Peaceful Assembly & Human Rights Defenders: UN Special Rapporteurs Press Conference

Source The United Nations



Media – Joint press conference by Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, on their reports to the General Assembly.

Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, said that the probability of a peace agreement lasting at least two years increases by 20 percent if women are involved.

Lawlor talked with journalists today (13 Oct) in New York about her latest report, which analyses the situation of women human rights defenders working in conflict, post-conflict, and crisis-affected settings and highlights their contributions to peace and security despite the often difficult and even hostile environments in which they work.

The report contains examples of individual cases of women human rights defenders working in these contexts and recommendations to States and other relevant stakeholders on providing a safe and enabling environment in which to carry out their legitimate human rights work.

Lawlor said, “There are many, many risks faced by women rights defenders in conflict, post-conflict, and crisis-affected situations.”

She continued, “Criminalization, intimidation, stigmatization, and sexual and gender-based violence are all prevalent. There is an increased risk to visible women human rights defenders in environments where already deeply held patriarchal attitudes are further hardened as a result of increased militarization in conflict settings.”

She said that sexual orientation and gender identity are “risk multipliers” and that risk phases can also be more severe depending on a woman human rights defender’s ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, or nationality.

She stressed, “One of these can mean a woman being singled out and specifically targeted if she is vocal.”

Lawlor stated, “We can say without a doubt for women human rights defenders suffer as much as their male counterparts but more gender-based violence and sexual violence because of their work.”

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, noted, “A recurring mistake of past peace processes is the failure to ensure inclusivity and to listen and address the conflict related to needs and grievances of community and social group to address the conflict root causes.”

According to Voule, meaningful inclusion is key to ensuring sustainable peace.

For this, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association are vital, as these rights allow communities to group and mobilize to push for changes, bring grievances to the decision-makers, and alert when political and peace-making commitments are not followed through.

He continued by saying that these rights often provide the only available option for those who live in post-conflict and fragile contexts to raise their voices, and they are an important avenue for women, victims, youth, and marginalized groups who are otherwise excluded from these processes, to voice their grievances and concerns.

He also said that too many examples demonstrate how the suppression of these rights and the failure to listen to the communities and social movements in the context of conflict prevention and peacebuilding led to failed peace processes.

Voule said, “In Sudan, the brutal repression of pro-democracy protests by the military and de facto authorities and the lack of meaningful inclusion of protest movements representation while focusing on those that hold the power involved in the killing and the repression led to the serious escalation of the violence. And we know where Sudan is today.”

He continued, “Another example that I would like to give people is: In Afghanistan – women were completely sidelined from the peace process, leading to today’s dire situation of gender apartheid imposed by Taliban who were brought through closed-door and, let me be honest, US-Taliban peace deal.”

Mary Lawlor noted that in Afghanistan, some women human rights defenders are still “doing their work insofar as they can.”

“That being said,” she continued, “they got so many threats.”

She said, “We heard of things like getting rape texts to their phones, being told they were going to have to marry a Taliban, not being able to go to the bank, not being able to go out and collect dead bodies in the streets, all these kinds of things.”

Asked about the situation in Gaza, Lawlor said, “From a human rights point of view, what is happening amongst the collective punishment of a civilian population, and there is no justification for violence that indiscriminately targets, in a sense, civilians, whether by Hamas or the Israeli forces. It is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime.”

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