The activities of human rights defenders and civil society in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova have been restricted by rules and laws that limit their right to information and ability to express opposition to Transnistrian authorities. Human rights defenders’ freedom of expression was violated in 2020 when defenders were arrested and intimidated. In response, the People’s Advocate of Moldova issued recommendations to Moldovan authorities, mediators and observers. These aimed to make sure these parties applied international law and guaranteed the protection of human rights when designing measures to address the situation.
In Hungary, civil society organisations (CSOs) sent a letter to the Commissioner for Fundamental Rights complaining about an audit initiated by the Government Control Office. The audit started to review the distribution of funds under the CSO Fund of the European Economic Area (EEA) / Norway Grants. The Commissioner called on the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss the signed agreement, clarify its provisions, and define the Control Office’s powers vis-à-vis this funding with the Norwegian government. In 2020, the Norwegian and Hungarian governments reached an agreement to make funding directly available to CSOs and establish a fund operator independent of the Hungarian authorities. In January 2021, the NHRI received the Ambassador of Norway to Hungary to reinforce their cooperation and enhance the execution of the agreement.
In 2021, the People’s Advocate of Moldova elaborated a concept regarding the necessity and importance to develop a draft law on human rights defenders. After that, the NHRI involved civil society and public authorities in discussion on the law, receiving mostly positive feedback. In parallel, the campaigning for children human rights defenders expanded and the NHRI proposed to include a chapter on children human rights defenders in the law, while mentioning the Ombudsman for Children as one of the protection mechanisms.
The People’s Advocate of Moldova and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Moldova launched an online course on whistleblowers’ protection in Russian and Romanian. The platform is aimed at employees from both the public and private sector. Users learn about how to disclose illegal practices; the particularities of whistleblowing in the private and public sectors; what illegalities may be disclosed; and the protection guarantees for those speaking out about corruption and irregularities in the institutions they work in.
Following its participation in the NHRI Academy 2021, the Romanian Institute for Human Rights designed a training course for staff working with the country’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies. The training course aimed to raise awareness on issues relating to human rights defenders and NHRIs. Its objectives were to increase the effectiveness of the implementation and promotion of human rights at the national level; educate on the characteristics, mandate and modus operandi of key human rights institutions at the national level; develop an appropriate and adequate national regulatory framework for human rights defenders; and strengthen the national regulatory framework for NHRIs.
During a human rights film festival in December 2021, the Ombudswoman of Croatia organised a public consultation with civil society organisations. This was done to gain insight into challenges faced by human rights defenders and to identify key challenges in human rights protection. For its 2021 Annual Report to the Parliament, the NHRI sent out a public call inviting civil society to send data and insights, while specific questions were asked about key challenges to their work. The input from these consultations are reflected in the Ombudswoman’s Annual Report for 2021 and fed into Croatia’s Universal Periodic Review process.
In June 2021, the Irish government announced a review of its Equality Acts. To support and encourage civil society groups and individuals to engage in the review process, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the civil society organisation, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), have launched a joint project called Equality ACTion.
To empower the advocacy and work of civil society, rights-holders, community-led groups and trade unions in Ireland, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission operates a grant scheme to support human rights and equality projects across Ireland. This scheme supports research programmes, training and resource activities, conferences, events, and cultural initiatives. Under its Human Rights and Equality Grants Scheme 2021, the Commission supported 28 projects which encompass a range of issues. They include social exclusion and socioeconomic discrimination; racism and discrimination experienced, in particular, by ethnic and minority communities; and empowering people with disabilities to advocate for their rights.
In October 2021, the Ombudsperson Institution of Kosovo* organised the first constitutive Forum for the dialogue between the Ombudsperson Institution of Kosovo and organisations of civil society. The Forum aimed to develop a cooperation platform for identifying human rights violations, challenges to civil society, and opportunities for joint activities to promote and protect human rights in Kosovo*.
The Ombudsperson proposed the following thematic areas for the forum:
Forum meetings are scheduled to take place on a quarterly basis, guaranteeing a dynamic and proactive approach. To implement and properly coordinate this work, the Ombudsperson assigned a focal point to be responsible for communication with civil society organisations.
On October 2021, the Ombudsperson Institution of Kosovo*, together with UN Women office in Kosovo*, launched the Informal Advocacy Task Force on Gender-Sensitive Standards for Occupational Safety, Health and Decent Work.
This task force aims to foster cooperation between stakeholders, the Ombudsperson Institution, the Women’s Caucus, UN entities, trade unions, private companies, gender equality activists and CSOs to promote gender-sensitive standards for Occupational Safety, Health and Decent Work.
The Task Force consists of the Ombudsperson (chair), while the co-chair will be the representative of the Women’s Caucus, several CSOs, and the Labor Inspectorate, Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, and the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo.
This task force shall promote occupational safety and health for all and will meet every three months. It will also establish a platform for the regular exchange of information, awareness raising, and advocacy for functional formal mechanisms and social dialogue at the national level.
The Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR) maintains a very close relation with NGOs and CSOs, while monitoring very closely the situation regarding civil society space and the protection of human rights defenders. Not only prominent NGOs and CSOs form part of the GNCHR Plenary, but the GNCHR also maintains within its premises the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN), which was established in 2011 by the GNCHR and the Greek Office of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
Peer support among NHRIs can help address challenges faced in a context of limitations on democratic space. Together with regional partners, ENNHRI organises training and capacity building activities for NHRI staff. Topics covered include human rights defenders, NHRIs under threat, and communicating human rights. For example, the NHRI Academy 2021, jointly organised by ENNHRI and OSCE/ODIHR, focused on “Protecting human rights defenders and co-creating inclusive civil society space”. Moreover, ENNHRI’s 2018 Annual Conference gathered over 100 human rights stakeholders from across Europe to discuss how European NHRIs can better foster democratic space and support human rights defenders in the region.
The Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia has completed the technical development of a unique platform for registering and tracking harassment and attacks experienced by journalists and others working in the media. Once operational and running, the platform will, help ensure faster and more efficient responses from the competent authorities in the reported cases of violations of media freedom and freedom of expression. It will also provide a broader and more comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by journalists and contribute to enhanced public confidence in state institutions. In 2021, the platform was presented to the Government Working Group for the Safety and Protection of Journalists established in 2020.
The Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia initiated changes to the Law on Public Order and Peace. These changes were presented in September 2021 at a meeting of the Working Group of the Government of the Republic of Serbia for Security and Protection of Journalists. The proposed amendments include misdemeanor sanctions for violence, threats and insults against individuals and journalists on the internet and social networks. When presenting its Annual Report to the Parliament in 2020, the NHRI also underlined the importance of regulation in the area which would stop and punish violence committed and threats and insults made on social networks.
In 2021, taking into account the importance of strengthening the cooperation with civil society organizations, a special Department on Cooperation with International Organizations and Civil Society Institutions was established at the Ombudsman Office. The main function of the Department is to create a bridge between the government bodies and CSOs. In this respect we on a regular basis hold meetings with the members of CSOs, learn about their problems, discuss the ways of cooperation and receive their proposals. Moreover, a new platform was set up with CSOs for enhancing this cooperation, several joint events have been organized so far.
In 2020, the German Foreign Office launched the Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative. This is a protection programme open to human rights defenders, including NHRI members and staff abroad, who face threats due to their work. The initiative consists of three main elements, including on-site assistance, grants for temporary relocation within home countries or regions, and grants for temporary relocation to Germany. The programme was put to use in 2021, the German Institute for Human Rights nominated a member for the selection committee. After the takeover by the Taliban, the German Institute for Human Rights, together with the Asia Pacific Forum of NHRIs, successfully advocated for staff from the Afghan NHRI to be included on the list of people evacuated by German authorities. As a result, some staff members and their families have relocated to Germany and received a residence permit. The Institute has been advocating to continue these evacuation efforts and to extend them to other human rights defenders. The NHRI published a study on Germany’s human rights obligations in this regard.
The Consultative Human Rights Commission of Luxembourg took part in an event organised by the government to gather input for the development of a project for human rights defenders. Named Shelter Cities, it aims to set up a procedure for the reception of individual human rights defenders in Luxembourg for a predetermined rest period. This would be done via the protectdefenders.eu website. Since the abovementioned initial meeting, there has not been any noticeable progress. However, the government reiterated its commitment to the project “shelter cities” in its candidacy pledge for the UN Human Rights Council 2022-2024.
A similar project, ShelterCity, is being implemented in the Netherlands and operates in cooperation with Justice and Peace Netherlands, Dutch cities, and local organisations.
During the unauthorised public events of January and February 2021, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation established a working group to immediately review and take urgent measures to respond to all complaints received through the NHRI’s hotline. Some complaints related to alleged violations to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, access to a lawyer, obstruction of journalists’ activities and administrative detention conditions. In total, 83 requests for verification of persons under administrative arrest were submitted to the prosecutorial and government authorities. Moreover, the High Commissioner held in-person meetings with representatives of the human rights community on the above-mentioned issues, and members of her Office visited internal affairs departments and special detention centres for persons under administrative detention.