Geneva – Today, the UN Human Rights Council adopted by vote of 33 to 6, with 8 abstentions, a landmark resolution on the protection of human rights defenders. Freedom Now welcomes the adoption of this resolution and looks forward to its implementation.

“Today’s vote is an acknowledgement of the great personal risk human rights defenders face in their daily lives,” said Freedom Now Executive Director Maran Turner. “Human rights defenders occupy an essential place in civil society and we welcome the Human Rights Council’s efforts to afford them more protections as they work to safeguard citizens from abusive and repressive regimes. However, it is unconscionable that several states sought to undermine these protections.”

The resolution entitled, “Protecting human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights”, identifies the threats and challenges facing human rights defenders. It also sets forth the obligations of state and non-state actors to support this work. Leading human rights experts from around the world, including South African jurist and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, publicly called on states to support the draft text.

Freedom Now joined more than 150 NGOs in an open letter to Human Rights Council member states endorsing the resolution and calling on states to vote down over 30 hostile amendments proposed by some of the world’s worst human rights violators, including, China, Cuba, Egypt, Pakistan and Russia to substantially weaken the text.


Letter to Member States of the UN Human Rights Council

Re: Support resolution on the protection of human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights

24 March 2016

Your Excellency,

The undersigned 150 civil society organisations, coming from all regions, urge your delegation to support the adoption of the resolution on the protection of human rights defenders working to promote economic, social and cultural rights as tabled. We urge you to resist efforts to undermine and weaken this resolution.

The draft resolution entitled ‘Protecting human rights defenders addressing economic, social and cultural rights (A/HRC/31/L.28) is being considered by the 31st session of the Human Rights Council. It will be presented for adoption today, 24 March.

South African jurist and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has articulated the importance of such a resolution in the following terms:

As a South African, I have seen and experienced first-hand the role of ESC rights defenders in combating poverty and injustice and in promoting universal human rights for all, even the most powerless and disadvantaged. I have seen how the work of those who defend ESC rights benefits entire communities; just as attacks against those who defend ESC rights harm entire communities. That is why it is so important and timely that the UN Human Rights Council is currently negotiating a resolution on the protection of ESC rights defenders.

The draft resolution has been developed through a number of open and transparent informal negotiations.

The text, as tabled, is balanced and appropriate, in recognising the vital contribution of human rights defenders to the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights and the right to development. It is currently cosponsored by a broad group of States from all regions of the world.

The text also identifies the threats, attacks and challenges facing this group of defenders and the obligations, duties and interests of State and non-State actors in terms of supporting and safeguarding this work. It provides good practice guidance to both State and non-State actors in this regard.

Despite the importance of the resolution – so tragically illustrated at the commencement of the 31st session with the murder of Honduran woman human rights defender Berta Caceres – a small group of States, led by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan are seeking to seriously undermine the text. A large number of adverse amendments being pushed by these States include proposals, which have the purpose or would have the effect of:

  • Removing any reference to the term ‘human rights defenders’;
  • Denying the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders;
  • Weakening protection against, and accountability for, intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders and others who cooperate with the United Nations;
  • Failing to acknowledge the specific risks and violations faced by women, indigenous, and land and environment human rights defenders, their families and communities;
  • Diluting and regressing from consensus language and terminology from past human rights defenders resolutions; and
  • Seeking to justify limitations on human rights that are impermissible under international human rights law.

The amendments being advocated by the Russian Federation, China, Egypt, Cuba and Pakistan should be seen in the context of the systematic efforts currently underway in several of these States to restrict and criminalise the important and legitimate work of human rights defenders and independent civil society organisations in violation of international human rights law. The proposal to weaken language on reprisals should similarly be understood in the context of several of the proposing States being the subject of allegations of intimidation or reprisals in both the Secretary-General’s report and the joint communications report of Special Procedures.

We urge you not to associate with such positions. Instead, we respectfully urge your delegation to co-sponsor resolution L.28 as tabled, vote against the amendments presented, and vote in favor of the resolution as drafted.

Civil society and human rights defenders around the world look to the HRC and its Member States for support and protection, and we hope your delegation will stand with us.

Yours sincerely,

International Service for Human Rights
Acción Solidaria on HIV/Aids
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
Alkarama Foundation
All India Network of Individuals and NGOs working with National and State Human Rights Institutions (AiNNI)
Amnesty International
Arc International
Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development
Asian Association of Police Studies
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development
Asociación Interamericana para la Defensa del Ambiente (AIDA)
Association for Advancement of Legal Right
Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT)
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)
Australian Civil Society Coalition on Women, Peace and Security
Avam NGO
Boys of Bangladesh
Bread for the World, Germany
Business & Human Rights Resource Centre
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
CELS (Argentina)
Center for Inquiry
Center for Islamic Thought
Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights (Russia)
Centro Regional de Derechos Humanos y Justicia de Género – Corporación Humanas (Chile)
Child Rights Connect
Child Rights International Network CRIN
CIVILIS Derechos Humanos
Coalition Ivoirienne des Défenseurs des Droits Humains (CIDDH)
Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL)
Colombian Commission of Jurists
Community Resource Centre Foundation (Thailand)
Conectas Human Rights (Brazil)
Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights
Corporacion Reiniciar
Defend Defenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Digital Empowerment Foundation (India)
ECLT Foundation
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
Equitable Cambodia
EuroMed Rights – Euro Mediterranean Human Rights Network
Federatie van Nederlandse Verenigingen tot Integratie van Homoseksualiteit – COC Nederland
Federation of Women and Family Planning
FIAN International
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
Fórum Suape Espaço Socioambiental – Brazil
Foundation HELP (Tanzania)
Franciscans International
Freedom House
Freedom Now
Freemuslim Association Inc
Front Line Defenders
Function 8
Gender Empowerment and Development GeED
Global Bersih
Global Human Rights Clinic
Global Initiative for Economic, Social & Cultural Rights
Global Justice Clinic, NYU School of Law
Globe International Center
Groundation Grenada
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly – Vanadzor
Human Dignity
Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan
Human Rights Council of Australia
Human Rights Defenders Alert – India
Human Rights Defenders Network Sierra Leone
Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights Law Centre (Australia)
Human Rights Watch
Humane, Koraput
ICCA Consortium (
Inclusive Development International
Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety
International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute
International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
International Commission of Jurists
International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)
International Council on Social Welfare – Europe
International Humanist and Ethical Union
International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA)
International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR)
International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net)
International Platform against Impunity
International Women’s Development Agency
International Youth Human Rights Movement (YHRM)
Ivorian Observatory for Human Rights (OIDH)
Just Associates (JASS)
Kvinna till Kvinna
LGBT Centre (Mongolia)
Loretto Community
Martin Ennals Foundation
MiningWatch Canada
Minority Rights Group International (MRG)
Mongolian Women’s employment supporting federation
Mosaiko Instituto para a Cidadania
Movimento Xingu Vivo para Sempre
Movimiento Homosexual de Lima – MHOL, Perú
National Economic and Social Rights Initiative
National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO), Sri Lanka
Nazra for Feminist Studies (Egypt)
Nuremberg Human Rights Centre
Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program
OT Watch (Mongolia)
Peace Brigades International
People’s Watch – India
Polish Institute for Human Rights and Business
POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
Professor Ben Saul, Sydney Law School, The University of Sydney, Australia
Project Maisha
Promo-LEX Association, Moldova
Protection International
Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC)- México
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Australia)
Public Verdict Foundation
Rede Pantanal de ONGs e Movimentos Sociais
Reporters Without Borders
Réseau International des Droits Humains “RIDH”
Rights and Accountability in Development
Rivers without Boundaries Mongolia
Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre (Sudan)
SAVIA – Asociación para la conservación, investigacion de la bioversidad y el desarrollo sustentable
Scholars at Risk Network
Shia Rights Watch Inc
Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC)
Steps Without Borders NGO
Terra de Direitos (Brazil)
The Honorable Justice Elizabeth Evatt AC, former member of the UN Human Rights Committee
The Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People(MOSOP)
The Tibet Bureau
Think Centre
Transparency International
True Heroes Films
UN Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA)
Union Internationale des Avocats (UIA – International Association of Lawyers)
Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights
US Human Rights Network
We Women Lanka (National conviner ) Marian Geetha lakmini
West African Human Rights Defenders’ Network
Workplace Pride Asia
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
World Uyghur Congress
Yemen Organization for Defending Rights & Democratic Freedoms