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Defenders who criticise development projects require State protection
Thursday, 12 September 2013 10:26


(New York - 11 September 2013) - States must ensure that those affected by large-scale development projects are able to express their concern and discontent without suffering human rights violations, the UN expert on human rights defenders, Ms Margaret Sekaggya, has recommended in a report to the General Assembly.


Ms Sekaggya’s report highlights the extremely serious nature of the risks faced by human rights defenders who oppose development projects. Of the 100 cases reported to Ms Sekaggya since she took up office in 2007, over one-third relate to allegations of killings and attempted killings, such as the case of Mr Carlos Antonio Hernandez Mendoza from Guatemala who was killed in March this year. Mr Hernandez Mendoza had denounced development projects leading to deforestation and the exploitation of water resources.

Defenders are also arrested and detained, and their activities criminalised, in violation of their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of expression.


The report sets out that those affected by a project have the right to participate meaningfully at all stages of the process from design through to the implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This is crucial to ensure that development projects result in increased respect for the human rights of those affected. Particular attention should be given to ensuring that the voices of those traditionally marginalised are heard in this process.


Unfortunately the risks and violations that individuals face when they attempt to claim their rights in opposition to development projects deter them from participating in these processes, Ms Sekaggya found. The report emphasises that it is States that have the obligation to ensure protection to human rights defenders in these contexts.


Ms Sekaggya notes too that defending rights is often more difficult for certain groups. Commenting that a project could, for example, differently or more adversely affect women in rural areas due to their economic and social exclusion, she states that in turn women face additional risks and challenges when they attempt to defend their rights, again due to social and economic reasons. The different issues some groups face and the greater challenges they may confront in defending their rights makes it all the more important that they are able to do their work without facing retaliation of any sort.


The report also addresses the issue of accountability for violations suffered. Ms Sekaggya notes her dismay that the Working Group on business and human rights, composed of five expert members, has received grave allegations of harassment, persecution and retaliation of defenders seeking judicial remedy for business-related violations. Defenders again can play a crucial role in facilitating access to accountability mechanisms for affected communities, including those most marginalised. Their targeting is clearly aimed at hindering this access.


Ensuring accountability requires that relevant information is accessible. However the Special Rapporteur has observed that information is seldom made available to human rights defenders and local communities, even when they request it. In many cases the assistance of the State has been inadequate or non-existent. To protect the right to access information, States must ensure that they enshrine the protection of whistle-blowers in law and in practice.


The Special Rapporteur notes that at the heart of the harassment and violations that defenders face is the stigmatisation of their work as ‘opposing development’. A change in attitude is needed. Human rights defenders’ concerns must be recognised as necessary components in promoting development that is sustainable, through taking into account the views of all affected, in particular marginalised communities.


It is incumbent upon States to create the space for human rights defenders to express concern and discontent and ensure that those protesting are protected from violations.  


The Special Rapporteur’s report will be discussed by States at the next session of the General Assembly.


Contact: Heather Collister, Program Manager at International Service for Human Rights at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or +41 79 92 03 805. 


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 September 2013 10:46

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