Regional mechanisms

9 December 2007

Since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, Africa, Europe and the Americas have developed regional mechanisms to support and protect human rights defenders in their regions.

This inter-governmental cooperation has promoted a deeper understanding of the context facing human rights defenders in a particular region, and has helped governments to develop appropriate responses. However, the full potential of regional protection remains unfulfilled.

Asia and the Middle East lack such mechanisms for the protection of human rights generally and for the protection of human rights defenders.

Africa

In 2004, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) adopted a resolution on the protection of human rights defenders in Africa, urging member states to give full effect to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The ACHPR is an independent monitoring mechanism of the African Union. Its work includes promoting and protecting human rights and interpreting the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

In 2004, the ACHPR appointed a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders to strengthen the protection of the rights of human rights defenders across Africa. The work of this office has so far been limited, but recent initiatives provide hope that regional efforts related to human rights defenders in Africa can be strengthened. These include:

  • a press release urging the Government of Guinea to protect human rights defenders
  • a scheduled mission to Algeria.

The Americas

The General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS) has made a repeated commitment on behalf of the governments of the Americas to upholding the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Resolutions have been adopted every year since 1999.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is an independent mechanism of the OAS and was created to promote and protect human rights across the Americas. Its role includes:
  • observing the human rights situation in member states
  • raising awareness of human rights
  • dealing with cases of human rights abuses, including those against human rights defenders.

Its work on human rights defenders is coordinated through a designated Human Rights Defenders Unit, which monitors, analyzes and reports on the situation of human rights defenders across the region.

It also advises the IACHR on individual petitions by human rights defenders for precautionary measures, which may be ordered when a person is at risk of "serious and irreparable harm" as a result of their rights being violated.

Petitions are received from individuals and groups alleging violations of rights protected in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, the American Convention on Human Rights and other Inter-American human rights treaties.

Precautionary measures include both security measures and investigations of the threats or other violations against human rights defenders, in order to address the root causes and prevent them happening again. In 2005, precautionary measures were ordered in 11 cases related to human rights defenders.

When member states fail to act on the Commission's recommendations, the Commission may refer the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Asia

The Asia region lacks a formal inter-governmental human rights body or a regionally-ratified human rights instrument. As a result, Asia's civil society has at times stepped in to publicize and advocate on behalf of human rights across the region. NGO activism should not be seen as replacing the need for an inter-governmental mechanism.

Europe and Central Asia

The Council of Europe does not have a dedicated mechanism for the protection of human rights defenders but the Commissioner for Human Rights is mandated to promote the awareness of and respect for human rights in the 46 Council of Europe member states.

The European Court of Human Rights is part of the mechanism for the enforcement of states’ obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court receives cases from states and individuals, non-governmental organisations or groups of individuals by one of the Contracting States.

The Court has the power to order payment of compensation, indicate individual or general measures (e.g. reopening of proceedings at the national level) and in rare cases order interim measures, usually when there is an imminent risk of physical harm.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which consists of 55 states from Europe, Central Asia and North America, places great emphasis on human rights and development of the rule of law in the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights maintains a special focus on NGOs and human rights defenders. Its work also includes gathering legislation, providing expertise on legislative drafts and sharing good implementation practices related to freedom of assembly and other rights relevant to the work of human rights defenders.

The European Union

In 2004 the European Union (EU) adopted Ensuring Protection - European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (PDF). These guidelines express the EU’s commitment to enhance its efforts to support and protect human rights defenders in third countries and identify five practical ways of achieving this:

• Monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights defenders
• Support and protection of human rights defenders
• Multilateral promotion of human rights defenders
• Support to the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
• Support through other EU programmes, including development policy.

From January to June 2006, the EU undertook a review of the implementation of the Guidelines, which helped to identify some of the measures needed to ensure that they were better implemented. Read the findings of that review.

Click here to view EU delegations and their contact details.

Middle East and North Africa

The countries of the Middle East and North Africa region lack a formal unified inter-governmental human rights body or a regionally-ratified human rights instrument, but there are other partnerships and instruments that apply to various countries in the region.

The Arab Charter on Human Rights has been ratified by Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan and Libya. The provisions of the Charter include a committee of experts to monitor its implementation by reviewing state reports and issuing recommendations for action. The Charter does not include an individual complaints mechanism. Its provision to establish an Arab Court of Justice to deal with human rights violations has not been implemented.

Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia are all members of the African Union.

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