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3 February 2017

Italy approves resolution on HRDs

In response to the life threatening attacks against human rights defenders worldwide, on 31 January 2017 the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Chamber of Deputies approved a resolution on human rights defenders (HRDs). With this resolution, the Italian parliament asks the government to take concrete actions to protect targeted HRDs around the world, including considering the option of granting temporary visas for HRDs at risk and launching a shelter cities initiative.

Andrea Rocca, Front Line Defenders Deputy Director, said:

Human rights defenders face enormous personal risks for defending the rights of others. In our last Annual Report, we documented 281 killings in 25 countries, across all regions while hundreds more were imprisoned, threatened or attacked. We commend this resolution, which must now be translated by the Italian Government into concrete actions to protect human rights defenders at risk, bringing Italy into line with the work already done by other EU countries.

The resolution follows up on the recommendations from a network of more than 20 Italian NGOs and civil society groups*, that are working together to advocate for better protection for HRDs at risk and to support their crucial work.

“We are now expecting concrete actions, starting with the implementation of the EU guidelines in a transparent way,” says Francesco Martone, Head of Advocacy at Un Ponte Per. “Drafting and publishing guidelines for the Italian diplomatic officials would allow us to hold them accountable and would allow HRDs at risk to know which types of support they have access to. Next year, Italy will hold the presidency of the OSCE, an institution with excellent guidelines on HRDs, so we urge our institutions to prioritise the issue of human rights defenders and put it at the top of the international political agenda”.

In the resolution, the Italian Parliament calls on the government to:

1. Implement the EU guidelines on HRDs;

2. Consider establishing an office within the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation dedicated to the protection of HRDs, which could issue visas for temporary relocation;

3. Set up a working group to research and plan actions on human rights issues;

4. Promote initiatives to coordinate and collaborate with NGOs willing to create a network to support HRDs in their countries, for example through accompaniment or other actions;

5. Ensure the coordination of the initiatives undertaken by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation with existing initiatives adopted at the European level or by other European countries.

The resolution on HRDs in Italy is a welcome addition to other initiatives that have been undertaken both at the EU level and by some other Member States.

In 2004, during the Irish presidency of the EU, the European Union adopted the Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, to guide EU actions in relation to HRDs and identify practical ways to support them. Front Line Defenders was commissioned by the Irish government to write the discussion paper which ultimately became the base text for the Guidelines. In 2016, the European Union launched, a mechanism  providing emergency support, temporary relocation as well as training, monitoring and advocacy. Front Line Defenders is the lead partner in the consortium of 12 NGOs that implement

Several EU countries have adopted strategies and initiatives at the national or regional level, to implement the EU guidelines. In, 2006 Ireland adopted a mechanism allowing HRDs at risk, in exceptional circumstances, to quickly obtain a short-stay visa of three months, for the purpose of respite or because of temporary safety issues.

In the Netherlands, the organisation Justice & Peace – in collaboration with eight Dutch cities – offers HRDs the possibility to apply for a three-month temporary visa in a “shelter city”. During their stay, HRDs can continue their work safely and use their time in Europe to advocate for better rights and protections at home. This and other initiatives have been recognised as international best practices.

“Given the ongoing attacks against rights defenders around the world, existing mechanisms are not enough to meet the demand and effectively support HRDs at risk. If HRDs cannot operate, there cannot be meaningful human rights progress. We need other countries like Italy to prioritise the protection of HRDs at risk and commit to robust action”, says Rocca.

Front Line Defenders Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2016 found human rights defenders in every region of the world are facing brutal attacks because of their work. Killings of HRDs are taking place every day, and they often follow months – or years – of continuous threats from both State and non-State actors. The newly approved Italian resolution is a commendable commitment to protecting some of the most at-risk and vital members of civil society around the world, and a symbol that Italy will uphold Europe’s stated commitments to human rights.

Download the 2016 Front Line Defenders Annual Report

* The Italian coalition on HRDs includes: AIDOS, Amnesty International, Associazione Antigone, Centro di Ateneo per i Diritti Umani, Università  di Padova,  Coalizione Italiana Libertà e Diritti Civili, AOI, ARCI, ARCS, Associazione Articolo 21, CGIL , Comitato Giustizia per i Nuovi Desaparecidos, COSPE, Fondazione Lelio e Lisli Basso-Issoco, Giuristi Democratici, Greenpeace Italia, Legambiente, Libera. Associazioni Nomi e Numeri contro le mafie, Non c’è Pace senza Giustizia, Operazione Colomba, Radicali Italiani, Rete per la Pace, Terra Nuova, Peace Brigades International – Italia, Progetto Endangered Lawyers/Avvocati Minacciati, Unione Camere Penali Italiane, Un ponte per…