In partnership with the FIDH, OMCT created the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in 1997. This unique collaboration is based on the complementarity of each organisation’s approach and is based on their respective NGO networks. In parallel, many meetings on this subject have been held, culminating with Forum 1998, which brought together more than 600 NGOs from 60 countries, just before the adoption of the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.
OMCT and the Observatory have significantly contributed to the creation of a mandate for the protection of human rights defenders within the United Nations framework, as well as to the inclusion of this issue on the agenda of major regional organisations (African Commission, Inter-American Commission, OSCE, European Union, Council of Europe, etc.). Raising the awareness of political decision-makers and of public opinion has also been one of the main objectives of the work accomplished to date.
The main objectives of the “Human Rights Defenders” Programme are:
- To focus the international community’s attention on cases of harassment and repression of human rights defenders. Thanks to the Observatory and in collaboration with other OMCT programmes, the “defenders” programme maintains a system of “urgent interventions”. Every time the Observatory receives a report concerning the repression of a defender, information is verified with its OMCT and/or FIDH partners, and an action is launched as soon as possible in the form of an urgent appeal, a press release or a letter to authorities, on a case by case basis.
Between 1997 and 2001, the Observatory prepared more than 600 urgent interventions concerning approximately 1,000 defenders in more than 60 countries. These interventions have enabled the release of certain defenders and the improvement of the situation of many of whom were victims of harassment.
- To offer concrete and personalised assistance via international fact-finding missions, judicial observation and support missions, solidarity missions, and the granting of material assistance to defenders and defender organisations.
Since the creation of the Observatory, more than 40 international fact-finding missions and judicial observation and support missions have been conducted. Fact-finding missions aim to collect information on the situation of defenders in a given country, and to make them public. Legal observation missions must bring support to defenders that are the object of often-arbitrary prosecution, so that all the guarantees of a just and equitable trial be respected, and to alert the international community if need be. Material assistance enables the evacuation of defenders who are in grave danger and provides support for organisations that risk disappearing because of a lack of means (e.g., following the destruction of their working material during a raid).
- To mobilise civil society and international opinion through the elaboration, the publication and the diffusion of reports on the violations of the rights and freedoms of people or organisations working for human rights in the world. The Observatory publishes an annual report that includes all the urgent interventions conducted during the year, follow-up and thematic analysis on the situation of human rights defenders. This work is presented during the Human Rights Council’s session in Geneva. A monthly bulletin, which presents a summary of all the actions undertaken in the previous month, is also widely diffused and available on the Web site in three languages (French, English and Spanish).
- To promote and reinforce international and regional mechanisms aimed at protecting defenders with various intergovernmental, regional and international bodies, such as the United Nations, the Organisation of American States, the African Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the European Union.