In a report to the Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, said that “States can and should do more to protect defenders”. She stressed that 25 years after States agreed on a Declaration to promote and protect the work of human rights defenders, their contributions were often ignored.
The expert who champions the work of rights defenders worldwide, also reminded the Council that in 1998, the Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted by consensus and they had all “agreed to respect and implement it”.
Ms. Lawlor highlighted the challenging circumstances in which human rights defenders operated worldwide:
“It is exactly because defenders peacefully confront powerful vested interests, because they expose corruption, because they refuse to accept injustice, because they challenge criminal gangs, because they talk about issues governments want to hide, because they tell the truth, and because they make good things happen, that they are attacked.”
The report includes detail on some of the successes achieved by human rights defenders worldwide, including changing laws, getting people released from prison following miscarriages of justice, providing humanitarian aid, and exposing corruption.
The report shows that for some human rights defenders, just continuing their work under immense pressure is in itself a significant achievement, Ms. Lawlor said.
The report notes that victories for human rights secured by defenders, rarely happen overnight but are often the result of long struggles requiring perseverance and the help of networks and other allies.
“Ignoring or underplaying the vital contribution of human rights defenders increases the risks to them and their work,” said Ms. Lawlor. “This anniversary year of the Declaration should be one of celebration and recognition of the successes of defenders, one of not just recommitting to help them, but of showing in practical terms what that help should be,” she said.
The report includes practical recommendations for States, based on consultations with defenders, NGOs, academic experts and government officials, on how to better support the work of defenders.
Special Rapporteurs like Ms. Lawlor, and other UN Human Rights Council-appointed rights experts, work on a voluntary and unpaid basis, are not UN staff, and work independently from any government or organisation.