MORNING - Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue with Independent Expert on Foreign Debt and Starts Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Right to Privacy
The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on foreign debt and started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. The Council also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy.
Attiya Waris, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said the report focused on the implications of the digital economy on the enjoyment of human rights. In order to fully reap the benefits of this technological progress while minimising the potential for harm, the development and deployment of new technologies forming a part of the digital economy must be rooted in human rights.
Ms. Waris also presented 13 non-binding practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery aimed at curbing the illicit transfer of funds and mitigating its negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights.
She spoke on her mission to Argentina and Argentina spoke as a country concerned.
In the ensuing discussion, many speakers thanked the Independent Expert for her report on the use of digital platforms for illicit financial flows in the digital world, and the non-binding practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery, and expressed support for her mandate. Speakers said that the recourse to external debt played an essential role in development, but unsustainable levels of debt servicing were likely to undermine growth and negatively impact a State's ability to guarantee human rights. The servicing of the external debt negatively affected certain countries capacity to guarantee human rights.
Speaking in the discussion were Côte d'Ivoire on behalf of the Group of African States, Bahamas on behalf of a group of countries, Tunisia, Maldives, China, Russian Federation, Cameroon, Venezuela, Iraq, Togo, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Malaysia, South Africa, Sudan, Kenya, Holy See, Angola, Senegal, Algeria, Malawi, Botswana, Nigeria, Bolivia, Cuba, Benin, Pakistan, Lebanon, Algeria, and Germany.
Also speaking were Sikh Human Rights Group, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales Asociación Civil, Action Canada for Population and Development, Association pour l'Intégration et le Développement Durable au Burundi , Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, Centre du Commerce International pour le Développement, Institute for Human Rights, Rahbord Peimayesh Research and Educational Services Cooperative, and Environment Conservation Association.
The Council also started an interactive dialogue with Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, who said that human rights defenders were achieving stunning success on every continent. The tenacity of these human rights defenders and others in continuing to document human rights violations demonstrated success in the face of severe challenges. These victories were usually the result of long-term struggles and were typically achieved in collaboration with other human rights defenders, and with a broad range of allies. Yet in very many places, State officials vilified and targeted human rights defenders in an effort to undermine their work. This must stop.
Ms. Lawlor spoke of her mission to Greece and Greece spoke as a country concerned.
In the discussion, speakers, among other things, thanked the Special Rapporteur for her report highlighting the positive role of human rights defenders all around the world, and recognised the valuable role that human rights defenders played in promoting and protecting human rights. Many speakers said they would continue to work to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work, without interference, including online as well as offline spaces. Speakers strongly condemned any acts of intimidation, violence, threat, harassment or reprisal, including launching politically motivated trials, against human rights defenders.
Speaking in the discussion were Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Canada on behalf a group of countries, Norway on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic States, Côte d'Ivoire on behalf of the Group of African States, Costa Rica on behalf a group of countries, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, United Nations Development Programme, Ecuador, Ireland, Czech Republic, France, and Switzerland.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy. The dialogue began yesterday and a summary of the discussion can be found here.
In concluding remarks, Ana Brian Nougrères, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, said there was a diverse array of tools to deal with violations. In general terms, the way of responding to violations and breaches began with the company, business or entity behind the illegal handling of the data, and they should be challenged directly as a first step. Second, there should be agencies in charge of overseeing and monitoring private data. Third, the administration and framework of these bodies and those in charge of data monitoring and collection should be determined clearly. Raising awareness among all members of society was essential, irrespective of age: everyone needed to be aware of the importance of privacy, how to protect it, and what steps to take when it was breached.
In the discussion on the right to privacy, speakers said the enormity of the data collected in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic exposed gaps in complying with the principles of purpose limitation, deletion of data, and demonstrated or proactive accountability. States should find ways to address challenges to the enjoyment of the right to privacy of individuals, stemming from new and emerging digital technologies. Some speakers expressed concern about increased government spending on public security and State intelligence during the pandemic.
Speaking in the discussion were Israel, China, Luxembourg, Costa Rica, India, Russian Federation, Cameroon, Venezuela, Iraq, Armenia, Uruguay, Egypt, Malaysia, South Africa, Greece, Georgia, Afghanistan, Malawi, Pakistan, Cambodia, Ukraine, Lebanon, Gambia, and United Kingdom.
Also speaking was the National Human Rights Commission of India, as well as Partners for Transparency, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain Inc., Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety, iuventum e.V., Conectas Direitos Humanos, Lidskoprávní organizace Práva a svobody obcanučů Turkmenistánu z.s. , Indigenous People of Africa Coordinating Committee, and Il Cenacolo.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-second regular session can be found here.
The Council will reconvene this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy
The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, Ana Brian Nougrères, started in the previous meeting and a summary can be found here.
Many speakers thanked the Special Rapporteur for her timely report on the processing of data, often sensitive, collected during the COVID-19 pandemic, and reiterated full support for her mandate. The COVID-19 pandemic had had profound implications for the daily lives of billions of people, including the need for personal data, including medical data, to be collected by agencies responsible for combatting the pandemic.
The right to privacy was enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and ensuring privacy and protection of personal data remained among the most pressing issues on the international human rights agenda. The introduction of the latest technologies offered great opportunities to improve the quality of life of people, but at the same time could also carry threats regarding interference with privacy. Speakers said they were committed to protecting and promoting the right to privacy.
Many speakers said that new and emerging technological challenges and their impact on human rights, including the use of spyware and the collection of biometric data, needed to be of priority attention to the Council. It was important to inform people about the application of the principle of deletion or anonymisation of collected data, and to ensure that this was implemented. States should adopt an immediate moratorium on the use of spyware and similar technologies until a regulatory framework that protected human rights was implemented.
New digital technologies were useful tools to advance the rights to health and education. However, the expansion of technology and the participation of transnational actors in online activity created spaces in which people's privacy was especially vulnerable.
Some speakers said that the development of artificial intelligence solutions and algorithms in social media should not encourage hate speech, racism, racial discrimination, religious discrimination and related intolerance.
Governments had a responsibility to fully respect the privacy rights of rights holders. One speaker said that all States should review and take ownership of the seven main principles of the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation. Unfortunately, the world had recently witnessed large-scale violations of the right to privacy: strict control over the individual was becoming the norm for Western countries, another speaker said.
The Special Rapporteur was encouraged to report to the Council on the impact on the right to privacy and other human rights of reported cases, in certain States and regions, of mass and coerced collection of DNA, iris images, voice and facial features, and fingerprints, including of minors. In order to strengthen trust in public authorities, what means did the Special Rapporteur consider useful to ensure transparency and control in the processing of sensitive data, particularly in the medical field?
ANA BRIAN NOUGRÈRES, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in intermediate remarks, said various different issues were flagged by speakers, and all were of the utmost importance. With regard to the difference and the requisite complementarity between regulation and the enforcement of regulation, the mere existence of regulation did not mean it was sufficiently implemented: it was important to enforce it and apply it in practice. The international community needed to try to avoid toothless regulations and norms and standards. In addition to regulation and law, good practices and soft law were also useful; the right balance needed to be struck in moving forward, balancing all of these.
Ms. Nougrères said the second report referred to principles in the protection of privacy and data, and these could be addressed more specifically if it were to be useful. With regard to mass vigilance, mass oversight and the abuse of these, when the internet was born and when there was a new framework of human connection, it was important to move away to a position of practical international cooperation and implement measures jointly. On data handling and storage, it was important to bear in mind that data had to be protected, whether it be by public processes, but privately-collected data also needed to be protected adequately. Finally, the international community needed to continue to work, raising awareness among citizens on privacy issues.
In the continuing discussion, some speakers noted that as outlined in the report, the declaration of COVID-19 as a global pandemic had resulted in public entities in different countries collecting data from millions of people with a view to implementing measures for detecting and combatting COVID-19, tracking its spread, and thus protecting public health and preventing its transmission. The enormity of the data collected in the wake of the pandemic had exposed gaps in complying with the principles of purpose limitation, deletion of data, and demonstrated or proactive accountability.
Speakers outlined the risk and possible human rights violations associated with the storage of personal information by entities, if not done for specific, clear and lawful purposes. When developing and utilising new and evolving technologies, it was important to anticipate and mitigate their potential impact on the enjoyment of human rights and be able to provide legal remedies where these rights were violated. States should find ways to address challenges to the enjoyment of the right to privacy of individuals, stemming from new and emerging digital technologies.
Some speakers said it was essential that information relating to people’s health and care was shared appropriately, lawfully and in line with reasonable expectations, and reiterated commitment to maintaining public trust in the health and care systems’ use of data. Personal identification data, including collection of health-related data, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, should be processed in line with the principles of transparency and clarity. New technologies and artificial intelligence could be a challenge, but if properly used, they could also be an opportunity.
Speakers welcomed the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur as a good reference point to build and consolidate levels of public confidence in the programmes of public entities that involved the processing of personal data by implementing transparent and publicly accessible mechanisms. States should adhere to the principles of purpose and time limitation, which required personal data to be deleted from databases once the specific purpose for which it was intended had been achieved; this could ensure protection of the fragile right to privacy. States were also encouraged to adopt a unified system of data protection.
Some speakers expressed concern about increased government spending on public security and State intelligence during the pandemic. Such spending, which occurred in different bodies and federative instances, was centred on acquiring hacking equipment and spy software, violating the rights of freedom of expression, association, privacy, and intimacy. Some speakers said governments had used firewall tools to spy on people who attempted to organise via social networks, and as a result, many people had been arrested. Pegasus spyware had been used by governments of many countries, in a violation of the right to privacy.
How would the Special Rapporteur envisage to increase the effectiveness of protection systems in the implementation of personal data processing regulations? How could States improve accountability of private entities in relation to data protection, respect for privacy, and prevention of harmful data collection practices to enhance online safety?
ANA BRIAN NOUGRÈRES, Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy, in concluding remarks, said there was a diverse array of tools to deal with violations. In general terms, the way of responding to violations and breaches began with the company, business, or entity behind the illegal handling of the data, and they should be challenged directly as a first step. Second, there should be agencies in charge of overseeing and monitoring private data. Third, the administration and framework of these bodies and those in charge of data monitoring and collection should be determined clearly. The idea was to avoid long-running court cases. A key step in all was to raise awareness, with social pressure and action groups that could shine light on illicit practices and pursue action with the Government wherever possible to ensure that steps were taken to rectify the situation.
Raising awareness among all members of society was essential, irrespective of age: everyone needed to be aware of the importance of privacy, how to protect it, and what steps to take when it was breached. This awareness-raising needed to go hand in hand with education at all steps of life as to what privacy meant and how it could be breached. Privacy and protection of data had been spoken of as indicators of the health of democracy: they were cross-cutting issues, seen in all societies and in all areas, including medical, administrative, and others. For these reasons, privacy and protection of data cut across all levels of society and of Government administration, and if it worked well, it was a sign that democracy was healthy.
Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the Effects of Foreign Debt on the Full Enjoyment of Human Rights
The Council has before it the report by the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, Attiya Waris, laying out a non-binding set of practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery (A/HRC/52/45).
Presentation of Report
ATTIYA WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said the report focused on the implications of the digital economy on the enjoyment of human rights. In order to fully reap the benefits of this technological progress while minimising the potential for harm, the development and deployment of new technologies forming a part of the digital economy must be rooted in human rights. The use of data in the digital economy was facilitating new and targeted products and services, as well as global trade; but it also led to violations of the right to privacy. Digital technologies were also being used to hamper the transparency of cross-border financial transactions, which in turn enabled illicit financial flows and negatively influenced conditions around debt sustainability.
In order to address these issues, she called upon States, both individually and as members of various multilateral and international financial institutions and regional blocs to, among others: ensure that technological advances did not compromise human rights and that digital economy innovations could be tapped to support the continued collection of resources for the realisation of human rights; in the development and deployment of digital technologies in the economy, ensure that the rights and principles related to privacy, access to information, participation, accountability, transparency and fiscal legitimacy were effectively applied; and promote international cooperation and assistance, including on information-sharing.
The Independent Expert said she was requested to conduct a study on a proposed non-binding set of practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery aimed at curbing the illicit transfer of funds and mitigating its negative effects on the enjoyment of human rights. She presented 13 non-binding guidelines on human rights and the repatriation of assets, which aimed to describe the main human rights obligations that applied in this context, in order to facilitate their practical implementation and further development. These guidelines included: a human rights approach to assets; fiscal legitimacy for the common good and the raising of living standards; non-discrimination; international cooperation and assistance; transparency; access to information; public asset management and participatory budgeting; accountability; and laws, policy and regulations.
The Independent Expert said she had conducted a country visit to Argentina. Argentina had had to face multiple debt, and economic and financial crises for nearly 40 years and she recognized the immense efforts the authorities had made during this period. Argentina had shown resilience, however, there was still room for progress to maximise the use of resources for the realisation of human rights and avoid any retrogression.
The Independent Expert made a number of recommendations, including for Argentina: to design and implement fiscal, tax, debt, monetary and trade policies directed towards the realisation of human rights; to mobilise the maximum available resources to progressively achieve the full realisation of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights; to follow the guiding principles on human rights impact assessments for economic reform policies when dealing with credit rating agencies about debt management; and to improve transparency and public participation in the process of undertaking sovereign debt reform with private creditors. In addition, and as a part of her country visits and conversations in Argentina, the Independent Expert called upon the International Monetary Fund to comply with the human rights provisions of the United Nations and, accordingly, demonstrate that International Monetary Fund policies, practices and the economic reform measures it proposed would serve to fulfil, not undermine, its human rights obligations.
Statement by Country Concerned
Argentina , speaking as a country concerned, thanked the Independent Expert for the report she presented as a result of her visit to Argentina in September and October 2022. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in inflation, the tightening of international financing conditions, and the growing impacts of climate change, had caused a sharp increase in public debt, aggravating a problem that preceded the health crisis.
In line with its conviction, one of the pillars of Argentina's economic policy had always been the progressive improvement of the economic rights and living conditions of its population. A fundamental step to grant social protection and guarantee economic rights was to overhaul the country’s debt and place it on a path to sustainability. To achieve that goal, the current administration had drawn up a strategy to restructure.
Argentina respectfully pointed out some comments on the report. The first concerned inconsistencies between some of the data presented in the report and official government data and calculations. The second concerned transparency. The report omitted to mention the "law to strengthen the sustainability of public debt", which was key in this regard.
In the discussion, many speakers thanked the Independent Expert for her report on the use of digital platforms for illicit financial flows in the digital world, and the non-binding practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery, and expressed support for her mandate. Her report highlighted the effects of international financial obligations on the full enjoyment of all human rights, including the negative effects of the digital economy, particularly in relation to the lack of transparency of banking transactions and the promotion of tax evasion. Speakers welcomed the recommendations contained in the report on the non-binding set of practical guidelines for efficient asset recovery.
The successive crises facing humanity, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, armed conflicts, climate change, and the energy and food crises, had exacerbated the scarcity of resources allocated to development, hindering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and making them a far-fetched aspiration for many people, especially in Africa and many developing countries. The COVID-19 pandemic had exposed the fiscal vulnerabilities of governments globally and caused an upsurge in borrowing to cover essential health and welfare expenditures. Lower income and small island States were hit hardest by debt constraints, which hindered efforts to eradicate poverty and realise economic, social, and cultural rights.
Speakers said that recourse to external debt played an essential role in development, but unsustainable levels of debt servicing were likely to undermine growth and negatively impact a State's ability to guarantee human rights. Some said that external debt financing had played a crucial role in the realisation of important structuring projects such as roads, ports, energy and agricultural projects, which guaranteed human rights. However, the servicing of the external debt negatively affected certain countries’ capacity to guarantee human rights. The burden of repayment of debt forced Governments to reduce expenditures on public services, increase budgetary pressure, and limit capacity to implement reforms. Economic, social and cultural rights were most affected.
Technological innovation in the economic sphere had transformed the daily lives of the vast majority of the world's population, including in developing countries. However, negative effects of this technology included the lack of transparency, particularly in international financial transactions. The difficulties in prosecuting cases of financial flows, the lack of access to technological resources in developing countries, and the ever-increasing inequalities were also negative consequences of the digital economy that constituted obstacles to the full enjoyment of human rights.
Some speakers said it was unacceptable and harmful for Western countries to use their dominant position in the field of information and communication technologies to introduce unilateral coercive measures against independent States, to exert pressure on their governments. They agreed with the Special Rapporteur that removing a country from the SWIFT platform, through unilateral coercive measures or sanctions outside international law, flagrantly violated the economic, social and cultural rights of States. These had negative impacts on the right of people to access basic services, preventing the procurement of medicines, food, medical devices, medical equipment, and medical care.
Speakers said it was necessary to address the problem of paying the public debt with attention to human rights, particularly of the most vulnerable. Considering the development and deployment of new technologies using a human rights-based approach could be a first approach to solutions. Strengthening international solidarity, including through debt relief or cancellation programmes for countries with fragile economies, was also a promising approach. It was important to act now to ensure systems were better prepared to handle future emergencies.
ATTIYA WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said there were two main topics coming out of the discussion, including the international financial architecture. It was the control of where the digital systems were housed, where transactions passed, and then control over the use of the type of currency used in the transaction. The over-reliance on one currency undermined the ability of a country to transact later on, leading to a power shift to which currency the currency involved was being pegged to. This had a particular effect on developing countries. De-coupling currency rates was something that needed to be considered.
On where the internet was housed, there had been debates on trade data being compared to digital data, but they moved differently. The data should be stored not in a nationalistic way, but in a cooperative way. With regard to the international financial architecture, this continued to be under pressure, but many countries did not look at it from a human rights perspective, and how it affected the poorest and the ability to raise living standards. Concerted efforts needed to be made to house financial data in neutral spaces. She was heartened by the work Argentina was doing to improve the lives of its people.
In the continuing discussion, some speakers commended the Independent Expert for her comprehensive and detailed report on international financial obligations, digital systems and human rights, and called for a renewal of her mandate. Speakers appreciated the role of the Independent Expert in shedding light on the effects of excessive foreign debt and other related international financial obligations on the full enjoyment of human rights.
Foreign debt had become an enormous burden on many developing countries. Despite government efforts to stimulate economic growth and promote development, the high levels of debt had made it difficult to invest in critical areas such as health, education, and social welfare, leading to a widening gap between the rich and poor, with vulnerable populations bearing the brunt of the negative consequences.
Some speakers said the current international financial system was unfair and needed reform. The current system, which lacked financial transparency, promoted the accumulation of debt by developing countries, while simultaneously limiting their ability to generate revenue and repay their debts. This created a vicious cycle of debt that perpetuated poverty and inequality, ultimately compromising the enjoyment of human rights.
Some speakers said the countries of the South had seen their foreign debt double over the past decades, using many billions from their reserve to service this debt. It was urgent that a solution be found to foreign debt so the South could focus on sustainable development. This required changing the unfair economic order and the current financial architecture. It also required the removal of unilateral coercive measures and developed countries renewing their commitments. The Independent Expert should continue to raise her voice against the imposition of unilateral coercive measures and the removal of countries from the SWIFT system.
Many developing countries had struggled to cope with the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this had further exacerbated the situation of foreign debt. The pandemic had pushed back the progress made towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and foreign debt had made it even more challenging to build back better.
Speakers agreed that States were obliged to ensure the prompt repatriation of funds of illicit origin to the countries of origin and to actively participate in adopting renewed, decisive and proactive commitments to tackle the phenomenon of illicit financial flows. They endorsed the recommendation by the Independent Expert to foster a transparent and ongoing collaboration with stakeholders from all sectors. The international community was urged to work towards a fair and sustainable financial system that promoted economic growth and development, and protected the human rights of all people, particularly those in developing countries. Some speakers called on Member States to stand in solidarity in the renewed call for a review or total overhaul of the international financial and debt architecture.
Speakers highlighted the issues of remittances mentioned in the report, and asked the Independent Expert whether she could share good practices for transferring remittances from abroad from migrant workers to their country of origin? Based on her work so far, what were her views and suggestions on developing inter-institutional cooperation between human rights machinery and international financial institutions to ensure compliance with the human rights principles’ objectives?
ATTIYA WARIS, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, in concluding remarks, said the fact that she had received comments from almost every continent in the world and institutions and groups that represented a diversity of people showed that financing was at the core of the realisation of human rights. The possibilities of taking these conversations forward into other spaces was also positive. On digital systems, a moratorium had been put at the World Trade Organization 20 years ago on customs duty, with the immediate effect of States looking for income to make on digital goods and services. To date, there had been no consensus on removing this moratorium, and as the world moved forward in austerity, the international community should consider whether it should remain.
On the movement of money across borders, such as remittances, there had been court cases where types and strategies of movement of money were seen as legal and valid. On the surcharges made by international financial institutions, she had written to many organizations, only some of which had responded, and her concern was that increasing interest rates without considering human rights would lead to an increase in debt and to the inability of some States to maintain human rights. Interest rates and the gain on the investment came from the economy and the work of the people in the country.
In human rights spaces, the international community was asking for better accountability, and guidelines like the Independent Expert’s on the repatriation of State assets needed to go hand in hand with these State initiatives. When all these silos were put together, then differences could be seen more clearly, and decisions could be made for a new global fiscal architecture, including debt, aid, trade and taxation. Digital systems moved much faster than the international community, and law and regulation would always be catching up, and the international community should be aware that when drafting laws, policies and treaties, there must be clauses to deal with new technological advances.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders
The Council has before it the report by the Special Rapporteur on the situation with human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, on 25 years of achievements by human rights defenders (A/HRC/52/29).
Presentation of Report
MARY LAWLOR, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said today she would share the amazing achievements of human rights defenders all over the world, but first would report on her country visit to Greece. During her visit, she had encountered a rich and dynamic community of human rights defenders, and witnessed first-hand their determination to see the rights of all respected and protected in Greece. The report made recommendations to the State on how it could better support and protect human rights defenders. Yet while the environment for many human rights defenders in Greece was generally secure, this was severely undermined by the treatment of those seeking to defend the rights of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
The report presented today, called “Success through perseverance and solidarity: 25 years of achievements by human rights defenders”, was full of examples of what human rights defenders had managed to do since the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted in 1998. In those 25 years, it was exactly because defenders peacefully confronted powerful vested interests, because they exposed corruption, because they refused to accept injustice, because they challenged criminal gangs, because they talked about issues governments wanted to hide, because they told the truth, and because they made good things happen, that they were attacked.
On every continent, human rights defenders were achieving stunning success. The tenacity of these human rights defenders and others in continuing to document human rights violations demonstrated success in the face of severe challenges. These victories were usually the result of long-term struggles and were typically achieved in collaboration with other human rights defenders, and with a broad range of allies. Yet in very many places, State officials vilified and targeted human rights defenders in an effort to undermine their work. This must stop. States had to start recognising the crucial work that human rights defenders did to help build equal and just societies.
Statement by Country Concerned
Greece, said the issue of migration needed to be approached through a balanced perspective. There were substantial positive developments when it came to respect of human rights in the field of migration, which were not necessarily reflected in the report. Greece had invested in modern and safe reception and accommodation facilities, and ensured the provision of systematic and organised assistance, as well as care for people in need. New arrivals in substantial numbers, including the rapid granting of protection to Ukrainian refugees, continued to put significant strain on Greece. Every day the dedicated personnel of the Police, Coast Guard, trained to respect human rights and the principle of non refoulement, saved lives.
Greece recognised the valuable assistance of civil society. However, there needed to be proper regulation, in full conformity with international law, which ensured transparency, accountability and security for all those involved. The specific categories of human rights defenders mentioned in the report were fully protected. They had full, equal and effective access to judicial and other remedies. Greek authorities were analysing the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and looked forward to continued cooperation.
In the discussion, some speakers thanked the Special Rapporteur for her report highlighting the positive role of human rights defenders all around the world, and recognised the valuable role that human rights defenders played in promoting and protecting human rights. In numerous instances, human rights defenders placed their own safety and freedom at risk. Some speakers expressed sincere gratitude to all civil society activists and human rights defenders, including those who provided assistance to the thousands of war-affected persons. More needed to be done to highlight appreciation for their vital work.
The work of human rights defenders was crucial to ensuring the protection for social, cultural and economic rights; they deserved the support from the international community. Human rights defenders played a crucial role in strengthening the rule of law, preventing conflict, and working towards sustainable development.
Some speakers said they would continue to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to carry out their work, without interference, including online as well as offline spaces. They were committed to championing the world of human rights defenders, including young activists. The work of children standing up for human rights was commended, however, child human rights defenders faced specific risks and reprisals. States should increase efforts to ensure the effective protection and empowerment of child human rights defenders.
More needed to be done in creating an enabling environment for human rights defenders. All too often their lives or those of their families were endangered. Speakers strongly condemned any acts of intimidation, violence, threat, harassment or reprisal, including launching politically motivated trials, against human rights defenders. It was despicable that in some countries even Nobel Prize winners were regarded as criminals, as in the case of Ales Bialiatski in Belarus; Belarus should release all human rights defenders. Speakers also deplored reprisals against human rights defenders in Ukraine.
How could States build on the success stories described in the report to assist those that defended human rights under oppression by authoritarian regimes? How could the Council best support human rights defenders and their efforts to bring about positive change? What specific provisions for the promotion and protection of human rights defenders could be contained in the specific mechanism recommended by the Special Rapporteur? What ways could laws be improved to support and protect human rights defenders?
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