Written by Maab

Last week WILPF attended the side discussion organised by the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHR) on the criminalisation of human rights defenders and the role of some states in preventing the activity of human rights defenders. Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya shared her report on recent visits confirming that “governments use the legal system to inHRC on Human Rights Defenderstimidate and harass human rights defenders in carrying out their work”.

The attack of women human rights defenders in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, the recent cases of non-existent abortion rights for women in the state of Mississippi, the post-coup abuses against human rights defenders in Honduras, and the criminalising of ‘homosexual propaganda’ in Russia and Ukraine all have one thing in common:  judiciary systems abuse and manipulate the law to further restrict human rights defenders’ activism.

In response to these violations and following up on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), Norway is taking the lead in on-going negotiations for a resolution reforming the laws that restrict the work of human rights defenders; it is to be adopted by 21st March 2013. The resolution encourages all states to protect and respect the work of human rights defenders. According to the Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya, “if these rights are criminalised, democracy will no longer exist”.


There is no doubt that the situation of women human rights defenders has deteriorated as a result of the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa region. Although the uprisings have formed a social ‘space’ for female human rights defenders, they are constantly harassed and attacked for their activism.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights (CIHR) reported that the constant attack of women human rights defenders in Egypt further marginalizes women on the wider national scene. Also Ms. Mariam al-Hadari, human rights activist from Libya, reported that women defenders taken by militia groups are constantly harassed and tortured.

According to Bahraini activist Ms. Maryam al-Khawaja, the proposition of the King of Bahrain in the initiation of an ‘Arab Human Rights Court’ is an optimistic resolution to improve the human rights situation in MENA but there is doubt of its legitimacy in it being a new form of enforcement further criminalising human rights defenders in the region.

The discussion had a promising yet worrying outcome in tackling the criminalisation of the human rights defenders question around the world.  One of the resolutions from the panels was that “we must de-stigmatise defenders in the society as that can lead to selective reinforcement of laws and creates a disabling environment for activists”. In addition, Mrs. Margaret Sekaggya also acknowledged that “we need to strengthen national human rights institutions that act as human rights defenders”.

Now, how these need to be particularised on each country case and implemented is still a question at hand and depends on the resolution of reforming laws that restrict the work of human rights defenders.

WILPF joins the international community as it awaits the adoption of this substantial resolution to be adopted on 21 March; whether that will improve the situation of human rights defenders will depend on implementation on a national level and on the advocacy from civil society.


We will keep you updated on this matter!