Human Rights Defenders
The work of human rights defenders is essential for the advancement of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders play a central role in making state policies human rights compliant and authorities accountable. Human rights defenders are also instrumental in defending victims of human rights violations and ensuring their access to redress and remedy. Human rights defenders are key partners of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
Civil society human rights activists face numerous obstacles in their work, including: legal and administrative restrictions impeding the registration of NGOs and their access to funding; excessive financial and reporting requirements; judicial harassment; smear campaigns; threats and intimidation; abusive control and surveillance; confiscation and destruction of working materials; unlawful arrest or detention and ill-treatment. In some cases, human rights defenders are kidnapped or even killed. The absence of effective investigations into violations committed by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders targeted because of their human rights work remains a major problem. This results in the impunity of perpetrators and the recurrence of violations, which also facilitate reprisals.
Support for the work of human rights defenders, their protection and the development of an enabling environment for their activities lie at the core of the Commissioner’s mandate. The Commissioner assists member states in fulfilling their obligations in this regard by providing advice and recommendations. He raises issues related to the working environment of human rights defenders and cases of those who are at risk through his dialogue with authorities as well as publicly, including through the media. He has also intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in a number of cases concerning human rights defenders. The Commissioner and his Office are regularly in contact with human rights defenders and organise mutual thematic consultations on an annual basis, and closely co-operate with the UN and regional mechanisms such as the OSCE/ODIHR in supporting human rights defenders.