HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS IN A SECURITY FIRST ENVIRONMENT

“All over the world men and women are rising to denounce the arbitrariness of States, economic powers or armed groups that pay little heed to the public interest. The struggle of these men and women for strengthening the Rule of Law and democracy is a long one, but it is clear that important victories have been achieved by these anonymous citizens. At the same time, their courage, their determination and the aptness of their action are sufficiently effective to produce in return a backlash of repression and silencing by their opponents”

Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize 2003, Iranian Human Rights Defenders, author of the foreword of the Annual Report of the Observatory.

The present climate that focuses on security first and the implementation of arbitrary measures restricting individual freedoms undermines the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In this context, it has become more and more difficult to denounce the adoption of restrictive laws, to defend the right to a fair trial, to fight against the death penalty and to condemn torture.

Human rights defenders are finding it increasingly difficult to make their message heard. They are subject to general restrictions on the freedom of speech and association because of the stringent application of security-related laws and the adoption of new, restrictive legislation. Also, many opportunistic political leaders are happy to find new reasons for criminalizing defenders and no longer have any hesitation in lumping together human rights defenders and terrorists.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe does not hesitate to designate human rights defenders as “writers and political wheelers and dealers who ultimately serve terrorism and who cowardly hide behind the human rights flag” (8 September 2003).

David Trimble, the leader of the Irish Unionist Party—and Nobel Peace Prize winner—stated: "One of the great curses of this world is the human rights industry (...). They justified terrorist acts and end up being complicit in the murder of innocent victims."(January 29 2003).

The new Annual Report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders highlights the increasingly hostile situation confronted by defenders over the world because of the erosion of human rights standards. By presenting the situation of more than 550 human rights defenders and 80 NGOs facing repression in more than 80 countries, the Annual Report documents the violations of the rights of these men and women who strive, despite the difficulties, to create a world of fairness and justice. These violations are manifold: murder, threats, ill treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment, slander and libel, and restrictions of freedom of movements.

In 2003, trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. In Iran, lawyers and journalists were detained arbitrarily for having defended opposition politicians or for having denounced the role of the authorities in the assassination of intellectuals. In Cameroon, human rights defenders who denounced human rights violations committed by the authorities were constantly threatened and harassed.

At the same time, more and more security measures and laws are being adopted to restrict freedom of association so as to clamp down on civil society. There are obstacles to the registration of independent NGOs, as well as arbitrary termination and restrictions in the financing of NGOs.

Thus, in 2003, over 51 associations were disbanded in Belarus. In Tunisia, the authorities held back funds given by the European Union to the Tunisian League of Human rights.

Finally, the report bears witness to the great insecurity of those who try to denounce human rights violations during ongoing conflicts. This is particularly true of Chechnya, Indonesia, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire and the DRC.

On the occasion of the publication of its yearly report, the Observatory will organize three press conferences on April 14 2004 in Geneva, Tunis and Dakar.

The yearly report is available on the internet sites of FIDH (www.fidh.org)
and of the OMCT (www. omct.org)
It will be available in book shops in France on April 14 2004

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