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Director's update: Sharing human rights inspirations

Here at ISHR we have a custom of starting all staff meetings by sharing our inspirations. The inspiration might be something deeply personal, like the resilience of a loved one recovering from illness, something local, like the renaming of a Geneva street to honour a feminist activist, or something work-related, like the release of a human rights defender from arbitrary detention following a concerted global campaign.

For me, it’s an important part of the meeting. It connects me with colleagues and what’s important to them, refuels my passion, and constantly reminds me of the diversity, creativity and ambition of our movement.

Despite its challenges, over the course of 2021 I was privileged to draw from diverse sources of inspiration and I’d love to share some with you.

The humanity of human rights defenders

First and foremost, I’m inspired by the vision, values and humanity of the human rights defenders that ISHR serves and supports, both through our intensive training and capacity building programmes, and by providing a powerful platform for them to address the United Nations in their own voice.

Over the last year we’ve accompanied defenders at the Human Rights Council to denounce systemic racism and police violence, to call for an end to military occupation and apartheid, and to demand the release of detained family members.

Civil society mobilisation

I’ve been inspired by what’s been achieved through civil society mobilisation and strategic campaigns in which ISHR played a role, from the campaigns for the release of Saudi women human rights defenders Loujain Al-Hathloul and Nouf Abdulaziz and the freedom of Burundian anti-torture activist Germain Rukuki, to the 1400+ NGO campaign for the Human Rights Council to recognise the right to a healthy environment.

Civil society solidarity

I continue to be inspired by the human rights coalitions and networks that ISHR provides with solidarity and support.

Mexican activist Donovan Jiménez Ortega, who participated in this year’s Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme, expressed this powerfully when he said ‘the opportunity to connect and meet defenders from all over the world makes me feel very motivated, not only to learn about their experiences but also because it makes me more aware that in every corner of the world actions are being taken to transform our reality and to live in fairer societies.’

In addition to supporting networks of defenders and NGOs, we’ve also worked with a broad coalition of States to progress issues such as the international legal recognition and protection of the rights of LGBTI persons.

A safe and responsive human rights system

I’ve been inspired by the work of ISHR colleagues and partners to ensure that the international system is accessible, safe and responsive for human rights defenders.

This has included undertaking in-depth consultations and research to better understand what victims need, successfully litigating a landmark case enshrining the rights of defenders and victims to communicate with international bodies, and raising the political costs for perpetrators of reprisals so as to promote accountability and deter future violations.

A more diverse and representative human rights system

I was inspired by the emphatic election of one of the world’s leading feminist legal academics, Professor Hilary Charlesworth, as a judge of the International Court of Justice. An international lawyer of the highest intellect and integrity, Professor Charlesworth is precisely the kind of independent, expert candidate that States should support for election or appointment to international human rights bodies.

I’m also grateful and humbled by Hilary’s support for ISHR, being a generous monthly donor!

Putting principle above politics

While dismayed by the continuing repression of human rights defenders in many countries, I’m inspired by the increasing number and diversity of States prepared to call out and confront these violations.

Following sustained advocacy from ISHR and partners, in March 2021 Finland delivered a joint statement on behalf of 32 governments condemning the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt. The statement calls on the Egyptian authorities to release arbitrarily detained defenders, end the use of torture, and respect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Showing similar leadership, in recent months, Canada and France have both led cross-regional statements supported by over 40 governments regarding widespread and systematic human rights violations in China. These joint statements represent significant steps towards building a coalition of support to establish international human rights monitoring and reporting mechanisms on each of Egypt and China. These are key priorities for ISHR in the year ahead.

The passion, creativity and commitment of colleagues

Last but not least, I’m constantly inspired by the passion, creativity and commitment of ISHR staff, fellows, interns and Board members, manifested daily in everything from the innovation of digital tools to support defenders, to organising in-house dance challenges which give us energy and make us laugh (sorry, not sharing a link to that one!). It’s a privilege to work as part of such an awesome team.

What’s inspired you?

I’d also love to hear about what’s inspired you.

What are the human rights stories and successes you’d love to share?

At ISHR we sometimes use the term ‘vulnerageous’, meaning having the courage to be vulnerable. So go ahead, be vulnerageous and share your inspiration with us. We’ll curate a collection and share them on our website and in a forthcoming edition of our Human Rights Monitor (subscribe here!).

With my best wishes and solidarity,

Phil Lynch
Director | International Service for Human Rights


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Since 1994, the Martin Ennals Award honours human rights defenders from around the world who show exceptional commitment to promoting fundamental rights, often at the risk of their own lives. For the 2022 edition, the Jury selected three activists who, through their courage, unfailing hope and strategic approaches, inspired others to take up human rights. Their identities will be revealed on 19 January 2022 during an online press conference. The Martin Ennals Award Laureates 2022 will be honoured during a hybrid ceremony co-hosted by the City of Geneva and the Martin Ennals Foundation on 10 February 2022.

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