Violations perpetrated by State authorities
In most cases, the state authorities are responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders whereas they have the obligation, under the Declaration on human rights defenders, to ensure their protection. Police and security forces are the most visible perpetrators. They may be found responsible for arbitrary arrests, physical violence committed during peaceful demonstrations, illegal searches, or illegal surveillances.
Besides these direct acts, the States may also be indirectly responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders. For example, for each human rights violation committed against defenders, the state authorities have the obligation to investigate on the violation, provide temporary protection for the victims, and prosecute those responsible. When States do not fulfil those obligations it means they violated the human rights defenders’ rights. This is the case when the police refuse to register complaints made by human rights defenders or when the courts refuse to initiate proceedings against the presumed responsible for such violations.
This omission of the States leads to a general sense of impunity for those responsible, which encourages them to perpetrate acts against human rights defenders.
Human rights violations by non State actors
Non-state actors can also commit human rights violations, which means that a wide range of people can be responsible, that includes armed groups, companies and individuals. For example, armed groups may be responsible for murders, violence, torture or intimidation of human rights defenders. It may happen that human rights defenders are victims of reprisals committed by members of their community in direct response to their activity in the field of human rights. This may be the case when such activity is felt as an attack on the honour of the community or when it makes the community vulnerable to attacks.
Among the non-state actors, transnational companies may also be responsible for violations committed against human rights defenders. For example, a company will be responsible if it beats and uses violence against human rights defenders while they are peacefully demonstrating against environmental damages cause by the company.