Human rights defenders world illustration
i

Illustration: Atelier für Zeitreisen, for ISHR

Declaration+25: Articulating international standards to protect the right to defend rights

25 years ago, the United Nations adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The Declaration has been essential to protect those who defend human rights, but laws and contexts have evolved. The Declaration+25 supplements the Declaration and together they form a comprehensive set of standards to protect the right to defend rights.

Download the Declaration+25 

 

It has been 25 years since the adoption in 1998 of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders. The Declaration has reaffirmed that we all have the right to defend human rights. It is also a landmark document that sets out the rights and responsibilities of States, human rights defenders, and all actors in society in ensuring a safe environment where human rights defenders are recognised, valued, and encouraged to work for the promotion and protection of human rights.

Despite the UN Declaration’s influence, countries have not implemented it completely or effectively. Over the last 25 years, laws have evolved and new challenges have also emerged, reshaping the threats and obstacles faced by human rights defenders and the exercise of the right to defend human rights. 

As part of activities to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, last year 18 human rights organisations embarked on the Declaration+25 Project. During one year, we consulted more than 700 human rights defenders from various regions, working on diverse issues and with diverse identities, and worked with lawyers and human rights experts. We discussed the challenges and risks currently faced by human rights defenders and identified the areas of the UN Declaration that could be further elaborated to ensure their protection.

The outcome of all these discussions is what we’re calling the Declaration+25. This document is grounded in international law and takes into account international jurisprudence over the last 25 years, the evolutions of movements and activism as well as defenders’ lived experiences. It supplements the UN Declaration and is meant to be read alongside it. Together, they set the parameters and standards to protect the right to defend rights and those who exercise it today and for the next 25 years and beyond.

The Declaration+25 will be launched in June 2024 and is also intended to serve as a call to action, encouraging everyone – governments, global and regional organisations, all of us – to work together to keep the Declaration (and the Declaration+25) a powerful, up-to-date, and effective tool for protecting and supporting the right to defend rights.

© Atelier fur Zeitreisen

What can you do?

We want human rights defenders, legal scholars, civil society organisations, international and regional human rights mechanisms and State authorities to use the Declaration+25 as an authoritative document that sets out standards when it comes to protecting the right to defend rights and those who exercise it. 

1. Get to know the Declaration+25

Have a look at the Declaration+25 and familiarise yourself with the document! 

Read the Declaration+25

Read the Declaration+25

The Declaration+25 has been translated into several languages. Below you can access a page with all the languages available.

Download the Declaration
Read the Jurisprudential Annotations

Read the Jurisprudential Annotations

The Declaration+25 is grounded in international law. Alongside the Declaration+25 we are also launching the jurisprudential annotations which provide additional information about the international instruments upon which each principle in the Declaration +25 is based. Although not explicitly forming part of the text of the Declaration +25, the annotations serve as a guide to the legal framework underpinning each principle.

Download the annotations (coming soon)

2. Spread the word

Help us raise awareness of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders and the Declaration+25. Join the #Right2DefendRights campaign.

Share the Declaration

Share the Declaration

Help us disseminate the Declaration. We have pre-made below an X/Twitter post to help you. Click on the button and share it with your networks.

Click to tweet
Join the social media campaign!

Join the social media campaign!

Discover our #Right2DefendRights social media kit and post the content on your networks.

Download the kit

3. Learn more about the Declaration

Learn more about the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, its importance, content,  application and the history behind it.

Take the e-course

Take the e-course

Visit our online e-learning platform and take our 30-minute course.

Learn more
Listen our

Listen our "On the side of humanity" podcast

Together with Amnesty International we worked on a podcast series that explores the last 25 years of defending human rights. Amnesty International’s Tatyana Movshevich meets courageous activists from Chile, the U.S., Nepal, Ireland and Ghana who are fighting for the rights of the marginalised and risking their lives because of it. She discovers the story behind the watershed UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and explores how the human rights movement is changing.

Listen the podcast

4. Get in touch!

Let us know if there are events where the Declaration + 25 could be presented and promoted. Drop an email to Tess Mcevoy: [email protected]

Some of this project’s activities are with the collaboration of the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ford Foundation.

Additional questions

Human rights defenders are people who are making the world a better and fairer place by promoting and protecting human rights. They are the eyes, ears and voices of our communities. As informed social justice leaders, they are essential partners in our shared journey towards equality, justice and peace on a healthy planet.

“Human rights defenders are ordinary people who do extraordinary things. They work peacefully for the rights of others and help build civil and just societies based on the rule of law.”
Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs

In some countries, the government or powerful corporate interests harass or try to discredit people who defend human rights, lock them out of public discussions and silence their voices. Human rights defenders are intimidated, attacked, imprisoned or even killed by those in power. For a more complete panorama of the threats and obstacles human rights defenders face, check out Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2024

During the development of the Declaration+25, we consulted more than 700 human rights defenders around the world who talked about their lived experiences. We identified some trends and patterns that you can discover in the compilation report of the consultations.

The elaboration of the Declaration on human rights defenders began in 1984. It was adopted in 1998, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, following years of sustained advocacy by civil society and State negotiations. It was adopted by consensus at the UN General Assembly.

The need for a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders became clear in the 1980s, as the Commission on Human Rights – the predecessor to the the UN Human Rights Council-  became increasingly vocal about threats, reprisals and attacks against individuals who worked to defend human rights.

In 2018, twenty years after the adoption of the UN Declaration, defenders from across the globe met in Paris for the Human Rights Defenders World Summit. The Summit sought to reaffirm the principles of the Declaration, to commemorate defenders’ essential role, to provide them with a platform to put forward their solutions based on their lived realities, and identify strategies for campaigns and advocacy. The outcome document of the Summit was a call for action, including to take stock of the developments in normative frameworks related to the protection of defenders since 1998 and further develop and deepen the norms contained in the UN Declaration with the view to afford enhanced protection. The Declaration +25 Project sought to do just that. 

As part of activities to mark the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders, Amnesty International, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Front Line Defenders, Gulf Centre for Human Rights,  ILGA World, The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), Peace Brigades International, ProtectDefenders.eu, Protection International, The Regional Coalition for Women Human Rights Defenders in Southwest Asia and North Africa (WHRDMENA), Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) launched a consultative initiative to identify the key issues faced in the defence of human rights that are not, or are only insufficiently addressed by the Declaration. 

This process involved human rights defenders, legal and human rights experts, and civil society. Over the course of a year, more than 700 human rights defenders provided inputs through in-person consultations or an online questionnaire. 

International law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer was engaged on a pro bono basis to develop the Declaration +25,which was then finalised and adopted at a two-day meeting in Bangkok of human rights defenders and legal experts.

The result is the Declaration +25.

We thank the Ford Foundation and the permanent missions of the UK and the US for supporting the first two stages of the project.

The Declaration+25 is grounded in and articulates international law. Alongside the Declaration+25, we are also launching jurisprudential annotations which provide additional information about the international instruments upon which each principle in the Declaration +25 is based. Although not explicitly forming part of the text of the Declaration +25, they serve as a guide to the legal framework underpinning each principle.

Twenty five years after the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, there has been an incredible expansion of human rights work: an increasing number of human rights defenders are working around the world. The human rights movement is more vibrant and diverse than ever and have reached unprecedented achievements in some of the darkest corners of the world. Human rights mechanisms and laws have further developed the understanding and application of existing rights and even new rights have been recognised (such as the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment). 

Despite all this, conflict and fear are increasingly used to spread violence, division and silence civil society. Countries are turning their backs on solidarity and justice. Some leaders even take pride in violating human rights and are openly waging war on those who dare to stand up for what is right. As a result, the human rights defenders’ movement is today confronted with an unprecedented scale of persecution and repression. Human rights defenders are increasingly the targets of attacks, harassment, intimidation, surveillance, censorship, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and even killings – just for standing up for what is right. These threats and attacks have been accompanied by a pervasive narrative depicting HRDs as criminals, undesirables, terrorists, or as opposing development.

Additional Resources

Check out our selection of resources on the UN Declaration on human rights defenders.

UN Declaration on human rights defenders

The 1998 declaration sets out the rights and responsibilities of States, human rights defenders, and all actors in society in ensuring a safe environment for defenders.

Report of consultations with human rights defenders as part of the Declaration +25 Project

This report provides a summary of the outcomes of consultations with human rights defenders between March 2023 and March 2024 that were undertaken by a secretariat of 18 organisations as part of the Declaration + 25 Project.

Commentary to the UN Declaration on human rights defenders

In 2011, the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders developed the Commentary to the Declaration to familiarise States and defenders with the Declaration and create a source of additional relevant information.

Poster of the Declaration

Access an Easy-to-Understand Poster on the Declaration on human rights defenders in different languages (PDF).

Fact Sheet No. 29: Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights

This Fact Sheet was developped by OHCHR and is intended to provide Governments and a wide range of professionals who frequently come into contact with human rights defenders with a rapid understanding of what a “human rights defender” is and what activities defenders undertake.

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

In 2000, the Commission on Human Rights established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. The mandate promotes the effective implementation of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders ; monitors the situation of human rights defenders, and; recommends effective strategies to better protect defenders. The current mandate holder is Ms. Mary Lawlor.

Partners

Amnesty International

Amnesty International

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)

Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)

Civicus

Civicus

Defend Defenders

Defend Defenders

FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights

FIDH - International Federation for Human Rights

Forum Asia

Forum Asia

Front Line Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Gulf Center for Human Rights

Gulf Center for Human Rights

ILGA world

ILGA world

IM Defensoras

IM Defensoras

International Center for Non-For-Profit Law

International Center for Non-For-Profit Law

International Service for Human Rights

International Service for Human Rights

MENA Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders

MENA Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders

OMCT - World Organisation Against Torture

OMCT - World Organisation Against Torture

Logo Peace Brigades International - making space for peace

Peace Brigades International

Logo Peace Brigades International - making space for peace

Peace Brigades International

Protect Defenders

Protect Defenders

Protection International

Protection International

RFK Human Rights

RFK Human Rights