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HLRN Urgent Action Automatic Support
1 October 2007
Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders
Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)Palais des Nations1211
Geneva 10, Switzerland
Dear Mrs. Jilani:
We are profoundly disturbed by news received from various Members and friends of the Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN) concerning the deteriorating security conditions of human rights defenders. We should like to call your attention to this growing trend, in order that you would be able to intervene with responsible governments in your capacity as Special Rapporteur.
Over the past year, the coordination office of Housing and Land Rights Network (HLRN), a thematic group of Habitat International Coalition (HIC) Members, has received mounting information from various sources on an apparently increasing global trend of physical attacks, imprisonments and mistreatment of housing and land rights defenders, including several killings and at least one recent death in detention. In defense of the rights of the impoverished, disadvantaged, subjects of discrimination and the voiceless, human rights defenders have long maintained efforts to globalize their struggles and to ensure that each person’s housing and land rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in accordance with states’ treaty obligations. Essential to that goal is ensuring that vulnerable and marginalized people have, at the very least, a chance for their voice to be heard. Beyond that, housing and land rights defenders are essential sources of relevant information and alternative solutions. Recently, that pursuit has been at great personal—and, in many instances, physical—cost.
Beginning on the occasion of World Housing and Land Rights Day (a.k.a. World Habitat Day), 1 October 2007, UN Habitat is now promoting the theme, “A Safe City Is a
Just City.” For housing and land rights defenders, this year especially, the city is increasingly neither. Human rights defenders and their families often live under a perpetual shadow of insecurity. Diverse governments around the world actively have targeted human rights defenders, hiring thugs to attack and even kill housing and land rights activists to ? % id
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HLRN has prepared a brief report on the global situation of housing and land rights defenders, including illustrative detailed case reports of recent violations. The report is available at: http://www.hlrn.org/cases_files/UA-HR%20Defenders%202.pdf .
The duty—and beauty—of statecraft is first for the state to implement its human rights treaty obligations, at a minimum, and to devise locally appropriate means to do so. The pattern of persecution delivered upon the housing and land rights defenders is contrary to any civilized standard.
While the primary duty holder, at all times, is the state, governments and their representatives may not necessarily be the direct perpetrator of all of the human rights violations noted here and in our report, violations by omission also constitute significant proportion of the breaches found. Inaction in the face of this onslaught constitutes a failure to protect against violations is inadmissible and does not exonerate public officials of their human rights duties.
Various nonstate actors, including paramilitary and opposition groups, also carry a burden of responsibility as secondary duty holders. However, even in such cases, states often play an indirect role that is just as significant when they foster a climate of impunity or act as accomplices to these militia and paramilitary groups.
Against the normative international backdrop, illustrated by the December 1998 UNGA adoption of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), it is clear that such norms are being flouted. We need you to help reinforce and join housing and land rights defenders against the forced evictions, destruction, dispossession and consequent homelessness that characterize current and ominously foreseeable trends. Without our protective efforts and the active engagement of existing human rights mechanisms, for the impoverished affected persons and their defenders, the city, as well as the countryside, will be neither safe nor just.
We thank you in advance for your attention to this matter, and look forward to hearing from you about your constructive response.
Please be assured of our highest consideration.