Threats and attacks against human rights defenders on the rise, says OSCE/ODIHR report
Threats and attacks against human rights defenders in the OSCE area have continued to increase in severity and frequency over the last three years, according to a report by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released on 15 September 2017.
The report, “The Responsibility of States: Protection of Human Rights Defenders in the OSCE Region (2014-2016)”, was released on the sidelines of this year’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, in Warsaw. It assesses the implementation by OSCE participating States of the international standards outlined in the Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, published by ODIHR in 2014.
“The findings in this report point to a shrinking of public space in which civil society is able to effectively play its important role in helping to protect and promote the human rights of the members of all of our societies,” said Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, ODIHR Director. “Threats and attacks against human rights defenders are doubly harmful: to their own safety and security and to those of people they work to protect.”
In its report, ODIHR found that human rights defenders across the OSCE region have experienced undue restrictions on their equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and have been subjected to threats and attacks by both state and non-state actors, for which perpetrators were often not held to account. Of special concern, ODIHR found that the human rights defenders most at risk of abuses were those protecting the rights of women, ethnic minorities and LGBTI people.
In a positive development, ODIHR’s report also identified good practices by OSCE participating States in the protection of human rights defenders, including protection policies, programmes and mechanisms, as well as the consultation of human rights defenders in the drafting of legislation and policies impacting the enjoyment of human rights.
The information and conclusions in the report are based on inputs from OSCE participating States and field operations, as well as from human rights defenders and national human rights institutions from across the OSCE region.
The report criticizes Belarus for numerous obstacles to the legitimate activities of human rights defenders. In particular, activists are denied access to prisons. Human rights defenders are subjected to temporary arbitrary detentions, smear campaigns, online and offline censorship.
The authorities continued to block websites of human rights organizations, “apparently to obstruct public access to their reporting.”
Human rights defenders also noted difficulties faced by journalists and media professionals, restrictions and/or penalties imposed on human rights defenders for organizing or participating in peaceful assemblies, the rejection by authorities of NGO registration requests, including from dozens of NGOs and some human rights organizations in 2014 to 2016.
“The applications were rejected for a variety of apparently arbitrary reasons,” says the research. “The operation of unregistered NGOs in Belarus is still prohibited under law, and violation is punishable by up to two years of imprisonment.”
The Report also stresses weak inclusion of civil society in consultations on draft laws and policies, and notes preferential treatment given to pro-government NGOs in this regard.
Belarusian human rights defenders report unlawful and/or disproportionate restrictions on their right to freedom of movement.
The Report separately stresses the case of prominent human rights defender Alena Tankachova, chair of the board of Legal Transformation Center (LawTrend), who was expelled from Belarus and subjected to a three-year entry ban, “apparently due to her work on human rights in the country.”