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During their activities, they are often obliged to criticise government policies and measures. However, governments should not interpret this negatively. Providing space for an independent approach to and free discussion of government policies and actions is a fundamental principle, and it is a tried and tested method of raising the level of protection of human rights. Human rights defenders can assist governments in the promotion and protection of human rights.
The activities of human rights defenders have gained more recognition over the years. They have ensured that victims of violations are protected more effectively. But this progress comes at a high price. Human rights activists themselves have increasingly become targets of attacks and their rights are violated in many countries. Restrictions on civil society space and the repression of human rights defenders take various forms, including administrative harassment, defamation campaigns, travel bans, criminalisation, stigmatisation, arbitrary arrests and detentions, extra-judicial killings, and blocked access to funding.
The need for support and recognition of the work of human rights defenders therefore remains essential. That is why Belgium contributes to the implementation of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders. These guidelines bring together practical recommendations to streamline EU action on human rights defenders in third countries and provide concrete tips on how EU and EU Member State embassies in third countries can protect human rights defenders and support their work.
Within the United Nations, the General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by consensus in 1998. This declaration recognises the rights of individuals and groups to promote the protection and accomplishment of human rights at national and international level.
In the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly, Belgium supports initiatives that promote security and the work of human rights defenders.
Belgium also supports the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, among other things by participating in the interactive dialogues with this independent expert.
Persons who (wish to) cooperate with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations are also increasingly the victims of intimidation and retaliation. The Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights can rely on the support of Belgium in the implementation of her mandate to prevent and put an end to such acts.
Within the framework of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belgium is also actively engaged in promoting the work and situation of human rights defenders.