Protecting and promoting human rights defenders and civic space: consultation on GANHRI’s Global Action Plan

The High-level event on GANHRI’s Global Action Plan to support the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space aimed at gathering NHRIs from all regions, UN and EU partners and experts to exchange on experiences in protecting and promoting civic space and human rights defenders.  

More than 150 participants shared practical strategies for NHRIs to employ to promote, protect and build cooperative partnerships with human rights defenders. 

Civic space is a threshold issue, not only for human rights, but for democracy, sustainable peace and development.

Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary General, UN Human Rights


Across all regions civic space is shrinking or even disappearing, and the work of human rights defenders is becoming increasingly dangerous. This includes NHRIs, which, as HRD themselves, some of which have been targeted and faced reprisals for the human rights work that they do.  GANHRI has developed a Global Action Plan to support the protection and promotion of human rights defenders and civic space (Global Action Plan), including by supporting NHRIs in all regions implement the Marrakech Declaration in their domestic contexts. 

This High-level event co-organised with OHCHR and UNDP created a platform for NHRIs to exchange on experiences from working to protect and promote civic space and human rights defenders, and to reflect on GANHRI’s role and specifically, to:  

  • Discuss developments with regard to civic space and human rights defenders, including attacks and reprisals against NHRIs  
  • Share experiences from NHRIs in promoting and protecting civic space and human rights defenders 
  • Take stock of promising NHRI practices including progress made in implementing the Marrakech Declaration  

The event was also an opportunity to present the draft GANHRI’s Global Action Plan and invite GANHRI members’ and partners’ input, that will be incorporated to the Plan in order to ensure a plan that is participatory and inclusive of all realities.

The Plan aims at building the capacity of NHRIs to monitor civic space and the situation of human rights defenders; support the establishment of protection mechanisms; and promote positive narratives on the work of human rights defenders

Ali Bin Samikh Al-Marri, GANHRI Acting Chair 

Women human rights defenders are the most at-risk defenders. Therefore, gender-sensitive support strategies are not a mere example of good practice, they are vital

Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights 

Conclusions and outcome

The event featured high-end speakers including Ilze Brands Kehris Assistant Secretary General from UN Human Rights, Achim Steiner UNDP Administrator, and EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore. Each welcomed this fundamental effort from GANHRI and reiterated the importance of civic space, human rights defenders, and the value of working together. 

They also highlighted how national human rights institutions and their staff are themselves defenders requiring protection from attacks, intimidation and reprisals.  

In addition of being framed within the Marrakech Declaration, the Global Action Plan is also integral part of the implementation of the Strategic Plan 2020-2022 and is informed by its objectives and goals. This includes the emphasis on protecting and supporting the strengthening of NHRIs and on GANHRI’s unique role in promoting the exchange of experiences and good practices among NHRIs across all regions.   

GANHRI in close cooperation with its partners will continue to support at a global level its NHRI members in applying their unique roles and functions in the effective promotion and protection of civic space and HRDs with a focus on women HRDs. 

GANHRI will also keep acting to protect the independence of NHRIs facing threats or reprisals for undertaking their work according to their mandate. 

NHRIs perform an essential “protection function” in responding to violations and advocating on behalf of victims and affected communities. They also work to encourage the adoption of legislation and other measures to prevent violations

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator  

The GANHRI Global Action Plan will set out clear actions to implement the commitments under the Marrakech Declaration. The strategies of protection, promotion, cooperation and partnership are central to enabling democratic space and addressing the risks faced by human rights defenders

Sinéad Gibney, Chief Commissioner, NHRI Ireland