The Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR) closely monitors the execution of European Court of Human Rights judgments, including those related to human rights defenders. In August 2018, the GNCHR submitted to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers its Recommendations under Rule 9(2) with regard to the immediate full compliance of the Greek government with the landmark Court judgment Chowdury and Others v. Greece (known as the “Manolada case”). Two years later, in June 2020, it made an additional Communication on the assessment of the level of compliance of the Greek State with the GNCHR’s recommendations on the Chowdury judgment.
In another emblematic case for the protection of human rights, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) – an initiative of the Commission and UNHCR in Greece – activated the same procedure under Rule 9(2), in December 2020, by submitting a communication for the supervision of the execution of judgments and the terms of friendly settlements, relating to the case of Sakir v. Greece.
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.
A human rights activist from an area outside of state control faced physical danger and criminal charges while being imprisoned due to her human rights work. The Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia challenged her detention and harassment as illegal, calling for a fair investigation and issuing several public statements calling on authorities to ensure her safety. The NHRI also raised international and regional attention of the case and nominated the defender for the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize and the UN Human Rights Prize.
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 has formulated a draft law amending the Law on Public Order and Peace presented in September 2021 at the meeting of the Working Group of the Government of the Republic of Serbia for Security and Protection of Journalists. These amendments refer to both journalists and ordinary citizens and would include misdemeanor sanctions for violence, threats and insults on the internet and social networks. At the meeting, it was agreed that these suggestions should be subject to public discussion in the coming period.
The Protector of Citizens also spoke about it in the National Assembly in December last year when the Regular Annual Report of the Protector of Citizens for 2020 was considered. On that occasion, the Protector of Citizens indicated the need to regulate this area in the coming year to halt and sanction every type of violence, threats and insults committed via social networks.
In 2020 and 2021, journalists investigating organised crime and paramilitarism in Northern Ireland received death threats. For example, journalist Patricia Devlin received online threats, including towards her young son and graffiti featuring the crosshair of a gun next to her name. In September 2021, her complaint that the Police Service had failed to investigate the complaints or provide protection was upheld. In April 2021, a Belfast Telegraph photographer was attacked whilst covering unrest in Belfast.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) recommended that limitations of journalists’ freedom of expression must be human rights compliant. Information allegedly linking state agents to non-human rights compliant conduct should not be withheld and HRDs should not face intimidation or reprisals for disclosing such information. The NIHRC insisted that the right to a fair trial and effective remedy for journalists are fulfilled. Additionally, it recommends that journalists have effective protection to report on issues of public importance.
The French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights has addressed issues related to human rights defenders and civil society in many of its opinions and declarations. In its September 2021 statement on the situation facing Afghan people, the NHRI stressed that human rights defenders, as well as all Afghan people, at risk of persecution by the Taliban and who wish to seek asylum in France must be able to benefit from protection.
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.