Johannesburg — Global civil society alliance, CIVICUS welcomes the landmark adoption of UN Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/22/L.13, “Protecting Human Rights Defenders”, as a vital step in creating a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders and civil society organizations (CSOs) can operate free from unwarranted restrictions.
The resolution, spearheaded by the government of Norway, was adopted at the 22nd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 March 2013 with broad cross-regional support from 70 UN Member States. CIVICUS highlights the following provisions of the resolution codifying a number of essential protections for human rights defenders:
- The Council has called on UN Member States to guarantee that national regulations and legislation affecting human rights defenders are clearly defined, non-retroactive and consistent with international human rights law. To this end, the Council urges UN member states to immediately amend national anti-terrorism legislation to protect against the criminalisation or stigmatisation of human rights defenders including the use of arbitrary detention and detention without due process guarantees.
- Moreover, the resolution takes unprecedented steps in stipulating specific measures governments should take to foster an enabling operating environment for civil society at the national level. Specifically, the council calls on states to ensure that registration requirements for civil society are non-discriminatory, expeditious and inexpensive and allow for the possibility of appeal. The council further calls on governments to ensure that reporting requirements for CSOs “do not inhibit functional autonomy,” while ensuring that civil society groups, especially those working on human rights, are not subjected to discriminatory restrictions on access to national and international funding.
- In response to the ongoing global crackdown on nonviolent protest movements, the council urges states to ensure that “human rights defenders can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests” consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and international human rights law. The resolution further calls on governments to refrain from acts of reprisals including subjecting peaceful demonstrators to excessive or indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary arrest or detention, torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, enforced disappearance and abuse of criminal and civil proceedings.
The resolution comes in the wake of growing criminalisation of the activities of human rights defenders across the globe through the adoption and discriminatory invocation of restrictive legislation.
In Ethiopia, CIVICUS has documented the devastating impact of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation which prevents human rights groups from receiving more than 10% of their funding from international sources.
In Russia, the government has introduced a spate of restrictive regulations, including amendments to the Law on Public Rallies which drastically increases fines for participating in unsanctioned demonstrations, aimed at preventing human rights defenders from carrying out their legitimate work. In Turkey, thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, students and civil society activists remain in prison under vague and overly broad provisions of the country’s anti-terrorism laws.
While the adoption of the Resolution A/HRC/22/L.13 represents a necessary step in protecting the rights of human rights defenders, it is imperative that the resolution is met with adequate support and engagement at the national level. Accordingly, CIVICUS calls on all UN Member States to engage with national civil society to give immediate effect to recommendations made in the resolution to bring national legislation impacting the work of human rights defenders in line with international human rights law.
Renate Bloem, CIVICUS’ Head Representative to the United Nations in Geneva said: “By adopting specific recommendations aimed at creating an enabling environment for human rights defenders, the Council has shown laudable leadership in addressing the escalating campaign to delegitimise and suppress the work of human rights defenders. The resolution marks a tremendous victory for global civil society.”
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global alliance of civil society. Founded in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, CIVICUS is dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world, especially in areas where participatory democracy and citizens’ freedom of association are challenged. For more information, go to www.civicus.org