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Urgent Interventions

Third annual report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Defenders caught between repression and international hypocrisy
Third annual report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Published on 29 March 2001

The publication of the annual report 2000 of the Observatory coincides with the first anniversary of the creation by the United Nations of an international mechanism, for the protection of Human Rights Defenders. Hina Jilani, a Pakistani lawyer and eminent activist, has been appointed as Special Representative of the Secretary General of the UN to this body.

Our struggle has not been in vain. The creation of this mechanism is an important victory for all those who are involved in a daily struggle for fundamental rights and freedoms for all and who, as a result, are victimised. Nevertheless, this step should not blind us to the increasing cynicism of a growing number of States. Within the United Nations they openly support the Special Representative’s mandate while developing strategies of repression and harassment within their own countries. Moreover, since the beginning of the 57th session of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, some of these very States have been instrumental in initiating a campaign to contest the role of independent non-governmental organisations. 17 of the 53 member states of this Commission have officially asked for a limit to be placed on NGO activities within the UN system.

This is also evident in the report describing 350 cases of defenders persecuted in 52 countries.

Trade unionists, environmentalists and lawyers in particular on all continents continue to be the target of the authorities and private groups. Abuse of the rights of defenders applies to all fields of their activities and covers a wide spectrum of threats and repressive measures (summary executions, death threats, ill treatment, defamation, surveillance, telephone tapping, confiscation of documents and passports, arrests and arbitrary detention, legal proceedings, travel bans). These violations extend to both organisations and their members, whose private lives and public activities are equally targeted.

This year the Observatory focuses on the wide variety of restrictions placed on freedom of association. The situations mentioned in the report demonstrate the manner in which respect of this freedom determines the room for manœuvre of Human Rights Defenders.

Citizens in every region of the world are deprived of the right to create and participate in an organisation, to meet and hold a peaceful assembly, even to communicate with other NGOs and intergovernmental organisations. They can render themselves liable to criminal proceedings for possessing, doing research on and disseminating information and receiving funds from abroad.

The use of level of intensity of one method or another can vary from region to region.

Thus, in Latin America both the life and the physical and psychological integrity of defenders are among the most threatened. This continent has always held the tragic record for the number of defenders whose lives are threatened, who are victims of forced disappearances and summary executions. For Colombia in particular, the Observatory intervened in 18 cases of summary executions and over 50 death threats between November 1999 and February 2001.

In North Africa and the Middle East the right to privacy, followed by the right to work, to freedom of movement and association are the main targets of harassment.

In Europe, it would appear that defenders are the main victims of legal proceedings directly connected with the exercise of their freedom of expression. Kirghizstan and Turkey are the most notorious examples.

Finally, both in Asia and in Africa, arrests and arbitrary detentions are the main risks run by defenders. In Africa, a large number of arrests take place outside any legal framework, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Today, Human Rights Defenders face a particular challenge : the combined use of a variety of lethal and sophisticated methods.

The Observatory will present this report on Thursday 29 March 2001.

Meeting with the press at the United Nations
In the presence of
Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH
Eric Sottas, director of OMCT
and of
Human Rights Defenders in different countries
Palais des Nations, Geneva, at 11h00
"Library", Press Room n° 2

At the award ceremony of the Martin Ennals Prize 2001 for Human Rights Defenders in the Télévision Suisse Romande Studios, at 17h30
20 Quai Ernest Ansermet, Geneva

Contacts :
FIDH : Juliane Falloux Tel 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18, Fax : 33 (0) 1 43 55 18 80, E-mail :
OMCT : Eric Sottas Tel + 41 22 809 49 39, Fax + 41 22 809 49 29, E-mail :

NB – The complete version of this report in French, English and Spanish will be available on the web sites of both these organisations on 29 March 2001.
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