Human Rights Defenders

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.

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Definitions and overview Guidelines and manuals. Mental health and well-being Human rights framework Areas of work Women human rights defenders Women human rights defenders Organisations and sites

Definitions and overview

Whether you call yourself a solidarity worker, an activist, an advocate, a human rights campaigner or refer to yourself by your profession, you may fall under the OHCHR definition of a human rights defender.

About human rights defenders

OHCHR

“Human rights defender” is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights in a peaceful manner. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do and it is through a description o...

Mandate

OHCHR

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders was established in 2000 by the Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/RES/2000/61). It was later on extended by the Human Rights Council in 2011 (A/HRC/RES/16/5), 2014 (A/HR...

Human Rights Defenders

2018Amnesty International

All kinds of people help make sure that everyone’s human rights are respected. 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 hu...

Who is a human rights defender?

International Service For Human Rights

Human rights defenders are people who are making the world a better and fairer place by promoting and protecting human rights. They seek to ensure our shared commitment to freedom, respect, equality and dignity is reflected in our laws, policies and ...

Human rights defenders work

Human Rights House

Human rights defenders work to improve societies and contribute to peace and democracy. Defenders are agents for positive change and development. They are key in protecting against human rights violations and in advancing universal human rights.

 

Guidelines and manuals. Mental health and well-being

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.

MHHRI Thematic page on Post traumatic stress disorder (...

MHHRI

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 o...

MHHRI Thematic page on torture

MHHRI

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 rehabilitatio...

Helping the Helpers: Compassion Satisfaction and Compas...

2018Henson

The results of this study imply that supervisors and agencies can impact the amount of self-care their staff participate in, potentially resulting in staff who have higher levels of compassion satisfaction and lower levels of burnout or secondary tra...

Vicarious Trauma, Vicarious Resilience and Self-Care

Gangsei

This essay examines the phenomenon of vicarious trauma, its impact on those who work with traumatized clients and the importance of self-care.

Trauma and self-care

2011OHCHR

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 provide...

The Barcelona Guidelines on Wellbeing and Temporary Int...

2019University of York

The wellbeing of human rights defenders is a critical but often neglected issue in human rights movements. Deeply committed to their causes, human rights defenders often persevere despite challenges, risks, and personal suffering. Wellbeing – especia...

Resilience as Resistance: Mental health and well-being ...

Open Global Rights

What risks advocates face and how they might be mitigated? The mental health and well-being of advocates has often been neglected by human rights organizations, funders, and advocates themselves. Recently, however, activists and mental health profess...

Human Rights Resilience Project

Human Rights Resilience Project

Tools to Promote Mental Health & Well-Being for Human Rights Advocates. This website is a collaborative space run by the Human Rights Resilience Project to bring together resources, research, and tools to improve resilience and well-being within ...

Building the foundations of resilience: 11 lessons for ...

Open Global Rights

Many advocates enter the human rights field with little to no training in how to mitigate the harms of exposure to trauma and or in how to foster resilience in themselves, their colleagues, and their community. Over the past few years, our human righ...

Wellbeing, Risk, and Human Rights Practice

2017University of York

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 emphasise self-sacrifice, heroism, and martyrdom. These norms ...

Fighting stigma: protecting the mental health of Africa...

Open Global Rights

With many countries assenting to and domesticating an expanding regime of international human rights treaties in their respective jurisdictions, human rights advocates emerged over the last few decades to monitor these standards, and to take on gover...

Mental Health Functioning in the Human Rights Field: Fi...

2015Amy Joscelyne, Sarah Knuckey, Margaret L. Satterthwaite, Richard A. Bryant, Meng Li, Meng Qian, Adam D. Brown

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....

 

Human rights framework

"Everyone has the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, which are essential components of democracy. The right of peaceful assembly includes the right to hold meetings, sit-ins, strikes, rallies, events or protests, both offline and online."

Declaration on human rights defenders

1998OHCHR

The Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in 1998, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, after 14 year of negotiations. (See General Assembly Resolut...

Commentary to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders...

2011OHCHR

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...

Rights of Defenders: Principles and Standards Protectin...

Human Rights House Foundation

With this booklet, HRHF aims to promote and build understanding of international standards and provide clear, accessible, and targeted insight into the standards and the context that surrounds them. It is a tool for defenders to disseminate standards...

Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

2014Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE),

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 r...

Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders

2005Enrique Eguren Fernández and Marie Caraj, Protection International,

The purpose of this manual is to provide human rights defenders with additional knowledge and some tools that may be useful for improving their understanding of security and protection. It is hoped that the manual will support training on security an...

Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights

2004OHCHR

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 p...

First Resolution on Protecting Women Human Rights Defen...

2013AWID

On 27 November 2013 the United Nations General Assembly’s Third Committee adopted the first-ever resolution on women human rights defenders. But, this advance in protecting those who face risks and attacks for who they are and their work to promote w...

Protection of women human rights defenders at risk in m...

2022UN Women

These recommendations focus on women human rights defenders at risk in migration contexts (hereinafter, migrant women human rights defenders)–that is, women, girls and gender-diverse persons of all ages who promote and protect the human rights of peo...

Acts of intimidation and reprisal for cooperation with ...

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...

Guidelines against Intimidation or Reprisals (“San José...

2015OHCHR

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.

States’ duty to protect human rights defenders

2018European Comission

Ahead of Human Rights Day, Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, calls on member states to halt the attacks against human rights defenders and improve their safety and working environment. “In spite of an international dec...

 

Areas of work

Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do, through a description of their actions and of some of the contexts within which they work. The actions taken by human rights defenders must be peaceful in order to comply with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Enforced Disappearances – An Information Guide fo...

2016Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

This publication speaks about enforced disappearances and underscores the important issue of human rights concerns globally.

Enabling human rights and democratic space in Europe

2018ENNHRI

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 suppor...

Environmental Human Rights Defenders

Geneva Environment Network

Environmental human rights defenders are those who strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment. However, evidence suggests that they remain highly vulnerable and under attack across the globe. This update looks at the steps...

Women Human Rights Defenders

2020AWID

WHRDs are self-identified women and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LBTQI) people and others who defend rights and are subject to gender-specific risks and threats due to their human rights work and/or as a direct consequence of t...

LGBT Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Human rights defenders working on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) face not only the same threats and risks as all HRDs, but are also targeted simply because of their identity. Click here to learn more abou...

All Safety of journalists and human rights defenders

Article 19

Journalists and human rights defenders around the world face major risks as a result of their work. Governments and other powerful actors, seeking to escape scrutiny and stifle dissent, often respond to critical reporting or activism with attempts to...

Child Human Rights Defenders

Child Rights Connect

Children who take action to promote their human rights, the rights of their peers or the rights of others (including adults) are human rights defenders.

 

Women human rights defenders

Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) who defend particular rights, or work in certain contexts, they face threats such as: surveillance, false accusations and mock trials; enforced disappearance, torture, killings and sexual violence.

Politicizing Self-Care and Wellbeing in Our Activism as...

2015AWID

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 s...

Our Right to Safety: Women Human Rights Defenders’ Holi...

2014AWID

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 n...

Women Human Rights Defenders

2020AWID

WHRDs are self-identified women and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LBTQI) people and others who defend rights and are subject to gender-specific risks and threats due to their human rights work and/or as a direct consequence of t...

Global report on the situation of women human rights de...

2012Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition,

The main focus of the Global Report is on the context in which WHRDs work, recognizing that the social, cultural, economic and political environment substantially influences the challenges WHRDs face and can exacerbate their vulnerability. Identifyin...

Brave, creative, resilient: The global state of young f...

FRIDA

Over the past decade especially, young feminist-led organizations have garnered a reputation as outspoken, courageous, and creative movement-builders, pushing transformative change and social justice around the world. Until now, however, no comprehen...

Women human rights defenders and the struggle for justi...

2011 ABColombia, Oidhac, U.S. Office on Colombia,

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, sexu...

Two pager on Women human rights defenders

2014OHCHR

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...

OHCHR and women’s human rights and gender equality

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...

Information series on sexual and reproductive health an...

2020OHCHR

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 ...

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of hu...

2010Human Rights Council, General Assembly,

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 o...

Report of the Study on the Situation of Women Human Rig...

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 Par...

Self-care and self-defense manual for feminist activist...

2008Marina Bernal, Artemisa, Elige and CREA

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 th...

 

Women human rights defenders

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.

Norway’s efforts to support human rights defenders Guid...

2010Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,

The protection of human rights is one of the main pillars of Norwegian foreign policy, and providing support for human rights defenders is a central part of these efforts. The objective is that efforts to promote and defend human rights in all parts ...

Reprisals guidelines for participants of the UPR Info p...

2017UPR-INFO

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 availabl...

Reprisals handbook

2018International service for Human Rights (ISHR)

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 th...

UN mandate created to reduce reprisals against human ri...

2016International Justice Resource Center (IJRC)

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 intimidati...

Criminalization of the Work of Human Rights Defenders

2015Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

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 r...

 

Organisations and sites

Human rights defenders are essential for democracy, and their protection is vital to uphold the universal and indivisible rights of individuals and communities. Several organizations dedicated to this cause.

Human Rights House Foundation

Human Rights House Foundation establishes, supports, and connects Human Rights Houses – coalitions of civil society organisations working together to advance human rights at home and abroad. Today, more than 80 civil society organisations are united ...

Worldwide Movement for Human Rights – The Observatory f...

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...

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 div...

Women Human Rights Defenders OHCHR website

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...

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.

Amnesty International

Through our detailed research and determined campaigning, we help fight abuses of human rights worldwide. We bring torturers to justice. Change oppressive laws. And free people jailed just for voicing their opinion.

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF) works to protect and promote human rights internationally through direct support to organisations working in the first line of defence for human rights. The NHRF aims to be a flexible, courageous and global acto...

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

This commission was established in 1987 by the African Charter on Human and Peoples`Rights, adopted in 1981 by the Organization of African Unity OAU. The commissions’ task is to ensure the “promotion and protection of Human and Peoples`Rights through...

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 c...

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 an...