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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, A/70/217, 30 July 2015

III. Report on regional consultations

B. Global trends pointing to a threatening environment for defenders

4. Profound institutional weaknesses

53. The defenders also point to a lack of “intersectionality”, that is to say, the awareness that different types and sources of discrimination intersect with, and reinforce, one another. Few studies address the problems faced by defenders when they are the target of several forms of discrimination (take, for instance, the case of a woman defender who has the status of a woman living in exile or that of a homosexual defender of ethnic minority origin). The international human rights system has not yet systematically incorporated an intersectional approach and, as a result, different sources of discrimination tend to be treated compartmentally. Thus, solutions do not permit a comprehensive grasp of the whole set of discriminations and vulnerabilities to which such defenders are exposed. Taking these different parameters into account would doubtless ensure a more integrated and crosscutting approach in the solutions to be found for these categories of defenders. This is one of the topics the Special Rapporteur intends to revisit in his next reports.

C. Threats faced by the most at-risk groups of defenders

1. Common threats faced by these groups of defenders

56. During each regional consultation, discussions were held about the threats and challenges faced by certain specific groups of defenders. As requested on several occasions by the Human Rights Council (in its resolutions 13/3, 22/6 and 24/24), strategies and actions for providing them with better protection were also examined. Some defenders face threats purely because of their identity (for example, women, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex persons, members of indigenous peoples, or defenders of persons suffering from albinism), others because of the issues they address (combating corruption, protecting the environment), or due to a particularly sensitive context (defenders working in conflict or post-conflict areas).

3. Defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons

65. Defenders promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons are also the target of numerous attacks. They told of hate crimes encouraged by a national environment that stigmatized them, with the State itself acting as the vehicle for this form of discrimination by criminalizing homosexuality, as is the case in some African and Middle Eastern countries. In several countries, homosexuality is punishable by the death penalty, which makes the defenders’ work extremely dangerous. These defenders are likewise the subject of numerous attempts at homophobic blackmail, extortion, or defamatory campaigns, especially on the Internet and in social media. In addition, they have to contend with the pressure exerted by certain religious groups which depict these defenders as a threat to traditional values and as people who promote immoral and decadent Western values.

66. The lack of any protection under the law or in practice exacerbates the vulnerability of defenders of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Neither the security forces nor judges are trained in regard to respect for the rights of these persons, which leads to major deficiencies in the registering of complaints, prosecuting those responsible for human rights violations and bring them to justice. The defenders also mentioned the lack of resources to enable them to seek legal assistance in cases of discrimination and aggression against them.

67. Finally, the defenders dwelled at length on the lack of public acknowledgment (visibility) of lesbian, transgender and intersex persons and the lack of political and social support, even sometimes in among the defender community. That is manifested, for instance, in the lack of support from other defenders, nongovernmental organizations, or national human rights institutions that do not express solidarity for fear of reprisals or out of shame of being associated with issues relating to lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

D. Mixed experiences with cooperation with regional mechanisms and other international and regional actors

89. It would be impossible to conclude the present section without harking back to the disturbing increase in the number of reprisals and acts of intimidation reported by defenders during the regional consultations. Fear of reprisals perpetrated by non-State or governmental actors deters some defenders from cooperating with the United Nations and regional mechanisms. In this connection, the defenders point to the surveillance exercised over them and over certain non-governmental organizations that cooperate with the United Nations on issues deemed to be sensitive, such as discrimination against Roma people, or the promotion of sexual and reproductive rights, sexual orientation and identity. The defenders urged the Special Rapporteur to continue to support their reports calling for an end to these reprisals and attempts to intimidate them. In this regard, the defenders mentioned some States’ attitude to such reprisals. While they are guilty of, or complicit in acquiescing to, attacks on them that all too often go unpunished, States nevertheless have a fundamental role to play, according to the defenders.

IV. Conclusions and recommendations

B. Recommendations

93. The Special Rapporteur recommends that States adopt the following measures:

(a) Do more to disseminate the work of defenders and to support their work through campaigns and specific communication and information activities that pay tribute, in particular, to the contributions made by certain categories of defender, such as women; defenders of the rights of lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; defenders working in the area of corporate social responsibility and land-related rights; defenders of the rights of minorities and indigenous peoples; and defenders who combat impunity and corruption;

Link to full text of the report: Report-SRHRD-GA-2015-eng