"I’ll continue to speak to governments in 2021, reminding them of their obligations to protect defenders, and to recommend to them what else they can do to support that work. "
by Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
Decades of working on human rights have taught me to be optimistic. The French writer Voltaire said he decided to be happy because it was good for his health, and despite how bad 2020 was we can, and should, look forward to 2021 with a real sense of possibility.
First, The Irish government has a long history of leading on human rights defenders issues, and I’m looking forward to it continuing that now Ireland is on the UN Security Council, where it can push for better international protection and an end to killings of human right defenders. It’s an ideal platform to speak out on the positive work defenders do. I'm hoping the Irish government will also introduce mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence in state-owned companies, and also use the National Action Plan to encourage business to do the same. This is vitally important because of the impact businesses can have on poor people all over the world living in the most vulnerable communities.
Second, this last year has given many of us a new appreciation for what matters, what to value, and how to organise creatively. The discussion about Building Back has begun, on how to nurture better, stronger, fairer societies. In 2021 we can influence by helping those working to defend the rights of others to be central in those debates, and by reminding others of the importance of human rights defenders. I've spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders online since I started my mandate in May 2020, and I see their resilience in the face of great danger. I also see how they're adapting their work to meet the new crisis of COVID-19, responding to changing needs of their communities. I’ll continue to speak to governments in 2021, reminding them of their obligations to protect defenders, and to recommend to them what else they can do to support that work.
Third, things were tough for human rights defenders during 2020 and over recent years. But we have come through very difficult times before - when I started at Amnesty in Ireland in the 1970s most of Latin America lived under dictatorships, the Soviet Union controlled most of eastern Europe, South Africa was in the grip of apartheid and our own island was caught in a terrible, violent conflict. Things can get better, and we can help make that happen by supporting human rights defenders.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the views of Dóchas or its members.