Individuals or groups that work to protect and implement human rights without the use of violence or force. They often risk personal safety and health when defending the rights of vulnerable and marginalized individuals or groups who are not able to defend themselves.

Whether you call yourself a solidarity worker, an activist, advocate or Human rights campaigner, you may fall under the term OHCHR call “Human rights defender” (HRD) this term is used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do, and it is through a description of their actions and of some of the contexts in which they work. The actions taken by human rights defenders must be peaceful in order to comply with the Declaration on human rights defenders.

However, defending human rights is often challenging and at times dangerous. Reprisals are frequently experienced by human rights defender. Many receive life threats for themselves, their families or colleagues. Moreover, women HRD are frequent targets of gender-based violence, including rape.

State authorities are often common perpetrators of violations against HRD, despite the fact that they should undertake the primary responsibility of assuring their protection. The mental health and psychological well-being of human rights defenders have often been neglected.

Who is a defender
OHCHR
“Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do and it is through a description of their actions and of some of the contexts in which they work that the term can best be explained.

Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights Fact Sheet No 29
OHCHR – 2004
This Fact Sheet has been prepared with the aim of supporting human rights defenders in their invaluable work. It is addressed primarily to State authorities, national and international non-governmental organizations, United Nations personnel, major private sector actors (including transnational corporations) and human rights defenders themselves. The Fact Sheet is also aimed at the wider public and may be useful to journalists and others in disseminating information on the role and situation of human rights defenders.

All kinds of people help make sure that everyones human rights are respected.
Amnesty International, 2016
Human rights defenders protect our freedom of expression, our access to health care and clean water, our ability to protest peacefully, and all of our other fundamental human rights. Human rights are increasingly under attack in the United States and around the world. That’s why human rights defenders are needed.

“Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization
of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.”
Article 1of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

The different declarations, resolutions and guidelines that are related to the protection of Human Rights Defenders.

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
General Assembly Resolution A/RES/53/144
Legal character. The Declaration is not, in itself, a legally binding instrument. However, it contains a series of principles and rights that are based on human rights standards enshrined in other international instruments that are legally binding – such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Moreover, the Declaration was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly and therefore represents a very strong commitment by States to its implementation. States are increasingly considering adopting the Declaration as binding national legislation.

Commentary to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders: an essential guide to the right to defend human rights
OHCHR 2011
This “Commentary to the Declaration on human rights defenders”, is aimed at building on the efforts to raise awareness about the Declaration and the crucial role of human rights defenders. It maps out the rights provided for in the Declaration, based mostly on information received and reports produced by the two Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights defenders, Hina Jilani (2000-2008) and Margaret Sekaggya (since 2008).

Resolution on protecting women human rights defenders
United Nations General Assembly 2013
Gravely concerned that women human rights defenders are at risk of and suffer from violations and abuses, including systematic violations and abuses of their fundamental rights to life, liberty and security of person, to psychological and physical integrity, to privacy and respect for private and family life and to freedom of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly, and in addition can experience gender-based violence, rape and other forms of sexual violence, harassment and verbal abuse and attacks on reputation, online and offline, by State actors, including law enforcement personnel and security forces, and non-State actors, such as those related to family and community, in both public and private spheres.

Comments to the Resolution on protection Women human rights defenders
Amnesty International, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, the International Service for Human Rights and Jass, Just Associates (2014)
It is deeply regrettable that this last minute consensus came at the expense of a crucial paragraph containing language calling on States to condemn all forms of violence against women and women human rights defenders, and to refrain from invoking any customs, tradition or religious consideration to avoid obligations related to the elimination of violence against women.

 European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders
Support for human rights defenders is already a long-established element of the European Union’s human rights external relations policy. The purpose of these Guidelines is to provide practical suggestions for enhancing EU action in relation to this issue. The Guidelines can be used in contacts with third countries at all levels as well as in multilateral human rights fora, in order to support and strengthen ongoing efforts by the Union to promote and encourage respect for the right to defend human rights.

Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), 2014
The present guidelines are based on OSCE commitments and universally recognized human rights standards that OSCE participating States have undertaken to adhere to. The guidelines do not set new standards or seek to create “special” rights for human rights defenders but concentrate on the protection of the human rights of those who are at risk as a result of their human rights work. As such, the guidelines aim to contribute to promoting equal protection of human rights for all.

New protection manual for human rights defenders
Enrique Eguren and Marie Caraj, Protection International, 2008
The gravity of the risks faced on a daily basis by human rights defenders are such that it is also important to pursue other means to strengthen their protection. This manual aspire to support human rights defenders in developing their own security plans and protection mechanisms. Many human rights defenders are so engaged by their work to protect others that they give insufficient attention to their own security.

Acts of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with the special procedures
OHCHR
Addressing acts of intimidation and reprisal against those who seek to cooperate, cooperate or have cooperated with the UN. They have consistently raised their concerns about this unacceptable practice individually and as a system. As a result of the mandate holders agreed during the 22nd Annual Meeting of Special Procedures, to consolidate and enhance special procedures’ response to this unacceptable practice by establishing a coherent framework for action, the main points of which can be found in this webpage.

Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (“San José Guidelines”)*
OHCHR 2015
A group of UN bodies responsible for monitoring human rights has adopted a significant policy to combat intimidation and reprisals against those who provide information or contribute to the treaty bodies’ work to promote and protect human rights.

What are the obligations of States?
States have the obligation to respect and implement all the provisions of the Declaration, and in particular to ensure the rights and protections contained for human rights defenders.

The threats that are directed towards human rights defenders, witnesses and lawyers fighting the practice of enforced disappearances, are very serious and must be reacted to. In December 2006 the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from enforced Disappearance, was adopted and it entered into force in 2007. The Convention is now signed by 49 states and ratified by 58. Every day people go missing, and thousands of people are forcedly disappeared.  Also, relatives of victims of enforced disappearance are unsecure and under threat.

Enforced Disappearances – An Information Guide for Human Rights Defenders and CSOs
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) January 2016

This publication speaks about enforced disappearances and underscores why it is an important issue of human rights concerns globally. It begins by seeking to demystify the phenomenon of “disappearance” itself, exploring the various circumstances in which people disappear, thereby disaggregating the various scenarios into categories of disappearance.

What rights for human rights defenders?
Human rights defenders have the following rights:

  • To seek protection and realisation of human rights at the national and international levels
  • To conduct human rights work individually or in association with others and therefore, to form associations and non-governmental organisations
  • To meet or assembly peacefully
  • To seek, obtain, receive and hold information related to human rights
  • To develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance…

Enabling human rights and democratic space in Europe
ENNHRI 2018
National Human rights Institutions (NHRIs) are state-mandated bodies, independent of government, with a broad constitutional or legal mandate to protect and promote human rights at the national level. This publication illustrates their role in supporting Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) in a context of shrinking democratic space in Europe, through a collection of relevant practices from ENNHRI members. This publication aims to inspire a range of actors to join forces to further protect and strengthen HRDs and build a sustainable human rights environment in Europe with a vibrant democratic space and respect for the rule of law.

Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) who defend particular rights, or work in certain contexts, face more threats. Not only do they face the same threats as other human rights defenders—such as; surveillance, false accusations and mock trials; enforced disappearance, torture and killings—women human rights defenders also face threats due to their gender. These include sexual abuse and harassment; domestic violence; threats against their children; and smear campaigns.

Politicizing Self-Care and Wellbeing in Our Activism as Women Human Rights Defenders
AWID 2015
Stress, burn out, uncontrollable emotional outbursts, depression, anxiety, migraines and cancer, are some of the effects that human rights defense work has on WHRDs around the world, and the ones that often make them quit their important work. AWID spoke with Jessica Horn, Senior Advisor for the African Institute for Integrated Responses to Violence Against Women and HIV/AIDS (AIR) about the politics of self-care and well-being for women human rights defenders.

Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holistic Approach to Protection
AWID and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition 2014
The investigation asserts that both the violence experienced by women human rights defenders, as well as the impact that such aggressions have on their lives and activism, makes it necessary to adopt protection mechanisms that address the different needs and realities of women human rights defenders.

Women human rights defenders and the struggle for justice in Colombia
ABColombia, Oidhac, U.S. Office on Colombia, 2011 
Colombia continues to suffer one of the worst humanitarian and human rights crises in the world. In this context, those who defend human rights and the rule of law in Colombia have continuously been victims of systematic stigmatization, threats, sexual violence, unfounded criminal proceedings, violent attacks and killings carried out by all armed actors in the conflict. Amongst this group of defenders, women play a crucial role.

Two pager on Women human rights defenders
OHCHR 2014
Women’s human rights defenders (WHRDs) are both female and any other human rights defenders who engage in promotion and protection of women’s rights and gender equality as well as all women working on any issue related to human rights and fundamental freedoms individually and in association with others in any region of the world.

Information series on sexual and reproductive health and rights women human rights defenders
OHCHR
Women human rights defenders are often targeted with particular forms of violence and harassment. Defenders working on sexual and reproductive health and rights are at heightened risk in many countries. This “cannot be conceived as separate from the political, social, economic, environmental, and other systemic factors which produce and reproduce conflict, displacement, inequality, violence, patriarchal attitudes and practices which are at the root of these challenges. The security of such defenders is inherently linked to the security of their communities and can only be fully achieved in the context of a holistic approach which includes the deepening of democracy, the fight against impunity, the reduction of economic inequalities, and striving for social and environmental justice, among others.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya
Human Rights Council, General Assembly, 2010
Rapporteur focuses on the situation of women human rights defenders and those working on women’s rights or gender issues, the risks and violations that they face and the perpetrators involved. After a section on the legal framework and the approach of the mandate to the challenges faced by these defenders.

Report of the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rights Defenders in Africa 
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
This report highlights the work of women human rights defenders and their leading role in protecting vulnerable and under-privileged groups, including those working on rights associated with sexual orientation and gender identity. It urges States Parties to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to be visionary, and to consider women defenders as partners in securing respect for human rights (pdf. 87 pages).

Self-care and self-defense manual for feminist activists
Marina Bernal, Artemisa, Elige and CREA 2008
This important manual is a valuable asset for all women engaged in the task of constructing and inhabiting a world in which all of us can fulfill our best potential. An indispensable tool, it invites us to stand our ground while attempting to undo the injustices meted out to us, and nurture the inherent resources that are so easily depleted: our bodies, affection, intelligence, creativity, spirituality…and ourselves.

Effective human rights monitoring requires understanding and consideration of the impact that trauma can have on those who survived it. By their very nature, human rights violations are often traumatizing. The mental health and well-being of human rights defenders has often been neglected by human rights organizations, funders, and defenders themselves. Exploring what risks defenders face and how they might be prevented, moderated or handled in the aftermath is vital. Defenders increasingly want to strengthen their resilience and sees their own well-being as necessary for sustainable movements.

HHRI Thematic page on Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
This thematic page covers a variety of links related to PTSD. PTSD is considered to be caused either by psychological or physical trauma, more frequently a combination of both. Traumatic events that may cause symptoms of PTSD are f.e. (experiencing or/and witnessing) violent assault, abuse, torture, being a hostage or kidnapping – so we are talking about a wide range of settings from violence in private context up to war, conflict, disaster and catastrophes. Many Human rights defender might experience different types of trauma and could find this page useful.

HHRI Thematic page on torture
Torture in any form and for any reason has been banned by international law, but it is still practiced on a million people each year around the world. Survivors of torture are found everywhere. Victims of torture and their families need rehabilitation to make it possible for them to re-establish control over their lives. Many Human rights defenders have survived torture in detention or in prisons, this thematic page might be useful.

Trauma and self-care
OHCHR 2011
This chapter reviews some of the effects that trauma can have on someone’s ability to recall and recount events. This can help HROs to have a trauma-sensitive approach to human rights monitoring, but also for Human rights defenders. This part provides basic guidelines for HROs on how to interview trauma survivors, how to analyse information gathered from them, and what interventions may be helpful to support survivors recovering from traumatic human rights violations. Further information on these topics is provided in separate chapters of this Manual (see chapters on Gathering and verifying information and on Interviewing, and Part VIII on Intervention for corrective action).

Resilience as Resistance: Mental health and well-being in human rights
Open global rights – A web site with series examines a range of critical questions and issues including: research conducted on the mental health impacts of human rights work, obstacles to advancing mental health and well-being in this field, as well as innovative approaches and strategies to prevent and alleviate the harmful effects of human rights work.

Building the foundations of resilience: 11 lessons for human rights educators and supervisors 
Educators and managers can play an important role in building the next generation of resilient human rights advocates.

Wellbeing, Risk, and Human Rights Practice
University of York 2017
Human rights defenders at risk often find it difficult to talk about their mental and emotional wellbeing, even when they are concerned about it. Cultures of human rights practice tend to emphasize self-sacrifice, heroism, and martyrdom. These norms inhibit defenders from expressing their anxieties and seeking help. How can we engage in discussions about wellbeing in human rights practice? How can we strengthen personal and collective strategies for wellbeing amongst defenders at risk?

Fighting stigma: protecting the mental health of African rights advocates
Human rights advocates in Africa face significant challenges in getting past mental health stigmas in order to get help.

Mental Health Functioning in the Human Rights Field: Findings from an International Internet-Based Survey
Joscelyne et al. 2015
Human rights advocates play a critical role in promoting respect for human rights worldwide, and engage in a broad range of strategies, including documentation of rights violations, monitoring, press work and report-writing, advocacy, and litigation. However, little is known about the impact of human rights work on the mental health of human rights advocates. This study examined the mental health profile of human rights advocates and risk factors associated with their psychological functioning.

 

Reprisals against human rights defenders in retaliation for their engagement with international and regional human rights systems constitute an attack on human rights, the rule of law, and the international and regional mechanisms themselves. When not taken seriously it will undermine the whole Human Rights system and scare defenders from their engagement.

Norway’s efforts to support human rights defenders Guide for the foreign service
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2010
This set of guidelines is to intensifying Norway’s efforts in the area of protecting HRD. The aim has been to provide sound, practical and relevant guidelines that will inspire you in your work. They are primarily intended as a practical guide for local human rights work but should also form the basis of the efforts in

Reprisals guidelines for participants of the UPR Info precessions 
UPR-INFO 2017

The purpose of this handbook is to share information to make sure that human rights defenders and others exposed to reprisals will understand the risks they could face due their engagement in the promotion of human rights, and what means are available to protect themselves in case of intimidation and reprisals.

Reprisals handbook
International service for Human Rights (ISHR) 2018
The handbook highlights the risks that defenders can face from interacting with those systems, and suggests ways in which defenders can leverage the weight of the UN and regional human rights mechanisms to provide some degree of protection against those risks. In doing so it does not aim to provide a fully comprehensive protection solution. In all cases defenders should consider which option might be best, based on the context and particulars of a case. (also available in French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese)  (pdf. 46 pages)

UN mandate created to reduce reprisals against human rights defenders
International Justice Resource Center (IJRC) 2016
An introduction to the mandate given by  United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in consultation with the High Commissioner for Human Rights,  to Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, Andrew Gilmour, to lead UN work on ending intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders.

Criminalization of the Work of Human Rights Defenders
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights 2015

This report addresses the problem of the misuse of criminal law by State and non-State actors with the aim to criminalize the work of human rights defenders. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR or “the Commission”) has continued to receive alarming reports of a trend indicating that human rights defenders in various contexts are systematically subjected to unfounded criminal proceedings in order to paralyze or delegitimize their causes (pdf, 152 pages).

Worldwide Movement for Human Rights – The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The Observatory is an action programme based on the belief that strengthened co-operation and solidarity among defenders and their organisations will contribute to break the isolation they are faced with. It is also based on the absolute necessity to establish a systematic response from NGOs and the international community to the repression against defenders.

Human Rights House Network
Human rights defenders are individuals, groups of people or organizations who promote and protect human rights through peaceful and non-violent means. Anyone, regardless of their occupation, can be a human rights defender: they are identified primarily by what they do rather than by their profession. Some human rights defenders are professional human rights workers, lawyers working on human rights cases, journalists, trade unionists or development workers.

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe. Its staff consists of human rights professionals including country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Established in 1978, Human Rights Watch is known for its accurate fact-finding, impartial reporting, effective use of media, and targeted advocacy, often in partnership with local human rights groups.

Women Human Rights Defenders OHCHR website
OHCHR
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders defines women human rights defenders as both female human rights defenders, and any other human rights defenders who work in the defence of women’s rights or on gender issues (A/HRC/16/44). The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) recognizes the important role of HRDs, including women defenders, and outlines relevant rights of all HRDs and obligations of States.

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders
This is the website of the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur acts in complete and strict independence of any State and any entity involved (civil society, companies, etc.). His mandate is to promote the Declaration on human rights defenders. This is done through cooperation and dialogue with governments, relevant stakeholders and other interested actors. His goal is to ensure that the Declaration is widely known, as well as encouraging States to implement the Declaration within their territory and their legislation.

Amnesty International – European Institutions Office
Amnesty International is a global movement of more than three million supporters, members and activists in over 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.

Council of Europe – Commissioner for Human Rights
Support for the work of human rights defenders, their protection and the development of an enabling environment for their activities lie at the core of the Commissioner’s mandate.

African Commission on Human and People´s Rights.
The African Charter established the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission was inaugurated on 2 November 1987 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The Commission’s Secretariat has subsequently been located in Banjul, The Gambia.

Frontline Defenders
Front Line Defenders provides rapid and practical support to human rights defenders at risk. It maintains its headquarters in Dublin, an EU Office in Brussels, and regionally-based field staff in the Americas, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

Defend Defenders 
DefendDefenders serves as the Secretariat of East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net) representing more than 78 members, i.e. HRDs and their organisations. The Network envisions a region in which the human rights of every citizen as stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) are respected and upheld. Its mission is to maximize the protection of HRDs working in the sub-region and to enhance the awareness of human rights work through linkages with national, regional and international like-minded entities.

Chinese Human Rights Defenders
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) is a coalition of Chinese and international human rights non-governmental organizations. The network is dedicated to the promotion of human rights through peaceful efforts to push for democratic and rule of law reforms and to strengthen grassroots activism in China.

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