-site visits.
Aside from information gathered during country visits, the Rapporteurship often obtains information through its participation in promotional activities on human rights defenders, including seminars, workshops, conferences, and specialized meetings. The Rapporteurship is often invited to participate in panel discussions or forums on the challenges that human rights defenders face and the best practices for promoting and protecting their rights. The Office of the Rapporteur has also issued questionnaires to gather information for its reports.
Additionally, the Commission holds thematic hearings to gather information from States and civil society on particular issues. The Rapporteur may participate in these hearings or refer to the information discussed in subsequent reports. View the Commission’s searchable database of public hearings to see those related to human rights defenders and justice operators.
The Rapporteurship publishes thematic reports and studies on issues affecting human rights defenders and justice operators. The Rapporteurship has a duty to provide the Commission with annual reports of its activities, which the Commission then shares in its own Annual Reports to the OAS General Assembly. The Rapporteurship has collected excerpts of these reports related to its activities through 2010 on its website. To view reports on the Rapporteurship’s activities in more recent years, see the Commission’s annual reports page.
The Rapporteurship may be contacted by:
Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
- Email: email@example.com
The Rapporteurship does not receive individual complaints or requests for precautionary measures. Such petitions and requests must be addressed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For additional information, see the petition form or IJRC’s resources on the Inter-American human rights system.
MANDATE OF THE SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is one of the thematic special procedures overseen by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The mandate holder supports the implementation of the 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and gathers information about the situations of human rights defenders globally. The Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits and communicates with governments, which makes it possible to understand broader trends and to identify best practices for protection of the rights of human rights defenders.
The Special Rapporteur must apply a gender perspective throughout the work of his or her mandate.
COMPOSITION AND WORKING METHODS
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur lasts for a period of three years. The mandate is filled by one highly qualified individual.
The UN Commission on Human Rights established the Special Rapporteurship in 2000 with Resolution 2000/61. The Human Rights Council extended the mandate in 2008 (Resolution 7/8), 2011 (Resolution 16/5), and 2014 (Resolution 25/18).
In fulfilling the mandate, the Special Rapporteur undertakes country visits, communicates with governments concerning information and complaints received regarding alleged rights violations, and submits activity reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.
One important function of the Special Rapporteur is to conduct country visits, which it does on the basis of an invitation from the country concerned. Country visits provide the Special Rapporteur an opportunity to gain first-hand knowledge about the situation for human rights defenders and to identify both challenges to and best practices for their protection.
The Special Rapporteur undertakes one to three country visits per year, to States that have extended an invitation. View the list of previous country visits and the Special Rapporteur’s subsequent reports here.
More than 100 countries have extended standing invitations to country visits by all thematic special procedures. View the list of countries that have extended standing invitations here.
Receiving Information & Complaints
The Special Rapporteur receives information and complaints about alleged violations of the rights of human rights defenders. Importantly, the Special Rapporteur does not issue decisions concerning individual complaints and cannot require the State to remedy any alleged violation; rather, the Special Rapporteur raises the issue of concern with the relevant State. The Special Rapporteur may contact the government concerned to invite comment on the allegation, seek clarification, remind the government of its international obligations, or request information on steps being taken by the government to redress the situation. Generally called “communications,” these exchanges with the government can take a variety of forms of varying degrees of significance. Specifically, the Special Rapporteur contacts a government through either an allegation letter or an urgent appeal.
The Special Rapporteur keeps confidential all communications to and from the government until it includes them in the joint periodic reports submitted to the UN Human Rights Council at each of its regular sessions.
In all communications, the Special Rapporteur is careful not to draw any conclusions about the facts of the case. Instead, the Special Rapporteur simply presses for the government to ensure that the rights of human rights defenders are not violated.
Generally, the Special Rapporteur sends an allegation letter in circumstances where the alleged violation has already occurred, or is not so pressing as to warrant sending an urgent appeal. An allegation letter generally contains a request for the government to clarify the substance of the allegation and to forward any information related to the allegation to the Special Rapporteur.
The urgent appeals procedure is reserved for cases in which there are sufficiently reliable allegations that a human rights defender’s rights might be violated and that the situation is time-sensitive in terms of loss of life, life-threatening situations, or imminent or ongoing damage of a grave nature. If it appears that the allegation letters procedure is unlikely to address the situation in a timely enough manner, the Special Rapporteur will send an urgent appeal to the government concerned so that it can intervene to end or prevent violations.
Reports to the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council
The Special Rapporteur reports annually to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly on all of its activities relating to its mandate. These reports are available on the Special Rapporteur’s Annual Reports webpage.
SUBMITTING INFORMATION OR COMPLAINTS
Complaints should be submitted to the Special Rapporteur via the online submission form. Complaints and other information submitted the Special Rapporteur should comply with its guidelines, and include the following minimum details:
- identity of the alleged victim(s) or community(ies) affected,
- identity of the alleged perpetrator(s) of the violation,
- the date, place, time, and detailed description of the circumstances of the incident(s) or alleged violation, and
- the identity of the person(s) or organization(s) submitting the communication, which will be kept confidential.
The Special Rapporteur may also be contacted by:
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
c/o Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Palais des Nations
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
CH-1211 Geneva 10
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Fax: +41 22 917 90 06
UN Human Rights Council Focuses Attention on Promoting and Protecting Human Rights Defenders, Civil Society Space, and Peaceful Protest during 25th Regular Session
During its 25th regular session last month, the UN Human Rights Council undertook several measures to address the challenges and risks faced by human rights defenders and other civil society actors. On March 11, it held a panel discussion to analyze the factors that reduce civil society space and to evaluate strategies to promote an interactive partnership between States and civil society organizations (CSOs). Later in the session, the Council also adopted a resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, and renewed the mandates of the Special Rapporteurs on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and on Freedom of Expression. Read more