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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS INTERACTIVE DIALOGUE ON CULTURAL RIGHTS AND BEGINS DIALOGUE ON THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
4 March 2020

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune. It also began an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and concluded an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver.

Ms. Bennoune presented two reports on her visits to Maldives and Poland, and one thematic report on cultural rights defenders. The Special Rapporteur underlined that the work of cultural rights defenders in every region of the world was essential for the implementation of an integral part of the universal human rights framework : cultural rights. Cultural rights defenders were often not fully recognized for their work, did not receive adequate support, and were not granted appropriate protection.

Maldives and Poland took the floor as concerned countries.

In the ensuing discussion on cultural rights, speakers agreed that the right to a cultural identity was one of the most basic human rights. Respect for cultural rights was essential for development, peace and stability, eradication of poverty, construction of social cohesion, as well as the promotion of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding between individuals and groups, in all their diversity. Speakers noted with concern that specific kinds of human rights abuses were on the rise and asked the Special Rapporteur about her recommendations to mainstream the work of cultural rights defenders across all work of human rights defenders. They reminded that climate change, especially in small island countries, was causing irreversible damage to tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Certain speakers raised their voice against cultural hegemony inspired by neoliberal values and ideas. They opposed the generalizations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report, stressing that terms and expressions that were not part of a local culture should not be imposed under the guise of international human rights mechanisms.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue were : European Union, Solomon Islands, Qatar, Cuba, Togo, Libya, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Timor Leste, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, France, Philippines, Uruguay, Cyprus, Montenegro, Egypt, Greece, Ecuador, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Indonesia, Cameroon, China, Nepal, Norway, Georgia, Marshall Islands, Armenia, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and Azerbaijan.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations : Amnesty International, Freemuse – The World Forum on Music and Censorship, International PEN, Society for Threatened Peoples, Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme, International Organization for the Right to Education and Freedom of Education, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Article 18 – International Centre Against Censorship, British Humanist Association, and Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos.

The Council then started its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst.

Mr. Forst presented two reports on his country visits to Colombia and Mongolia. As for his thematic report on the situation of human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations, the Special Rapporteur noted that in conflict-affected areas, human rights defenders challenged impunity and represented victims of violations of international law before national, regional and international jurisdiction. As such, they were the potential target of a range of State and non-State actors. In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur reiterated that the situation of human rights defenders would not improve without a determined collective action to recognize their vital role for the better functioning of societies.

Colombia and Mongolia spoke as concerned countries. The Colombian Office of the Ombudsperson also took the floor.

In the ensuing discussion on human rights defenders, speakers shared the Special Rapporteur’s views on the critical role that human rights defenders played towards peacebuilding and sustainable development. They acknowledged the extreme risks that defenders faced, and that women human rights defenders were particularly exposed to gender-based violence, including sexual violence. It was worrying that defenders were often targeted in public discourse and online, accused of being “foreign agents” or “internal enemies.” They were also subjected to judicial harassment through the misuse of anti-terrorism, national security or drug-related legislation. Often, in situations of armed conflict, there was criminalization of those questioning State authorities.

Speaking in the discussion were Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Organization), European Union, Croatia (on behalf of a group of countries), Peru (on behalf of a group of countries), Czech Republic, Canada, Germany, UN Women, State of Palestine, Australia, Brazil, Switzerland, Burkina Faso, Estonia, Botswana, Cuba, Liechtenstein, Afghanistan, Iraq, Bahrain, Philippines, Italy, Luxembourg and Lesotho.

At the beginning of the meeting the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Hilal Elver. A summary of the first part of the discussion, which took part on Tuesday, 3 March, can be read here.

In the discussion on the right to food, speakers indicated that the right to food was a fundamental right, which provided every citizen with the right to be safe from the scarcity of food. The effects of climate change, such as droughts and erratic weather events, posed serious challenges to the enjoyment of the right to food. Furthermore, speakers reminded that global hunger was tragically on the rise after a decade of decline. In 2018, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world had increased to 821 million. Speakers thus urged the Human Rights Council to play an active role in the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit, announced by the United Nations Secretary-General for 2021, stressing that States were responsible to guarantee democratic and multilateral food governance. They further reminded that despite producing more than 70 per cent of locally consumed food, peasants and smallholders were not seen as fundamental by States. They also highlighted the intersection of gender, access to land and the right to food, reminding that women’s ownership, control and access to land and property rights continued to be infringed upon by discriminatory laws.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to food were Nepal, Brazil, Ethiopia, Armenia, World Food Programme and Eritrea.

Also taking the floor were the following civil society organizations : FIAN, International e.V, Action Canada for Population and Development, Right Livelihood Award Foundation, International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations, Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Association d'Entraide Médicale Guinée, International Educational Development Inc, International Muslim Women’s Union, Iuventum ev.V, Synergie Féminine pour la Paix et le Développement Durable.

The meetings of the forty-third regular session of the Human Rights Council can be followed on the webcast of UN Web TV.

The Council will meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, to be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

The interactive dialogue with Hilal Elver, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.

Discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

Speakers indicated that the right to food was a fundamental right, which provided every citizen with the right to be safe from the scarcity of food. The effects of climate change, such as droughts and erratic weather events, posed serious challenges to the enjoyment of the right to food. Some Governments were encouraging small farmers to engage in cooperative farming, organic farming and agriculture business. Rural farming was an important consideration for the protection of traditional farming cultures. Recent studies had shown that traditional farming practices contributed to the maximization of local food supplies, maintaining indigenous crop varieties, biodiversity, enhancing food security and protecting natural resources. Furthermore, speakers reminded that global hunger was tragically on the rise after a decade of decline. In 2018, the number of chronically undernourished people in the world had increased to 821 million. Currently, approximately two billion people did not have enough nutritious food and some 149 million children under five suffered from stunted growth. The economic cost of food insecurity was immense and $ 3.5 trillion per year was lost due to hunger and malnutrition alone. Citing some country examples, speakers called attention to deliberate starvation policies in conflict situations and reminded that in May 2018, the United Nations Security Council had unanimously endorsed resolution 2417. That resolution paved the way for addressing conflict-induced hunger, recognizing that without peace there was no zero hunger, and without zero hunger there was no peace.

Speakers urged the Human Rights Council to play an active role in the upcoming United Nations Food Systems Summit, announced by the United Nations Secretary-General for 2021, stressing that States were responsible to guarantee democratic and multilateral food governance. Speakers reminded that despite producing more than 70 per cent of locally consumed food, peasants and smallholders were not seen as fundamental by States. Their human rights were often breached. Accordingly, the speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about the actions that States could undertake in order to prevent impunity for human rights violations committed against peasants and environmental defenders. They highlighted the work of groups who brought attention to the crucial role of seed protection in the realization of food sovereignty, and were mobilizing against the criminalization of seeds saving, industrialization, poisoning and impoverishment of indigenous food systems through genetically modified organisms, patenting and intellectual property rights. Speakers also highlighted the intersection of gender, access to land and the right to food, reminding that women’s ownership, control, and access to land and property rights continued to be infringed upon by discriminatory laws.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food

HILAL ELVER, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, answered questions from Brazil and Ethiopia. Global forest fires were in the spotlight because the Amazon forest was the cultural heritage of the entire world. Forest fires were not a new phenomenon but they had become more widespread recently. The Government of Brazil did try to stop the fires, but the Special Rapporteur stressed that the Amazon belonged to humanity and the future. The world could not just ignore it for the sake of producing more food. This affected indigenous peoples as they had to be moved from one place to another and the issue had to be investigated deeper; potentially, the United Nations could form a special committee together with the Brazilian Government. As for changing the structure of the Council for Zero Hunger, it was an extremely good practice, so Brazil had to keep this good practice and not change the structure. As for Ethiopia, only a page number was misleading in the report. The United Nations Food Systems Summit in 2021 was an important opportunity for civil society and governments to work together. The Council and other committees had to work together with the United Nations.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

Documentation

The Council has before it the Cultural rights defenders - Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights (A/HRC/43/50).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – Visit to Poland (A/HRC/43/50/Add.1). The advance unedited version can be seen at A/HRC/43/50/Add.1

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – Visit to the Maldives (A/HRC/43/50/Add.2). The advance unedited version can be seen at A/HRC/43/50/Add.2

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – Comments by Poland (A/HRC/43/50/Add.3).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights – Comments by the Maldives (A/HRC/43/50/Add.4).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, presented two country reports and one thematic report. Speaking of her country visit to Poland, she commended the protection of cultural rights, including of minorities, in the Constitution and laws, as well as Poland’s high rate of ratification of international treaties guaranteeing cultural rights. However, all those achievements were currently challenged by attempts of cultural engineering aimed at reducing cultural expression to reflect a monolithic vision of the contemporary society and a simplistic version of Polish history. Those trends undermined human rights, including cultural rights. Polish authorities must respect the independence of cultural institutions and re-commit to a vibrant and plural cultural life. They had to take greater steps to ensure that all sectors of Polish society were included in it, without discrimination. Using the label “anti-Polish” to characterize those in the cultural fields with a different vision of Polish society and history stifled freedom of expression and should be avoided, the Special Rapporteur noted. Hate speech, intolerance and discriminatory attitudes, including anti-Semitism, must be combatted with urgency.

Turning to Maldives, the Special Rapporteur said that the ongoing reforms and the renewed commitment of the Government to international human rights mechanisms were steps in the right direction. Maldives must effectively tackle fundamentalist ideology at a high level, using a human rights approach and without equivocation. Fundamentalism was one of the greatest threats to the rich culture of Maldives, including Maldivian cultural and religious practices. The Special Rapporteur was deeply concerned about the exclusion of non-Muslims from becoming citizens and the inability of non-Muslims to practice their religion publicly or to have their own places of worship. She was also dismayed by the Government indicating that it would not implement recommendations related to freedom of religion which contravened the Constitution. At the same time, she commended Maldives for its international leadership on climate change, expressing hope that the laudable human rights-based approach to climate change would be further implemented.

Turning to her thematic report on cultural rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur underlined that their work in every region of the world was essential for the implementation of an integral part of the universal human rights framework : cultural rights. Cultural rights defenders were often not fully recognized for their work, did not receive adequate support, and were not granted appropriate protection. Ms. Bennoune stressed that her report did not create a new category of human rights defenders. Instead, it explicitly named and sought to empower and raise the profile of an existing, often ignored, category. The report provided examples of cultural rights work being carried out across many fields from the defense of freedom of artistic expression to the defense of the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage, and from the defense of language rights to the challenging harmful cultural practices. However, not every claim based on cultural arguments rendered the person who made it a cultural defender. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders made clear that human rights defenders must accept the universality of human rights. The label of cultural rights defender should not be misused in order to shield or lend legitimacy to undermine human rights protection. Cultural rights would not realize themselves. The work of cultural rights defenders to promote and protect those rights was urgently needed in today’s fraught world, the Special Rapporteur concluded.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Maldives, speaking as a concerned country, said this was the first visit by a Special Procedure mandate holder to Maldives in the past seven years. Since the President had assumed office in 2018, Maldives had successfully re-engaged with international human rights instruments. Maldives recognized the importance of protecting cultural rights and its interlinkages with other human rights. Arts and culture had been given a Cabinet portfolio with the set-up of the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage. While welcoming the report, in implementing the recommendations, Maldives would be guided by its Constitution, national laws and policies. The Rapporteur’s intention to prepare a thematic report on climate change and culture around the world was welcomed. Since the visit, some of recommendations had already come to fruition and Maldives had withdrawn some of its reservations. National mechanisms for reporting and follow-up were being established and the Legal Professions Act was adopted as well as the Strategic Action Plan 2019-2023.

Poland, speaking as a concerned country, said that in 2018 they had received three visits by Special Procedure mandate holders. Poland was disappointed that despite its openness, the final report contained many inaccuracies. The Rapporteur did not take into account information provided after completion of her visit, especially by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. Many of the comments in the report were neither substantive nor objective and conclusions had been drawn based on one-sided statements by unspecified interlocutors, unsupported by any concrete evidence. As for the meeting with the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, this meeting was not envisaged initially and it was organised without prior notice three days before the start of the visit. Poland did have a detailed cultural policy, which was found in the document of the Ministry of Culture with comprehensive description.

Discussion with the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

Speakers agreed that the right to a cultural identity was one of the most basic human rights, whose consistent respect was also a test of basic standards. Respect for cultural rights was essential for development, peace and stability, eradication of poverty, construction of social cohesion, and for the promotion of mutual respect, tolerance and understanding between individuals and groups, in all their diversity. Speakers further noted with concern that specific kinds of human rights abuses were on the rise and asked the Special Rapporteur about her recommendations to mainstream the work of cultural rights defenders across all work of human rights defenders. Climate change, especially in small island countries, was causing irreversible damage to tangible and intangible cultural heritage. Accordingly, speakers urged the international community to coordinate responses to the challenges presented by climate change. Speaking of the effect of conflict and terrorism on cultural heritage, some speakers called for putting an end to the smuggling of artwork and monuments, as well as for their return to countries of origin. Some speakers raised their voice against cultural hegemony inspired by neoliberal values and ideas, insisting that culture should be a bridge between peoples and should contribute to understanding among nations. They opposed the generalizations outlined in the Special Rapporteur’s report, stressing that the right to a cultural identity should be granted to all peoples, and that terms and expressions that were not part of a local culture should not be imposed under the guise of international human rights mechanisms.

States had to recognize the important role played by cultural rights defenders, including women and indigenous cultural rights defenders, who should receive the same level of attention and protection as other human rights defenders. Speakers shared the concern of the Special Rapporteur about the rising hate speech towards cultural minorities and migrants. They voiced their deep concern about increasing instances of the destruction of cultural heritage the world-over because it had profoundly detrimental effects on human rights dignity and violated human rights. The defense of cultural heritage should, therefore, be seen in the broader framework of the defense of human rights. Speakers invited the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on further avenues that cultural rights defenders could explore to work together collaboratively and comprehensively across all regions and fields. They also asked her to cite examples of good practices in safeguarding cultural rights defenders’ space from abuse and exploitation by armed non-State actors.

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Human Rights

KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, thanked Maldives for implementing recommendations already and stressed that it would be great if they would remove all reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. National law should not be seen as a shield against the implementation of international human rights law. The Government had to engage in the issue of fundamentalism. As for Poland, clarification was expressed that conclusions were based on discussions with different sources, sometimes multiple times. Sources were not disclosed due to their fear of reprisals but every single assertion made was supported by credible research. The report on climate change and cultural rights was being prepared for the General Assembly and everyone was invited to contribute, as climate change was indeed threatening cultural survival. There were many forms of online harassment and it was difficult for cultural human rights defenders to operate in this space.

Discussion with the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

Speakers said that cultural rights lagged behind civil and political rights and a more equal and balanced approach towards all rights would provide an opportunity for all layers of society to grow. Cultural rights were essential to the struggle of indigenous peoples for human rights, including the right to self-determination. Some speakers concurred that the definition of human rights defenders should not be confined to non-government entities, but should include government officials, civil servants or members of the private sector who contributed to the protection and advancement of human rights. This comprehensive definition would further promote the work of human rights defenders. Other States stressed there was no clear understanding among countries on what cultural human rights defenders entailed. The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders underscored the universality of human rights and human rights defenders had to act in accordance with international human rights law. Cultural human rights defenders were often ignored as a subcategory of human rights defenders. Nonetheless, it was cultural rights defenders who simultaneously defended the right to assembly, freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. It was therefore important to raise the profile and level of protection of human rights defenders, in line with the Secretary-General’s call. States outlined the legislation, policies, programmes and mechanisms that they had put in place to preserve ancestral culture and tradition as well as to protect the rights of indigenous peoples, including cultural rights.

Cultural rights were an integral part of the universal, indivisible and interdependent human rights system. Cultural rights were applicable to everyone without discrimination and they did not imply cultural relativism and could not be used as an excuse for violations of other human rights. There was an urgent need to promote and protect cultural rights. Climate change was a threat to the cultural survival of low lying island nations. In addition to the scarcity of formally recognized heritage resources, the lack of capacity was also a challenge for cultural rights. The recent establishment of the Global Climate Heritage Network was a critical step towards considering cultural heritage as a climate action issue. The protection of cultural rights was also important for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. The Special Rapporteur was urged to continue to react to cases of hatred and intolerance in the context of the protection of cultural rights. The situation around cultural heritage in the course of armed conflict was alarming. Growing extremist religious ideology was rapidly eradicating cultural heritage and cultural practices such as music, arts and performing arts. The destruction of cultural heritage in situations of foreign occupation served the occupying power’s policies of appropriating history and removing any signs of origin. Ongoing arrests and detentions of cultural rights defenders for their work was alarming, particularly of those belonging to marginalized groups. They were also routinely suppressed by accusations of blasphemy. Through imprisonments, threats and violence, artists were facing limitations on their ability to work and function normally.

Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur in the Field of Cultural Rights

KARIMA BENNOUNE, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, thanked States and civil society for their engagement and input. Civil society was urged to engage even more on this topic. Threats to cultural rights defenders were many and they depended on a local context, but the biggest threat was the view of cultural rights as optional. Afghanistan’s standing invitation was welcomed. As for terms of work of human rights defenders that were not defined, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly, clearly proscribed the role of rights defenders. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was thanked for its continuous cooperation and it should increase its monitoring role globally but for this they also needed adequate support and resources.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Documentation

The Council has before it the Human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations - Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (A/HRC/43/51).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Visit to Colombia (A/HRC/43/51/Add.1).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Visit to Mongolia (A/HRC/43/51/Add.2).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Observations on communications transmitted to Governments and replies received (A/HRC/43/51/Add.3).

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Comments by Colombia (A/HRC/43/51/Add.4). The link is not active as only the Spanish version is available.

The Council has before it an addendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders – Comments by Mongolia (A/HRC/43/51/Add.5).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

MICHEL FORST, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, in his last update to the Human Rights Council, noted that human rights defenders reminded all of their humanity every day. They condemned the complicit silence of the international community about the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where civilian populations were reduced to geopolitical strategizing, and revealed arms sales, environmental scandals and bad governance. They questioned sexist, racist and discriminatory practices in our societies. It was by analysing the situation of civil society and human rights defenders so that all could take the pulse of societies, the Special Rapporteur underlined. Human rights defenders held the mirror that revealed what some wanted to hide. Referring to the twentieth anniversary of his mandate, Mr. Forst wondered what the role of the mandate would be in the next 20 years and what they would do in the anticipation of the rising of certain powers that questioned the role of the United Nations system. Human rights defenders did not want to be heroes and martyrs. It was the system that forced them to take unimaginable risks, the Special Rapporteur stressed.

Turning to his country visit to Colombia, Mr. Forst reminded that since 2011 it had had the national protection unit, which had evolved into one of the most sophisticated systems for the protection of human rights defenders in the region. Despite those efforts, the vast majority of human rights defenders in Colombia were in danger. The most at risk were social leaders defending human rights in rural areas, especially those implementing the peace agreement and defending land and environmental rights of ethnic and Afro-Colombian communities. There was a consistently high number of killings of defenders, and a high level of impunity for those killings and threats to defenders. In addition, the Special Rapporteur identified the stigmatization and criminalization of human rights defenders as another key trend in Colombia.

As for his country visit to Mongolia, Mr. Forst said that it had a good body of laws that generally guaranteed the rights and freedoms of human rights defenders, although the implementation of those legal guarantees was not yet fully effective. Mongolia was in general a relatively safe country for human rights defenders, but that did not translate into a situation where human rights defenders were encouraged, enabled and empowered to undertake their human rights work.

The Special Rapporteur said that his visit to Peru had taken place in early 2020, and the Special Rapporteur would present his country report to the Council in March 2021. Turning to his thematic report on the situation of human rights defenders operating in conflict and post-conflict situations, Mr. Forst noted that in conflict-affected areas, human rights defenders were those who provided emergency relief or helped securing access to civilians, including internally displaced persons. They challenged impunity and represented victims of violations of international law before national, regional and international jurisdiction. They faced multiple protection risks that may relate to situation of active hostilities, general insecurity, or the very nature of their work, for example, when they denounced violations committed by parties to the conflict. They were the potential target of a range of State and non-State actors. In conclusion, the Special Rapporteur reiterated that the situation of human rights defenders would not improve without a determined collective action to recognize their vital role for the better functioning of our societies.

Statements by Concerned Countries

Colombia, speaking as a concerned country, said the invitation was extended with a view to create constructive cooperation and build State capacities. The Special Rapporteur had full cooperation during his visit and meetings with the highest levels of government were held, as well as meetings with civil society and human rights defenders. The murders of human rights defenders had taken place in mining areas and in areas with armed groups, in 66 municipalities of the country which was 5 per cent of Colombia’s territory. There were recommendations in the report, but the Government thought it was important to see recommendations as innovative and that they added value. Restrictions on civil space and defenders did not come from the Government side. The action plan on the protection of defenders had been adopted and since its launch there had been a decrease of around 35 per cent of attacks on defenders. Public policy had also been adopted for social leaders and the Government’s commitment towards the protection of defenders was ensured.

Colombian Ombudsman welcomed that the Colombian Government had invited the Special Rapporteur, as it signalized the Government’s commitment towards improving the situation facing human rights defenders. The situation concerning human rights defenders was complicated. There were armed groups in mining areas. From over one thousand threats made to defenders in 2019, 134 of them were homicide. There was a drop of 25 per cent in homicides from 2019. The Government did have a will to address this problem. There was an early warning system as established by a Peace Accord and the Council was thanked for shedding light on the situation of defenders in Colombia.

Mongolia, speaking as a concerned country, appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s second visit to Mongolia. With the active participation of civil society and the National Human Rights Commission, the Minister of Foreign Affairs had initiated a draft law on the legal status of human rights defenders. The Government had developed national programmes to implement the anti-corruption law and was drafting a law on the judicial system. Also, the law on the National Human Rights Commission had been revised to further strengthen its independence. A hotline had been introduced to support the active participation of the public in the fight against corruption. The Government was also planning to complete its first national action plan to implement the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Discussion with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Speakers noted that defending human rights and fundamental freedoms entailed shared aspirations, goals and targets. In that regard, the role of Government officials, civil servants or members of the private sector must also be duly acknowledged and strengthened. Speakers shared the Special Rapporteur’s views on the critical role that human rights defenders played towards peacebuilding and sustainable development. They acknowledged the extreme risks that defenders faced, and noted that women human rights defenders were particularly exposed to gender-based violence, including sexual violence. It was worrying that defenders were often targeted in public discourse and online, accused of being “foreign agents” or “internal enemies.” They were also subjected to judicial harassment through the misuse of anti-terrorism, national security or drug-related legislation. Often, in situations of armed conflict, there was criminalization of those questioning State authorities. In that respect, speakers asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on some examples of best practices to address those protection gaps, and about good examples of specific legislation of policy frameworks that States could enact to protect human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict settings. Likewise, speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about how States could ensure that human rights defenders and diverse civil society actors were included in peacebuilding processes.

Speakers further called attention to the fact that in several conflict situations, the rights of women human rights defenders were violated at alarming rates. Their legitimacy as defenders continued to be challenged as they faced patriarchal stereotypes, discrimination and harassment. They could be particular targets of armed or terrorist groups, and of fundamentalist members of their own religious communities. Speakers thus called on Member States to recommit to the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, to ensure the full inclusion and participation of women, and to commit to ending impunity for those that sought to stifle the voices of female human rights defenders. Speakers asked the Special Rapporteur about what the Human Rights Council could do to accelerate the adoption of measures to protect human rights defenders. Certain speakers noted that it was inacceptable that Special Procedure mandate holders sometimes attributed the label of human rights defenders to common criminals and mercenaries without any record of concrete human rights work. Mandate holders should thus be careful not to receive contributions from politically motivated individuals. Those speakers asked the Special Rapporteur for his advice in situations where unscrupulous groups were using the badge of defenders to evade accountability for gross human rights violations.


For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC20.019E