What is the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders?
The Special Rapporteur (formerly known as the Special Representative of the Secretary General) was established in 2000 by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to support implementation of the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The mandate calls upon the Special Rapporteur to: seek, receive, examine and respond to information on the situation of human rights defenders; establish cooperation and conduct dialogue with governments and other interested actors on the promotion and effective implementation of the Declaration; recommend effective strategies better to protect human rights defenders and follow up on these recommendations; and integration a gender perspective throughout her work. The Special Rapporteur implements these initiatives by conducting country visits, taking up individual cases of concern with governments and reports to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly on common trends affecting defenders.
Provided these measures, the Special Rapporteur therefore has the ability to warn of – and even prevent – possible widespread human rights violations. The Special Rapporteur’s work has frequently led to tangible outcomes, such as the release of defenders from prison or the curtailment of attacks against them. One human rights defender reported, “the immediate intervention of the Special Rapporteur on Human rights Defenders after my arrest…reminded the authorities that their practices were under close scrutiny and certainly deterred them from going too far in their persecution.” Another defender stated, “The Special Rapporteur creates an important space for victims, thereby empowering them and amplifying their voices on an international scale.”
Who is the Current Special Rapporteur?
On March 27, 2008, the UN Human Rights Council decided to retain and strengthen the human rights defenders mandate by including an explicit focus on gender and women human rights defenders. The new mandate also included stronger language requiring States to allow the expert to visit their country and to follow up on the expert’s recommendations. The Human Rights Council appointed Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya from Uganda as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She succeeded Ms. Hina Jilani and assumed her responsibilities as the Special Rapporteur on May 1 2008.
Sekaggya is a magistrate from Uganda and has been the Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission since 1996. She is also a member of the United Nations High Level Task Force on the Implementation of the Right to Development. She has participated in the drawing up of a Bill of Rights for the East African Community. Sekaggya has particular expertise regarding the human rights of marginalized people such as people living with HIV/AIDS, the disabled, children, women and the elderly.
Previous Mandate Holder: Hina Jilani
Ms. Hina Jilani, a highly respected human rights lawyer from Pakistan, was appointed the first human rights defenders mandate holder and served from 2000 – 2008.
During her tenure, Hina Jilani presented 36 reports, (21 to the Commission on Human Rights, 7 to the General Assembly and 8 to the Human Rights Council). She carried out visits to 12 countries: Angola, Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Israel and the OPT, Kyrgyzstan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Nigeria, Serbia including Kosovo, Thailand, and Turkey.
Through her detailed and effective reports, country missions and recommendations, Ms. Jilani improved the lives of human rights defenders in many countries. By analyzing the communications she received she distilled common trends and patterns of attacks against human rights defenders in countries and regions. She also identified categories of human rights defenders at particular risk and developed indicators to assess the situation of human rights defenders. She also analyzed in great detail different themes as they apply to human rights defenders, such as a culture of impunity, intimidation and lack of security, restrictions on freedom of assembly, expression, and association, and death threats against defenders who seek justice for past crimes.
Human Rights First’s Role in the Creation of Human Rights Defenders Mandate
Human Rights First was among the first organizations to call for the adoption of an international instrument focusing on the rights of human rights defenders, along with the creation of a United Nations Special Representative. We believed that these measures were necessary to increase international awareness of the vital work of human rights defenders, and to serve as a rallying point to support human rights defenders suffering persecution. From 1994, Human Rights First repeatedly sent representatives to the Working Group created by the UN Commission on Human Rights in order to draft the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. After years of discussion, in which we played an active role, governments agreed in 1998 on a text upholding the rights of human rights defenders to carry out their work. (See Human Rights First analysis of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders )
During the process of drafting the Declaration, Human Rights First advocated the creation of a mechanism to monitor restrictions placed by states on the ability of independent groups and private individuals to engage in the promotion and protection of universally recognized human rights. Subsequently, in 2000, the Commission on Human Rights resolved to create a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders (See Commission resolution 2000/61 )
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders regarding visit to Colombia in September 2009 (03/04/10)
Panel Discussion: Human Rights Defenders and Freedom of Association (10/23/09)