10 November 2007
According to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international and regional human rights standards, governments are accountable for any violations against human rights defenders carried out by their own officials, including members of the security forces.
States are required to put measures in place to prevent violations against human rights defenders. If there are allegations of violations, they must carry out prompt and impartial investigations and provide reparations to the victims. This includes the adoption of laws and administrative procedures, which ensure that the human rights of everyone, including human rights defenders, are guaranteed.
States also have a duty to prevent actions by private individuals, companies or other non-state actors that threaten, attack, or try to hamper the work of human rights defenders.
If the state fails to take action to prevent, investigate and punish such abuses, it can be held accountable under international law.
In spite of these obligations, human rights defenders are frequently the subject of government suppression or inaction when they face threats by non-government actors. Their work may lead them to expose uncomfortable truths about government policies, or support the rights of marginalized people or political opponents. However, this does not in any way legitimize abuses against human rights defenders.
National human rights institutions
In order to fulfil these obligations, some states have created national human rights institutions such as national human rights commissions and ombudsperson's offices. These can greatly contribute to the protection of human rights defenders.
National human rights institutions, often referred to as NHRIs, are expected to act independently of the government and must be given sufficient resources to prevent dependency on state financial or other control.
You can find a list of countries with national human rights institutions, and their contact details, at the National Human Rights Institutions Forum. Read Amnesty International's recommendations for effective national human rights institutions.