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European Union (EU) Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders

06.03.2020 - Article

Local Implementation Strategy (LIS) Nepal

Human rights defenders are those individuals, groups and organs of society that promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms. Human rights defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realization of economic, social and cultural rights. Human rights defenders also promote and protect the rights of members of groups such as indigenous communities. The definition does not include those individuals or groups who commit or propagate violence.

The activities of human rights defenders include, but are not limited to:

  • documenting and monitoring human rights violations;
  • seeking remedies for victims of such violations through the provision of legal, psychological, medical or other support, especially in the current transitional justice process;
  • developing and discussing new human rights ideas and principles and advocating their acceptance; - promotion and education on human rights; and
  • combating cultures of impunity which serve to cloak systematic and repeated breaches of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Background

The EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders are aimed at providing EU Member States with practical guidance on how to protect and support human rights defenders (HRD), especially in third countries. The text of the guidelines can be found at https://eeas.europa.eu/topics/human-rights-and-democracy/414/human-rights--democracy_en EU Member States have tasked their overseas missions to formulate local implementation strategies for the promotion of the guidelines and for practical measures to support human rights defenders.

Local Environment for HRD in Nepal

The new constitution has granted a number of fundamental rights but their implementation is at stake. In the current context, e.g. the right to housing for the victims of the earthquake seems compromised. The ongoing transitional justice process is offering new opportunities but at the same time new risks and challenges for HRDs. HRDs remain vulnerable to attacks and threats from a variety of public and private actors. This is particularly true for HRDs working on sensitive issues such as disappearances, impunity/conflict-related abuses, child abuse and trafficking in human beings. Given the prevailing patriarchal and hierarchical conditions in Nepali society, women HRDs, LGBTI HRDs, HRDs defending the rights of marginalized groups, HRDs with disabilities and youth HRDs face specific risks. HRDs based outside of Kathmandu in more remote areas are particularly at risk, as are less traditional groups of HRDs such as victims’ groups and minority groups who may not be aware of their rights as HRDs and the instruments at their disposal for their protection. A number of threats to freedom of expression coupled with insufficient protection put some HRDs, particularly journalists at local level, at greater risk. Even among human rights organizations, there is often a lack of knowledge on protection mechanisms and protection/promotional strategies that help to reduce their vulnerability strategies. In some cases, HRDs lack the necessary skills and updated knowledge on the human rights protection system allowing them to defend human rights effectively.

The further dissemination of the EU Guidelines and the local implementation strategy – not only in Nepali, but also in local languages - can help to expand and strengthen the space for HRDs to explain and defend their vital role in these contexts. HRDs, however, are called to focus on equality and non-discrimination among HRDs.

How the EU can promote the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in Nepal

Many Human Rights organizations in Nepal are unaware of, or unfamiliar with, the EU Guidelines. In order to raise awareness, we will translate the Guidelines into more local languages and other HRD working languages and disseminate among human rights organizations, the Government, the National Human Rights Commission, security forces, political parties, academic institutions, and law faculties.

In order to explain what the EU in Nepal is doing to support HRD, we will publish the Local Implementation Strategy (including Nepali translation) on EU mission websites, including link to full Guidelines.

We can use our existing networks to inform HRDs, NGOs, victims groups and the media about the Guidelines , for example through district visits; through our local development partners; and NHRC. In particular, we can make use of local language radio programs run by our development partners in order to reach marginalized groups. Street theater etc. can be used to disseminate these guidelines to grassroots level and community-based defenders and activists.

To ensure wide dissemination, we will use contacts to the media to explain EU’s role, the work of HRDs, the EU Guidelines and the LIS.

How the EU can protect Human Rights Defenders in Nepal

Shiva Bhandari (Delegation of the European Union to Nepal, Neel Sarswoti Marg 667, Kathmandu 44600, Nepal; phone: +977-1-4429445 ext. 130; e-mail: <Shiv.BHANDARI@eeas.europa.eu>) is established as a focal person for HRDs security concerns in Nepal. Regular contact with defenders, preparation and distribution of agendas and minutes and suggesting actions to be taken by the EU-WG-HRDs are tasks of the chair of the Group. Note: Information and sources will be kept confidential, where appropriate. HRDs will be consulted on the interventions planned and information on follow-up actions provided to them.

EU missions to raise with Government of Nepal those issues that hinder the work of HRDs and make public calls for the visit of the UNSRHRD and other UN Special Procedures. For example, the EU Working Group will discuss and monitor rules and regulations for NGO registration and functioning, implementation of NHRC's recommendations and implementation of Supreme Court verdicts regarding protection of HRDs and transitional justice. The EU missions could also monitor the government responses to communications transmitted to the Government of Nepal by the UNSRHRD and other UN Special Procedures.

EU missions to look beyond their usual contacts with human rights organizations and defenders based in Kathmandu and other regional centers. While these contacts are also important and need support, they are often comparatively well protected and funded compared to smaller human rights organizations and victims’ groups located in other parts of the country. EU missions to therefore widen their contacts with HRDs to support a range of groups, especially those that are particularly vulnerable, and help them to link with regional, national and international HRD networks to reduce their vulnerability. The HRD NGOs are called to suggest respective contacts/mechanisms.

EU missions to conduct field visits, in particular to rural and remote communities in order to express support to HRDs and their work and raise potential concerns for their safety.

EU missions to carry out démarches or issue EU statements where there is evidence of patterns of harassment against HRDs or where HRDs are at evident immediate risk.

EU missions can contribute to ‘safe house’ activities for HRDs at risk and assess Government of Nepal’s possible offers of protection mechanisms. This shall extend the network to the regions and include those at greater risk due to the vulnerabilities they have in the face of the threats they receive. Furthermore, the possible need of HRDs to receive emotional and psychosocial counselling as they become vicarious to the traumatic events and cases they get engaged with is recognized.

EU missions to follow-up recommendations from HRDs in the provinces/districts, when the EU missions look into funding opportunities for wider geographical coverage, such as a project jointly carried out by different member NGOs of the WG, to further educate HRDs and establish or strengthen networks and support strengthened collaboration with national/local mechanisms of the NHRC and other national human rights institutions. Wherever possible, EU missions will support periodic consultations on the situation, challenges and way forward for the protection of HRDs.

EU missions to make sure that support to HRDs in Nepal is balanced and appropriately targeted and to coordinate with EU partners over financial support to potential HRD projects.

EU missions to encourage HRDs and human rights organizations to take greater responsibility for protection issues: we will look to insist that human rights projects funded by the EU include a security element and security training in their plans.

EU missions to show the EU’s public support for HRDs and thus reduce their vulnerability, we will invite HRDs to formal Embassy events and attend official events of HRD organizations.

EU member states to include the situation of HRDs when reporting to headquarters on the human rights situation in Nepal.

Where appropriate, EU member states to put HRD-related issues on the agenda of high-level bilateral missions and foreign visits with the government and other stakeholders and consult with HRDs on relevant themes for dialogue.

Where appropriate, EU member states to attend trials of HRDs and to also consider observing trials of those accused of violating the rights to defend human rights.

In order to coordinate the implementation of the EU Guidelines in Nepal, an EU working group was established and is regularly meeting in Kathmandu since 2007 (see next section).

How the EU Working Group on Human Rights Defenders will work

EU member states established a contact group for protection of Human Rights Defenders, with participation of EU countries, all other interested donors, NHRC, international organizations, INGOs and representatives of civil society. When appropriate, civil society representation in the working group may be revisited to ensure representation of relevant thematic issues. The meeting should not become a vehicle for organizations to seek funding (funding issues should be addressed only when policies etc. affect the security enjoyed by defenders and their organizations). Funding issues should then be kept generic rather than focus on individual organizations or platforms. The EU-WG-HRD should remain action-orientated and political seeking to address the situation of HRDs through joint collaborative action and activities.

The contact group will maintain a list of focal points who deal with the issue in each organization/mission, and designate a chair for twelve months at a time.

The group will meet every three months to review the situation of HRD as well as the progress to date on the EU’s local implementation strategy, and when needed, make recommendations for its review. Following this meeting a short report/statement on the topic will be prepared, including recommendations for the next months. The chair will convene the quarterly meeting and draft the report.

Each meeting will review the actions taken, either as the EU-WG-HRD or by Representatives of the EU Member States or the EU Delegation on a bilateral level, and discuss a way forward and next steps.

Members of the group communicate the actions of the group to their networks to demonstrate its impact and encourage greater feedback and participation, e.g. civil society members to HRDs outside Kathmandu, diplomatic representatives to their missions and head offices.

Between meetings of the group, communication can take place by e-mail or each member of the group can ask the chair/secretariat to convene a meeting if there is need for special action. A special sub-group on the protection of HRDs was formed by the WG aiming at monitoring and documenting violations against HRDs and to provide feedback to the WG for appropriate responses/measures that involve advocacy/lobbying with the government, legal activism (monitoring of prosecution) and physical protection (safety and security) of HRDs and promotion of HRDs' activities and any other issue or task related to HRDs assigned by EU-WG-HRD. HRDs and civil society may agree to revive/establish sub-groups on thematic issues for extending further the outreach and ensuring coverage of all HRDs.

The EU-WG-HRDs appreciates that additional activities to those outlined in this strategy may be required, in line with the purpose of the EU Guidelines, and will be defined in consultation with local HRDs through the EU-WG-HRD and other contacts

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