Supporting and protecting human rights defenders

Over the past decade, human rights defenders across the globe have faced mounting threats. Shrinking democratic spaces and an erosion of the rule of law, often for the stated purpose of upholding national security, have undermined their ability to work effectively and in safety.

These challenges were further compounded in 2020, when many governments imposed sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, communication and other fundamental rights as part of measures to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

GANHRI, in partnership with NHRIs and regional networks, is committed to supporting and protecting human rights defenders so they can work in safety, free from threats and harassment. Through our joint efforts, we will also respond to the gender-based risks that women human rights defenders can face when standing up for justice and equality.

Human rights defenders play a vital and legitimate role to help make human rights a reality for the communities they serve. It is the State’s responsibility to protect them from threats and attacks

Dr Freddy Carrion, GANHRI Chairperson

Protection in practice

In 2018, as part of GANHRI’s 13th International Conference, NHRIs developed a series of practical strategies to protect existing civic space and promote, protect and build cooperative partnerships with human rights defenders.

Through the Marrakech Declaration, NHRIs agreed to:

  • Establish national protection systems, in consultation with human rights defenders, civil society organisations and others
  • Encourage States to ratify all international human rights instruments, including the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and advise them on implementation
  • Monitor and report on civic space – online and offline – by collecting and analysing disaggregated data and statistics related to killings, fabricated legal charges, misuse of laws and other attacks against human rights defenders
  • Establish efficient and robust early warning mechanisms and focal points within NHRIs
  • Promote gender equality and develop strategies to combat all forms of discrimination against women human rights defenders
  • Interact regularly with human rights defenders and civil society and help to develop and strengthen national and regional defenders’ networks
  • Interact with international and regional human rights systems in support of human rights defenders, and monitor the follow-up and implementation of recommendations.

The Marrakech Declaration also highlights that strong and independent NHRIs are themselves human rights defenders, and that GANHRI, NHRI regional networks and UN partners play an important role to ensure their protection.

In many countries, NHRIs are under pressure. They are threatened, sometimes harassed and the most active are the most in danger

Michel Forst, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders (2014-2020)

Implementing our commitments

GANHRI is currently developing a Global Action Plan to support NHRIs implement the provisions of the Marrakech Declaration and support their work with human rights defenders.

The Global Action Plan will build NHRIs’ capacities to monitor civic space and the situation of human rights defenders; support the establishment of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders; and promote positive narratives on the work of human rights defenders. A gender perspective will be integrated across the Action Plan.

Michel Forst, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, will assist GANHRI in this work, supported by a reference group comprising representatives from selected GANHRI members to provide advice on the development of Global Action Plan.

The four regional networks have developed, or are in the process of developing, regional action plans to support and protect human rights defenders.

GANHRI, the regional networks and individual NHRIs will report on their implementation of the Marrakech Declaration on a regular basis, including at GANHRI Annual Meetings.


Key reference documents