The Council must address arbitrary detention of human rights defenders

Statement at the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

Delivered by Lisa Majumdar

Thank you, Madame President.

No one should be arbitrarily detained simply for peacefully protecting equality, freedom and justice for all. But worldwide, people are in prison for standing up for their rights and for the rights of their communities.

Teresita Naul is a human rights defender who dedicated her life to protecting the poorest and the most marginalised. She is detained in the Philippines under spurious charges. Teresita’s case is illustrative of how the Philippines has repeatedly criminalised the work of human rights defenders.

Sudha Bharadwaj is a human rights lawyer, and one of many human rights defenders charged and detained in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act. This is a clear example of a case in which the use of vague and overly broad national security and anti-terrorism provisions has given authorities wide discretion to criminalise peaceful activities, a tactic highlighted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

María Esperanza Sánchez García is human rights defender detained in Nicaragua, where false charges have been used as a strategy to criminalise activists and defenders to deny them status of political prisoner, and arbitrary detention used as a tactic to dismantle the political opposition.

Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, Co-Founder of the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, has spent a decade arbitrarily detained in Bahrain. This year he turned 60 in prison, separated from family and friends.

Human rights defenders are critical to the functioning of the Council’s mandate. We call on the Council to ensure that States who routinely practice arbitrary detention of human rights defenders are held to account and to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can continue their vital work.

We thank you.

Civic space in the Philippines, India and Nicaragua is repressed and closed in Bahrain as rated by the CIVICUS Monitor