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March 08, 2016

Obama Administration Should Intensify Efforts to Support Human Rights Defenders

Washington, D.C. – To mark the seventeenth anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on human rights defenders and the third anniversary of the U.S. guidelines on support for human rights defenders, Human Rights First today called on the U.S. government to intensify its efforts to implement and raise awareness about its guidelines.

“The U.S. guidelines can be important resource to human rights defenders, who routinely face violence, threats, and intimidation as a result of their work, but many activists and even U.S. diplomats don’t know that they exist,” said Human Rights First’s Brian Dooley. “The State Department should translate the guidelines into Arabic, post them on embassies’ websites, and urge diplomats to actively use them as a tool to set shared expectations with defenders about what kind of help is available.”

The U.S. guidelines, which Human Rights First encouraged the State Department to issue, were originally released in 2013. They are translated into some languages including French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese, as well as Vietnamese and Urdu, but they are not yet available in Arabic, which hinders accessibility for defenders across the Middle East and North Africa.

Human Rights First persistently urges the U.S. government to provide support and protection to human rights defenders through trial observation, public statements, and other measures. The U.S. guidelines help to clarify what U.S. officials can do to help defenders to work without interference. If properly promoted they would put the U.S. on similar footing with other governments and multilateral institutions which have guidelines on support and protection for defenders including the European Union, Norway, Switzerland, the United Nations, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

As part of its efforts to raise awareness about the U.S. guidelines and other support mechanisms, Human Rights First recently produced a new list of resources for human rights defenders. This tool provides information about sources of emergency funding, fellowships abroad, training opportunities, human rights awards, and guidelines on how embassies and missions should support defenders.

“Although the U.S. guidelines are posted on the State Department's DRL portal, HumanRights.gov, they are not included on embassy websites, making it difficult for defenders in repressive countries who are looking for urgent support to find this information,” said Dooley. “It’s already been three years since the guidelines were created, and the State Department can still do much more to promote them and help protect defenders.”

For more information or to speak with Dooley, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org or 212-845-5269.