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United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Margaret Sekaggya. Image: Amnesty International Netherlands

Former Ugandan magistrate and current United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya. Image: Amnesty International Netherlands

(WNN) United Nations New York, UNITED STATES, AMERICAS:  Standing up for human rights defenders worldwide, former Ugandan magistrate and current UN Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya has been highlighting the needs for the most vulnerable members of society. Sending her report to the United Nations General Assembly Sekaggya is calling for all rights defenders to be protected the UN expert’s focus works to give voice to rights defenders who work toward global human rights needs inside local communities as well as the needs for individual activists and group defenders.

Outlining that rights defenders worldwide face “extraordinary risks” and are often “harassed, stigmatized and criminalized for doing thier work” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has traveled since 2010 to witness, interview and report on-location conditions for rights defenders in Armenia, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Honduras, Togo, Tunisia, India, Ireland and most recently the Republic of Korea.

“[Those] who oppose large-scale development projects are increasingly being branded as ‘anti-government’ or ‘enemies of the State’,” outlined Sekaggya.

Today human rights defenders include thousands of activists who work on-the-ground, or from countries where they are seeking asylum, as they defend land rights, health rights, migrant rights, indigenous rights, women and girls’ rights, the rights for defenders in freedom of expression, and much more.

An activist work ‘to defend’ is not a safe form of work. Too often public human rights defenders can face danger under threats to themselves, their family members or friends.

“These human rights defenders commonly face threats, harassment, intimidation, criminalization and physical attacks,” outlined Sekaggya.

Illegal mining, corporate land-grabs, environmental catastrophe, military intimidation under impunity, judicial corruption, forced evictions and lack of safety under arbitrary arrest and disappearance are all part of the issues that human rights defenders face and speak up about somewhere in the world everyday.

Activists who are trying to help communities affected by large-scale projects such as the construction of hydroelectric power stations, dams and roads are often “harassed, stigmatized and criminalized for doing their work,” the Special Rapporteur shared in her latest report to the UN General Assembly.

Often using protest through ‘resistance’, human rights defenders are also often the ones who step up as courageous leaders of their communities giving voice to concerns, especially when a community is facing rapid and unwanted environmental impacts and commercial development.

“Rather than demonstrating opposition to development, such actions should be seen as legitimate attempts to defend the rights of those affected directly and indirectly by development projects and policies, as long as they are pursued through peaceful means. Resistance evokes a number of human rights issues, including with regard to the right to freely pursue one’s economic, social and cultural development and the right not to be discriminated. Moreover, resistance can be viewed in connection with the rights to participate in the conduct of public affairs and to access information,” said Sekaggya.

“It can also be framed as a legitimate effort to pursue the highest attainable standard of living and adequate housing and to defend one’s privacy,” she added.

Monitoring, evaluating and assessing the needs of a community who are experiencing the denial of their human rights under violations or abuse is part of the usual work for activists who are considered to be human rights defenders.

“It is essential that communities and those defending their rights are able to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in assessment and analysis, project design and planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development projects,”continued Sekaggya.

Calling for a ‘rights-based’ approach that includes the principles of protection, decision-making participation, equality and non-discrimination, transparency and accountability with freedom to organize initiatives for improvement, Sekaggya works herself to give voice to those global activists who might not have strong advocates of their own.

“States have an obligation to provide protection to those claiming their legitimate right to participate in decision-making processes and voicing their opposition to large-scale development projects,” said the UN Special Rapporteur. “It is essential that those who wish to report human rights concerns and violations can safely do so.”

In 2008 Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, who is from Uganda, officially became the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. Although many people in the world do not know it, becoming a UN Special Rapporteur is an unpaid process. The honorary appointment by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is made as a special recognition. Through the selection process, experts are chosen to become Special Rapporteurs to enable them to witness, examine and report back on local country conditions to the UN.

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For more information on this topic:

Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders,” Front Line – The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Ireland), 2005,

FOCUS 2013 – Public Policies for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: The State of the Art,” Protection International.

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