Thursday, April 29, 2010

Human Rights: Protecting human rights defenders

Source: European Parliament - Recommendations on enhancing the visibility of the work of human rights defenders and on providing EU emergency visas to enable them and their families to escape oppressive regimes are set out in a resolution drafted by Human Rights Subcommittee chair Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI) and approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday. The resolution also strongly condemns the use of new surveillance technologies to keep tabs on human rights defenders in their home countries.

While paying tribute to the invaluable work of human rights defenders, MEPs underline how important it is not to define "human rights defender" to strictly, because in practice, this could limit their protection.

Who can be called a human rights defender?

According to a UN Declaration of 1998, "human rights defender” describes persons who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights through peaceful means. Other terms used are human rights “activist”, “professional”, “worker” or “monitor”. There is no specific definition of who is or could be a human rights defender. The Declaration on human rights defenders refers to “individuals, groups and associations … contributing to … the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals”.

Practical measures to protect human rights defenders: emergency visas and shelter

As human rights defenders may be at risk in their home countries, MEPs urge Member States to issue emergency visas for them and their family members, and also to provide them with temporary protection and shelter in Europe. These supporting measures could include financial resources and help with human rights activities, lecturing in European universities, and language courses. MEPs call on the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to finalise a European Protection and Shelter programme by the end of 2010, to be implemented in 2011.

Impact of new technologies on human rights defenders

The EU should "systematically denounce and reprimand international companies" that provide "oppressive regimes with surveillance technology, thereby facilitating persecution and arrests of human rights defenders", says the draft resolution.

New technology developments and their impact on human rights defenders need to be assessed, and the results incorporated in existing EU programmes human rights and human rights defenders, add MEPs.

More visibility for human rights defenders

To enhance the visibility of human rights defenders, the EU High Representative and all Commissioners with external relations responsibilities should systematically meet with human rights defenders when they travel officially in third countries, say MEPs.

Civil society should be more extensively involved in preparing the EU's human rights dialogues with third countries, public attention should be drawn to individual cases, and human rights defenders' names should be made public provided it does not put them at risk, says the text.

Sakharov Prize network - platform for supporting human rights defenders

MEPs plan to develop ways to use the Sakharov Prize network (launched in December 2008 on the 20th Anniversary of the Sakharov Prize), to help provide sustained support for human rights defenders. They also voiced concern over infringements of the human rights of certain Sakharov Prize winners.

Paying special attention to vulnerable groups

EU Human Rights policy should include targeted actions in favour of women human rights defenders and other particularly vulnerable groups, such as journalists and defenders working to promote economic, social and cultural rights, children's rights and minority rights, including those of religious and language minorities, indigenous peoples and LGBT rights.

What's next?

The Hautala report, approved by a large majority in committee, will probably be put to a plenary vote in June, when High Representative/Vice-president of the Commission Ashton is expected to present the EU Annual Report Human Rights.

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