United States Statement in an Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders

Courtney R. Nemroff
Acting U.S. Representative to ECOSOC
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, NY
October 15, 2019


Thank you, Mr. Forst, for your report on the situation of human rights defenders, which thoroughly lays out how impunity compounds violations against defenders, impedes respect for human rights, and erodes the rule of law.

We also thank you for drawing attention to the heightened vulnerability of activists defending land and the environment, women, and threatened minorities.

We are deeply concerned that around the world, human rights defenders continue to face harassment, intimidation, and attacks for doing work that is integral to protecting democracy. In places such as:

Venezuela, where the government continues to arbitrarily arrest, detain, torture, and kill, people who oppose the Maduro dictatorship;

Zimbabwe, where intimidation, harassment, abduction and physical attacks against human rights defenders are steadily rising;

China, where the government continues its campaign against dissent by harassing, imprisoning, and torturing those who promote human rights and rule of law, including government accountability advocate Huang Qi. The government has also sought to stifle the voices of civil society outside of China, including in the UN in Geneva and in New York;

Iran, where the regime has imprisoned approximately 700 prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders such as Nasrin Sotoudeh, whose only crime was providing legal support to members of civil society;

Syria, where the Assad regime has systematically detained, tortured, and killed human rights defenders as part of its campaign to silence legitimate calls for reform and thwart efforts to ensure justice and accountability for atrocities committed by the regime – some of which rise to the level of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

And Russia, where human rights defenders routinely face harassment, intimidation, undue surveillance, smear campaigns, political prosecution, and in some cases violent attacks, especially in the Republic of Chechnya. Russian occupation authorities in Crimea seek to eliminate all opposition to the attempted annexation, including unjustly imprisoning dozens of Crimean Tatar human rights defenders on baseless terrorism pretexts and forcibly transferring them to Russia.
Burma, where activists, journalists, and students who criticize the government or the military are too often imprisoned; we continue to call for the release of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi and others.

The international community, including the UN, must redouble its 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 and abusing fundamental freedoms. Moreover, we urge the UN to defend the right to freedom of expression for members of civil society.