December 9 is internationally celebrated as Human Rights Defenders Day. The celebration of such a day shows that the role of human rights defenders is essential in the development of society, the protection of human rights, the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and the strengthening of equality. Although, as in the whole world, as well as in Armenia, individual groups very often target human rights defenders in order to advance their agenda, the vital role of human rights defenders and civil society institutions and organizations, in general, has been emphasized by various groups in society, especially by those groups the protection of whose rights are dealt with by the latter, as well as by other relevant bodies.
Human rights defenders are people who, individually or collectively, strive to contribute to the peaceful protection of human rights and to improve the life quality of the most vulnerable groups. They collect data on issues that would otherwise go unnoticed, analyze government policies and legislation, and propose solutions to fill gaps in various policies or laws. Human rights defenders help victims of violations regain their rights, identify and work to end human rights violations and promote transparent governance and the rule of law.
While there are internationally recognized principles for the protection of human rights defenders, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, unfortunately, persecution and harassment of human rights defenders continue. Threats against some human rights defenders are greater than against others. In particular, we are talking about human rights defenders who challenge social and cultural norms, do not fit into stereotypes and certain roles, and protect the rights of LGBT people. Members of Armenian society often stigmatize these human rights activists, and some extremist groups even attack and threaten them because of their activities. In the public sphere, one often comes across the term “Sorosian,” which is used by representatives of certain political, religious, and public spheres to describe organizations funded by the Soros Foundation (Open Societies Foundation), emphasizing that they pose a threat to our national values and make propaganda of Western “immoral” values. Such pressure and perception from a part of society make LGBT advocates and activists very vulnerable. These human rights defenders need special and expanded protection from violence and discrimination. Unfortunately, our state does not publicly express support and a clear position on the fact that the state rejects violence against human rights defenders who protect the rights of LGBT people. The impunity of such cases increases the risk and pressure associated with the activities of human rights defenders, which in turn can lead to the cessation of human rights activities.
Despite the difficult context of their work, human rights defenders who promote the rights of LGBT people successfully represent the position of LGBT people and attract the attention of the international community. Human rights activists who promote the rights of LGBT people in Armenia are constantly consolidating their efforts and, thanks to their advocacy, on the one hand, they support LGBT people, and on the other hand, they try to influence a change in public opinion about LGBT people.
Thus, it appears that human rights defenders, on the one hand, work directly with community representatives, empowering and protecting them, and on the other, they collect data and develop policies and proposals for legislative changes that will bring equality of rights to all community representatives and confidence that Armenian LGBT people can feel safe in their homeland. However, this struggle cannot succeed without the support and involvement of the LGBT community. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, once said, ”Human rights defenders do not heroically stand in front of or apart from the rest of us; they are each of us, and among us, they are ourselves, our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, our friends and colleagues, and our children”․
It is very important for all of us to feel safe, and human rights defenders are people who fight for equality their entire lives. During this fight, it is essential for them to have a sense of security, which we can all provide by being more vigilant and protecting those who defend our rights.
To get a broader understanding of human rights defenders and their activities, you can watch the video made by Human Rights House Yerevan: “My and your defender” (with English subtitles).