Held every two years, the Assembly brings together human rights defenders from the Houses and colleagues from international organisations, donors, and partner organisations to reconnect, plan further collaboration and joint projects, offer support to one another and share experiences, and address common challenges and develop strategies to overcome them.

The Assembly is also a celebration of the defenders working in the Human Rights Houses – of their efforts and successes, and of the solidarity and support that make the work of the Human Rights Houses possible.

Maria Dahle, Director of Human Rights House Foundation, spoke of the importance of the Assembly: “We look forward to welcoming so many prominent human rights defenders to Belgrade. We will take this opportunity to strengthen our partnerships and cooperation, and together build a stronger network of Human Rights Houses. We will work strategically to guide our future work, bringing all of our different expertise and perspectives to support this. When we met last year, we marched to call for the release of our imprisoned colleagues in Azerbaijan. They are now out of prison, but they are still not free. We call for the courts to fully exonerate them of the criminal cases. Nevertheless, we will celebrate the release of our colleagues.

Follow and contribute to the discussions and presentations using the hashtag #HRHN2016.

This year’s Assembly boasts an engaging agenda of workshops, presentations, and expert panel discussions. In addition, external experts will further the discussions and debates, bringing their expertise and perspectives on the challenges faced and how to overcome them.

The Houses will present their work and the challenges they face, providing opportunities for support and to develop new partnerships. International organisations and donors will also attend, making the Assembly a great opportunity to discuss ideas and new partnerships with them. 

Each Assembly features a public discussion on the most urgent issues affecting human rights and the work of human rights defenders. This year, the discussion will focus on resisting illiberal democracies, autocracies, and populism. The panel speakers from Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Azerbaijan and Serbia will analyse how the concept of illiberal democracies is being translated in their respective countries, and discuss how civil society can counter this growing trend with its own resources and through cooperation with authorities and international human rights mechanisms.

Maja Stojanović, Chairperson of Human Rights House Belgrade, commented on some of the difficulties in Serbia and on what it means for the House to host the Assembly: “In recent years, human rights in Serbia have been breached in many ways, especially in the field of freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of Assembly. We have had new elections every two years, and this has led to destabilization of institutions and democracy, and contributed to the poor state of human rights. Civil society space has been shrinking each day, so it is our honour to host this Assembly in Belgrade, as it will be, at least for a couple of days, the world’s center of human rights protection.”

Solidarity is indeed essential in protecting human rights defenders, and it will feature strongly as the Houses share stories of their successes. They will celebrate and evaluate the campaign to protect and support human rights defenders in Azerbaijan – from street protests, to monitoring trials, to providing protection and engaging decision makers to act on their behalf. Former political prisoners in Azerbaijan will respond to the campaign and address the Assembly. In a poignant reminder that they are still not free, this will be via video due to restrictions on the ability of some of these defenders to travel.

Human Rights House Network 20th Anniversary

The Human Rights House Network met in Oslo in September 2015, to celebrate 20 years together as a Network.

We have debated, shared our stories and experiences, defined our aims and objectives, put forward ideas and plans for a close and stronger network, and marched to seek justice and freedom for those that cannot be with us.