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Report demands state action to stop violations against rights defenders

1 November 2004

United Nations Special Representative on human rights defenders, Hina Jilani, has called on states to put in place strong institutional measures to prevent ‘continuing high levels’ of violations against human rights defenders. Expressing her ‘deep concern’ over the extent of violations, Jilani highlighted the absence of safeguards and the failure of institutions and agencies of the State, which ‘allow’ violations to occur. The report highlights the array of official and clandestine methods for restricting the activities of human rights defenders, which range from obstruction of establishment and funding of rights NGOs (non-governmental organizations), to arbitrary detention, killings and torture.

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) welcomed and endorsed the report, delivered to Secretary-General Kofi Annan for transmission to the United Nations General Assembly, highlighting a spate of violations against its own partner organizations in recent weeks. The report demands states act to prevent a wide range of violations which include arbitrary arrest and detention, prosecution and pre-trial detention, physical violence and harassment, carried out with the objective of disrupting or stopping legitimate activities of human rights organizations and individuals. Jilani’s report documents numerous examples of incidents including the killing of those who have offered information or testimony to UN Special Rapporteurs, establishing the serious risks that are faced by human rights defenders globally.

In October, staff of MRG’s partners working to secure the rights of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta in Nigeria, were detained and later released without charge or reason for their detention. On 11 October, Indian rights defenders and Dalit rights activists were arrested in Tamil Nadu, when they protested against being denied their right to hold a public meeting to raise awareness of police abuses and rights violations. In Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts region, MRG’s partners and their families have reported regular serious harassment and been threatened with violence for their minority rights activities. Other MRG partners have faced arrest or harassment following their attendance at international human rights events where they have raised their issues. MRG remains particularly concerned about the welfare of rights defenders such as Batwa pygmy representatives in Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR), who are particularly vulnerable due to lack of international and media attention to the plight of their communities and on-going gross rights violations.

MRG remain extremely concerned about these and numerous additional incidents and recommend that rights defenders bring violations to the immediate attention of Ms Jalani’s office. According to MRG such incidents world-wide highlight the importance of the work of the office of the Special Representative on human rights defenders, and the value of the current report recommendations. The report makes strong recommendations to counter a number of measures adopted by states including restrictions of the freedom of association and ‘NGO laws’ which regulate the work of NGOs and restrict their human rights activities.

Notes for editors

The address for petitions is: [email protected]. Make sure you write ‘Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ in the subject line.

For more information, contact the MRG Press Office on [email protected].