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Human Rights Council 31 Session: Are We Protecting Human Rights Defenders?

31 March 2016

Human Rights Council 31st Session finished and it was marked by the assassination of Berta Cáceres, human rights and environmental defender.

WILPF has joined other NGOs in Geneva, such as FIAN and Plataforma contra la Impunidad in advocating to ensure that there is an independent, impartial investigation of this crime. Our main goal was to transmit and defend the demands coming from Berta Cáceres’ family and from COPINH that were brought to us by those NGOs with presence in Honduras.

WILPF has also joined several initiatives that look at the bigger picture and demand the suspension of the foreign funding of the development projects COPINH are protesting against. So far most funding to the project has been suspended, but we will need to keep pressure up so funding is not reestablished as soon as the case loses attention from the media.

Human Rights Defenders

While Berta was being assassinated, States were negotiating a resolution on Human Rights Defenders addressing Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Unfortunately, even on such an undeniable pillar of human rights, States did not have a consensus on the matter.

The Human Rights Council entered for over 3 hours into a series of identical votes on amendments, one after another, mainly aimed at not recognizing the term “Human Rights Defenders”. Fortunately, none of these amendments past and the resolution was approved with a vote. You can find the final resolution here .

The resolution acknowledges that human rights abuses can be perpetrated by business enterprises. The resolution however fails to address the challenges posed by the transnational nature of some of those businesses enterprises that may perpetrate crimes against human rights defenders. Berta Caceres’ investigation will definitely be a challenge with the main Corporation she was protesting against, DESA, being financed by foreign institutions.

A resolution on peaceful protest also passed, also with a vote. It is a positive step forward in the right of peoples to protest against human rights abuses. We regret however that the text mentions all “relevant stakeholders” and includes on the same list of actors to be engaged human rights defenders, such as Berta, and the businesses enterprises that human rights defenders may be voting against.

Human Rights defenders and Businesses are not the same

Whilst businesses enterprises can be important interlocutors, their role should not be at all times equated to that of civil society. For example in the case of peaceful protests, businesses enterprises need to be engaged as they could try to prevent peaceful protests against them from taking place. On the other hand human rights defenders need to be protected in their right to protest.

CIVICUS during this session hosted an eye-opening event where speakers compared the paperwork and vetting processes that associations have to undergo to register with that of businesses. The conclusion is appalling: in most countries opening a business can be an administrative process of a few hours and founding an association a complicated, sometimes impossible, process of months or years.

Associations may have to compete in courts with businesses in claiming land-ownership in cases of land-grabbing, but equality before the law will be impossible for as long as we don’t actively protect the rights of associations and human rights defenders, and acknowledge that businesses have a very different, for profit agenda.

A treaty on Corporations and Human Rights

The next step in ensuring accountability for any crimes against human rights defenders perpetrated by Corporations is adopting a Treaty on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with regards to Human Rights, WILPF joined Plataforma por la Impunidad in a statement on this matter.

Women in peace resolution: Colombia and Syria

WILPF Colombia and our Crisis Response programme also conveyed messages on the participation of women in the peace processes in Colombia and Syria.

In both cases, even if women have been included at some level, WILPF denounced that the participation has not been equal. In the case of Colombia we are strongly concerned about the lack of equal numbers of women in several sub-committees created in Havana as well as the low presence of women at the top level of the decision making in the negotiation. We also denounced that impunity for alleged crimes of sexual violence in the Colombian conflict remains at 100%.

We also reminded of the gendered effects of the conflict on Syrian women, in particular in prisons and detention facilities run by the regime.

You can find also our statements on the situations in Eritrea and in Lebanon.

Read other statements on extraterritorial obligations, climate change and the right to development and disarmament.

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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