It is a matter of concern that several countries have used harmful propaganda against human rights advocates, journalists, and artists as an excuse to stifle criticism. Human Rights defenders and journalists are subject to arrests and detention. Countries have adopted legislation, banning NGOs or imposing restrictions on NGO and opposition activities, cutting off their funds and labelling them as donor – driven foreign agents, intent on destabilising institutions.
Governments tend to perceive NGO exposures of violations as harmful to the image of the country instead of taking action to protect victims against such violations. There may well be concerns over foreign funding since donors do come with their own agendas that are not local priorities. The answer is for governments to provide funding and support for civil society organisations who are working to ensure that good laws are being implemented.
The legal basis for support to human rights – related NGOs, is derived from International Human Rights Law. The right to engage in activism (as opposed to violence), in defence of human rights is derived from a number of substantive human rights, including political participation rights, the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. The right to provide support stems from the right to defend human rights.
It is important that progressive public interest litigation be widely understood for what it is, namely, a mechanism for holding power to account in the interests of the powerless…
Human Rights are an effective mechanism for producing social change. Universally recognised rights such as the right to live in dignity and respect are fundamental to all societies, irrespective of diversity. Human rights are still the universal force for our time because the rights have become so widely recognised and because human rights places victims, not state power and image at the centre of attention. This is why international standards are so relevant for public interest litigation.
Extracted from a lecture delivered by Judge Navi Pillay, the well-known South African jurist who was United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014, at Wits University in South Africa on July 22, 2015. The full lecture, on Adherence to Universal Human Rights Norms and Standards in Public Interest Litigation, can be read here. [PDF]