Thank you very much for joining us at this side event on the protection of women human rights defenders. This is a subject of great significance and it is an honour for me to be with so many prominent advocates for this cause.
Human rights defenders are people who stand up for other people’s rights, often at the risk of threats, intimidation and violence. Norway has been actively involved, including through the UN, in protecting and supporting human rights defenders for many years. We believe that creating a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders should be a fundamental objective for any society. We are deeply concerned that human rights defenders in all regions continue to experience threats and discrimination in their work.
The UN Declaration on human rights defenders, adopted by the General Assembly in 1998, tells us that we all have a role to fulfil as human rights defenders. It underscores that to defend the human rights of others is key to a tolerant and participative society and an investment in rule of law and democracy.
The right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the right to peaceful assembly and association, are fundamental human rights. In states were human rights defenders are oppressed, these rights are threatened. It is important to remember that states do not need to agree with human rights defenders. They are none the less obliged to accept their work and to protect their rights.
Women human rights defenders play a crucial role in the development agenda, as they relate to the most vulnerable and marginalized individuals in society. We also know that women human rights defenders face particular challenges and difficulties. They are vulnerable to violence and sexual abuse and they experience discrimination because of the historical and structural inequalities in power relations in their societies. Too often, their families and dependants may be directly threatened as well.
Last fall Norway led the negotiations resulting in the first ever resolution on protecting women human rights defenders in the UN General Assembly.
The resolution sends a clear message that oppression of women human rights defenders must never be accepted. It prescribes a number of steps to be taken by states to prevent violence, violations and abuses against anyone who defends the human rights of women.
We have committed ourselves to implementing special measures to protect women human rights defenders. We have agreed that it is unacceptable to criminalize, stigmatize or curtail the work of these defenders. We have agreed to prevent and stop the use of national laws to hinder or limit their work. We have also agreed to review and amend national legislation that is inconsistent with international human rights law.
Furthermore, the resolution calls on all states to ensure protection of women human rights defenders from intimidation or reprisals when they cooperate with international institutions as well as regional and international human rights mechanisms.
In conclusion, we believe that the resolution is an important step in the right direction. The challenge before us now is to find the best ways to reduce the gap between the obligations of states and the realities on the ground in terms of protecting women human rights defenders. The real work to protect women human rights defenders has only started, and must be pursued outside the UN as well as within.
The panel today consists of people who know what it means to protect women human rights defenders on the ground. Some of them are human rights defenders themselves. I look forward to hearing their opinions and to the discussion on how to translate words into action when it comes to protecting women human rights defenders.
We are very lucky to have Charlotte Bunch here to moderate this panel. She is a leading scholar on women’s human rights and a Board Member of the Association for Women’s Rights in Development.