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1998 | 54th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (16 March - 24 April 1998)

The situation of human rights defenders in Mexico and Colombia

March 16 – April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Mr. Chairman.

Franciscans International in collaboration with Dominicans declares its strong support for the Draft Declaration on the rights of human rights defenders. In view of the importance and the precarious and dangerous nature of their work in many countries of the world, it is incumbent upon this body to affirm the vital role of human rights advocates and imperative that the Commission adopt the Declaration.

Human rights defenders often live at risk of being arrested, tortured, attacked, harassed and in some cases assassinated for working for human rights. Human rights workers are men and women, young and old, of all races, religions and cultures who believe strongly in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and who are committed to advocating on behalf of those whose rights are violated and infringed.

Any compromise on the principles contained in the Draft Declaration would diminish rights, which are already guaranteed to defenders in existing international human rights instruments.

Once adopted by the Commission, the next step will be to ensure that steps are taken for the implementation of the Declaration worldwide. There will also be a need to consider the development of appropriate implementation and monitoring mechanisms.

Such a Declaration is necessary since in a number of countries, human rights defenders or those who speak out against rights violations receive threats, are persecuted and expelled. For example, in Mexico, since 1995 one hundred human rights defenders working for different NGOs have received death threats and have suffered harassment and persecution. Some have seen their homes broken into and their documents stolen. Presently, there appears to be a systematic campaign underway in Mexico to discredit human rights organizations alleging that they have political and financial objectives. For example, last week a senior government official from Mexico publicly stated in this chamber concerning the problems in Chiapas that Mexico wanted NGOs to be part of the solution for the conflict in Chiapas, not part of the problem. The implication for many was clear and most alarming. Further, the Mexican authorities have also expelled members of international NGOs delegations that were investigating the human rights situation in that country.

We are also concerned about the expulsion of four foreign priests who had been working with indigenous peoples for more than ten years in the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas in the State of Chiapas.

Moreover, Mexico has with Peru and Colombia one of the highest records of attacks against journalist in Latin America. These attacks violate the right of exercising one’s profession and the right of people to information as stipulated in articles 6 and 11 of the Draft Declaration.

In Colombia, the government is still implementing the Doctrine of the National Security which considers trade unionists, members of social organizations and human rights defenders as internal enemies and are military targets in the conflict.

Further, the highest military and civil authorities interpret complaints on gross human rights violations presented against state agents as a campaign to discredit institutions. Many of the human rights NGOs with headquarters in small towns had to shut down their activities because of repressive measures and a great number of defenders are now living in exile.

For the NGO community, all this is further evidence that the Draft Declaration is of utmost importance if we are to make progress in human rights on this the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Franciscans International in collaboration with Dominicans recommends the following:

  1. That the commission on Human Rights adopt the Draft Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and that it move expeditiously through the system for adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1998.
  2. That item 19 of the Commission remain on the agenda under the title of “Implementation of the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders” for an annual review and monitoring of the Declaration.
  3. That the Commission on Human Rights considers appointing a Special Rapporteur for the ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the Declaration.

Thank you, Mr.Chairman.

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