Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders, as a result of their commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms, are the target of repression by States or by private or parastatal groups. This repression takes the form of restrictive laws and practices regarding freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly, smear campaigns, abuse, death threats, arbitrary arrests and detention, forced disappearance, torture and assassination.

In 1997, in partnership with the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), FIDH pioneered safeguarding human rights defenders by creating a unique programme devoted to this issue and entitled the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. FIDH’s mission, through the work of the Observatory, is to take action in support of individuals, whatever their status, title or function, who are exposed to reprisals as a result of their human rights activities. The objective of FIDH is to ensure that the voices of non-profit organisation workers and campaigners, lawyers, journalists, trade unionists, rural and community leaders and ordinary citizens are heard, and that they are no longer left isolated and marginalised.

The Observatory has developed several ways to take action in response to the demands and specific nature of each situation: issuing and distributing urgent alerts in 6 languages, provision of emergency grants (medical, psychological and legal support; help with relocation) and capacity grants, prison visits, judicial observation and defence, national and international advocacy, investigative missions, public campaigns on social media and the internet, urgent advocacy directed at actors of social change, initiating legal and paralegal recourse, analysing repressive trends (Annual Report), consolidating the intergovernmental system for protecting defenders (‘inter-mechanism’ process and advocacy), etc.

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  • Arbitrary detention

    Many defenders, particularly members of the FIDH network, are detained arbitrarily. Defenders subject to judicial harassment are often detained in secret before being subjected to summary trials or, on the contrary, extremely lengthy proceedings, which themselves become a form of punishment and prevent the defenders from conducting their activities.

    Through the work of the Observatory, FIDH has made this matter a priority area for action.

  • Financial Support

    FIDH manages a support fund to strengthen the capacities of local human rights defenders organisations to prevent and respond to developments adversely affecting the human rights and the human rights defenders’ situations. Click here for more information.

    FIDH, under the Observatory for the Protection of Human rights Defenders, provides emergency material support to at risk human rights defenders working in the most difficult circumstances. Click here for more information.

  • Land rights activists

    Land and environmental rights defenders face increasing repression as the number of conflicts over the rights to land and natural resources multiplies. Growing numbers of defenders, small-scale farming and indigenous community leaders, journalists and NGO activists mobilised on these issues find themselves victims of acts of violence and campaigns to criminalise them. Through the work of the Observatory, FIDH has made this matter a priority area for action.

  • Reinforcing mechanisms for the protection of Human Rights defenders

    FIDH plays a key role in the development of the intergovernmental system of human rights defenders. In particular, it contributed to the negotiations which led to the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. Since this declaration was adopted, several mechanisms for protecting human rights defenders have been created within the different existing intergovernmental organisations:

    • the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders within the United Nations Human Rights Council,
    • the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa within the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR),
    • the Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders within the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR),
    • the Commissioner for Human Rights within the Council of Europe,
    • the Focal Point for Human Rights Defenders and the national human rights institutions of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
    • and various political levers within the European Union (EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, etc.), as well as the International Francophone Organisation (Organisation internationale de la Francophonie - OIF) on the basis of the Bamako Declaration.

    In 2008, through the Observatory, FIDH launched the first meeting to bring together all intergovernmental organisations equipped with tools and mechanisms designed to protect human rights defenders (the so-called ‘inter-mechanism’ process). This process is aimed at increasing the coordination and effectiveness of protection mechanisms.

  • Shrinking space for civil society

    In many countries the authorities place considerable restrictions on civil society’s free space by not hesitating to overstep the law with the support of the judiciary or by adopting laws which increasingly threaten freedom and which focus particularly on NGOs’ access to funding, registration requirements and controlling the activities of organisations or freedom of assembly. This legal arsenal can be exported from one country to another in order to stifle all forms of promoting and defending human rights. Increasing numbers of laws and bills, intended to regulate the activities of NGOs, contain measures to restrict access to funding, particularly when sourced from abroad. At the same time, the issue of funding is being used as a tool to discredit NGOs among populations and donors. Yet NGOs have the right to access funding as enshrined in the right to freedom of association.

    Through the work of the Observatory, FIDH has made this matter a priority area for action.