Statement on Agenda Item 70 (b) ‘Human Rights Defenders’

Mordica Simpson
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
November 19, 2019


Thank you, Chairperson.

The United States is proud to again co-sponsor this important resolution recognizing the vital role of human rights defenders and the need for their protection. We sincerely thank the main sponsor, Norway, for its work on this text during these negotiations.

Human rights defenders work tirelessly to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, advocate for government transparency and accountability, promote rule of law, and expose corruption. Their work is critical to safeguard against threats from repressive powers, corrupt actors, autocratic regimes, and backsliding democracies. Human rights defenders work on a wide range of issues, including but not limited to democracy, labor rights, and the environment, and they advocate for marginalized populations.

We are concerned that human rights defenders, as well as their families, friends, and associates, continue to be harassed, detained, interrogated, imprisoned, tortured, and killed for doing the work of holding governments accountable and protecting human rights. To carry out their vital work, human rights defenders must be able to exercise their fundamental freedoms of expression and association, and their rights to liberty of movement and freedom of peaceful assembly. Where their ability to work free from undue interference is weakened, human rights abuses and violations, discrimination, and corruption flourish.

We urge member states to redouble their efforts to counter threats, acts of intimidation, and reprisals against human rights defenders and ensure that State and non-State actors are held accountable for violating or abusing fundamental freedoms.

The United States understands references in this resolution to environmental human rights defenders to refer to individuals seeking to express their views on environmental issues. Moreover, we understand that when the resolution calls on States to enact and enforce laws protecting human rights defenders, this is done in terms consistent with our respective federal and state authorities. We further understand that non-state actors, including transnational corporations and other business enterprises, should assume their responsibilities as set out in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. We also refer to our general statement made on November 7 and emphasize that any measures to prevent intimidation or threats against human rights defenders or to protect them from defamation or hate speech must be consistent with international human rights obligations, including those regarding the right to freedom of expression.

We regret that this resolution is being brought to a vote, and we urge other delegations to vote in favor of this important resolution.

Thank you, Chairperson.