Human Rights House concept

The Human Rights House concept is founded on the enduring values of solidarity and cooperation. Adapted to local needs, the Houses remain as important today as when the first House was established in Oslo in 1989.

The Houses are core to everything Human Rights House Foundation does – from advocacy and awareness raising, to capacity building and protection. All of our work is rooted in and linked to the Human Rights Houses.

A Human Rights House is a collaborative project of non- governmental organisations working in partnership to promote and advance human rights at home and abroad. Each Human Rights House is an independent institution, whose member organisations are individually and jointly involved in a wide range of activities and projects, and where there is room for debates, diversity of opinion and difference in methods.

In addition to being a community of organisations, a Human Rights House is usually a physical structure – a building or an office facility hosting the member organisations.

Aims

The time and effort put into the establishment of a Human Rights House is an investment aimed at strengthening human rights defenders and their organisations, both financially and in terms of political influence and leverage.

Rather than focusing on support for specific projects or activities, a Human Rights House provides the infrastructure needed to carry out those activities. By providing a joint platform for organisations and human rights defenders, the Houses aim to improve respect for human rights in the countries in which they are based, and to influence the global human rights agenda with HRHF.

The purpose of establishing a Human Rights House extends far beyond the needs of each partner organisation. Human Rights Houses have a positive effect on the national capacity to uphold and protect human rights. By providing a stable and sustainable base of human rights activities, a Human Rights House benefits the human rights community as a whole.

“The Human Rights House concept strengthens cooperation and coordination between human rights defenders, improves the sharing of information, heightens defenders’ visibility and provides them with a cost-efficient framework within which to work. Most importantly, it helps to provide them with a measure of protection from the violations.”

Hina Jilani in her support letter to the network of Human Rights Houses, at the time Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations on the situation of human rights defenders

Member organisations of Houses

Human Rights Houses are created by established human rights organisations that share the values of cooperation and believe in being stronger together. By joining a House, member organisations maintain their autonomy and continue their core human rights work. What they gain is a platform through which their causes are strengthened.

Organisations within a House benefit from collaboration, networking, moral support and solidarity, reduced administration costs because of shared space, increased visibility on the human rights agenda, and increased protection from threats and harassment.

Member NGOs often work on different areas of human rights thus enabling the Houses to reflect the wider human rights community. What they share is common values: of universality of human rights, and commitment to defend and protect the rights of individuals and peoples.

Reaching out

Although primarily a project of non-governmental organisations, a Human Rights House will attract the participation and attention of numerous people and institutions. For example, municipalities in some countries have provided office space at a low cost. In some cases, Human Rights Houses take part in law-making or policy processes.

Donor agencies are involved in funding the establishment of the House or some of the activities that take place in it, while national and international NGOs and research institutions are involved in activities such as workshops and projects.

On the individual level, victims of human rights violations, such as torture victims, may receive help and assistance from the Human Rights House through organisations working with legal aid, counselling or psychosocial care.

By gathering many activities and services in one place, Houses can help to make them more accessible to the public. This may be important for people who depend on NGOs for help, for victims of human rights violations but also for human rights defenders, activists, students, researchers, and others.

House models

There is no fixed solution, only guidelines and best practices, as to how a Human Rights House should be organised. Focus should be on how the House best can serve the human rights cause in the country in which it is established. Whenever possible, the aim is to own premises for a Human Rights House. Where that is not an option, other alternatives are considered. If you are interested in learning about more about how Human Rights Houses are established, please contact us at house@humanrightshouse.org.

The flexibility of the Human Rights House concept has resulted in the emergence of three different House models:

Classical Human Rights House

Member organisations are gathered under one roof and share office space.

In the classical Houses the members find it most beneficial to be in close proximity to each other so member organisations are located under one roof.

House with one NGO leader

One organisation is the formal owner/leasee of the premises, but provides other organisations access and opportunities to use the space. Such a model is usual when the main organisation is considerably bigger than the other members. In the spirit of sharing, the main NGO leader allows other members to benefit from pooled resources.

Resource centres and hubs

The NGOs have all or part of their own offices elsewhere and the House serves as a joint space devoted to various purposes.

In this model, the organisations might provide specific services such as legal aid or education, and provide shelter possibilities and accommodation. They may function as facilities for events for other actors. Houses established to support a human rights community from exile also fall under this category.