Defending human rights in unprecedented times

Linking arms: Since the 9 August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, tens of thousands of people who have taken to the streets in peaceful protests have been met with mass repression by the Belarusian authorities. The crisis is ongoing as of the April 2021 publication of this report. Photo: Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

How governments responded to the public health crisis has ultimately been a litmus test of their commitment to human rights.

Maria Dahle, Director, Human Rights House Foundation

In May, we authored an op-ed in which we challenged readers to consider the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic would have on democratic rights as governments scrambled to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This scramble, we warned, could exacerbate a growing trend towards authoritarianism across our region and potentially the wider world.

It is inspiring and impressive to see how rapidly, creatively and bravely the network of Human Rights Houses and wider civil society adapted its work. Thousands of people continue taking to the streets to peacefully protest abuse of power and in support of fundamental freedoms. Human Rights House Foundation supported – and continues to support – independent civil society advocating for the core freedoms that protect and empower human rights defenders. As we look forward to 2021, we thank those institutions, partners, donors, and other supporters with whom we have worked, from whom we have received support, and with whom we will continue to work to promote, protect, and defend human rights.

Read Maria Dahle’s full foreword.

2020 in numbers


2020 was an exceptionally challenging year but we still have much to be proud of here are some of the numbers we celebrated. Find out more.

Our story

Human Rights House Foundation envisions a world in which everyone can freely and safely promote and enjoy all human rights. 

We make a difference by: 

  • Establishing and supporting Human Rights Houses to effectively address the human rights needs of their societies. 
  • Connecting Human Rights Houses to build an international network for change and freedoms.  
  • Responding to and advocating against reprisals, ensuring that network members and associated human rights defenders and organisations are better protected.
  • Working with partner organisations to advocate and fulfil rights that underpin independent civil societies -the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, and the right to be a human rights defender. 

Find out how we worked towards these goals in 2020.


Top photo: Women’s rights strike in Poland. 10 November 2020: A protester is confronted by law enforcement as thousands of people march in Poland demonstrating against the decision of 22 October regarding the tightening of abortion laws. Copyright: / Jędrzej Nowicki