Defending the Defenders: International Protection for Local Human Rights Defenders in the Global South
Abstract: Local human rights defenders play a significant role in the realization and enjoyment of human rights. Working alone or in association with others, they peacefully advocate for and promote fundamental freedoms and human rights for themselves and for their fellow citizens. In the process, they document violations; raise awareness to rights holders about the rights to which they are entitled; remind States about their obligations to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, and challenge State and non-State actors who tend to violate those rights. Because of the aforementioned and other related activities, human rights defenders have become increasingly vulnerable to some of the very violations they defend others against. Some of the threats and attacks to which they are subjected include murders, death threats, torture and other forms of assault on their bodily integrity; intimidations, judicial harassment, sexual harassment; stigmatization; the use of legislation to criminalize and discredit their work; online and physical surveillance of their activities; enforced disappearances; illegal arrests, detention and denial of due process and fair trial; travel bans, among others. The above abuses are more prevalent in the Global South. For the purpose of this thesis, the term Global South refers to countries mostly in Africa, Latin America and Asia. However, the focus of the research is Latin America and Africa, because those are the two regions in the Global South with active regional human rights systems at the time of publishing this thesis. The choice of local human rights defenders in the Global South is premised on the fact that their vulnerability is more acute because many of them work in countries where the judicial systems are predominantly non-independent; corruption and impunity are widespread, institutions are weak, and governments are generally repressive and unaccountable to their citizens. The risk for local human rights defenders in the Global South is therefore heightened by the fact that many of them challenge these institutionalized discrimination, marginalization, inequality and repression. In many cases they advocate for rights which are regarded as repulsive to societal and cultural norms and advocate against vices which are regarded as acceptable. Examples of such categories of human rights defenders include those campaigning for women’s rights; LGBTI rights, environmental rights, indigenous and land rights, the right to vote and participate in public affairs, anti-corruption, among others. This research seeks to ascertain what standards and mechanisms international and regional human rights systems have established to protect human rights defenders in the Global South, and how those regimes have contributed to the protection of human rights defenders. In doing so, it examines the contributions of the UN Human Rights System, the Inter-American Human Rights System, and African Human Rights System and the European Union to the protection of local human rights defenders in the Global South.
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