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Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on human rights defenders, E/CN.4/2002/106, 27 February 2002

1. Individuals, groups and organizations working for the promotion and protection of human rights

51. Others, such as peasants, environmental activists, members of religious, ethnic and sexual minorities, students, teachers and intellectuals – all working for the promotion and protection of human rights – have been subjected to human rights abuses. Equally, members of parliament, procurators, ombudspersons and members of the opposition, as well as human rights activists in general, have all been targeted for upholding human rights.

2. Human rights abuses against human rights defenders

61. Human rights defenders have been arrested, detained, charged, tried and sentenced, sometimes to long terms of imprisonment or even to hard labour, because of their engagement in a variety of activities for the promotion and defence of human rights, including: campaigning for an end to torture and for humane prison conditions; demanding official investigations in cases of abduction and disappearance; participating in international human rights conferences and forums; calling for the release of political prisoners; investigating official corruption and collusion in human rights abuses committed by paramilitary groups; documenting atrocities and providing assistance to victims of human rights violations and their families; working on behalf of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced populations; campaigning for workers’  rights  and  for  the  promotion  of  basic  labour  standards;  peacefully advocating independence; protesting against emergency legislation; demanding greater respect for the environment; denouncing judicial corruption; upholding the right to conscientious objection; publishing translations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; campaigning for more effective law enforcement in cases of violence against women; advocating the rights of religious, ethnic and sexual minorities; upholding land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; and denouncing official embezzlement of funds.

B. Women human rights defenders

83. However, it is also important to highlight the fact that, worldwide, women human rights defenders are paying a heavy toll for their work in protecting and promoting the human rights of others. Unfortunately, an equally impossibly long list could be drawn up of the human rights abuses women defenders face or to which they have actually been subjected simply for upholding human rights. For women human rights defenders, standing up for human rights and the victims of human rights abuses – be they migrants, refugees, asylum-seekers or political activists, or simply people unwillingly relegated to the margins of society, such as ex-offenders and members of sexual minorities – can result in intimidation, harassment, unfair dismissal, death threats, torture and ill-treatment, and even death.

C. The impact on human rights defenders of the 11 September attacks

104. It is easy for Governments to foment suspicion, create public anxiety and direct sheer hostility towards human rights defenders. Human rights defenders reach out to groups that are already socially vulnerable and marginalized, such as ethnic minorities, ex-offenders, sexual minorities, asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant workers. In the post-11 September climate, Governments and other actors have an easier time in portraying anyone who disagrees with them or expresses any form of criticism as a dissident and subversive or even as aiding and abetting “foreign terrorists”.

IV. Conclusions and recommendations

115. Defenders seeking to protect the political, civil, economic, social or cultural rights of marginalized groups and persons face stronger resistance to their work, are more vulnerable and, therefore, more threatened. They include leaders of indigenous and other minority communities, leaders of movements of the poor, and defenders of the rights of women, sexual minorities, displaced persons, migrants and refugees. Environmental and anti-globalization activists seeking redress against violations of social and economic rights continue to be denigrated and exposed to violence.

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