In a landmark development, the United Nations on 21 March adopted a resolution to protect the defenders of human rights who risk their lives to work in conflict-ridden regions of the world. According to the resolution, the use and abuse of national law to impair, restrict and criminalise the works of human rights activists is a contravention of international law and must end. Led by Norway, the resolution was adopted by the consensus and called on all states to support the work of all human and civil rights workers, in addition to preventing any harassment, threats to life and attacks on them. The resolution is a welcome development given the crucial role played these activists to uphold the principles of democracy all over the world, and the seriousness of the risks and opposition faced by these people in their work, which is to promote and protect human rights, or investigate into abuses, if any. Other than direct threats to life, human rights defenders are also subject to criminalisation and stigmatisation of their work, and face many legal and other hurdles in the due course. However, the new resolution explicitly mentions that a ‘safe and enabling environment for the work of human rights defenders should be a fundamental objective of any society.’
This is a strong resolution that must be implemented in every country, especially in the wake of alarming increase of international debilitation and abuse of laws to restrict human rights activism by calling them ‘western propaganda’ and ‘subversion of tradition’, particularly in the cases of human rights abuses faced by LGBT, sex-workers’ communities, or ethnic minorities in conflict areas such as Kashmir, Northeast of India, or even in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. The resolution is a clear indication that from now onwards, national law of the land must comply with and respect the international human rights laws and make amends to enable the changes accordingly. Limiting freedom of expression of human rights defenders, or creating impediments to their activities, will be, henceforth, seen as contravention of international law. The resolution is consistent with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which impose legal obligations on respective states to ensure protection and non-obstruction of the activities of the human rights workers. However, one must also remember that while the international and independent probes into lapses of human rights in any country must be conducted to establish truth of the matter and obtain justice for the victims of abuses, the other political forces influencing or jeopardising the sovereignty of a country must also be taken into account. Just as access to resources for the purpose of protecting human rights from external sources must be allowed, similarly verification of the sources of those funds must take place to avoid politically-motivated disruption of the normal functioning of a state by foreign powers.