On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (henceforth, the Declaration), Peace Brigades International (PBI) invited 13 human rights defenders who are accompanied by the 7 PBI projects on a tour that would take them through 10 European countries.

This tour began on 20th September 2018 in Brussels, with 4 full-on days of meetings that brought together advocates from America, Africa and Asia and PBI members. These meetings sought to encourage the exchange of experiences and knowledge in terms of integral protection. And they enabled the analysis of global and regional trends affecting the risks, as well as the identification of common needs among the group of human rights defenders who require immediate attention from the international community. Moreover, these work sessions made it possible to construct a common narrative with key messages and recommendations directed towards the political stakeholders of the European Union and Member States.

See PBI's analysis on the impacts of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the risk defenders still face across the world and the reasons why. 

Here we present our recommendations with specific actions that political actors can take in order to improve the security situation for human rights defenders. 

1. Provide recognition and political, social and economic support to the work carried out by human rights defenders in different parts of the world, contributing to building a narrative that endorses their vital role in societies, in order to counter growing criminalisation and stigmatisation. Take measures to combat the closure of their spaces for action.

Specific actions:

  • EU public declaration through its High Representative on the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, urging EU Member States to implement the Declaration in their actions within and outside of Europe (through their Delegations) and to guarantee full respect for the rights mentioned within it, especially the right to defend human rights. In particular, highlight the work and risks faced by the most vulnerable populations, which include indigenous and Afro communities, peasants, women and the LGBTI community.

  • Strengthen the diffusion of the Declaration and the EU Guidelines on prevention and the protection of human rights defenders. To ensure that the Guidelines continue to be an effective tool, it is essential for them to be recognised in third countries, both in capital cities and in rural areas. It is important to implement an ongoing awareness-raising plan to strengthen the impact and effectiveness of the Guidelines, both within diplomatic missions and aimed at human rights defenders.

  • Ensure that the Embassies of the Member States have a focal point for human rights defenders and that defenders have knowledge of and access to that person.

  • To reinforce the coordination between the EU delegation and the diplomatic missions of the Member States on the protection of defenders, the exchange on and follow-up to specific cases, etc.

  • Ensure that EU cooperation funds, particularly instruments dedicated to the promotion and defence of human rights, are known and accessible by the beneficiary population. For this, it is important to guarantee accessible formats for all populations, duly taking into account grassroots organisations and communities and, in particular, their collective need for protection.

  • Condemn attacks against human rights defenders and, especially, publicly denounce declarations by public officials that stigmatise, defame or undermine the work of human rights defenders.

2. Support the fight against impunity, impunity being one of the main factors that enables the repetition of events. Ensure access to justice for the victims of human rights violations and combat the global increase in laws that limit or deny the right to defend human rights.

Specific actions:

  • Publicly and privately urge third countries to carry out quick and impartial investigations into cases of attacks against human rights defenders. It is of vital importance that, in the investigation phase, exhaustive and objective analyses of the context are carried out. These should seek to clarify not only material responsibilities but, more importantly, intellectual responsibilities, including possible links to political and economic elites, on a local, national and international level. These investigations must also include differentiated perspectives that take into account factors such as gender, ethnicity, religion, etc.

  • Ensure that justice mechanisms, including those that form part of transitional justice and indigenous justice systems, have sufficient resources and that these resources effectively contribute to the fight against impunity. Likewise, ensure the independence and autonomy of the judiciary in third countries.

  • Make sure that, in the case of violations against human rights defenders, the first investigation hypothesis for the crime is that it was due to their work to defend human rights.

  • In the case of imprisonment of a human rights defender, ensure that he/she has the means and resources necessary to ensure due process and that protocols are defined to protect his/her psychological integrity in prison, paying particular attention to gender identity.

  • Ensure the non-proliferation of laws that limit the exercise of the right to promote, protect and defend human rights.

3. Promote the safety and protection of those who defend human rights with a differentiated and holistic approach.

Specific actions:

  • Ensure that high-level dialogues on human rights between the EU and third countries take place every year with the effective participation of civil society. Open bilateral dialogue to observation by civil society, carry out evaluations every two years and monitor progress in the agreements and commitments achieved through a follow-up mechanism between the EU, the country in question and civil society.

  • Ensure that governmental protection measures have the necessary economic and human resources, meet the requirements and needs of beneficiary people, include a differentiated and collective approach and agree on the protection methods together with the beneficiaries themselves. Similarly, promote preventative protection measures such as public statements of recognition, risk maps and proposals regarding public policy on protection.

  • Ensure EU rapid response mechanisms in the case of extraordinary risk to human rights defenders; include self-care measures that respond to the psycho-social impact suffered by victims of violations. Likewise, ensure that the issuance of visas does not represent an impediment to apply to these programmes and that the personal and family situation of the human rights defender is included. Guarantee safety funds with a holistic approach (individual and collective physical safety, digital safety, psycho-social safety).

4. Ensure that the presence of European investments and companies does not promote further abuses and violations of human rights.

Specific actions:

  • Ensure the creation of mechanisms for consultation and free, prior and informed consent with the affected communities and groups. These consultations should fulfill the highest international standards and be culturally appropriate. Additionally, the affected communities and groups must have the necessary resources for their participation to be complete, genuine and fair.

  • Ensure that European companies do not directly or indirectly benefit from land that is appropriated in a violent way.

  • Promote land restitution and redistribution programmes as a necessary measure to address the serious inequality of the world.

  • Make sure that the human rights clauses contained within free trade agreements act as effective monitoring mechanisms for the respect of human rights.

  • Guarantee that the rights to social protest and peaceful assembly are respected in the context of opposition to large-scale economic projects. Condemn any form of restriction and ensure that, in countries with which trade relations are maintained, serious police abuses are not repeated or continued, and laws that restrict or eliminate these rights are not approved or implemented.

  • Urge the European Commission and the European External Action Service to begin, as soon as possible, the process of developing an action plan on Business and Human Rights, with the objective of fully applying the UN Guiding Principles.

5. Guarantee collaboration, cooperation and complementarity with different mechanisms of the United Nations and, in particular, with mechanisms that promote and monitor respect for human rights.

Specific actions:

  • Urge the States to invite and collaborate with United Nations Special Rapporteurs.

  • Ensure the implementation, monitoring and follow-up of the recommendations made in the different UPR (Universal Periodic Review) sessions.

  • Ensure that mechanisms such as the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) have sufficient economic resources and strong political support to carry out their work in countries.

  • Urge the EU to become actively and constructively involved in the United Nations process to create a legally binding instrument on business and human rights.