UN consensus on strengthening protection of human rights defenders

A Norwegian-led resolution on human rights defenders has been adopted by consensus in the UN Human Rights Committee.

‘At a time when human rights are coming under severe pressure, it is important that a united UN calls for strengthened protection of human rights defenders,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide.

Norway has played a leading role in the UN’s efforts to protect human rights defenders ever since the declaration on human rights defenders was adopted more than 20 years ago.

Far too many human rights defenders are subjected to threats and violence in connection with their work. The UN has documented that at least 1019 human rights defenders were killed in the period 2015-2017.

The resolution, which was adopted on 19 November, sets out the responsibility of states to promote the right to work for one’s own and others’ rights in safe conditions, as well as the right of human rights defenders to protection when needed.

Read more: New resolution on Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders play an important role in promoting peace, democracy and sustainable development. The current trend of increasing numbers of attacks on human rights defenders must be reversed. All states have a responsibility to ensure that human rights apply to all people,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.

In some countries, concrete protection measures need to be developed. Examples include systems for reporting incidents and for enabling human rights defenders in high-risk situations to rapidly contact the relevant authorities. This is also set out in the resolution.

Women human rights defenders are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and violence. Many are also intimidated in other ways, for example in online and social media smear campaigns. The resolution sets out that effective practical measures need to be implemented to protect women human rights defenders, including in cyberspace.

Many attacks on human rights defenders are made by non-governmental actors, including actors from the business sector.

‘The resolution urges all countries to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. The business sector must also take its responsibility for human rights seriously,’ Ms Eriksen Søreide said.

Ms Eriksen Søreide also pointed out that the situation of environmental human rights defenders is critical.

‘It is significant that the resolution recognises the vulnerable situation of environmental campaigners and thus helps to put this issue higher up on the UN agenda,’ she said.

The resolution was presented with the support of 84 countries from all regions.

Statistics from the UN:

Read more: New resolution on Human Rights Defenders