Visit of UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor

In early December, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor visited the NHRF’s Secretariat in Oslo, Norway.
“We want to see more human rights defenders named as key stakeholders – they are the ones most at risk” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights

During her visit, the Special Rapporteur participated in a panel discussion arranged by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund and the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights. The panel, discussing Norwegian and international support to human rights defender, also consisted of Idil Eser - human rights defender and former Secretary General of Amnesty International Turkey, and Claire Hubert - Deputy Director of the Section for Human Rights, Democracy and Gender Equality, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Professor Peris Jones from the NCHR introduced the panel with welcoming remarks, and NHRF’s Executive Director Ingeborg Moa moderated the panel.

The panel addressed several trends in the human rights situation globally, which some of the NHRF’s grantees have reported on. One of NHRF’s grantees in Thailand, highlighted the crucial role of local organizations, who have been better equipped to respond to crisis than international organizations, especially highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. While international organizations have been affectd by travel restrictions and funding issues, local grassroots organizations have continued providing critical services. Other examples – of mass surveillance and spyware used on human rights defenders in the Middle East were also noted. Special Rapporteur Lawlor acknowledged this, but reminded the audience that attacks and threats against human rights defenders have been commonplace for years:

“In a way, I don’t like the word trends, because the same sorts of attacks have been happening over the years […] It’s not a trend, because it’s been around for a long time” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights

Claire Hubert from the Norwegian MFA also noted that we need to recognize the trends, but also what is stable and continuing. She also brought up some reflections from the work Norway has put down on the resolution on human rights defenders, which recently was adopted by consensus in the UN General Assembly. “The consensus means that it gets public recognition, that the United Nations acknowledges that our work is legitimate”, Hubert said.

On questions of what human rights defenders need else than solidarity, the Special Rapporteur turned to Hubert, encouraging Norway to bring forward the voices of women human rights defenders during Norway’s presidency in the UN Security Council – especially Afghan women human rights defenders, who are often excluded from discussions between states and the Taliban: “We want to see more human rights defenders named as key stakeholders – they are the ones most at risk”.

After showing the video above of Afghan human rights defender Horia Mosadiq, the panel was asked about the situation for human rights defenders who need to evacuate their countries due to threats and attacks. Human rights defender Idil Eser emphasized the importance of letting defenders continue their crucial work while in exile:

“Human rights defenders need a special place in refugee law. They need to be able to act as human rights defenders, to cooperate with each other, change ideas. It is important for human rights defenders to be close to each other, and I think there should be exceptions for some of the restrictions for human rights defenders”. Idil Eser, Turkish human rights defender

The panel discussion on December 7 was held at Gamle Festsal, University of Oslo. From left: Professor Peris Jones - Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Deputy Director Claire Hubert - Norwegian MFA, UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor, human rights defender Idil Eser, and NHRF's Executive Director Ingeborg Moa. Photos: Emma Verngård/Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.

In addition to the panel discussion, the Special Rapporteur participated in several meetings and seminars during her visit in Oslo, such in an event with the Ethical Trade Initiative Norway on the importance of businesses including human rights defenders in their due diligence work.

All photos: Emma Verngård/Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.