Defamation, threats, verbal and physical attacks, administrative sanctions and judicial harassment are used to deter human rights defenders from working with migrants and from combating the rising xenophobia and racism in Europe, says Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.
In his latest Human Rights Comment, Mr. Muižnieks says perpetrators can be both state and non-state actors.
He says that in several European countries, the rise of xenophobic and anti-migrant discourse has negatively impacted on the work of human rights defenders who protect and promote the rights of migrants.
Human rights defenders are even increasingly labelled as traitors who are threatening national identity and security. They are often exposed to intimidation and abuse.
The situation in Greece, Mr. Muižnieks says, is particularly worrisome as migrants have become targets of unacceptable, extreme violence notably by members, including MPs, of the far right political party of Golden Dawn.
Mr. Muižnieks affirms that human rights defenders defending migrants are under threat. There have been several instances of lawyers being threatened and physically attacked in Athens as they were assisting migrants in the course of asylum and other legal procedures.
In some Council of Europe countries, Mr. Muižnieks says, the work of defenders working with migrants and their rights is being criminalised.
In France, legal provisions corresponding to the so-called délit de solidarité (the offence of solidarity) concretely result in law enforcement bodies pressuring and punishing human rights defenders providing assistance to irregular migrants.
Persons standing up for the rights of migrants have been detained, prosecuted and/or fined.
In Belgium, similar tendencies have been identified and persons who have been demonstrating in favour of the rights of migrants have been arrested, says Mr. Muižnieks.