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UN rights council affirms unwavering support for human rights defenders

As human rights defenders (HRDs) in the East and Horn of Africa and around the world face increasing risks, the United Nations’ (UN) main human rights body, the Human Rights Council, has extended the mandate of its top expert on HRDs, the UN Spe­cial Rap­porteur on the situation of human rights defenders, for three years. 

“By renewing the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, the Council affirmed unwavering support for human rights defenders,said Has­san Shire, Exe­cu­tive Director, Defend­­Defen­ders.It is high time for all States to prio­ri­tise support to, and protection of, HRDs, including those who are par­ti­cu­larly at risk: women defenders, in­digenous defenders, and defenders of the rights of minorities.” 

Beyond extending the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, the resolution adopted by the Council to­day reiterates grave concern with regard to “the serious risks faced by [HRDs] due to threats, attacks, reprisals and acts of intimidation against them” and over the fact that “national security and coun­ter-terrorism legislation and other measures, such as laws regulating civil society or­ga­ni­sa­tions, have been misused to target human rights defenders.” It strongly urges all States to take concrete steps to create, “in law and in practice, a safe and enabling environment in which [HRDs] can operate free from hindrance and insecurity.” 

“We welcome the fact that the resolution was adopted by consensus – that is, without any opposition,” said Nicolas Agostini, Representative to the UN for Def­end­Defen­ders. “States should now walk the talk and fully im­ple­ment all provisions of UN resolutions on HRDs, as well as the 1998 UN De­cla­ra­tion on Hu­man Rights Defenders.” 

Ahead of the Council’s 43rd session (24 February-20 March 2020; resumed 15-23 June 2020[1]), De­fendDefenders joined a lar­ge group of NGOs in call­ing[2] on members and observers of the Coun­cil to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur by consensus. We advocated for this out­come and encouraged States to support the resolution, drafted by Norway, at an early stage and to oppose any attempt to di­lu­te the mandate or State obligations with regards to HRDs. 

On 13 March 2020, Mary Lawlor, former Direc­tor of Amnesty Interna­tio­nal Ireland, founder of Front Line Defenders, and a long-time friend and part­ner of Defend­Defenders, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, “given her knowledge, ex­per­ti­se and practical ap­proach related to the man­date, as well as her commitment to engage with a variety of stake­hol­ders.”[3] She succeeds Michel Forst, whose work over the last six years (2014-2020) Defend­De­fen­ders warmly welcomes. 



For more information, please contact:  

Hassan Shire

Executive Director, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on [email protected] or +256 772 753 753 (English and Somali)

Nicolas Agostini

Representative to the United Nations (Geneva), the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project on [email protected] or +41 79 813 49 91 (English and French)  


[1] Due to the COVID-19 situation, the session was suspended on 13 March 2020. It decided to “extend all mandates and mandated activities that would otherwise expire, until the date on which they can be considered by the Council when the 43rd session is resumed.” The Council resumed its work on 15 June 2020 and started adopting resolutions on 19 June 2020.

[2] DefendDefenders, “DefendDefenders joins call to renew the mandate of the top UN expert on human rights defenders,” (accessed on 22 June 2020).

[3] UN Human Rights Council, “Appointments to be made at the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council (24 February – 20 March 2020): President’s list of 21 February 2020 with the candidates proposed for appointment by the Human Rights Council,” (accessed on 11 March 2020). 


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