MRA, 130 Organisations Propose Criteria for Appointment of next UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders

Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders
Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Media Rights Agenda (MRA) and 130 organisations working nationally, regionally and internationally have come together  to set out the skills and expertise that should be taken into account in the selection and appointment of the next United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in March 2020.

These fit under four priorities: qualifications and skills, relevant expertise, established competence, and flexibility/ readiness and availability

Expatiating on the skills and priorities, the groups said for qualification and skills, the candidate should be able to show demonstrated experience addressing issues relevant to the mandate, from a human rights perspective; possess extensive experience in public speaking as well as in communicating and/or working together with relevant stakeholders, including senior government officials, the diplomatic corps, intergovernmental organisations, national human rights institutions, NGOs, human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations, businesses, media and other non-state actors; and have a university degree, or equivalent in experience, in a discipline directly related to the mandate, preferably with a focus on international human rights law, would be highly desirable. The candidate must also possess excellent oral and written communication skills in at least one of the UN working languages (English, French and Spanish, while knowledge of other widely-used or official UN languages, such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian, would also be an asset.

For relevant expertise, they recommended that this should include knowledge of international human rights instruments, norms, standards and principles; as well as knowledge of institutional mandates related to the United Nations or other international or regional organisations’ work in the area of human rights; proven work experience in the field of human rights.

The established competence should be nationally, regionally or internationally recognised competence related to human rights. This includes. Among others, a demonstrated commitment to human rights law and standards; excellent knowledge and expertise of the work of human rights defenders, and of responding to recent trends, developments and challenges human rights defenders face; recognized knowledge and experience of human rights-based academic and field research and/or fact-finding methodology, including carrying out fact-finding visits; and experience in applying international human rights standards, such as the Declaration on human rights defenders, in particular with a view to furthering the recognition and protection of human rights defenders and their work.

The candidate should have flexible/ready and available time to perform effectively the functions of the mandate and to respond to its requirements, including attending Human Rights Council sessions. He/she must be willing and able to conduct in-country investigations, in all regions of the world, into laws, policies, and practices affecting human rights defenders and their work; have the energy, determination and vision to promote the effective and comprehensive implementation of the Declaration on human rights defenders, including the protection of human rights defenders wherever they are at risk, and the promotion of a safe and enabling environment so that they can operate without fear of reprisals

He/she should also be prepared, willing and able to devote a substantial proportion of working hours to fulfilling the mandate, which includes undertaking two to three country missions per year, preparing and presenting reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly (such as the annual thematic report, and country mission and follow-up reports), attending seminars and other UN meetings and acting on individual cases of human rights violations committed against human rights defenders, among others.

The signatory organisations call on Governments, NGOs and others, including relevant professional networks, to use this checklist of criteria to identify eligible candidates for the upcoming vacancy for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. They urged Governments to consult civil society and human rights defenders in their countries, and to disseminate the vacancy widely so as to encourage candidates to apply for it.

The groups came together to set the skills taking cognizance that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders plays a key role in the recognition and protection of those who promote and defend human rights.

Thy pointed out that these individuals, organisations and groups often face serious challenges and risks as a result of their human rights work, and the mandate seeks to promote the creation of a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders around the world.

The organisations said they consider it paramount that this selection process give continued consideration to diversity, of all kinds adding human rights defenders who are most at risk around the world are often persons with discriminated identities or from communities that are marginalised. Consequently, they added, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders should be able to consider the particular contexts and challenges faced by these individuals and groups with the benefit of insights from the mandate holder’s personal experience.

They encouraged that the Consultative Group to give special consideration to candidates from communities or identities that are underrepresented among special procedures mandate holders.