Freedom of association

Follow-up on the supplementary meeting on "Human Rights: Advocates and Defenders"

The FIDH and the OMCT, in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders [1] , underline the persistence of severe human rights violations perpetrated against human rights defenders in OSCE countries.

States are the first to hold responsibility for this situation. By directly orchestrating the repression against human rights defenders (through multiple repressive methods and adoption of restrictive legislation), or by simply "omitting" to protect them against perpetrators who are granted a quasi-total impunity, the States openly violate the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders [2] , which guarantees in particular "the right to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms" (article 1) and provides for the obligation of States to ensure the protection of human rights defenders (article 12) [3] .

The perpetrators of the violations against human rights defenders, whether they are governmental or belong to private groups linked, directly or not, to the State, seek to silence all those who dare denounce human rights violations in their countries.

Whereas Defenders play a major role in the construction of the rule of law, they are often accused of tarnishing the image of their countries and of undermining national security. This situation was amplified by the post-11 September context, which favours any attempt to criminalize human rights defenders’ activities, especially through accusations of terrorism. The fight against terrorism is perfectly legitimate and necessary for the security of persons and property in a State of Law. However, this context strengthens some States who use the fight against terrorism as an excuse to impose regimes that hardly respect the basic rights of their citizens. This post-11 September context was also used by some other States that reinforced or adopted unduly repressive legislation for "security reasons". The climate of suspicion and discredit with which Defenders are confronted has become worse or is liable to become worse.

Individually or collectively, Defenders face numerous obstacles to their most basic rights, rights that are enshrined in the final document of the 1990 Copenhagen Meeting [4] and guaranteed by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Individually, Defenders are subjected to serious infringements to the right to life. In Georgia, in Belarus and in Kazakhstan in particular, the people who fight for the respect of human rights or who denounce State corruption or trafficking, are victims of extreme acts of aggression and violence. Nuzgar Sulashvili, Chairman of the International Union: Centre for Foreign Citizens’ and Migrants’ Rights and Security" and his family were the victims of an attempt of murder on 15 July 2002, just before publishing the 2001-2002 annual report on trafficking in Georgia. In Kazakhstan, journalist Serguei Duvanov, chief editor of the news bulletin "Human rights in Kazakhstan and in the world" published by the Kazakhstan-based International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (KIBHRL), was attacked and severely beaten on 28 August 2002. In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, some Defenders are subjected to threats, such as the members of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia and its President, Sonja Biserko, who received phone threats in January 2002. Other Defenders, such as Natasha Kandic, President of the Humanitarian Law Centre, were threatened through press reports by a nationalist Serbian association in August 2002, after a campaign in favour of a public debate on war crimes.

The right to physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders is also violated. Yuldash Rasulov, a member of the Kashkadarya regional department of HRSU, was accused of creating a terrorist organization and was allegedly tortured after his transfer on 3 July to pre-trial detention centre no. 1 in Tashkent. A court ordered the prolongation of the mandatory treatment of human rights defender for Elena Urlayeva. In 2001, she spent 60 days in a psychiatric center, where she was forced to take neuroleptics, which had an adverse effect on her health. On 27 August 2002, Elena Urlayeva was arrested and placed once again in a psychiatric center. In Kyrgyzstan, Kachkyn Bulatov, co-ordinator of the Kyrgyz Committee for Human Rights (KCHR) in Naryn, was subjected to ill-treatment during his two-week detention in degrading conditions.

Defenders are also subjected to harassment, surveillance (being followed, phone-tapping), and smear campaigns, which constitute invasions of privacy. In Kyrgyzstan, members of the KCHR are increasingly victims of close surveillance carried out by security forces. The president of the organization, Ramazan Dyryldaev, is constantly followed. In Macedonia, a defamatory campaign was orchestrated against Mirjana Najcevska, the President of the Helsinki Committee. She was called the "number one State enemy," "anti-Macedonian," and the "Albanians’ attorney" by the Interior Minister in January 2002, after her organisation published its annual report. State media and the Orthodox Church amplified this slander. In September 2002, after a press release questioned the police’s political impartiality during the pre-electoral period, Mrs. Najcevska was subjected to slander once again.

One of the most frequent attacks on Defenders’ rights target their freedom of speech. This situation is flagrant in Turkey, where 16 intellectuals are still pending trial for publishing a book, Freedom of Thought 2000, containing 60 censured articles. Alp Ayan, psychiatrist and member of the Human Rights Foundation in Turkey (HRFT) and Mehmet Barindik, a representative of the LIMTER-IS trade union, were sentenced to a one-year prison sentence by the Penal Court N°4 on 6 June 2002, after denouncing the conditions of detainees in F-type prisons. Numerous other Defenders are sued for their declarations or writings on the Kurdish question. In numerous OSCE countries (Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Ukraine,...) journalists who dare criticize the authorities or express themselves on sensitive subjects are subjected to multiple pressure, intimidation, judicial sentences or even violence acts.

Concerning infringements on Defenders’ right to the freedom of association, the right to form, join, and participate in non-governmental organizations [5] is frequently violated. In this regard, human rights organizations are the object of defamatory campaigns that seek to discredit their action. In Georgia, for example, during a government session in March 2002, the President of the Republic compared NGO activities with terrorist activities, and asked for a tight control on their finances. He announced that criminal cases would be filed against NGOs if any violations were found. Since then, the President has repeated this stance in briefings and in press conferences. High-rank officials echoed the President’s position and Levan Mamaladze, an influential government party leader and representative of the President in the Kvemo Kartli region, even accused human rights NGO’s of "treason " and called for the initiation of criminal cases for "attempted Coup d’Etat". Following these declarations, government-run media have launched a campaign to discredit NGOs. In Azerbaidjan, the chief of the presidential administration criticized human rights defenders and NGOs following NGO mobilization that denounced acts of violence perpetrated in Nardaran in June 2002 and that demanded compensation: in September, he accused human rights defenders of having failed in their role as Defenders. He also accused NGOs of having used these events to present themselves as "champions of equity."

Other methods are also employed, especially administrative and judicial orders. In Uzbekistan, the Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) still has yet to obtain an official authorization for its registration. In Turkey, in December 2001, the president of the Batman Branch of the Human Rights Association (IHD) and 7 other members of the association were suspended from their duties because some of the organization’s members had been tried and convicted in the past. In Kyrgyzstan, the KCHR had to relocate its offices to Bishkek after the authorities sealed the organizations’ doors. In Belarus, on 12 March 2002, the Regional Court of Bierastsir ordered the closing of the "Viezha" Centre for Support to Public Initiatives, following a request by the Ministry of Justice. In Chechnya, due to various legal and administrative obstacles, NGOs cannot freely pursue their activities.

Defenders’ right to assemble and to demonstrate peacefully is also violated frequently [6] . This is especially the case in Belarus, where the right to demonstrate is very restricted: on 19 April 2002, a protest of 3000 people in reaction to recent violations of human rights was violently dispersed by special police forces. More than 100 demonstrators - including organizers, human rights activists and jounalists - were arrested, detained and subected to ill-treatment. In Kyrgyzstan, numerous pacific demonstrations, in favor of judicial proceedings against the individuals responsible for the shootings of several demonstrators in March 2002, have been repressed. The organizers of the demonstrations and human rights defenders were arrested and beaten.

Freedom of assembly is particularly restricted in Turkey: on 25 January 2002, Ridvan Kizgin and Fevzi Akbulut, President and Secretary of the IHD section in Bingöl, were arrested in the premises of their organistion, after participating as observers in a press conference organized by the Kurdish party Hadep. They were placed in preliminary detention for more than two months and are being sued for violating Law no. 2911 on demonstrations. Moreover, it occurs very often that the police intervene in meetings and conferences and tape the discussions.

The Observatory has also recorded numerous robberies, raids and proceedings against associations, which constitute violations of the right to know, seek, obtain, receive and hold information about human rights [7] . In Georgia, on 19 November 2001, the Marneulia office of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Rights of Prisoners of Geaorgia was broken into, equipment and documents stolen. On 10 July 2002, a group of 15 people attacked the premises of the Liberty Institute in Tbilissi, injuring several members of the organization. In Chechnya, the premises of the Russian organization Memorial in Grozny were attacked on 18 July 2002, by an unidentified military group. All the equipement was destroyed. In Turkey, human rights NGOs are victims of raids and subjected to judicial proceedings, because they allegedly held forbidden documents, in particular on the Kurdish issue. In October 2001, during a raid of the Dyiarbakir section of HRFT, nearly 400 medical files of victims of torture were confiscated.

The right to freely publish or disseminate others’ opinions, information and knowledge [8] is also violated. In Russia, on 25 June 2002, the Supreme Court of Moscow confirmed the sentence to 4 years in prison against Grigory Pasko, military correspondent for the Journal of the Russian Fleet. He was prosecuted for "high treason," following the broadcasting, by a Japanese channel, of one of his reports about the dumping of nuclear waste, and the publication of his articles about pollution related to boat cemeteries, nuclear waste and the promotion of certain generals. In numerous countries, Defenders and journalists who impart information on sensitive issues, such as corruption or trafficking, are objects of judicial proceedings. In Turkey, a man who had testified to an investigative mission lead by several Turkish NGOs in August 2001, on allegations of torture in a south-eastern village, was arrested, imprisoned, and is pending trial, in flagrant violation of the right to communicate with NGOs and inter-governmental organizations [9] .

Finally, States set numerous legislative obstacles in order to limit the capacity of human rights defenders, thereby violating article 3 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders:

In October 2001, while local elections were being prepared, the Election Code was amended by the introduction of a new article (article 50) prohibiting NGOs to receive foreign aid dedicated to the purpose of election monitoring. This violates article 13 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. On 24 May 2002, the President of the Republic introduced a draft law on the "fight against political extremism," which the Parliament is scheduled to discuss in spring 2003. In all likelihood - given the judiciary’s virtually complete independence, this law would be used arbitrarily against opposition movements and against the entire civil society, including defenders.

In addition, a law on demonstrations, meetings and sit-ins, introduced by the President of the Republic was approved by the Parliament on 24 June 2002, and renders mandatory the permission from local authorities to held demonstrations.

The Observatory remains very concerned by other restrictive legislations, in particular the Turkish Law on Associations, and laws regulating the registration of NGOs in other countries, such as Belarus and Uzbekistan.


In view of this situation, the Observatory asks the member States of the OSCE to:

 Commit to putting an end to this recurrent phenomenon,

 Fully recognize the major role of human rights defenders in the building of democracy and the rule of law.

 To conform with the provisions of the final document of Copenhagen (1990) and with those of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

With these goals in mind, the States must commit themselves to adopting a specific regional monitoring and follow-up mechanism of protecting human rights defenders. The mechanism should solicit, question, and answer to the States. Further, this mechanism must work in close partnership with the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights defenders, Mrs. Hina Jilani, who has already exchanged views with the highest OSCE authorities.

The creation of such a mechanism is included in the recommendations of the supplementary meeting on "Human Rights: Advocates and Defenders", 22 - 23 October 2001. These recommendations have, until now, not received appropriate follow-up action and have therefore not produced concrete results.

The OSCE cannot afford to be cut off from this year’s dynamic regional developments in the protection of human rights defenders (for example, the creation of an operational unit on Defenders by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in December 2001). This regional mechanism is absolutely necessary to sensitise States and to lead them to respect their commitments and to guarantee the freedom of action of human rights defenders.


[1] The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the FIDH and the OMCT, was created in 1997 in order to respond to increasing systematic repression targeting the Defenders of universally recognized fundamental freedoms, to sensitise intergovernmental instances to the necessity to contribute to their effective protection, the aim being to allow them to fully play their role as guarantors of the Rule of Law and democracy in all regions of the world.

[2] Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

[3] Article 12.2 : « The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration ».

[4] Right to receive and to share information on human rights; right to develop reflection and ideas on human rights and the most appropriate ways to ensure the respect of international standards; freedom of association; right to receive national or international funding; right and obligation to assist Defenders.

[5] Article 5.b of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (DHRD)

[6] Article 5.a of the DHRD

[7] Article 6.a of the DHRD

[8] Article 6.b of the DHRD

[9] Article 5.c and 9.4 of the DHRD

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