Summary report Wilton Park Dialogue: The role of the UK government in enabling and protecting human rights defenders Tuesday 1 December 2015 WP1451

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1 Summary report Wilton Park Dialogue: The role of the UK government in enabling and protecting human rights defenders Tuesday 1 December 2015 WP1451 Canada House, London In association with: All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG)

2 Summary The Wilton Park Dialogue The role of the UK government in enabling and protecting human rights defenders reflected on UK actions taken to support human rights defenders (HRDs) globally, and considered future protection and support needs of defenders in third countries where the UK has diplomatic missions. This summary sets out key issues which were raised at the Dialogue, including constructive engagement between the FCO and civil society members, and the analysis put forward by the speakers and participants during keynote speeches, high-level discussions and issue-focused workshop sessions. Objective Responding to the UK government s new Human Rights (HR) priorities, this Dialogue explored approaches and actions the government can take to respond to serious security issues impacting defenders and address current global trends that challenge civil society space and the future legitimate work of HRDs. Context The UK policy agenda in late 2015 provided an opportune moment for reflection by UK government on how it works to enable and protect HRDs, firstly within the UK government framework (including FCO s revised thematic approach to human rights and democracy work and DFID s Civil Society Partnerships Review), and secondly at the multilateral level (in light of the UNSR s recent report, the Norwegian-led resolution at the 70th UN General Assembly, the EU Council Conclusions on the 10th Anniversary of the EU Guidelines on HRDs, and relevant priorities in the new EU Strategic Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy ). Key points made in presentations UNSR s mandate and work WP Dialogue key note address The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (UNSR on HRDs), Michel Forst presented a key note address at this WP Dialogue. The UNSR on HRDs, whose mandate was established in 2000 following the UN Declaration on HRDs (1998), is tasked with monitoring the situation of HRDs on the ground, making recommendations on how to enhance their protection and sharing best practice, including on how UN member states can help HRDs. The UNSR s priority is to increase the number of states engaging positively with HRDs, as well as to be more vocal about HRDs as important and valuable actors in society. In July 2015, the UNSR completed regional consultations with HRDs across the globe confirming the vital role HRDs play in society and the challenges they face in their work. The UN consultations confirmed a growing threat to civic space across the globe, and the targeting of individual HRDs, civil society organisations (CSOs) and actors in social movements by both state and non-state actors. These threats have heightened the importance of the UK and other countries continuing to promote and defend human rights through foreign policy actions. The UNSR is currently working on a report into good practice by states and actions by non-state actors to support and protect HRDs and their legal rights. The report includes practices of National HR Institutions, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), inter-governmental and regional organisations, transnational corporations, donors, HRD networks, etc. (See UN doc A/HRC/31/55). The UNSR expressed concern about limitations to his mandate in carrying out official country visits. Movement within countries was often restricted, and requests to states for visits were too often denied. Other countries could provide practical help by inviting the UNSR to visit (eg. embassies) in support of the UN mandate. HRDs: definition, key issues and challenges HRDs are identified by their actions, not their job or identity; they may be community Page 1 of 4

3 leaders, activists, diplomats, journalists or others. HRDs actions reflect a belief in human rights-based approaches to good governance - their work is primarily aimed at defending the rights of others. The concept of human rights being negotiated in many different cultures and contexts poses challenges and there is serious concern about the erosion of core human rights values in many contexts, and endangering the underlying principles of the international human rights system through suppression of pro-human rights activities and voices. Evidence demonstrates a strong backlash against HRDs, (eg. HRDs are threatened; harassed; arbitrarily detained; placed under surveillance; disappeared, and killed). Family members of HRDs are also targeted by association. Increasingly HRDs and their work are threatened by states lack of commitment to their protection, including states that were historically the greatest allies supporting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This can be seen by looking at the list of countries who voted against the recent UNGA HRD resolution in New York. Multiple state regimes are clearly suspicious of HRDs, viewing HRD practice as a tool for unwanted external interference. In a Post-Maidan environment, governments have shortsightedly drawn the conclusion that they need to close down opposition, dissent and organisation. There are groups of HRDs especially at risk: these include women s rights activists, LGBTI+ rights activists, land rights and environmental activists, and HRDs in remote areas or conflict zones. Diplomacy in support of HRDs and HR Providing support and protection for HRDs is arguably the HR issue which provides maximum opportunity for opening societies to prosper on the global stage. FCO officials remind host country officials that repression of HRDs is self-harming. There are economic and business arguments for supporting HRDs and considering how work with particular industries might impact particular groups of defenders and the communities they serve. Any government that seeks to suppress the voice and actions of peaceful members of society will damage its reputation outwardly and is not likely to fulfil its potential in a global economy. The UK government considers how to most effectively raise the treatment of HRDs with host governments. Many UK diplomats engage regularly with HRDs in their countries. UK policy is to provide on-going support to civil society. The UK provides the support and interventions which it considers will make the most difference in a given circumstance. This opens the UK s policy up to the challenge of inconsistency. Some UK actions are not as visible publicly or immediately as others. In some cases British drafters on multilateral resolutions take HRD actions forward. In other cases, the UK may engage in quiet diplomacy on behalf of a defender or related issue. Human rights policy is mainstreamed in the FCO, meaning that geographical directorates lead on human rights policy in given countries, balancing human rights concerns with other factors. Countries looking to increase their international profile need to be prepared for increased scrutiny of their human rights records and treatment of civil society actors - and must deal with this to achieve positive results where breaches of human rights are identified. UK Permanent Representatives have made a clear connection between human rights and peace and security, where human rights violations are an early warning indicator of growing threat of conflict. UK-supported human rights projects are underway in many countries, complementing political/diplomatic work on behalf of civil society. The UK government also raises cases of NGOs/HRDs as part of bilateral political dialogues. There are productive dialogues with Page 2 of 4

4 some countries, while others are less engaged and productive. The UK contributes at the EU level, and has been very vocal and engaged in EU actions to strengthen human rights performance by third countries, eg. as part of the EU Human Rights and Democracy Action Plan which directs EU member state actions to protect HRDs and to actively make positive business cases for both state and non-state actors engaging productively with HRDs and civil society. It was observed that whilst the FCO s focus has traditionally been on civil and political rights it could possibly get more traction by addressing economic, social and cultural rights as well, for example an emphasis on the creation of jobs, partnering with HR organisations active in these areas to open up space to talk about civil society. Development work in support of HRDs and HR The Prime Minister, David Cameron s golden thread is at the heart of DFID s new aid strategy (long-term development needs the 'golden thread' of stable government, lack of corruption, human rights, the rule of law, transparent information). DFID is working with other parts of Her Majesty s Government in third countries and in London toward this aim, with particular focus on fragile and conflict affected states, and leaving no-one behind. The priorities are: reaching marginalised communities and implementing the newly developed SDGs. Other relevant areas are: citizens voice and accountability; working across countries; women s economic and political empowerment; and community empowerment. DFID has improved data collection on the needs and voices of all communities participating in development work. Support to HRDs is part of DFID policy for supporting governance, democracy, transparency, accountability, by creating open government partnerships. Parliamentary support for HRDs and Human Rights In the promotion of democracy, it is very important to be closely involved in human rights dialogues too. Civil society space is not an easy subject to bring into work being done to strengthen parliamentary capacity, but HRDs have an important role to play in showing parliaments what they should be doing and how it benefits society. Support for/general facilitation of bettering relationships/dialogues (between Parliament and civil society) are key priorities. Also parliament may focus on using other issues as entry points to human rights problems, eg. access to water (which is a human rights issue). Recommendations to strengthen UK actions for HRD support and protection as put forward in workshops and feedback discussions Recommendations were made to strengthen support and protection for HRDs, including outcomes from the three WP workshops, which identified some approaches and effective actions the UK government could take to enable and protect under the FCO s three human rights themes. These are as follows: Ongoing dialogues and direct engagement with HRDs and local NGOs in countries. Profile of HRDs as a whole can be raised to highlight contributions they make to societies. Tackle impunity for violations against HRDs in many countries through increased trial observations and pressure on abusing governments. Engage legal communities with HRDs and the diplomatic corps to develop strategies to more actively work to counterbalance criminalisation of HRDs. Identify and support HRDs engaging at international forums where they may be susceptible to reprisals. This may include developing domestic mechanisms for evidence gathering to be able to respond more effectively to reprisals, and strengthen international accountability when reprisals may be of concern or are carried out. Page 3 of 4

5 Build peer to peer pressure amongst a broad-based diplomatic community, ie. Brazil, Indonesia, etc. (develop North-South diplomatic partnerships). Also develop regional powerhouses to improve human rights, finding regional champions and partners that can promote democracy and human rights and work for change. UK CSOs may call on the UK government to speak out, however at times this could have negative repercussions for HRDs. There are other ways that are less confrontational that the UK engages in. The UK could do more to facilitate the creation of space for business and civil society to discuss company-community conflicts. The EU collectively can draw more resources and have more impact. However, EU HR working groups are inconsistent in some countries they meet once a month, in other countries do not exist or HRD protection is not embedded in agendas of those groups. There is a need to review the effectiveness of the EU Guidelines on HRDs, and UK s participation (especially as regards effective monitoring and implementation of protection mechanisms). The UK could provide better instructions to posts, do more mainstreaming at post so all sections are involved, and facilitate an implementation plan and local strategies with consultation of HRDs as needed. At the multilateral level, the UK needs to make sure EU Member States continue to focus on HR and ensure space for civil society to participate in HR fora, such as taking part in UNHRC engagement, without fear of reprisal. The UK could also share technical expertise with international partners in connection with its approach to counter-terrorism legislation and protecting human rights. The UK should also call upon the Financial Action Task Force to bring Recommendation 8 in line with the best practice paper. Access to funding is problematic from both perspectives - key donors always invest in the same NGOs; a lot of small organisations need backing, but are not considered. Can the UK look for new approaches for investing in alternative important and legitimate HRD work, ie. in remote areas? Providing funding through other means should also be explored so as not to put groups in danger. Nicole Piché, All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group; James Savage, Amnesty International UK; Hannah Clayton, Foreign & Commonwealth Office; Karen Bennett, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute at London Metropolitan University; Susi Bascon, Adam Lunn, Peace Brigades International UK Section Wilton Park November 2016 The summary reflects rapporteurs personal interpretations of the proceedings as such they do not constitute any institutional policy of Wilton Park nor do they necessarily represent the views of the rapporteur. Should you wish to read other Wilton Park reports, or participate in upcoming Wilton Park conferences, please consult our website To receive our e-newsletter and latest updates on conferences subscribe to Page 4 of 4

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