OSCE FOCAL POINT ON HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS

|MANDATE| |REPORTS| |PRESS RELEASES| |MISSIONS|

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Throughout the years, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has adopted several commitments that can apply to human rights defenders:

  • Concluding Document of Vienna, Third Follow up Meeting, January 15, 1989
  • Document of the Copenhagen Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, June 29, 1990
  • Charter of Paris for a New Europe, November 21, 1990
  • Document of the Moscow Meeting of the Conference on the Human Dimension of the CSCE, October 3, 1991
  • Concluding Document of Helsinki, Fourth Follow up Meeting, July 10, 1992
  • Concluding Document of Budapest, December 6, 1994.

On July 10, 2007, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly decided to “reaffirm the important role of human rights defenders and national human rights institutions in protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms at the 2007 Ministerial Council [...]” [1].

As human rights defenders in some OSCE participating States continue to report difficulties in exercising their right to assemble and associate, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) has developed activities in terms of freedoms of assembly and association.

Since 2007, an explicit competence was given to ODIHR in terms of protection of human rights defenders through the creation of a focal point on the issue.

Creation of a Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions

Building on ongoing work across all of its programmes, and following a recommendation from the 2006 Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), in 2007 the ODIHR established a Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions.

The Focal Point closely monitors the situation of human rights defenders, identifies issues of concern, and seeks to promote and protect their interests.

The Focal Point also aims at increasing capacity of human rights defenders to improve their knowledge of human rights standards, advocacy, monitoring and strategy formulation skills as well as general capacity to protect and promote human rights.

The Focal Point’s work is carried out in close co-operation and consultation with other international organizations, in particular the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. Situations where human rights defenders are at risk are discussed among all three organizations and interventions are designed in close co-ordination.

Footnotes

[1] See OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Resolution, titled “Strengthening OSCE engagement with human rights defenders and national human rights institutions” adopted in Kiev on July 10, 2007.

The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which came into force on January 1, 2007, is the concrete expression of the intent of the European Union (EU) to mainstream the promotion of democracy and human rights within all its external policies.

Also, in June 2004, the Council of the European Union adopted Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which were reviewed at the end of 2008. These Guidelines contain practical suggestions to the attention of bodies, institutions and EU missions (embassies of EU member-States and European Commission Delegations) aiming to strengthen EU action in terms of support and protection of human rights defenders and their cause, in the framework of contacts with third countries and within multilateral arenas.

Within the EU, there is no protection mechanism for human rights defenders working on territories of EU member States.

A mechanism of the EU external policy: the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders

In June 2004, the Council of the European Union adopted Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which were reviewed in 2006 and at the end of 2008. These Guidelines contain practical suggestions to the attention of bodies, institutions and EU missions (embassies of EU member-States and European Commission Delegations) aiming to strengthen EU action in terms of support and protection of human rights defenders and their cause.

The Guidelines provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action in relation to this issue. The Guidelines can be used in contacts with third countries at all levels as well as in multilateral human rights fora, in order to support and strengthen ongoing efforts by the Union to promote and encourage respect for the right to defend human rights. The Guidelines also provide for interventions by the Union for human rights defenders at risk and suggest practical means to support and assist human rights defenders. An important element of the Guidelines is support for the Special Procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, including the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and appropriate regional mechanisms to protect human rights defenders. The Guidelines assist EU Missions (Embassies and Consulates of EU Member States and European Commission Delegations) in their approach to human rights defenders. While addressing specific concerns regarding human rights defenders is their primary purpose, the Guidelines also contribute to reinforcing the EU’s human rights policy in general.

The Guidelines provide particular actions such as:

  • periodic meetings of embassies personnel with human rights defenders,
  • providing visible recognition to human rights defenders and their work,
  • observing trials held against defenders,
  • visiting defenders in jail,
  • delivering emergency visas,
  • elaborating local strategies of implementation of the Guidelines,
  • promoting regional and international mechanisms of protection of defenders,
  • etc.

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