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.
March 2013 Human Rights Council resolution
Laws should not criminalise or delegitimise the work and activities of human rights defenders, and their right to enjoy universal human rights, states the resolution 22/6 adopted on 21 March 2013 by the United Nations Human Rights Council on the protection of human rights defenders. It adds that States should include information on steps taken to create a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders in their communications to the international community.
One year later, the Human Rights House Network published a visual interpretation of the resolution, highlighting 20 principles which States should abide by to support, empower and protect human rights defenders.
The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders—adopted under the formal name "Declaration on the right and responsibility of individuals, groups and organs of society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms"—is the first UN instrument that recognizes the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection. The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is an important addition to the current body of international human rights standards. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly by consensus, constitutes a clear commitment on the part of all UN member states to respect the rights of human rights defenders at the national and international levels. Although the Declaration is not legally binding, it draws together provisions from other conventions and covenants most relevant to human rights defenders that are legally binding.
Since the year 2000 the UN has had a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. Since March 2008, Ms. Margaret Sekaggya holds this position. The Special Rapporteur submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly on particular topics or situations of special importance regarding the promotion and protection of the rights of human rights defenders. The annual reports can be found here.