© Freedom of Speech Includes The Press by Narih Lee under CC 2.0

In defence of civic space and democracy supporting the work of human rights defenders

This is a high-level side event co-organised by Finland and ISHR on democracy and civic space for human rights defenders as well as how the international community can best support their work.

Location: Geneva , Switzerland

Strong democracies are dependent on human rights and the rule of law. Democracies have existential needs - amongst others - freedom of opinion and expression, a free and independent media, freedom of assembly and association, freedom to peacefully protest, equality before the law and the right to a fair trial, the right to education and the right to take part in the government of your country. All these rights and freedoms are guaranteed by international law, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 

Human rights defenders across the globe work every day to promote democracy and a vibrant civic space. Too often, they do it in challenging or even dangerous circumstances. This event aims to promote the understanding of how crucial the work of human rights defenders is for democracy and civic space and how the international community – States joining in action at the UN and elsewhere, and also other stakeholders – can best support their work. The event will also point at the risks and challenges these defenders face and how crucial gender equality is for the full realisation of democracy.


  • Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of democratic forces (Belarus)
  • Dr. Sara Abdelgalil, Paediatric Consultant NHS UK, Democracy & Governance Advocate, active member of Sudanese Diaspora
  • Phil Lynch, Executive Director, International Service for Human Rights
  • Elina Valtonen, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Finland

Moderated by Imogen Foulkes, BBC Geneva

Closing remarks by Colombia

A light lunch will be served. The event will be recorded and published as a podcast (Inside Geneva, produced by Swiss Broadcasting).

This event is organised by the Permanent Mission of Finland and ISHR and co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Albania, Colombia, Norway, and the United States.