Item 17: Human Rights Defenders

March 20 - April 28, 2000
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Joint Statement on behalf of Franciscans International, the International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Association for the Prevention of Torture, Baha'i International Community, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Inter-African Committee, International Commission of Jurists, International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, International Movement for Fraternal Union Among Races and Peoples, South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre and the Lutheran World Federation.

1. The twelve co-signatories non-governmental organizations (NGOs) call on the members, of the 56th Commission on Human Rights to create a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders.

2. This new special procedure of the Commission is urgently required because human nights defenders, in all regions of the world, are confronting a complex variety of both brutal and subtle forms of repression, due to their work- in the promotion and protection of universally recognized human rights, be they economic, civil, cultural, political or social rights (including core labor standards).

3. For many years now, the UN Commission has heard of how human rights defenders and their organizations have been subjected to severe human. rights violations and have not been allowed to operate freely. Members of human rights organizations for example have been arbitrarily detained on trumped up charges; they have "disappeared", assassinated, tortured, threatened with death, submitted to abusive judicial prosecution, could not register as human rights organizations, suffered arbitrary financial and taxation scrutiny, intimidated., harassed and their passports withdrawn. While several of these violations can and have been taken up by some existing UN human rights mechanisms their mandates do not cover the myriad of other forms of repression.

4. The work of human rights organizations is often obstructed by limitations imposed on the right to freedom of association, yet there is no UN human rights mechanisms to monitor restrictions on this fundamental right, nor are there mechanisms on the freedom. of movement.

5. In the current circumstances how can the UN help human rights defenders who want to set up a human nights association in a country with restrictive legislation? To whom can human rights organizations appeal for assistance when. a government imprisons their leaders and threatens to close down their NGO because it exercised its right " solicit, receive and utilize resources for the express purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. Which UN mechanism can respond to harsh national legislation to scrutinize and control funding of NGOs, with the clear intention of undermining their work and existence ? Where do human rights NGOs seek help when they are not permitted to research abuses because a government prevents access to a region or even to the country itself ?Who in the UN can come to the aid of human rights defenders who are: suspended from their employment because of their human rights activities; are victims of orchestrated smear campaigns in a national press heavily influenced by its government? Where can. human. rights defenders turn to for immediate help in the UN when their families are harassed by State authorities? These are just some of the forms of repression of human rights defenders and their associations to which the UN must effectively respond.

6. The Commission's previous appeals for the existing mechanisms to deal with the problems of human rights defenders have therefore inevitably proved to be an inadequate response. Several rapporteurs have publicly expressed their views to this 56th session of the Commission that a new mechanism is urgently required. Furthermore in response to last year's Commission resolution (1999/66) the special rapporteurs /representatives, experts and chairpersons of special procedures of the Commission have specifically acknowledged in their most recent annual meeting, that the "nature of the problem was not one that could be covered satisfactorily by them alone in the discharge of their specific mandates"'.

7. NGOs, the existing mechanisms and also some States have argued for several years now that a new mechanism is required to act on the variety of problems faced by human rights defenders and to develop an overall understanding an analysis of the issues. This global and conceptual approach would enable co-operation and interaction with governments, especially in improving the implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It would also enhance the ability of the UN to act effectively and expeditiously to all types of problems that human rights defenders encounter in their work.

8. NGOs have welcomed the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by all members of the UN General Assembly, on 9 December 1998. The declaration addresses and recognizes the variety of rights necessary for "individuals, groups and associations to promote respect for, and foster knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedoms." Yet no mechanism. has been established to promote and monitor its universal implementation. It now falls on the members of the 56th Commission on Human Rights to fill that gap.

9. We. therefore appeal to you to create a strong and effective mandate for a special rapporteur on human rights defenders to:

(a) propose ways to improve the implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;

(b) examine measures and practices that enhance or impede the work of human rights defenders and

(c) devise methods to better protect the rights of human rights defenders.

10. We believe that such a mechanism will prove to be a cornerstone in upholding some of the fundamental purposes and principles of the United Nations, in the promotion of universal peace, security, development, international law and human rights.

Oral, Written or Summary: 
Meeting Year: 


UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-sixth session
Meeting Name: 
UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-sixth session