Human Rights Advocates Issue Plan of Action as Human Rights Council Meets in Geneva

Geneva Freedom House and Human Rights First delegates who are in Geneva for the 13th Session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations today issued a Plan of Action developed by their organizations and dozens of human rights advocates from 27 countries to advance global human rights.  The plan urges all governments, multilateral institutions and civil society to prioritize freedom of expression and association and to support the work of human rights defenders around the globe.

“These recommendations are the product of countless hours of thoughtful discussion and debate with frontline human rights defenders from nearly every corner of the world and draw elements from numerous previous efforts,” said Paula Schriefer, Freedom House’s advocacy director. “The overarching theme for both governments and multilateral institutions is a commitment to protect the ability of their citizens or members to express themselves freely without fear of recrimination and asking them to insist upon the same from any country or organization with which they have relations.”

The Plan of Action contains recommendations formulated during the 2010 Human Rights Summit, held in Washington, DC from February 17-19. The Summit brought together dissidents and human rights advocates from around the globe including Iran, Uganda, Taiwan, Egypt, Russia, and Venezuela with U.S. policy makers, officials from other democratic governments, and human rights and freedom of expression activists. A U.S.-specific plan of action was given to the Obama Administration last week.

“The protection of fundamental human rights cannot be an afterthought as nations grapple with tough socioeconomic and national security concerns. This Plan of Action serves as a roadmap for all governments as they work to reverse growing abuses that make it increasingly difficult for human rights defenders to make changes in their own countries,” said Human Rights First’s Tad Stahnke.

The Action Plan calls upon governments to make a commitment to respect international human rights norms, including the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations within their own borders. It also calls on governments to strengthen human rights bodies within intergovernmental organizations and support the work and independence of Special Rapporteurs; take action to prevent efforts to engage in internet censorship; and refrain from using the struggle against terrorism or violent extremism as an excuse to crackdown on the legitimate activities of journalists and human rights defenders. In addition, multilateral institutions are encouraged to prioritize these core freedoms within their own organizations and to allow more active participation by civil society, particularly within human rights bodies. A more complete list follows this release.

2010 Washington Human Rights Summit
Plan of Action
Headline Action Points for the United States Government

Human rights defenders from more than two dozen countries met in Washington between February 17 19, 2010 and produced the following action plan in two parts: these headline action points for the United States government; and a fuller Plan of Action directed to the U.S. government, other governments, multilateral organizations and civil society organizations.


Recognizing that its human rights practices have a far-reaching global impact, the U.S. government must abide by its commitments to safeguard universal human rights. The United States should prioritize support for and protection of human rights defenders in its foreign policy by emphasizing the promotion of the basic freedoms of expression and association through its policies and activities around the world.

To that end the U.S. government should:

Policy Formulation

  • Ensure that advancing human rights, including the protection of the freedoms of association and expression, are operationalized through a National Security Presidential Directive or some comparable mechanism, and properly resourced.
  • Ensure that the promotion of freedoms of association and expression are included in a national foreign assistance strategy.
  • Strengthen the U.S. Guiding Principles on Non-Governmental Organizations (issued in 2006) by developing them into action guidelines for embassies, missions and other U.S. diplomatic representatives around the world.
  • Formulate a strategy to promote freedom of expression in countries where it is under threat and fulfill its pledge to make Internet freedom an international priority.
  • Facilitate, support and strengthen engagement by independent civil society organizations in regional and subregional multilateral bodies.
  • Combat terrorism and violent extremism by promoting more human rights, not less.

Diplomatic Engagement

  • Ensure that consistent human rights and democracy messages are conveyed in bilateral discussions at all levels and in all areas.
  • When establishing bilateral structures to deal with human rights issues, include local civil society activists in their development and functioning.
  • In countries where freedoms of association and expression are curtailed, ensure that embassies and missions have a plan of action for supporting independent civil society organizations (CSOs), media and human rights defenders. This includes, but is not limited to:
    • Convening regular meetings and building relationships with human rights defenders and journalists to show support for their work and remaining engaged in their efforts;
    • Monitoring trials of human rights defenders.
  • Engage with other countries in order to counter government initiatives that threaten freedoms of association and expression in multilateral bodies.
  • Lead multilateral efforts to promote a single Internet and end censorship.

Foreign assistance

  • Ensure that the integrity and independence of U.S. government assistance is maintained. In those countries where restrictions exist on providing international aid to independent CSOs, the U.S. government should devise strategies for assisting civil society, and should register its objections with the host country’s government. The U.S. government should not acquiesce to the demands of other governments to vet or restrict U.S. foreign assistance to CSOs.
  • Remove onerous U.S. conditions on foreign assistance that jeopardize freedom of association and undermine CSOs.
  • Provide direct support to human rights defenders to participate in multilateral, regional and subregional human rights mechanisms.

Published on March 8, 2010


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