GANHRI Global Action Plan to support the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space

National human rights institutions (NHRIs) around the world are able to access practical tools and support to strengthen their efforts in protecting and promoting human rights defenders and civic space, as part of a Global Action Plan released by GANHRI.

The Global Action Plan is available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic.

The Global Action Plan was developed through a consultative process, involving GANHRI members, regional NHRI networks, UN partners and human rights defenders. 

As part of these consultations GANHRI members identified environmental human rights defenders and indigenous peoples as groups particularly at risk of threats, violence and reprisals, followed closely by journalists and women human rights defenders. 

GANHRI members also noted that national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have had a significant impact on the global trend of the shrinking of civic space, with increased restrictions on rights and freedoms and a deterioration of the rule of law. In some countries, such restrictions – such as the right to peaceful assembly – appeared to be applied more strictly to human rights defenders than to other groups.  

“As part of the Marrakech Declaration, adopted in 2018, GANHRI members pledged to take concrete steps to promote and protect human rights defenders and civic space,” said GANHRI Chairperson Maryam Al Attiyah. 


“GANHRI’s Global Action Plan will strengthen the capacity of members to implement these commitments at a time when human rights defenders need even greater support.” 

The Global Action Plan sets out a range of practical initiatives to support NHRIs, including: 

  • Establishing National Protection Mechanisms for human rights defenders 
  • Establishing efficient and robust early warning mechanisms and human rights defender focal points within NHRIs 
  • Monitoring and reporting on the situation of civic space, both online and offline 
  • Interacting regularly with human rights defenders and civil society and helping develop and strengthen national, regional and global networks of defenders 
  • Engaging with international and regional human rights mechanisms in support of human rights defenders, and monitoring the follow-up and implementation of recommendations 
  • Encouraging ratification of international human rights treaties and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and providing advice on their implementation. 

Recognising the very serious challenges faced by women human rights defenders and those advocating for the human rights of LGBTQ people, the Global Action Plan will support NHRIs in their efforts to promote gender equality and develop strategies to combat all forms of discrimination. 

GANHRI will also develop tools and initiatives to assist NHRIs promote positive narratives about the work of human rights defenders to build fair and just communities. 

During the consultation process for the Global Action Plan, one third of GANHRI members across all regions reported cases of threats and acts of intimidation against their institutions, their members and staff. 

“Attacks on the work and independence of NHRIs have been increasing in recent years,” Chairperson Al Attiyah said. “Recognising that NHRIs are also human rights defenders, GANHRI will continue to support and protect NHRIs facing threats and reprisals for work conducted according to their mandate.” 

GANHRI will also bring NHRIs and their regional networks together at the global level so there is a strong, unified voice advocating for international and national standards on human rights defenders and civic space. 

The Global Action Plan to support the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space was produced with the financial support of the European Union in the framework of the NHRI·EU capacity building project. 

Outcome of the Survey to NHRIs during consultation process

In 2021, the GANHRI Head Office led a multi-phase participatory and consultative process with its members to develop the GANHRI Global Action Plan to support the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space.

This process comprised, inter alia, an online survey and individual interviews. 45 contributions to the survey have been received and 14 individual interviews were conducted in this process. This consultation, and the input generated, provided GANHRI with important data on the work of its members in support of the protection and promotion of human rights defenders (HRDs) and civic space.

Regarding national contexts, the analysis that respondent NHRIs make of the situation of human rights defenders and civic space describe widespread challenges that increased with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of them identify risks for human rights defenders, civic space, and their own work and staff, as a result of interferences from both State and non-State actors and regardless of the region where they are located. Taking this context into consideration, NHRIs address these challenges that have become, for many, an important focus of their work, whether they have or not a strategy to support it.

Regarding the Marrakech Declaration, although very few respondent NHRIs have a national action plan for its implementation, many have taken steps to address its priority areas. Limited time, budget and human resources are an obstacle in its implementation, but all priority areas have nonetheless been addressed by at least half of the NHRIs. The “interaction and support to human rights defenders and civil society” is the priority area for which NHRIs have been the most active, while the “promotion of gender equality and women human rights defenders”1 is the one considered relevant by the highest number of them.

Regarding the need for support in the implementation of the Marrakech Declaration, respondent NHRIs stressed the importance of GANHRI’s role to strengthen peer learning. They also demonstrated an interest in receiving tools for the implementation – rather than monitoring – of the Marrakech Declaration, and especially for data collection on the situation of human rights defenders and monitoring of civic space.

Lastly, NHRIs also expressed a need for capacity buildings, both on priority areas they already address, and on priority areas that have not been the focus of their action so far.

Finally, regarding the strengthening of their own protection, respondent NHRIs made concrete recommendations to formalize a prevention and response mechanism at GANHRI’s level for NHRIs at risk, including through peer learning, stronger communication between GANHRI and its members, capacity building of NHRIs’ staff, and a continued reinforcement of NHRIs as strong and independent institutions on a global level.

Overall, the report draws three overarching themes that suggest ways in which GANHRI could best consolidate its support to NHRIs in the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space: first, the documentation and formalization of the existing work; secondly, the reinforcement of peer learning among members; and lastly, the development of tools and capacity building trainings that NHRIs lack for the implementation of the Marrakech Declaration.

GANHRI’s Submission to the SG report on cooperation with the UN highlights increasing number of cases of reprisals and threats against NHRIs in all regions 

GANHRI has recently submitted inputs to the 2023 Secretary General’s report on cooperation with the UN which will summarise the main trends and contain a selection of cases of alleged reprisals for cooperation with the UN in the field of human rights brought to the attention of the UN. 

GANHRI’s submission is informed by a global survey for NHRIs conducted in April 2023. as a follow-up to GANHRI’s Global Action Plan on Human Rights Defenders and Civic Space. In addition, the submission is informed by consultations with regional networks and NHRIs, whose individual cases are documented herein.

The submission conveys that NHRIs continue to experience a variety of forms of reprisal, including smear campaigns, harassment, threats, undue interference with the selection, appointment and dismissal process of members of a NHRI, disproportionate budget cuts. Additional reports of violent acts, including the death of human rights activists, have been made by several NHRIs.  

These cases of reprisals or other acts of intimidation have occurred against individual members including Chairperson/ Ombudsperson/Director/Commissioners, staff, and against the NHRI as an institution. These cases and reports, represent the ongoing and escalating threats to the independence, operations and effectiveness of NHRIs in all regions. 

Women human rights defenders and defenders working on environmental and LGBTQI+ issues were mentioned among the most targeted.  

NHRIs have responded to these challenges through investigations, monitoring and awareness raising, and for many, this has become an important focus of their work, whether they have or not a dedicated strategy to support it. Specifically, NHRIs interacted with international and regional human rights systems in support of human rights defenders, particularly through monitoring the follow-up and implementation of recommendations. 

To support NHRIs under threat, Regional Networks of NHRIs and GANHRI bring cases of alleged intimidation and reprisals against NHRIs to the attention of relevant UN mechanisms and officials .