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The European Union and its Member States are pleased to join the celebration today of the 20th Anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, one week after we celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
When civil society space is under tremendous pressure in many countries and even here at the UN, when violence and reprisals against those who speak up for human rights are increasingly prevalent, global partnerships on these issues are all the more important.
We commend the President of the General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa, and the missions of Argentina, Italy and Norway for their endeavours to prepare the event including the broad participation of civil society.
We also welcome the steadfast engagement of UN Secretary General António Guterres, High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst and other mandate-holders in their work to support Human Rights Defenders around the globe.
We particularly want to use this occasion to extend our thanks and gratitude to all Human Rights Defenders, for their courageous work on the ground and their exemplary commitment to making "all human rights for all" a reality.
All of You truly are courageous champions of the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The work of Human Rights Defenders fighting for their rights and the rights of others is the very embodiment of the promotion and protection of human rights.
Twenty years on from the Declaration, Human Rights Defenders are still facing increasing attacks and often pay a high price for their work.
This should concern us all and evoke renewed commitment to action from all of us.
In this respect, we condemn all forms of reprisals against Human Rights Defenders.
We also welcome the designation of a focal point to lead UN efforts to put an end to intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the UN on human rights.
The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders that we commemorate today is a powerful text.
It sets out the rights held by Defenders and the protections to which they are entitled.
With this in mind, we encourage all member states to support the Declaration, its significance and its scope.
Human Rights Defenders are forcibly silenced, prevented from working, branded as terrorists or foreign agents, and face threats to their lives as well as to their families’ well-being.
According to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, 1,000 Human Rights Defenders were murdered between 2015 and 2017.
1000 in 2 years !!!! This is unacceptable.
We must therefore ensure that those responsible for these killings are held accountable.
Mechanisms should be put in place to protect Defenders from threats and reprisals are working optimally.
Such mechanisms should respond both to emergency situations and also build the longer term conditions.
This is the only way to ensure that Defenders are systematically and comprehensively protected.
This is the only way to enable them to carry out the vital role they play in a democratic society, where the rule of law and human rights are respected.
The European Union is deeply committed to the protection of Human Rights Defenders.
The EU assists them in their work and provides strong mechanisms for their protection, including in situations of immediate danger.
Through the ProtectDefenders.eu program, the EU has allocated over 3 million euro in grants for emergency protection, assisting over 550 Human Rights Defenders in critical situations.
The programme also supports local Civil Society Organizations in their work advancing human rights and fighting violations and abuses, providing long-term support to Defenders worldwide.
In order to highlight this, the EU and the US co-hosted a panel discussion here in New York in November 2018 which featured two Human Rights Defenders: Teng Biao, a Chinese lawyer, academic and death-penalty activist; and Hauwa Ibrahim, a Nigerian human rights lawyer and professor. She also won the Sakharov Prize in 2005.
On that note, let us also acknowledge the work and life of Lyudmila Mikhaylovna Alexeyeva, the winner of the 2009 Sakharov Prize and founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group..
Lyudmila passed away last week. My condolecences to her family
She dedicated her life's work to defending human rights and developing the human rights landscape we know today.
We also congratulate this year’s Sakharov Prize winner, Oleg Sentsov, as well as this year’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad.
Let's be inspired by their work and the work of all those other Human Rights Defenders who make the Declaration a living instrument.
To say it in the words of Hauwa Ibrahim: "I may be the next victim. If I don't fight for victims now, how are they going to fight for me then?"