Protection for human rights defenders

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Spearheading human rights activities

In many countries people take huge risks to defend the rights of individuals, to raise an awareness of human rights or to try to persuade organizations to protect specific rights or certain sections of the population. Doctors, journalists, lawyers, judges, academics, trade unionists or the staff of human rights organizations – they cover a broad spectrum. Often they intervene in the political debate and put forward human rights arguments where others are concerned merely with power politics or specific interests. Without these people, international support for human rights would scarcely know where to start, because any development in human rights has to start in the first instance with the people of a country themselves.

Financial und diplomatic support

The Federal Government supports these courageous people; it enters into dialogue with them, gives them protection through diplomatic channels and also provides financial support where appropriate. To this end, it constantly closely watches the situation of human rights defenders, sometimes with the aid of specialized NGOs, and is committed to continually improving this monitoring system. With the aim of bringing about substantial lasting improvements in the situation of human rights defenders, it works closely with other countries in the European Union which has set its own standards with special guidelines on human rights defenders.

UN declaration containing definition

On 9 December 1998 the United Nations adopted a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration states that in principle any person who peacefully strives to promote and protect human rights is a human rights defender. The establishment in 2000 by the then Commission on Human Rights of the office of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, today known as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, was a crucial step forward.

Protection through publicity Germany repeatedly supports projects run by and for human rights defenders. This includes projects supporting international networks, providing further training for lawyers in the Sudan or accompanying human rights activists in Colombia. In addition, the Federal Government regularly makes demarches in support of human rights defenders; the Federal Chancellor, the Federal Foreign Minister and numerous other senior public figures in Germany meet prominent activists as well as little-known but deserving authors, lawyers or doctors, because fame and media attention is one of many ways to make sure they are better protected. As an element of the Federal Government Human Rights Action Plan, this subject remains right at the top of Germany’s foreign policy agenda.

(Copyright: Auswärtiges Amt)