The legal recognition and protection of defenders is vital to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment free of attacks, reprisals and unreasonable restrictions.
Some countries have developed laws on human rights defenders. Such laws can transpose UN and regional commitments referred to previously into national law, set out country-specific priorities for protecting human rights defenders, and provide a legal basis for protection mechanisms.
However, passing the law is not enough to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders. Its proper implementation also requires:
On 1 July 2021, a new law for human rights defenders entered into force in Mongolia to ensure that human rights defenders are legally protected.
The Law on the Legal Status of Human Rights Defenders is the result of a collective effort of the Mongolian government, civil society, the National Human Rights Commission of Mongolia (the NHRI), and the UN. This new law amended the existing one on the Mongolian NHRI and granted the Commission clear responsibility in this area.
However, civil society voices indicated that the vaguely worded provisions could be used against and to undermine defenders. For instance, one prohibits human rights defenders from receiving funds from any party to conduct activities deemed harmful to national unity or considered as terrorism (article 7.2.1). Another prohibits defenders from “defaming the honour, reputation and fame of others” (article 8.1.3).
Do you think a law on human rights defenders should be adopted in your country? Or would it be better to fund or reinforce existing institutions? Why?
Depending on the national context, your NHRI should assess whether adopting a law or establishing a mechanism is the best solution. You should analyse this in terms of existing/potential political support; the independence of institutions; the risks faced by human rights defenders; the budgetary resources available; and where they should be best spent to address the risks identified. Often, the best time to adopt a law on human rights defenders is when their situation does not appear critical. Although it might not seem a priority and would require effort to put on the political agenda, doing so may become far more difficult if a repressive government takes office.