GENEVA (19 March 2012) – In an open letter* to world Governments, a group of 22 UN independent human rights experts called on States to incorporate universally agreed international human rights norms and standards with strong accountability mechanisms into the UN Rio+20 sustainable development conference’s goals, as the Rio+20 first round of informal-informal negotiations began today in New York.

“Global goals are easily set, but seldom met,” the rights experts warned, raising the bar for what the conference can and should achieve. “A real risk exists that commitments made in Rio will remain empty promises without effective monitoring and accountability,” they stressed less than a hundred days before the conference starts.

The second Rio Summit, Rio+20, is expected to lay the foundations for a set of global Sustainable Development Goals to complement and strengthen the UN Millennium Development Goals created in 2000.

“Learning from the mistakes of the Millennium Development Goals, the new sustainable goals must integrate the full range of human rights linked with sustainable development, and human rights must be the benchmark for whether or not inclusive, equitable and sustainable development is occurring,” the independent experts said

Twenty years after the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, and ten after the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, the mounting effects of climate change and environmental degradation have raised the stakes further. Both the Goals and the means of reviewing progress must be based on human rights from the start.

“Human rights have guided sixty-plus years of progress by providing a legal baseline for political actions,” they said. “Human rights must now be the glue in Rio: they must bind countries to the commitments they make. States have an opportunity in Rio to create the transformative changes needed or else fare no better than in previous global attempts in this regard.” (more…)

Geneva-Paris, March 15, 2012. On March 8 and 9, 2012, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), organised the fourth “inter-mechanisms” meeting, which was hosted by the Office of the United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland.

On that occasion, international and regional mechanisms and programmes for the protection of human rights defenders – operating within the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the Council of Europe, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights – joined by representatives of the European Union, the International Organisation of the Francophonie and various NGOs, discussed the drafting of a joint report on existing standards and recommendations related to the protection of human rights defenders at the international and regional levels. IACHR offered to take a coordinating role in drafting the report, with the back up of the Observatory. This report would be inspired by the 2011 Commentary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and the IACHR Second Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. Such a document, the first of its kind, will not only be a useful tool to human rights defenders, States and other relevant stakeholders, but will also demonstrate a unity of approaches among mechanisms. (more…)

The Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders from the United Nations (UN), the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) express their grave concern over acts of reprisals against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN and/or the regional human rights systems. These reprisals against individuals and/or groups engaging directly with the UN, the ACHPR and the IACHR, or otherwise providing information on particular countries’ human rights situation, take the form of smear campaigns, harassment, intimidation, direct threats, physical attacks and killings.

The UN, the ACHPR and the IACHR all have normative agreements and rules of procedure explicitly prohibiting acts of reprisals by States and non-State actors.1/In an effort to safeguard the vital collaboration between civil society and the UN and regional human rights mechanisms, the Rapporteurs on human rights defenders commit to and call for enhanced monitoring and action to respect those rules, and support the recent initiative by the President of the UN Human Rights Council to call on States to immediately put an end to intimidation and harassment of individuals and groups attending the 19th session of the Human Rights Council.2/ (more…)

GENEVA (5 March 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya said today the ‘Arab Spring’ helped focus international attention on the extraordinary risks rights defenders face while promoting and protecting human rights in all regions of the world. She also expressed deep concern that State actors, including Government officials, State security forces and the judiciary, are reportedly the perpetrators of many of the violations committed against these defenders.

“Journalists, environmental, student and youth rights defenders and those working on land issues are in significant need of protection,” Ms. Sekaggya said at the UN Human Rights Council during the presentation of her report* on the situation of rights defenders who are at high risk due to their work. “Most of these risks directly affect their physical integrity and that of their family members, but also involve the abusive use of legal frameworks against them and the criminalization of their work.”

The UN independent expert noted that recent world events have shown that journalists and media workers reporting on human rights issues are particularly vulnerable. “Their work is of extreme importance in holding Governments accountable. However, those same Governments often crack down on them, including through threats, harassment, arrests, detentions, and in the worst of cases killings,” she said. (more…)

Brussels, 9 December 2011 18424/1/11 REV 1 PRESSE 487 – On Human Rights Day, the European Union pays tribute to human rights defenders who dedicate their lives to promoting and protecting people’s fundamental rights around the world. This year, Human Rights Day focuses on the work of human rights defenders, and on how social media can be used to promote and underpin change.

The Arab spring vividly reminds us that human rights are universal and that people everywhere aspire to live in dignity and freedom. In 2011, thousands of people decided that the time had come to claim their rights. Social media carried their message, and allowed activists and individuals to break free from their isolation, to disseminate ideas and to denounce oppression.

Use of social media to promote human rights should not be restricted by governments. The EU has repeatedly and publicly condemned restrictions on freedom of expression and on access to the internet, as well as the arrest of bloggers, witnessed in many countries around the world.