Defenders of Human Rights

Many people speak out non-violently throughout the world for the respect and protection of the human rights of others. Because of their commitment these human rights defenders are often persecuted and suppressed and therefore require particular attention by the international community. The protection of human rights defenders is a matter of particular concern for Austria and the EU. Austria therefore supported the formulation of EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, which were adopted by the foreign ministers of the European Union in June 2004 and last revised in 2008. These Guidelines implement the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders of 1999; they provide EU Member States and their missions in third countries with concrete instructions how to protect human rights defenders and how to promote their work (e.g. regular dialogue with human rights defenders, interventions by the EU in cases of reprisals against human rights defenders, trial monitoring etc.).

The adoption of Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) marks another cornerstone in order to ensure that human rights defenders working within the OSCE-area can freely exercise their activities.

Austria is actively engaged in the formulation of resolutions on the promotion and the protection of human rights defenders within the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN) as well as in the context of the UN General Assembly. Austria also supports the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Reprisals against human rights defenders who are persecuted because of their cooperation with UN bodies are frequently criticised by Austria.

Together with EU partners Austrian representation authorities and coordinating offices of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ODA) maintain regular contact with human rights defenders. Through its ODA Austria also grants financial support to a number of concrete projects of human rights defenders in third countries. Furthermore, Austria actively supports the elaboration of local EU strategies on the protection of human rights defenders and frequently participates at common EU-interventions or EU-statements on the protection of human rights defenders.

Meetings with human rights defenders are regularly part of country visits of Federal Minister Kurz and of high-ranking diplomats. In the context of official bilateral visits Austria also frequently raises the issue of individual human rights defenders in order to advocate for their protection.