Annual Report: Human rights defenders - Inspiring hope, shaping a fairer future

2021 has been challenging from a human rights perspective, but it’s also been a year over which sparks have been lit on key issues which we must now nurture and ensure fires of progress that long burn bright.

The last 18 months have been deeply challenging from a human rights perspective, with the COVID pandemic exposing and exacerbating inequalities, human rights defenders continuing to face deadly threats and choking restrictions to their work, and some governments working to undermine the accessibility and effectiveness of human rights mechanisms and multilateral processes. 

But it’s also been a period over which sparks have been lit on key issues which we must now nurture and ensure fires of progress that long burn bright.

Together with human rights defenders fighting racism, we celebrated the establishment of a historic expert mechanism to advance racial justice and equality in law enforcement, as well as a commission to inquire into the root causes of conflict and violence against the Palestinian people.

Together with defenders promoting women's rights, we were inspired by the widespread mobilisation and calls for accountability in cases of sexual harassment and assault, as well as the release from arbitrary detention of a number of prominent women human rights defenders.

Together with defenders working on the environment and the climate crisis, we commended the landmark recognition under international human rights law of the right to a healthy and sustainable environment, as well as the mandating of a new UN Special Rapporteur on Climate Change.

Together with defenders working to make governments accountable, we rejoiced in seeing an increased number and diversity of persons prepared to speak up and take action against widespread and systemic violations in States including China, Egypt, Nicaragua, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, while in other States in Africa, Asia and Latin America progress was made in the legal recognition and protection of defenders.

Today as we look out to 2022 with sadness, fear, anger and resolve at Russia's invasion of Ukraine and gross and systematic human rights violations, we urge the United Nations to suspend Russia's rights of membership of Human Rights Council now; we take inspiration from and express solidarity with human rights defenders everywhere striving for peace, justice and accountability everywhere, including journalists fighting propaganda and risking their life to provide all of us with independent reporting; and we remain more determined than ever to support and work with the human rights movement for a fairer world.



ISHR Board member Erik Møse has just been appointed to chair the recently mandated international Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. Regrettably, this means that Erik has needed to immediately resign his position as a Board member so as to avoid any conflict or apprehension of conflict, particularly as the mandate of the commission is broad and may enable some examination of the human rights situation in Russia contributing to the war.

The credits for the photos used in the mosaic visuals included in our annual report can be seen here.