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NHRIs urged to build partnerships for protection

Graphic: Michel Forst delivering his presentation

Today is a dangerous time to be a human rights defender, a UN expert told delegates at the APF's 20th Annual Meeting.


Strong, independent and effective national human rights institutions (NHRIs) have a vital role to play to promote and protect the rights of human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific, a UN expert told a gathering of NHRIs and civil society representatives at the APF's 20th Annual Meeting.

Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, told delegates that "today is a dangerous time to be a human rights defender".

Judges, lawyers, journalists, whistle blowers who drew attention to human rights violations were equally likely to face harassment and intimidation as civil society activists, he said.

If you are a rights activist, you are likely to be threatened, intimidated or investigated, harassed or criminalised.

 Logo Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Mr Forst outlined a number of important steps that NHRIs could take to improve the environment in which human rights defenders work, including:

  • Reminding governments of their responsibility to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms lies with the State
  • Promoting law reform to protect, support and empower defenders, in compliance with international human rights law and standards
  • Standing against impunity and promoting access to justice for violations against defenders
  • Developing effective protection policies and mechanisms in collaboration with defenders, including public support for the work of defenders
  • Addressing the specific challenges of groups at risk and paying special attention to the challenges faced by women defenders and those working on women's rights and gender issues.

Graphic: NGO representatives participate in the dialogue

To do this work effectively, Mr Forst noted, NHRIs must forge close and constructive relationships with civil society organisations and human rights defenders.

"We must put our heads together to figure out best ways to overcome those challenges and to ensure that NHRIs and defenders come out stronger, better protected and more united," he said.

Following the UN Special Rapporteur's presentation, representatives from Forum Asia and NGOs from Mongolia, Thailand and Korea shared their perspectives on the challenges facing human rights defenders in the region.

Speakers noted that NHRIs often have mandates that allow them to investigate allegations of human rights violations and visit places of detention, which NGOs do not have the power to do.

Graphic: Executive Director of the LGBT Centre of Mongolia makes an intervention

A number of APF members described their efforts to protect human rights defenders, such as establishing focal point desks within their institutions and coordinating witness protection schemes, as well as the difficulties they can face in this work.

Presentations from the APF Annual Meeting and Third Biennial Conference, hosted by the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia from 26-28 August 2015, are available on the APF 20 page.

More information on the Third Biennial Conference, which focused on preventing torture in places of detention, will be featured in the next APF Bulletin.

Date: 27 August 2015

Image credits

  1. Michel Forst delivering his presentation - APF/James Iliffe
  2. NGO representatives participate in the dialogue - APF/James Iliffe
  3. Executive Director of the LGBT Centre of Mongolia makes an intervention - APF/James Iliffe