UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

13 September 2011

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In 1998, after 14 years of negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which remains the main international instrument on human rights defenders. This document recognises the legitimacy of human rights work and the need for these activities and those who carry them out to be protected.

Even though the Declaration does not specifically address the higher risk situation of women human rights defenders, it establishes a broad definition of a human rights defender, meaning anyone working for the promotion and protection of human rights (professional and non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers and anyone else carrying out, even occasionally, a human rights activity).

The Declaration articulates existing rights contained in the major human rights instruments, such as the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly, as they apply to the situation of human rights defenders.

It also outlines that not only States, but also non-State actors (such as corporations and “fundamentalist” groups), have the duty to protect human rights defenders against any violence, retaliation and intimidation as a consequence of their human rights work.

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