“The growing gap between the risks and the obstacles faced by human rights defenders in Europe and the standards States have agreed to must be a call to action”, says Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović upon the release today of a report on a round-table with human rights defenders from across Europe, held in Dublin in October 2022.
Reflecting the interventions of the participants, the report highlights how the prioritisation of national security and public safety concerns over human rights, in a context of overlapping crises such as growing inequalities compounded by the environmental crisis, the pandemic, and the rise in populist governments and anti-rights agendas, has hindered human rights defence and civic activism.
In view of the alarming deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders in Europe, the Commissioner urges member states of the Council of Europe to recommit to and implement, in good faith, human rights standards that recognise their prime responsibility to protect human rights defenders.
In her report, she also sets out the necessary political, legal and practical measures which states should take to ensure that human rights defenders are able to work free from hindrance and insecurity. As a matter of priority, state authorities should denounce violence and any form of intimidation directed against human rights defenders, and refrain from administrative and judicial harassment, including SLAPPs, with the intention to impede their legitimate activities or silence them. They should guarantee their exercise of freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association and ensure accountability for any human rights violation against human rights defenders, including by non-state actors.
States should also guarantee human rights defenders’ effective participation in public affairs and unhindered access to funding, including from foreign sources. It is equally essential that states recognise and publicly acknowledge the essential contribution human rights defenders make to the promotion and protection of groups such as women, children, LGBTI people, migrants and ethnic minorities and refrain from misusing criminal proceedings against human rights defenders for providing humanitarian assistance to refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
With regard to the situation of human rights defenders in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, the Commissioner urges member states to provide them with more support, including the provision of personal protective and communication equipment andespecially for those who continue to operate in areas affected by the hostilities, adequate financial aid and technological assistance in documenting human rights violations, and psychological support. She also reiterates the need to better support Russian and Belarusian civil society and human rights defenders.
“Unprecedented challenges make the work of human rights defenders ever more crucial to the preservation of the democratic fabric of our societies. Solidarity with and among human rights defenders is more imperative than ever.”