Celebrating 40 years of impact at the International Service for Human Rights

Happy 40th birthday ISHR

🥳 40 years of impact at ISHR 🥳

We are celebrating longstanding and collective efforts in supporting human rights defenders. Join us and find out more!

Phil Lynch, Executive director of ISHR

Effectively realising human rights for everyone, everywhere is the pathway to free, fair and just communities and a more peaceful and sustainable world.
ISHR's 40 years of impact

ISHR's 40 years of impact

Human rights. For everyone. Everywhere. Without discrimination. Without double standards.

Read our Annual Report

For four decades, ISHR has been a beacon of hope and progress, advocating tirelessly for human rights defenders across the globe. Rooted in the firm belief that human rights defenders are essential agents of progress and catalysts for positive change, we recognise their vital role in advancing gender, racial, environmental, political, and economic justice. Their courageous efforts challenge power, privilege, and prejudice, often exposing them to threats and attacks from governments, corporations and other actors. Yet, it is their dedication to fostering good governance and accountability at the local, national, and international levels that makes change possible. Despite facing such challenges, the resilience and commitment of these brave defenders inspire our collective action and drive towards a more equitable world.

For the past four decades, ISHR has remained dedicated to its mission of serving, supporting and standing in solidarity with human rights defenders, honouring their resilience and unwavering commitment. 

Our story of impact – a journey through four decades:


The 1980s

Our journey began 40 years ago, inspired by the courageous actions of human rights defenders who dared to challenge injustices and advocate for a fairer world. Amidst this backdrop, Adrien-Claude Zoller founded ISHR’s Geneva office, guiding it to fill a crucial gap in Geneva by empowering coalitions, facilitating networks, and championing the causes of those from the regions facing human rights violations. This strategic vision and commitment to being 'at the service of' human rights defenders globally underscored ISHR's critical role in shaping the landscape of international human rights advocacy.From supporting the parents of detained anti-apartheid activists in South Africa to anti-colonial independence activists from East Timor, ISHR always stood in solidarity with those fighting for their rights. This enduring support has set a solid foundation for hope and progress.
Adrien-Claude Zoller: ISHR Founder


The 1990s

30 years ago, in 1993, ISHR led a successful campaign to democratise access to the UN for national and regional-level organisations, allowing them to obtain accreditation and participate in UN bodies and processes – a status previously reserved for international NGOs. Over this period, we also played an instrumental role in the negotiation of the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, further solidifying our commitment to protecting and supporting human rights advocacy on a global scale.
UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


The 2000s

Around 20 years ago, in 2007, ISHR co-facilitated the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. These Principles have since been instrumental in contributing to legal and policy developments to protect the rights of LGBTIQ+ people and their defenders worldwide, influencing change in diverse countries from India to the UK, and Switzerland to Nepal.
Yogyakarta Principles


The 2010s

10 years ago, ISHR worked with defenders and experts to develop an authoritative model national law on the protection of human rights defenders. This initiative has shaped specific protection laws, policies, and mechanisms in more than six countries across three continents, from Côte d’Ivoire to Mongolia, demonstrating our ongoing commitment to enhancing the safety and effectiveness of human rights defenders everywhere. Throughout the last decade, ISHR has dedicated itself to amplifying the voices of defenders through leveraging our access, networks, and influence to significantly increase the direct engagement and enhance the active participation of Global South, anti-racism, feminist and queer human rights defenders at the UN. Our aim has been to ensure that they can speak with their own voices, share their own expertise, articulate their own experiences and demands, and shape an international human rights discourse that is effective and meaningful to them.
Model Law


2020s and way forward

In the 2020s, ISHR has achieved notable successes in the face of global challenges: In 2021, we played a pivotal role in establishing a global mechanism on racial justice in law enforcement, a response to police violence against Black individuals. By 2023, we celebrated the enactment of a national law protecting defenders in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a milestone achieved through years of advocacy alongside our partners, reflecting our broader efforts in countries like Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, and Mali. Additionally, we're pushing for the recognition of gender apartheid as a crime, advocating for women's rights with defenders from Afghanistan and Iran. That year also marked the first hybrid edition of our Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme, expanding our support to over 1000 defenders from more than 60 countries, demonstrating our commitment to supporting those on the frontlines of human rights defence.
Shape human rights future
“As we mark the milestones of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, alongside ISHR's 40th anniversary, it's clear: the essence of our progress lies in the hands of defenders and the integrity of our international frameworks. The fulfillment of the Universal Declaration's promise hinges on our collective action—working in coalition to protect defenders and ensure human rights standards are universally upheld.”
Vrinda Grover, Chair of the ISHR Board and Phil Lynch, Executive Director of ISHR
ISHR's 40th anniversary survey: help shape our future together!

ISHR's 40th anniversary survey: help shape our future together!

Would you like to help us shape the next 40 years? ISHR’s anniversary coincides with the tail end of our latest five-year strategic cycle, as well as a critical inflection point for the entire human rights framework and movement. Therefore, as we look to our future and lay the foundations of a strategy that will lead our work for the coming 40 years, we would love your thoughts, insights and advice. We kindly invite you to share your thoughts on the following topics through this short survey. Your inputs are invaluable as we look toward the future with hope and determination. We sincerely thank you for your time and your continued support for ISHR and solidarity with human rights defenders!

Take the survey

The path forward in solidarity!

Would you like to learn more about our work and what YOU can do?

2023 Human Rights Defender Advocacy Program Group infront of the UN building in Geneva ©Ben Buckland

Defenders' stories

Here at ISHR we are constantly being inspired by the brave people taking action to defend human rights and want to share some of their stories with you.

Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme

Annually, the Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP) brings together inspiring activists from around the globe and provides them with the tools they need to navigate the UN in order to achieve even greater impact on the ground. Watch their testimonies!

protester with heart on hand

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