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Human Rights Council 29 Session, GD item 2: Joint statement on arbitrary detention of human rights defenders, Ambassador Steffen Kongstad,

Mr. President,

I have the honour to read this statement on behalf of a cross-regional group of 58 co-sponsors (Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, State of Palestine, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Timor-Leste, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay). 

We thank the High Commissioner for highlighting his concern about the situation of human rights defenders and others that use their freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly and association.

Human rights defenders play a crucial role in promoting and protecting human rights in all countries. As governments, we may not always agree with them, but their ability to work safely and without fearing retaliation is a key element in maintaining sustainable, open and democratic societies.

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and a multitude of consensual resolutions in the HRC and the GA, show that in principle the international community subscribes to the urgent need to create a safe and enabling environment in which human rights defenders can operate free from hindrance and insecurity.

Despite this, we have observed a negative trend of criminalisation of human rights defenders and their organisations. While welcoming positive gains and developments in some states, we are very concerned about a worsening pattern in all regions of the world of arbitrary detention, sentencing and imprisonment of human rights defenders, including lawyers and journalists, as well as political opponents and individuals exercising their freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly or association. We also remain deeply concerned by disappearances, killings, torture and reprisals, as well as acts of intimidation, harassment and threats. We call on States to fulfill their obligations under international human rights law to ensure the rights and safety of human rights defenders and all individuals who exercise the right to freedom of opinion, expression, peaceful assembly or association.

We strongly urge all states to immediately release all those who are being detained in connection with exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as their rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association and peaceful assembly, and call on states not to use the threat or actual detention of human rights defenders and others as a way to undermine their work and stifle their voices. More specifically, we call on states to implement HRC resolution 22/6, and to take action on cases highlighted in the Communications report on individual cases by the special procedures.
We also call on states to facilitate visits and dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, other special procedures as well as the OHCHR. They can assist in resolving individual cases and can advise on the adoption of laws and frameworks that facilitate rather than hamper the work of defenders.

We wish to recognise those states that have already adopted laws or mechanisms to protect human rights defenders, and call on other states to follow their example. Moreover, we call for the immediate response and follow up by states on decisions by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on individual cases.

We encourage the OHCHR to establish and maintain a publicly accessible and regularly updated database of human rights defenders in detention and others detained for exercising their freedom of expression, bringing much needed visibility and transparency to their cases and facilitating monitoring and follow-up by other actors, and request that these cases be regularly brought to the Council’s attention for its consideration and engagement. 

We strongly believe that the wellbeing, safety and freedom of human rights defenders and all that voice critical opinions is not only in the interest of each individual rights holder, but also instrumental to the promotion and protection of human rights and sustainable development in every single country. It is this Council’s responsibility to point this out, and the responsibility of states to follow up what they have supported in this room. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the UN Charter later this year, let us recognise, protect, support, cherish and encourage the work of those brave individuals helping to advance one of the central purposes of the UN – to promote and encourage respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

Thank you.