Activists call for a UN-wide policy to support and protect women human rights defenders

In front of a packed room at UN Headquarters in Geneva, Omaima Al Najjar, a woman human rights defender and political refugee from Saudi Arabia, delivered an urgent message to the Human Rights Council on Thursday February 28, 2019.

I am here with women human rights defenders from across the world to take our place in this building, where decisions about our lives, work and bodies are made. We come from feminist movements, we defend our land and territories, we confront corporate greed, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, we work in situations of conflict, and we challenge fundamentalisms in all their forms. Our struggle is for dignity, justice and rights. For this, our colleagues are being killed, tortured, disappeared, criminalised and smeared. Enough!

We are fed up of the failure to adequately address the backlash our movements are facing, including right here at the UN.

Omaima Al Najjar, speaking at the HRC40

We are fed up with leaders who spout misogyny, violence and hate against WHRDs participating in public and political affairs. We are fed up being invisible and over your lack of action on the most urgent cases requiring this Council’s attention:

  • The 18 Saudi WHRDs that continue to be in detention, with reported cases of torture and sexual violence.
  • The 49 Palestinian WHRDs who are detained in Israeli prison.
  • The 70 Nicaraguan women political prisoners.
  • The 45 Sudanese WHRDs.
  • The over 600 WHRDs in Honduras who are facing unfounded charges since 2013

We recall that existing mechanisms for protection were insufficient to prevent the murders of Berta Caceres and Marielle Franco. To date, there remains a lack of independent and impartial investigation into both cases to identify all those implicated through collusion. The Council must use the opportunity this session to adopt a strong resolution on environmental defenders that identifies clearly the role of all actors in the violence faced by environmental HRDs, as well as a clear intersectional perspective.

We thank the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders for the report and consultative approach recognising the need to “strengthen and support women’s leadership and feminist, community-centred approaches to protection”.

To us, this means:

  • The Council fulfils its mandate to take action on credible allegations of violations against WHRDs by ensuring accountability at the international level;
  • Ending the tokenisation of our participation, and taking seriously the contributions we make;
  • Including our own cumulative knowledge on our protection needs into any human rights defenders measures and mechanisms.