Illustration: #Right2DefendRights coalition


Happy international human rights defenders day!

Today, we pay tribute to those who defend human rights: their work is essential to make our world a fairer place. We also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. We are marking this day in several ways. 

Our coalition of 17 organisations have celebrated human rights defenders all year long. But on 9 December we are taking several very special actions. 

1. A virtual human chain with human rights defenders

Over the last couple of weeks, we collected photos from more than 200 people who joined our virtual human chain #InSolidarityAndHope with human rights defenders. Thank you to everyone who joined! (Can you find yourself?)

More than 200 people participated in a virtual human chain in solidarity with human rights defenders, December 2023 ©ISHR

2. A new podcast

Together with Amnesty International, we’ve just released on Spotify a three-part audio documentary series called ‘On the Side of Humanity: how defenders fight for our present and future’. The series explores how the human rights movement has evolved in the 25 years since the 1998 signing of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. It also tells the stories of five courageous individuals from Chile, the US, Nepal, Ireland, and Ghana who are standing up and even risking their lives for people facing marginalisation, persecution, and oppression. Follow this link to listen to the podcast! 

Preview of three-part audio documentary series called ‘On the Side of Humanity: how defenders fight for our present and future’ on Spotify, ©Amnesty International

3. A letter to States

On 14 November 2023, ISHR and the #Right2DefendRights coalition of 17 members sent a letter to each mission of the UN Member States in Geneva, inviting them to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders by joining the Office of the High Commissioner’s campaign ‘Push for Pledges’. 

ISHR staff preparing letters to be sent to the missions of the UN Member States in Geneva, November 2023 ©ISHR

The campaign invites States to commit to taking specific actions towards the realisation of human rights for all by proposing pledges for human rights. On 11 and 12 December, during the high-level event to commemorate both anniversaries, the UN will unveil the ‘Pledging Tree’,  a live embodiment of all the pledges made by Member States throughout the year.

ISHR and partners are calling on UN Member States to use this occasion to recognise that the work of defenders is integral to the realisation of all human rights for all people and to celebrate defenders and their essential role in achieving freedom, peace, equality and justice.  We invite States to submit pledges on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders. Read the pledges we are suggesting to take here. 

4. Our giant banner on the UN building

We worked with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to hang out our giant banner on one of the UN buildings in Geneva. The banner was placed on Friday 8 December, and to be removed on 11 December, to celebrate human rights defenders and our #Right2DefendRights campaign!

#Right2DefendRights banner hanging from the OHCHR building on avenue Motta in Geneva, December 2023 ©ISHR

5. Defenders’ quotes on social media

Throughout this commemoration, ISHR and the #Right2DefendRights coalition of 17 members have actively shared inspiring quotes from human rights defenders across our social platforms. These quotes encapsulate their courage and unwavering commitment to championing human rights globally. Here’s a glimpse of their impactful words:

These quotes reflect the profound insights and powerful messages shared by defenders. Join us on our social media channels to explore more and stand #InSolidarityAndHope with all people advocating for human rights worldwide!

6. UDHR75+HRDS25=100% human rights

On 11 December we organised an event at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs. Both declarations are intrinsically linked: as defenders are essential in seeking to ensure the Universal Declaration is implemented.

During the event, human rights defenders from countries or regions where there have been developments in protection policies and systems – whether led by States or civil society, talked about their lived experiences. As the event commemorated the Declaration’s anniversary, key elements discussed the event included: 

  • Today defenders continue to work because of and in spite of their contexts including of militarisation, religious or cultural extremism, homophobia and transphobia, corporate capture, a climate emergency, and occupation and settler colonialism. In every region, companies, government officials, media and armed groups criminalise, stigmatise, harass and intimidate HRDs, because of their work to expose these actors and to collectively dismantle power structures that allow such violations and abuses to perpetuate with impunity.
  • On this anniversary it is important to acknowledge that, for 75 years, there has been arbitrary and inconsistent respect and fulfilment of human rights, and that double standards and selectivity in the implementation of universal human rights standards undermines the international human rights framework and strips HRDs of this important tool.
  • In the context of developments in international law since 1998, this event shone light on areas that could be further elaborated in the Declaration.

You can follow our campaign here. We have engaged in virtual and in-person consultations with hundreds of human rights defenders across the world, seeking to map the changes in law, the priorities, the needs and the realities faced by defenders 25 years after the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. With this information we want to develop a civil society-led and expert-endorsed document that articulates the current status of international norms and standards relating to defenders (also called the Declaration +25 supplement). It aims to guide change on the ground in the next 25 years and beyond!  If you are a human rights defender, you’re still on time to make your voice heard.

Take our online survey so your views are reflected in the supplement. 

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