Canada responds to report by UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

On March 4, Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

To see his 12-minute speech, please click here.

From 4:32 to 8:09, Forst commented on his visit to Colombia in 2018. He highlighted three main trends: the high number of human rights defenders killed, the high level of impunity for the perpetrators, and the criminalization of defenders.

Forst’s full report on Colombia can be read here.

The El Espectador news report on Forst’s presentation can be read here.

In response to Forst’s presentation, Magda Lakhani, the Second Secretary (Human Rights) at Canada’s Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization, the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, commented:

“Madame President, Canada thanks the Special Rapporteur for this essential report at a time when many countries are experiencing an upsurge in violence and post-conflict challenges.

Human rights defenders are critical precisely at moments when societies are in crisis and in transition. We would like to recognize their essential role in mitigating conflict, advocating for victims, rebuilding accountable institutions, supporting transitional justice, and expanding safe space.

We are committed to supporting women’s leadership in peace building and post-conflict governance processes that promote gender equality.

We would like to reinforce the Special Rapporteurs’ statement on the States responsibility to protect defenders who undertake legitimate actions to protect human rights. States are increasingly using emergency legislation and measures that can curtail public freedom and can be in violation of international human rights law.

Often in situations of armed conflict there is the criminalization of those questioning state authorities. Human rights defenders must be able to exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms and voice their opposition to state actions.

Canada will continue to support the creation of safe and inclusive spaces for human rights defenders and as affirmed in our guidelines to missions, Voices at Risk, with consideration to specific challenges facing women human rights defenders.

We have two questions for Mr. Forst:

  1. What can be done to further support women human rights defenders in online spaces to protect against digital attacks?
  2. How can we facilitate state cooperation to set up protection mechanisms accessible to defenders and peace builders operating in conflict and post-conflict areas?

Her 2-minute intervention can also be seen here starting at the 33:53 mark.

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