UN experts welcome FIFA commitment to stand up for human rights defenders

GENEVA – UN human rights experts have welcomed the move by world football’s governing body FIFA to take steps to safeguard human rights defenders and journalists who raise human rights concerns linked to FIFA events.

"FIFA’s commitment is a very positive move,” said the UN Working Group on business and human rights and the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

“This needs now to be followed up by action to prevent or identify and address any such attacks on human rights defenders in the context of forthcoming World Cup tournaments.”

The newly issued “FIFA Statement on Human Rights Defenders and Media Representatives”* elaborates on the 2017 FIFA policy on human rights**. It indicates that it should be read, interpreted and applied in accordance with FIFA’s responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and consistent with the spirit and intent of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Among concrete steps, FIFA will require bidders and hosts of FIFA tournaments to uphold their commitment to respecting and helping to protect the rights of human rights defenders and media representatives. FIFA also commits to set up a mechanism allowing human rights defenders and media representatives to bring complaints when their rights have been unduly restricted as they conduct legitimate work in relation to FIFA’s activities.

“The ‘beautiful game’ is a tremendous source of inspiration and entertainment for people around the globe. We also know that international football events – like other mega-sporting events – too often have been associated with a range of negative impacts on people, from forced evictions, to labour rights abuse, death of workers at stadium construction sites, discrimination on and off the field, and restrictions on protests,” the experts said.

On top of that, journalists and campaigners raising concerns have often faced retaliation and harassment.”

The experts noted that FIFA’s commitment to promote the respect of human rights in its activities responds to recent developments concerning adverse human rights impacts in the context of mega-sporting events. These developments have received growing international attention and prompted different actors to come together to find solutions, such as the multi-stakeholder Mega-Sporting Events Platform for Human Rights.*** Moreover, the experts noted that NGOs documenting retaliations against human rights defenders in the context of World Cup tournaments have acknowledged that FIFA has already started to take some action in these kinds of cases.

Sadly mega-sporting events are not immune from the wider crackdown on human rights defenders globally. The FIFA statement strives to align with the UN Guiding Principles, setting out an explicit policy with clear expectations and steps to safeguard those speaking up against negative impacts. This provides a solid foundation for action. Other mega sporting bodies should follow this example set by FIFA,” the experts said. 


* See: http://resources.fifa.com/image/upload/ejf1ecdku14lm2v9zc03.pdf

** See: https://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/footballgovernance/02/89/33/12/ fifashumanrightspolicy_neutral.pdf   

*** See: https://www.ihrb.org/megasportingevents


The UN Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises was established by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2011. Its current members are: Ms. Anita Ramasastry (current Chairperson), Mr. Michael Addo, Mr. Surya Deva, Mr. Dante Pesce (current Vice-Chairperson) and Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders was established in 2000 to support implementation of the 1998 Declaration on human rights defenders. Since 2014, the mandate is held by Mr. Michel Forst.