ON THE DRAFT RESOLUTION ON PROTECTING WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
We write to you as a group of African human rights defenders from across the continent working at national, regional and international levels. We are following negotiations on the draft resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders currently being advanced in the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, with great interest. This is the first time a draft resolution has been put forward focusing exclusively on the protection of women human rights defenders. It is a hugely significant and important initiative for African societies.
Women who engage in the defence of all human rights and all those who defend the rights of women and work on issues related to gender equality make a vital contribution to democratic processes, securing and maintaining peace, and ensuring security, development and respect for human rights in our communities. However, in doing this work, women human rights defenders can face a range of violations and abuses – including gender-based violence – at the hands of State and non-State actors. States need to pay attention to the risks faced by women human rights defenders, acknowledge the value of their role, and commit to ensuring their protection. This is the time for all States to show leadership by supporting a resolution that seeks to do this globally.
We are extremely concerned to hear that the African Group has developed a group position objecting to several core elements of the draft resolution. Fifteen years ago, all States agreed to the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, including State obligations to protect all human rights defenders working on all human rights. This commitment has been reiterated and built upon in subsequent General Assembly and Human Rights Council resolutions.
In addition, African human rights instruments include important references that relate to the protection of women defenders. The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights Article 18:3 speaks of States’ obligations to ensure the elimination of discrimination against women and also ensure the protection of women’s rights as stipulated in international declarations and conventions. Ten years ago, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa – the Maputo Protocol – was adopted. Acknowledged as a key text on the protection of women’s rights, the Protocol speaks of States parties commitment to increasing women’s participation ‘in structures and process for conflict, prevention, management and resolution’ and at all levels of decision-making. African States should be working to implement such commitments, and to ensuring it is reiterated and strengthened at international levels.
African UN Member States are putting forward important resolutions related to women’s rights, such as on ending female genital mutilations, addressing the situation of obstetric fistula and improving the situation of the girl child. At the Commission on the Status of Women in 2013, African States played a key role in securing agreed conclusions on ending violence against women, which also recognized the need to “support and protect those who are committed to eliminating violence against women, including women human rights defenders in this regard, who face particular risks of violence”. The GA resolution on women human rights defenders would complement and reinforce these important efforts by African Member States, as it would support and give recognition to the efforts by women human rights defenders in African countries seeking to implement these initiatives at national and local levels.
We call on every African State to live up to their human rights commitments by supporting this UN resolution, and by taking concrete steps to protect women defenders in their work. We call upon African States at the General Assembly to stand alongside all women human rights defenders in their work for the respect of human rights across the continent.