GENEVA (11 March 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, expressed today deep concern about continuous violations against rights defenders by both State and non-State actors, ranging from threats and criminalization, to torture and killings.
“Defending rights remains a dangerous activity as the space for civil society and defenders keeps on shrinking in many countries,” she warned during the presentation of her last report to the UN Human Rights Council, after six years monitoring, reporting and advising on the situation of human rights defenders worldwide.
“I have observed the development of sophisticated forms of silencing the voices of defenders and impeding their work, including the application of legal and administrative provisions or the misuse of the judicial system to criminalize and the stigmatization of their activities in the public scene,” Ms. Sekaggya said.
The independent expert stressed that “these developments not only endanger the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders and undermine their work; they also impose a climate of fear to society at large.”
“The defense and promotion of human rights is a legitimate and courageous activity which is necessary to ensure that communities can fully enjoy their entitlements and realize their potential,” she said. “Defenders can play a key role in safeguarding democracy and ensuring that it remains open, pluralistic and participatory and in line with the principles of rule of law and good governance.”
Ms. Sekaggya also noted with concern she has received reports of human rights defenders facing intimidation and acts of reprisals for having been in touch with the United Nations, its mechanisms and representatives in the field of human rights, and international human rights bodies.
“I find it deeply disturbing that many defenders do not dare to submit cases to UN independent experts out of fear for their and their family’s safety,” she said. “Defenders should be able to have safe and unhindered access to international human rights bodies.”
“States should ensure that all acts of intimidation and reprisals against defenders are condemned, that the acts are promptly investigated and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” she said, while reminding that “States have the primary responsibility to ensure that defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment for defenders that empowers them to claim all human rights for all and claim rights for all.”
In her report, Ms. Sekaggya identifies basic elements to create and consolidate a safe and enabling environment for defenders, and lists a number of specific recommendations to States, the international community, non-state actors and human rights defenders.
The expert urged States to ensure a conducive legal, institutional and administrative framework for human rights defenders, calling for access to justice and an end to impunity for violations against defenders.
The Special Rapporteur also urged States to raise awareness about the legitimate and vital work of human rights defenders and publicly support their work.
Margaret Sekaggya was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders by the Human Rights Council in March 2008. Ms. Sekaggya is a lawyer from Uganda with over 30 years of experience with justice and human rights issues, including as Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, as a judge and as a university lecturer. She is independent from any Government and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/SRHRDefenders/Pages/SRHRDefendersIndex.aspx