Human rights defenders remain under threat

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From: HREA – Human Rights Education Associates and its Newsletter
Date: 16/12/2008

(an OSCE Press release).

VIENNA, 15 December 2008 – Human rights defenders continue to face serious threats in countries across the OSCE region, concludes a report published today by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

“Some of the report’s findings are alarming. The threats human rights defenders still face in many OSCE countries are unacceptable in a democratic society,” said Ambassador Janez Lenarcic, ODIHR’s Director.

“On the other hand, we also see a number of positive steps taken by governments to recognize and support the work of human rights defenders, and to ensure their protection from threats and attacks. This, too, is highlighted in the report.”

The report, which was presented at an OSCE event marking the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, says that at least three defenders were killed between April 2007 and April 2008, the period covered by the report.

A number of human rights activists were ill-treated in custody, attacked, and injured. Many received death threats or were otherwise harassed and intimidated. Family members of human rights defenders were also targeted. In several cases, defenders were arbitrarily detained, arrested, and fined. The premises of several human rights organizations were subject to raids and attacks. Peaceful assemblies were dispersed violently or not sufficiently protected.

“By highlighting these trends, we want to inspire action to counteract them,” said Lenarcic. “It is, first and foremost, the responsibility of governments to uphold their OSCE commitments and ensure that human rights defenders can freely and without fear do their work which is essential for turning abstract human rights principles into concrete practice.”

The reports stresses that some OSCE participating States provide physical protection for defenders who are at risk of physical harm, and actively prosecute those using violence against defenders.

It highlights cases of authorities publicly speaking out in favour of defenders. In most OSCE countries, the authorities only need to be notified of planned assemblies, and no formal authorization is required. Other positive examples include states granting travel visas for defenders to pursue their activities, and issuing emergency visas or residence permits to defenders in trouble.

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