Statement

UN Human Rights Council resolution on human rights defenders calls for an end to impunity and the protection of dissent

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ARTICLE 19

21 Mar 2013

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ARTICLE 19 welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) adoption of a new resolution on human rights defenders (HRDs), without a vote and with broad cross-regional support.

The resolution is significant as, among other things, it:

  • Strongly calls upon States to end impunity for acts of intimidation or reprisals against HRDs, and to avoid criminalisation and other impediments to their work;
  • Recognises the importance of new forms of communication, online and offline, for the work of HRDs in promoting and striving for the protection of human rights;
  • Calls upon States to not impose discriminatory restrictions on potential sources of funding aimed at supporting the work of HRDs;
  • Recognises access to information as a human right, and calls upon public authorities to proactively disclose information on human rights abuses.

We call upon States to ensure the resolution translates into concrete action to protect and facilitate the work of HRDs, including full protection for their freedom of expression rights.

The resolution on “protecting human rights defenders” (A/HRC/22/L.13) was adopted at the 22nd Session of the UNHRC in Geneva on 21 March 2013. The resolution, tabled by Norway, received the support of 62 states across 6 continents, and was adopted without a vote.

We welcome the resolution as a significant statement by the UNHRC reaffirming the positive obligation upon States to facilitate the work of HRDs, and remove obstacles to their work, including legislation that illegitimately criminalises the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and information.

In particular, we welcome the fact that the resolution supports the obligation upon States to:

  • Create a safe and enabling environment in which HRDs can operate free from hindrance and insecurity, including the duty to end impunity;
  • Ensure laws do not prevent public officials from being held accountable and that penalties for defamation are proportionate;
  • Ensure laws to protect national security are not misused to target HRDs and that counter-terrorism measures comply with international human rights standards;
  • Ensure HRDs can perform their important role in the context of peaceful protests;
  • Ensure that reporting requirements for civil society do not inhibit functional autonomy, and that no law criminalises or places discriminatory restrictions on funding sources;
  • Ensure access to information as a human right, and requires public authorities to proactively disclose information, including on grave violations of human rights;
  • Protect the expression of dissenting views;
  • Protect the right of all people to access and use the Internet.

ARTICLE 19 shares the concerns of co-sponsors for this resolution that there is an international trend towards the criminalisation of the work of HRDs, and increasing restrictions on civic space for the expression of dissent. The following observations indicate this trend:

  • In reports on Brazil and Mexico released last week, ARTICLE 19 revealed that violence against HRDs in both countries increased in 2012. There has been a 20% increase in violence against journalists in Mexico, with 7 journalists murdered in 2012 for something they said, and in Brazil last year 1 journalist or HRD was murdered every 4 weeks. Mexico and Brazil co-sponsorship of today’s HRD resolution must translate into concrete action to tackle impunity for violence at home.
  • In the report “traditional values? Attempts to censor sexuality”, ARTICLE 19 expressed deep concern at the criminalisation of the work of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) HRDs through so-called bans on “homosexual propaganda”. These bans are condemned as an attempt to censor LGBTI people, to exclude them from public debates, and legitimise violence against them. At the same time, Russia leads a campaign at the UNHRC to embed the invented concept of “traditional values” in the international human rights framework, a dangerous initiative that is incompatible with the universality of human rights and is a calculated attempt to justify discriminatory practices against HRDs. The HRD resolution supported by the UNHRC today clearly condemns such laws. 
  • In 2012, ARTICLE 19 also highlighted dangerous changes to federal legislation in Russia requiring civil society organisations that engage in political activities and receive foreign sources of funding to register as “foreign agents”. The reforms add to the broad legislative arsenal with which the authorities can arbitrarily criminalise and silence the expression of dissent. The new UNHRC resolution makes clear that such discriminatory restrictions on the sources of funding violate international human rights law.  

ARTICLE 19 sees the new resolution as a timely response to such significant challenges, and calls on States to ensure that it translates to real action on the ground to stop the criminalisation, intimidation, and stigmatisation of HRDs. We call on all states to review their domestic laws and practices to ensure that they comply with the new resolution and with other international human rights standards in this area.