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UN: Roll call of shame – 14 members of the United Nations vote against the General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders while another 40 abstain.

Friday 27 November 2015, by siawi3


On 25 November 2015, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on recognising the role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection.

While Front Line Defenders welcomes this positive outcome, the organisation is appalled not only that the resolution went to the vote at all, but that 14 countries voted against it, while an additional 40 countries abstained.

This is nothing less that a roll call of shame in which repressive governments abandoned the previous practice of accepting the resolution on human rights defenders by consensus.

China, Russia, Syria, Burundi, Kenya, Myanmar, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, North Korea, South Africa, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan voted no.

While Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belarus, Bolivia, Brunei Darussalam, Cameroon, CAR, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Eritrea, Fiji, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Qatar, Swaziland, Tajikistan, Togo, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Vietnam, and Yemen abstained.

It is no coincidence that in all these countries human rights defenders are routinely targeted because of their peaceful human rights work. They are smeared in the media, are dismissed from their jobs, receive death threats and are sometimes killed.

Norway and those 117 countries who voted in favour of the resolution are to be congratulated for holding the line against those governments who see the promotion and protection of human rights, and the recognition of the vital role of human rights defenders, as a threat to their own power and privileges.

Of particular concern was the attempt by the African Group of States to table a total of 39 hostile amendments which would have significantly weakened the level of protection for human rights defenders. While these amendments were ultimately withdrawn, the resolution was weakened in some significant respects.

Nevertheless the resolution does include a number of new, important provisions recognising the vital work of human rights defenders in contributing to sustainable development and the realisation of economic, social and cultural rights as well as emphasising the responsibility of business to engage and consult with human rights defenders. The resolution also called on business enterprises to use their influence on behalf of human rights defenders at risk.

As the backlash against human rights and the shrinking space for civil society become topics of intense discussion, it is important to remember that while this is going on human rights defenders are being killed on a daily basis. If members of the United Nations are serious about protecting human rights defenders at risk then they must resist any and all attempts to weaken the text of the annual resolution. On the basis of this year’s vote we have cause to be worried.