Human Rights Defenders: In the frontlines

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Today is Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Some thoughts on this day, cross-posted on IntLawGrrls:

Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto of El Salvador was shot dead in November 2009 while on her way home from doing laundry at a nearby river. She was eight months pregnant and holding her two-year-old child when she was killed. She had been active in opposing a mining operation in her community due to concerns about the mine’s health and environmental impacts.

Attacks on environmental activists throughout Latin America are on the increase, according to the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL). On 25 October 2010, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a hearing on the situation faced by environmental activists in Central America. CIEL provides background information as well as a link to a webcast of the hearing here.

People who work to defend human rights are subjected to killing, death threats, torture, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest and detention, prosecution, defamation, burglary, and more. This year’s theme for Human Rights Day — December 10 — is human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.

Human rights defenders are targeted not only by governments but also by private individuals and entities. In her August 2010 report, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya (above; photo source: focused on state obligations under international law with respect to human rights violations against defenders by non-state actors.

People working to end rights abuses targeting gay men, lesbians, transgender and bisexual individuals are among those who work at great personal risk. Today, in the ECOSOC Chamber of the United Nations in New York, the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, France, Gabon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, The United States of America and the Delegation of the European Union will hold a High Level Panel Discussion on “Ending Violence and Criminal Sanctions on the basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will deliver opening remarks and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will deliver a special video address.

The Association for Women in Development (AWID), in collaboration with the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, recently issued a new reference tool, List of Materials and Resources for Women Human Rights Defenders, which lists:

  • research materials dealing with the security and protection of defenders;
  • manuals on how to document and monitor violations of women’s rights;
  • information on how to conduct trial observations;
  • manuals on the rights and mechanisms available to women human rights defenders at risk;
  • materials that address specific themes particularly relevant to women defenders, such as sexual orientation, religious fundamentalisms and conflict.

– Stephanie Farrior

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