The increasing threat against human rights defenders



10 December 2019 - As we celebrate the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the FIACAT and the ACATs wish to draw attention to the situation of human rights defenders, who bring this declaration to life every day.


An increasingly worrying situation

In his latest report presented to the UN General Assembly in October 2019, Michel Forst, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, highlighted the impunity for crimes committed against human rights defenders.

Harassment, wiretapping and surveillance, withdrawal of funding, defamation campaigns, reprisals against human rights defenders take many forms. In many cases, they are exposed to legal proceedings, victims of arbitrary arrest and detention and are subjected to death threats. Sometimes they are even murdered, as in 2018, when at least 321 defenders were killed worldwide. (source: Frontline Defenders).

In Burundi, Germain Rukuki, a former ACAT Burundi employee, was sentenced in April 2018 to 32 years' imprisonment. This is the most severe sentence ever pronounced against a human rights defender in Burundi.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in February 2019, the Kinshasa Regional Prosecutor's Office issued a summons against the Secretary General of the ACAT DRC, Mr Kalemba. In 2016, Mr Biamungu, a member of the ACAT DRC, North Kivu branch, had also received death threats.

On 1 December, Protect Defenders had recorded 338 crimes committed against defenders in 2019. For example, Carole Rackete, captain of Sea-Watch 3, has been targeted since July 2019 by two investigations for forcibly landing rescued migrants in Italy.

The defence of human rights, a right and an obligation

Adopted by consensus over 20 years ago, the "Declaration on Human Rights Defenders" establishes the obligation for States to protect human rights defenders and to guarantee them a safe environment.

It appears that when these threatened defenders seize the authorities (police or justice), they are not listened to and their cases are buried. Even though these people are real safeguards for the rule of law, democracy and peace, they would need recognition and protection.

On the occasion of this International Human Rights Day, the FIACAT and the ACATs would like to recall that defending human rights is a right in itself.

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