UN Adopts Landmark Resolution on Protecting Women Human Rights Defenders

December 12, 2013

The first-ever resolution on women human rights defenders was adopted by the United Nations in the same week as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, 25 November, and the International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, 29 November.

This major achievement was possible thanks to the persistent advocacy of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, with active membership of Hivos partners AWID and Just Associates.

The adoption of the resolution was a difficult process, requiring mobilisation of civil society from all regions. In addition, eminent individuals, including women Nobel Peace Prize winners and members of the Elders, called for states in every part of the world to support a strong resolution.

The result, unfortunately, is a compromise and does not comprehensively address many protection needs of women human rights defenders. Left out were a condemnation of all forms of violence against women and women human rights defenders and an injunction against invoking customs, tradition or religious considerations to avoid obligations related to the elimination of violence. Another contentious issue excluded from the resolution is the acknowledgement of the risks faced by people working on issues of sexual and reproductive rights and health, and matters regarding sexuality.

This is in contrast with the UN Special Rapporteur’s 2010 report to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights defenders. In this report, she itemised the large number of violations against those working on women’s rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, and gender issues.

Hivos finds it disappointing that major obstacles and dangers faced by women human rights defenders in the areas of violence against women and sexual and reproductive rights – and specified in the 2010 UN Special Rapporteur report – failed to be included in the resolution. Still, it is an important and historic document that will now require states to take action to protect women human rights defenders.