At least the bare minimum to protect those who defend our rights – UN expert asks world Governments

By | 5 March 2013

GENEVA – “States must have -as a bare minimum- human rights-compliant legislation in place in order for human rights defenders to work effectively,” stressed the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, during the presentation of her latest report to the UN Human Rights Council on the role of national human rights institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Ms. Sekaggya expressed deep concerned about a current trend of misuse or selective use of different types of legislation to restrict, criminalize and stigmatize the work of human rights defenders in all parts of the world.

“From anti-terrorism and other legislation relating to public security to legislation governing registration, functioning and funding of associations; from defamation and blasphemy legislation to legislation relating to public morals, States are using laws and administrative provisions to unduly restrict the work of human rights defenders,” she warned.

The rights expert urged States to respect the minimum standards for legislation enshrined in international law, notably the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination. “States should ensure proper consultation processes when new legislation is being discussed and should be open to assessing the impact of existing legislation,” she said. “This requires close cooperation and frank engagement with the main stakeholders, in particular with civil society and national human rights institutions.”

In that regard, “the best guarantee for ensuring legislation complies with human rights is to have a robust, independent and well-resourced national human rights institution,” Ms. Sekaggya said. In her view, they are in a unique position to guide Governments on their human rights obligations and to ensure that international human rights principles and standards are adequately incorporated into national law and mainstreamed in public policymaking.

“National institutions can be key actors in the fight against stigmatization, misuse of legislation and impunity,” the Special Rapporteur noted, underlining the important role of these institutions in protecting defenders at the national level, for example through formal complaints mechanisms and close cooperation between national institutions and human rights defenders.

However, Mrs. Sekaggya raised concern about reported violations against national institutions, their staff and members, ranging from attacks, threats and intimidation to harassment and stigmatisation. “The challenges and violations reported can seriously undermine the independence, efficiency, credibility and impact of such institutions,” Ms. Sekaggya.

The independent expert said that, when they comply with applicable international standards, the so-called Paris Principles, national human rights institutions, their members and staff can be considered as human rights defenders. “But in order for them to be credible and effective”, she stressed, “they should have a solid mandate and be properly resourced.” Moreover, these institutions must be free from the influence of the Government and ensure pluralism in their composition.

“A key question for Governments to consider”, noted Mrs. Sekaggya, “is how to implement the recommendations issued by national institutions, as they are rarely legally required to do so.” She emphasized the need to follow up and monitor the implementation of these recommendations.

“A number of Governments have gone about creatively to ensure that recommendations from national institutions are duly implemented, and I encourage Member States to consult the good practices mentioned in the report,” the Special Rapporteur said.

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Margaret Sekaggya was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders by the Human Rights Council in March 2008. Ms. Sekaggya is a lawyer from Uganda with over 30 years of experience with justice and human rights issues, including as Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, as a judge and as a university lecturer. She is independent from any Government and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

Check the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders:

Download your copy of Ms. Sekaggya’s essential guide to the right to defend human rights: 

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