HRC40: International Community must respond to the increasingly dangerous global environment for Women Human Rights Defenders

On the 28th of February, during the 40th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation urged the international community to closely monitor the situation of women human rights defenders.

A recent report by the Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders found that women human rights defenders working in law, policy, and in grassroots movements encounter distinctly gendered barriers in their work every day.

The report concluded by stating that, “women have been critical to the furtherance of human rights worldwide, but, because of the way aspects of their identities and their actions are perceived, they continue to face systematic discrimination, marginalization and repression.”

The report recommends, among other things, that the Member States of the United Nations:

  1. Protect the rights of women defenders;
  2. Ensure that women defenders enjoy a safe and enabling environment to exercise their rights;
  3. Ensure that non-State actors meet their legal obligations to respect human rights;
  4. Prioritize the protection of women defenders in online spaces;
  5. Dedicate part of their budget to strengthening the participation of women in human rights activities;
  6. Refrain from interfering with funding provided to women for human rights work, and;
  7. Address barriers to the participation of women defenders in public life.
From left to right: Ms Mozn Hassan, Ms Khadija Ismayilova, and Ms Kasha Nabagesera. Right Livelihood Award Pictures. Photos by: Wolfgang Schmidt

Addressing the Council, the Foundation focused on the efforts of specific women Right Livelihood Award Laureates who have been increasingly subjected to discrimination, harassment, threats and prosecution. Ms Mozn Hassan is one of them. An Egyptian human rights activist, Ms Mozn Hassan’s work on sexual and reproductive rights has been criminalised, in the context of the well-known NGO Foreign Funding Case. The charges faced by Ms Hassan, in this case, include: “inciting and calling for the irresponsible liberation of women”.

Ms Khadija Ismayilova is another example cited by the Foundation. As a journalist, she has worked to reveal corruption within the Azerbaijani government. In retaliation, her right to privacy was violated through the release of intimate online videos, for which the government was recently required to pay compensation by the European Court of Human Rights.

Yet another example cited is that of Ms Kasha Nabagesera who is an LGBTQI defender. Through her work, she has fought homophobic legislation and practice in Uganda at great personal cost. She plays a leading role in Uganda’s LGBTQI movement but has also endured reprisals, harassment and physical attacks due to her sexual orientation and non-conforming gender identity.

In the statement, the Right Livelihood Award Foundation urged the Council to support the need of women human rights defenders for an enabling and sustainable environment, free of persecution and discrimination, where accountability and respect for international law are upheld.

By way of closing remarks, the Foundation welcomed the priorities set forth by the Special Rapporteur in his report and urged the Member States to implement the recommendations and respond to the increasingly dangerous global environment for women defenders.

Read the full statement here