Rights of Defenders
“Rights of Defenders” aims to promote understanding of international standards that protect and empower human rights defenders. The project is inspired by the 20th anniversary year of the landmark 1998 Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
For implementation of international standards to be effective, it is essential that human rights defenders know and understand their rights.
The Rights of Defenders project promotes and builds understanding of international standards and provides clear, accessible, and targeted insight into the standards and the context that surrounds them.
As part of the project, HRHF has developed tools and resources for defenders to disseminate standards nationally, engage with authorities and hold them accountable to the commitments they make internationally, and initiate national conversations on the importance of defenders and their work.
For the implementation of international standards to be effective, it is essential that human rights defenders know and understand their rights.
The Rights of Defenders resources – developed by Human Rights Houses and HRHF – promote and build an understanding of international standards and provide clear, accessible, and targeted insight into the standards and the context that surrounds them.
The aim is to provide resources to help defenders to disseminate standards nationally, engage with authorities and hold them accountable to the commitments they make internationally, and initiate national conversations on the importance of defenders and their work.
These resources are currently available in English, Russian, and Georgian. Human Rights Houses and HRHF are in the process of translating the booklet and other related materials into other languages. These will be published on this page when available. We currently expect translations into Armenian, Croatian, Tatar, and Ukrainian.
The Rights of Defenders booklet is divided into 16 standards, inspired by the strong content of landmark resolutions on human rights defenders and their work, adopted at the United Nations and Council of Europe. It condenses the main points of each standard as outlined in the resolutions.
The standards confer both positive and negative obligations – whether it is action or refraining from an action. They are illustrated in red or green respectively to illustrate these obligations.
The booklet also provides analysis to inform the interpretation and implementation of these standards. This is inspired by the commentary of experts such as UN Special Rapporteurs and by the experience of HRHF and Human Rights Houses in Western and Eastern Europe, Balkans, and the Caucasus.
Further, to give context, the booklet outlines the trends affecting each standard and provides recommendations for their implementation.
Download the Rights of Defenders booklet.
Download the Rights of Defenders booklet (Russian)
Voting records on international standards
An essential aspect of promoting international human rights standards is to recall the obligations of States and hold them accountable to their commitments. The Rights of Defenders booklet includes a concise reference table of countries’ voting records, showing how countries acted internationally with regards to the most important resolutions on human rights defenders.
This overview helps defenders remind States of their international positions – on whether they co-sponsored, voted in favour, abstained, or voted against resolutions on human rights defenders.
Download the Rights of Defenders booklet.
Download the Rights of Defenders booklet (Russian)
References and sources
In most cases, defenders may only need the main points of each standard together with analysis and context, as provided in the booklet. Yet there may be other occasions that require more detailed information. Our companion document provides sources and in-depth referencing to the full language of the resolutions.
The Rights of Defenders poster promotes the 16 international standards outlined in the booklet. It aims to help promote and raise awareness of these standards.
Download the Rights of Defenders poster
The Rights of Defenders postcards are a tool to promote and raise awareness of the standards that are most relevant to a particularly country or situation. They are designed to be printed A6, but also work at other sizes. Postcards with five of the most prominent standards are available to download below, though on request we can provide postcards for any of the 16 standards featured in the booklet.
Download postcards for:
- Don’t criminalise defending human rights
- End all forms of reprisals
- End restrictions on NGO funding
- Publicly support human rights defenders
- Respect NGO independence
Marking the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, HRHF and Human Rights Houses and their members are undertaking activities to celebrate the vital work of human rights defenders.
We will continue to update this page regularly.
Activities: Thematic report; Event on human rights defenders; Documentary film
Date: Conference on human rights defenders: Friday 7 December (17h – 19h); “Human Rights Eve” – a benefit party gathering defenders, civil society organisations and partners of HRH Zagreb: Saturday 8 December.
Human Rights House Zagreb is undertaking advocacy and awareness-raising activities aimed at promoting international standards relating to human rights defenders and encouraging opportunities for defenders.
In cooperation with Solidarna, the House will organise “Human Rights Eve” – a benefit party gathering defenders, civil society organisations and partners of HRH Zagreb. The House will also produce and screen a short documentary film on the situation of human rights defenders in Croatia.
Crimean Human Rights House
Activities: Installation and exhibition; published testimonies of the Crimean defenders; educational activities
Date: Installation opening on 10 December, and available until 15 December.
Location: “Crimean House”, 9 Suvorova Street, Kyiv.
Bringing to life the stories of Crimean human rights defenders forced to leave the peninsula, the Crimea Human Rights House will host an exhibition and installation.
This installation will be presented in the form of suitcases containing the belongings of human rights defenders who were forced to leave the peninsula following the illegal annexation by the Russian Federation.
The House will also publish and present a book with the testimonies of the Crimean defenders.
Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv
Activities: Installation and exhibition; educational activities
Date: 17 December
Linked to the exhibition held by Human Rights House Crimea, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv will hold a mobile exhibition and installation with stories of human rights defenders who found themselves at risk in connection with their activities.
Expanding upon the exhibition of displaced Crimean human rights defenders, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv will exhibit the suitcases and stories of defenders from other regions, countries, and communities, such as Donbass, Azerbaijan and the Roma community.
Activities: Event; Film
Date: 9 December (12.00)
Location: The National Library
Human Rights House Tbilisi will raise awareness and promote knowledge in Georgia about the work of human rights defenders.
The House will host an event with the format of a social gathering, with speeches by representatives of government institutions, civil society organisations, and international organisations and missions. High-level officials and media are invited to attend. The Rights of Defenders booklet will be presented, with both English and Georgian versions.
To underline the importance of the work of human rights defenders, the House will also produce short films.
Date: 8 December (18.00)
Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights is hosting an international debate on proposals for a joint response by NGOs to shrinking space for civil society.
It is estimated that during the last six years new laws have been passed in more than seventy countries in the world, limiting the freedom of action of civil society organisations. It means that seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights nearly half of its signatory states still do not guarantee, to the full extent, the freedoms of association, assembly and speech. The new restrictive regulations limit the opportunity for NGOs to raise funds for their activities, stigmatise members of civil society by calling them ‘foreign agents’ or, in extreme cases, prohibit certain forms of association.
As part of the debate, members of NGOs from USA, Europe and Asia will share their experiences relating to the impact that shrinking of the space for civil society has on their actions, and give possible answers to the challenge.
The event is co-organised by the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and Open Society Justice Initiative as part of the 18th International Film Festival WATCH DOCS – Human Rights in Film. The debate will initiate the operation of the HFHR’s new member programme, the Helsinki Initiative.
The debate will be held in English. Translation into Polish will be provided.
Register for the event at the following link: https://goo.gl/forms/lwRqHCipJ6bUjnXo2
Date: 7 December (10.00-15.40)
Location: 119/2 Hovsep Emin, Yerevan
Human Rights House Yerevan will host an event dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights defenders. The discussion will focus on the role of civil society, current issues, challenges and possible solutions in the field of human rights protection during the Revolution and in the aftermath.
Human rights defenders from Human Rights House Tbilisi and Human Rights Chernihiv will share with post-revolutionary experience of Georgia and Ukraine.
The role of civil society, current issues, challenges and possible solutions in the field of human rights protection during the Revolution and in the aftermath will be discussed. Human rights defenders from Human Rights House Tbilisi and Human Rights Chernihiv will also attend, sharing the post-revolutionary experiences of Georgia and Ukraine.
We will publish insight and materials from events and activities as they take place, linked to Rights of Defenders and to marking the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
Rights of Defenders on agenda of Committee of Ministers
During a rare engagement between the Council of Europe’s decision-making body and civil society, human rights defenders and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the need to support human rights defenders and raise awareness of their work in society.