Human Rights Defenders: Urgent Action

Date: Thu, 12 Feb 1998 12:19:01 -0800
From: MINELRES moderator <>
Subject: Human Rights Defenders: Urgent Action

From: MINELRES moderator  <>

Original sender: Britt Elliott    <>

Human Rights Defenders: Urgent Action


Dear Friends

We have an urgent matter to bring to your attention that requires
immediate action. Below is background information on the UN Draft
Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which is under negotiation in
Geneva.  Please consider whether you and/or your organization can sign
the attached joint NGO statement on the Declaration and send your
responses as soon as possible.

Thank you for your attention!


Did you know...

* that governments are drafting a Declaration to Protect the Rights of
Human Rights Defenders at the United Nations?

* that negotiations are being held hostage by some governments'
proposals to erode existing standards which recognize rights to free
speech, assembly, access to information, etc. that are necessary to
promote and protect human rights?

* that the Human Rights Defenders Declaration UN Working Group will
be meeting February 23 - March 4, 1998 in Geneva?

* that there is a danger of the Working Group being abandoned due to
lack of progress, or worse, that the Declaration will approve
unacceptable restrictions on human rights advocacy?

* that there is urgent need to for you to speak up now by contacting
us, your government and other UN delegates?



In 1985, the UN Commission on Human Rights established a committee,
called a "working group", to draft a UN Declaration on the Right and
Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote
and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms.  The Working Group, composed of government representatives, is
also open to participation by all interested NGOs. So far, it has almost
agreed on the text of a declaration.  Yet several of the most critical
rights for human rights defenders remain unresolved.  It seemed that the
Declaration would be completed in 1992, but a few governments obstructed
its completion by proposing measures that would restrict the rights of
human rights defenders rather than protect them. The Working Group
operates by consensus rather than voting; one country or a handful can
block the whole process.  At present, the Working Group has not yet
reached final agreement on the following issues:

 Some governments are insisting on including language that would
require human rights defenders to carry out their work in conformity
with national laws and regulations.  In countries where national laws
and regulations do not protect rights to free speech, association,
movement, etc., such an agreement in a UN text would be very dangerous.
In many countries, national laws fall short of international standards.
Language affirming that international law is the framework is essential.

 Language guaranteeing the right of human rights defenders to receive
and utilize external financial resources has been challenged. The
question of external financing has been a crucial point and the opinion
has been given that no direct or indirect funding from foreign
Governments can be permitted. For many NGOs, this is a critical issue.
To do a professional job, NGOs need the freedom to organize and fund
their activities. For certain governments, this is one of the most
controversial issues and it will be difficult for it to emerge as part
of the final draft.

 Some governments are insisting on including language that stress the
duties and responsibilities of human rights defenders instead of their

 Other unresolved issues include whether groups have the right to
defend the rights of others as well as one's own (troubling proposals
state that one should only be allowed to advocate on behalf of one's own
rights), the right to defend those who cannot appoint a representative
(such as the "disappeared" or minor children), and the right to advocate
outside of one's own country.


The Chairman-Rapporteur, Mr. Jan Helgesen, introduced a new
consolidated text in conformity with a recommendation adopted by the
working group the previous year, and after extensive consultations with
governments and NGOs. The draft was accepted as a basis for further
negotiations. No negotiations were, however, held on this text. The
negotiations concentrated on four issues on which the
Chairman-Rapporteur had not proposed new text. These issues were: the
right to attend and observe court proceedings; financing; domestic
legislation; duties and responsibilities. Articles on these issues were
prepared to be included in the consolidated text but no final agreements
were reached on these questions.

The Chairman-Rapporteur has continued with consultations both with
government representatives and non-governmental organizations in the
period before the 1998 session of the working group in order to clarify
whether a new consolidated text needs to be prepared or whether the work
can continue with the existing consolidated text as basis.

There is still fear that governments which have been most supportive of a
strong Declaration are considering abandoning it at this point due to
lack of progress. Because of the stalement at the previous meetings
there is also a reasonable fear that governments might compromise too
much in order to finalize the Declaration. Small participation by NGOs
in the effort gives them the impression that the Declaration is not
important to NGOs, the groups it would protect.  For this reason, we
believe that it is essential for NGOs throughout the world to make their
voices heard on this matter before it is too late.


* Send a message to governments, including your own, stating:

(1) that they should work for the strongest possible draft that
would protect all human rights defenders and groups;

(2) that they should make sure there are no restrictions on human
rights advocacy; and

(3) that they should not abandon this effort. (Send them a message
by e-mail, letter or fax, preferably to their UN mission in Geneva.
Selected contact information is at the end of this document).

* Sign on to a joint NGO statement sponsored by the International
Human Rights Council at The Carter Center, Human Rights Internet and the
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights.  (The text
of the statement is below.)

* Send a message to Jan Helgesen, Chairman-Rapporteur of the
Defenders Declaration Working Group concerning you views on the
Declaration at:

Faculty of Law
University of Oslo
Karl Johans Street 47
N-0162  OSLO
Fax. (47-22) 859-620


We, the undersigned, appeal to member states of the United Nations
engaged in negotiations on the Draft Declaration on the Right and
Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote
and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental
Freedoms to work toward completing a strong declaration, at the
thirteenth session of the Working Group.

Given the importance and precarious nature of the work conducted by
human rights defenders at all levels, it is essential that this
Declaration affirm the vital role of human rights advocates and their
right to promote and protect human rights at home and abroad.

We believe that stronger efforts must be made to reach an acceptable
text and that this effort must not be abandoned.

Governments should insist on the inclusion in the Declaration of the
following rights of human rights defenders that are still under
discussion.  These are core rights which already exist in other
international agreements in other forms and they must be upheld:

* the right to advocate human rights ideas freely and openly and to
communicate them to others;

* the right to participate in non-violent activities aimed at promoting
observance of human rights;

* the right to use the law and state institutions in the defense of
human rights, and to appeal to them when the victims cannot do so for

* the right to form, join or affiliate with national, regional or
human rights organizations;

* the right to receive and publish information at home and abroad;

* the right to obtain and utilize the resources necessary for human
rights defense;

* the right to communicate with national and international NGOs on
human rights issues and to have access to intergovernmental

* the right to defend human rights in a manner consistent with
international standards, without being constrained by national laws and
regulations that fall short of international standards.

* the right to defend the rights of others as well as one's own.

It is our view that compromise on any of these principles would
erode rights that are already guaranteed to defenders by existing
international human rights instruments. We cannot accept such an
outcome.  We are counting on the commitment of justice-minded
governments to support the above as a minimal negotiating position and
to bring the Declaration to a successful speedy conclusion.









Send above to Human Rights Internet at:

FURTHER background information on the Human Rights Defenders Declaration
is being posted on HRI's Web Site:

Should you have any questions or wish to discuss aspects of this
initiative, feel free to contact:

Laurie S. Wiseberg
Executive Director
Human Rights Internet
8 York St, Suite 302
Ottawa, Ontario K1S 0W1
Tel (1-613) 789-7407
Fax (1-613) 789-7414
E-mail: <> or <>


(0mitted,sorry... Boris)

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