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Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, A/HRC/16/44, 20 December 2010


B. The approach of the mandate

22. Notwithstanding the legal recognition of the legitimacy of their work, women defenders continue to face significant challenges. Since its inception, the mandate has, both in its thematic and mission reports and other aspects of its work, consistently addressed the specificities of the situation of women human rights defenders and the particular challenges they face.

23. In this regard, the mandate holders have reiterated on several occasions that women defenders are more at risk of suffering certain forms of violence and other violations, prejudice, exclusion, and repudiation than their male counterparts. This is often due to the fact that women defenders are perceived as challenging accepted socio-cultural norms, traditions, perceptions and stereotypes about femininity, sexual orientation, and the role and status of women in society. Their work is often seen as challenging “traditional” notions of the family which can serve to normalize and perpetuate forms of violence and oppression of women. This can, in certain contexts, lead to hostility or lack of support from the general population, as well as the authorities.

1. Most common activities of those who face violations

37. A large number of communications sent during the period (196) concerned alleged violations against defenders, including males, working on women’s rights or gender issues, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual issues (LGBT). This group is thoroughly heterogeneous, including women and men carrying out a vast range of activities related to women’s rights, including those working on issues related to sexual and reproductive rights; organizations dealing with violence against women, rehabilitation and impunity related to violence, rape and sexual violence, women’s shelters caring for victims of the above; and journalists and bloggers writing on women’s rights issues.

42. The 28 communications sent regarding defenders working on women’s rights or gender issues in Europe and Central Asia predominantly concerned LGBT activists in East and Central European countries including Poland, Moldova, Serbia, and the Russian Federation, as well as women’s rights activists operating in Uzbekistan and Belarus. Alleged violations against LGBT activists in this region generally related to freedom of assembly or association, such as denial of permits for peaceful rallies or refusal to register an organization. Other reported violations against women’s rights defenders were again largely judicial by nature, including arrests, detentions, judicial harassment, and conviction.

43. During the period, the mandate sent 47 communications regarding defenders working on LGBT issues. Aside from the aforementioned alleged violations related to freedom of assembly and association, killings of LGBT human rights defenders were alleged in five communications, with rape and sexual violence, including against males, being reported in a further six. Various other communications detailed many instances of threats, death threats, physical attacks and violence, and stigmatization. Further, the criminalization of homosexuality has in some countries led to alleged arrests, torture and ill-treatment, including of a sexual nature, while in other countries it effectively prevented defenders from engaging in any advocacy for LGBT rights.

58. The human rights activities carried out by those subjected to threats and death threats in the Americas region ranged very widely. Among the groups that appear to be most at risk are women defenders working to fight impunity for alleged human rights violations, particularly in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Peru. Moreover, those working on indigenous rights also appear to be at risk, particularly in Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras; trade unionists, particularly in Colombia and Guatemala; and women’s rights and/or LGBT defenders in the region.

C. Risks and challenges faced by women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights and gender issues

2. Risks and violations reported

(c) Stigmatization

85. Aside from the “political” stigmatization to which both women defenders and their male counterparts are subjected in certain contexts, including accusations of being fronts for guerrilla movements, terrorists, political extremists, separatists, foreign countries or interests, women human rights defenders often face further stigmatization by virtue of their sex or the gender- or sexuality-based rights they advocate. As noted above, such work can be perceived as challenging established socio-cultural norms, tradition or perceptions about the role and status of women in society. As a result of this, women defenders often find themselves and their work subjected to stigmatization by both State and non-State actors. A common accusation directed in particular at those working on women’s rights, gender issues, and LGBT rights, is the assertion that these defenders are somehow advocating or attempting to import “foreign” or “Western” values which contradict national or regional culture. State agents or representatives are often alleged to be responsible for such stigmatization.

(d) Sexual violence and rape

86. As both mandate holders have reiterated on various occasions, female human rights defenders are subject to particular risks to which their male counterparts are not so greatly exposed, foremost among these being the risk of rape, sexual abuse, and other forms of sexual violence and harassment. During the 2004-2009 period, the mandate sent 26 communications regarding cases of rape, threatened rape, or other forms of sexual violence and harassment against women defenders. However, of these, six communications concerned abuses of this kind against LGBT activists.

87. In 2005, the mandate sent a communication regarding the systematic use of sexual and other forms of violence against women defenders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aside from this, two other cases of threatened and attempted rape were reported from the DRC, along with one attempted rape of a women defender’s daughter in the Central African Republic, and the threatened rape of an LGBT activist in Kenya. Sexual assaults, including instances of gang rape in detention of LGBT activists, were also reported in Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, India, and Nepal. The alleged perpetrators of these acts were mostly unknown/ unidentified but also included members of the police, military, armed groups, or local members of the community.

Link to full text of the report: Report-SR Human Rights Defenders-2010-eng