Contribution of human rights defenders in conflict situations recognised in the UN

A resolution on human rights defenders in conflict situations put forward by Norway has been adopted by the UN Human Rights Council today.

‘The most serious human rights situations are found in countries and areas affected by conflict. The individuals working to promote human rights in these settings play a vital role in identifying and raising awareness about human rights violations and abuses, and in laying the groundwork for peace after conflict. These individuals are at particularly high risk of being attacked and threatened. This is why it is so important that the UN Human Rights Council recognises the efforts of human rights defenders and reaffirms that states have a responsibility to protect them,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt.

Norway has played a leading role in UN efforts to develop the international framework for ensuring the protection of human rights defenders ever since the Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted in 1998. The negotiations were even more difficult this year due to the current political situation. Despite the  strong support of countries from all regions of the world, Russia requested a vote on the resolution. Russia then abstained and advised other countries to do the same. Of the 47 member states, 39 voted in favour of the resolution, and no countries voted against it.

‘Challenging and criticising the government authorities is part of the role of human rights defenders. Nevertheless, the vast majority of countries acknowledge the importance of the work of human rights defenders and the need to protect them. This resolution reaffirms that they must be allowed to carry out their work in conflict and post-conflict situations without fear of reprisal. It is regrettable that the resolution was taken to a vote, but I am pleased by the broad support from a large majority in the UN Human Rights Council,’ said Ms Huitfeldt.

The resolution calls on states to refrain from Internet shutdowns, or other restrictions that prevent human rights defenders from having access to and disseminating information and communicating safely and securely.

‘In many conflicts, we have seen that access to the Internet and other communication networks is essential for documenting human rights violations. At the same time, online threats such as surveillance and hacking are increasing. That is why it is important that the resolution clearly encourages efforts to protect the digital safety of human rights defenders,’ said Ms Huitfeldt.

Women human rights defenders are at risk of sexual and gender-based violence and harassment in addition to other types of threats, violence and smear campaigns. In the resolution, the Human Rights Council emphasises that women’s participation and leadership roles in peace efforts are an essential element for ensuring their protection.

Every third year, Norway is the main sponsor of a resolution on human rights defenders in the UN Human Rights Council.

This year’s resolution addresses the situation of human rights defenders who are working in conflict situations and recognises the importance of their efforts.

Previous resolutions have, among other things, recognised environmental human rights defenders and human rights defenders who promote and protect economic, social and cultural rights.

This year’s resolution was adopted by a vote following a request from Russia.

There are 47 member states in the UN Human Rights Council.

The following countries voted in favour of the resolution:

Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Cuba, Finland, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Montenegro, Namibia, Netherlands, Nepal, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, Senegal, Somalia, South Korea, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America.

No countries voted against the resolution.

The following countries abstained:

China, Eritrea, Qatar, Russian Federation, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela.

In addition, the resolution was co-sponsored by more than 60 countries from all regions of the world, including some countries that are not members of the UN Human Rights Council.

Resolutions on human rights defenders have been adopted by a vote in the UN on a few other occasions, most recently in 2016. Normally, resolutions are adopted by consensus without a vote.