The first to undertake this issue was the United Nations Commission on Human rights (now replaced by the Human rights Council).
In February 1980, the Commission calls on all governments to encourage and support individuals, groups and organs of the society who act to protect and promote human rights. A year later, the Commission goes further and fiercely condemn and disapprove ill treatments and all types of reprisals committed against human rights defenders.
After all this preparatory work, the Commission decides, in 1985, to establish a working group in charge to write a draft of a Declaration on human rights defenders.
The establishement of a working group
43 Commission’s States Members, 8 Non-Member States, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and 8 NGOs including Amnesty International and the International Federation for Human rights (FIDH) compose this working group.
In the early 1990’s, to overcome the ideological divides that slow down the discussion, an informal editing group was formed. This group was given the responsibility to meet regularly and to produce a draft text based on the discussion of the formal working group.
In February 1997, after a thorough examination, article-by-article, a consolidated text could be presented to the working group and approved. However, there were still some issues that have been put aside to be dealt with at a later date, until a compromise was found.
With the approach of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human rights approaching, the Commission on Human rights saw the adoption of the text during this especial year the best moment to emphasize the need to protect human rights defenders and to make it a main issue of the international community. Thus, the Commission asked the working group to submit a draft text at her next session.
The adoption of the Declaration
By its resolution 1998/7, the Commission on Human rights adopts the draft Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups, organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Then, the 9 December 1998, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of human rights, the United Nations General Assembly formally adopts the Declaration on human rights defenders, in its resolution 53/144.
The General Assembly went further in order to support the Declaration and legitimacy of human rights defender’s work by establishing officially the concept of “human rights defenders” in a resolution adopted on the 8 March 1999.