Ahead of Human Rights Day, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on member states to halt the attacks against human rights defenders and improve their safety and working environment.
“In spite of an international declaration and clear standards protecting the work of human rights defenders, there remains a huge gap between the principles and reality,” says the Commissioner.
“I have observed a worrying retrogression in the protection of human rights defenders and their ability to work in a growing number of European countries. They face a variety of forms of reprisals, including judicial harassment, prosecution, illegal deprivation of liberty, abusive checks and surveillance, smear campaigns, threats and intimidation. Some have been physically attacked, subjected to ill-treatment, abducted and even killed. Activists defending the rights of migrants, LGBTI persons, or women, as well as human rights defenders working on sensitive issues, such as accountability for serious human rights violations and environmental issues, have been increasingly targeted by state and non-state actors. Restrictive legislation and harmful political rhetoric is making the work of human rights NGOs increasingly difficult and unsafe.
Democratic states cannot accept this situation. Defenders are crucially important for holding those in power to account, assisting victims of human rights violations and helping them to gain access to means of redress and remedies.
Governments must value human rights defenders for their engagement and contributions towards the peaceful and just functioning of society. Instead of preventing them from carrying out their work and denigrating their action, the authorities should recognise that these people are quite simply indispensable for the tangible improvement of everyone’s lives.
I therefore call on all Council of Europe Member states to recommit to the standards they agreed to and to ensure a political, legal and cultural environment where human rights defenders are free and safe to carry out their work. As a matter of urgency, state authorities must amend legislation which penalises NGOs that benefit from funding outside their country, stop the political rhetoric which portrays human rights defenders in a negative way, and put an end to crimes against defenders by condemning and investigating all attacks against them.
As the world celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Council of Europe member states should never forget their duty to ensure that human rights defenders can work freely and safely.”