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Global statement: Human rights defenders need more support and protection

The 9th of December 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders  and 10th of December the 70th anniversary of the UN’s Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) continue to face onerous challenges. In response to these challenges, Democracy Without Borders joined more than 900 other civil society organizations from across the world in supporting a global statement that urges governments “to create an enabling environment for HRDs to operate in line with regional and international human rights obligations and standards.”

70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and 20th of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

Elaboration of the declaration on human rights defenders began in 1984 and ended with the adoption of the text by the General Assembly in 1998, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Perhaps most importantly, the declaration is addressed not just to states and to human rights defenders, but to everyone. It tells us that we all have a role to fulfil as human rights defenders and emphasizes that there is a global human rights movement that involves us all.

Unfortunately, as is evident from the monitoring of the situation of HRDs, those at the forefront of defending, promoting and protecting human rights are prime targets of attacks perpetrated by state and non-state actors. HRDs are often victims of physical assaults, and arbitrary and unlawful detention is the number one tactic of repression used by states. It is the increasingly threatening situation for HRDs that motivates the current global statement.

Initiated by CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, the statement describes the UN Declaration on HRDs as an inspirational text and explains its significance for the human rights movement. More importantly, it also refers to reports from Frontline Defenders, Amnesty International, and CIVICUS that show the difficult and alarming situation of HRDs. According to CIVICUS, over the past two decades, more than 3,500 rights activists have been killed for their work. Last year alone, more than 300 were murdered in some 27 countries.

With reference to goal 16 in the Agenda 2030 according to which development and human rights cannot be separated, the statement calls on “states, government representatives, international organisations and non-state actors to recognise HRDs as important actors in nation building processes, respect their rights, support their work and protect them at all times.”

According to Democracy Without Borders’ mission statement, the organization “defends and supports democracy pioneers all over the world and speaks out against a restriction or refusal of democratic rights by national governments or other actors.”

Image: Supporters of the Yellow Umbrella human rights and democracy movement in Hong Kong face state persecution. Source: Studio Incendo/Flickr

Hans Leander
Hans is a board member of Democracy Without Borders-Sweden