Words that were used to describe defenders during the launch of the report of the Special Rapporteur on HRDs, March 2023


Success through perseverance and solidarity: 25 years of achievements by human rights defenders

On 14 March 2023, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders launched a report celebrating their achievements. The report uses and pushes for a more effective and positive narrative on those who defend human rights.

For several years, ISHR has been at the forefront of crafting, pushing and using a more effective narrative on human rights defenders. A narrative that focuses on the achievements of defenders and not only on the risks they face. A narrative that underlines their essential role in our societies, celebrates them and inspires and motivates people to join them in the defense of human rights.

Logo for the 25th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights defenders: in solidarity and hope.

In March 2023, Mary Lawlor, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, launched a new report that, taking the 25th anniversary of the UN declaration on human rights defenders as a hook, does just that: celebrating human rights defenders! Narratives are like mosaics: each story we tell is like a tile we put down. Each tile can be different but eventually a larger picture – or narrative – starts to form. This report is indeed a big tile. The Special Rapporteur is an authority when it comes to human rights defenders!

The report shifts the focus from the violations committed against human rights defenders to their often uncredited and unacknowledged successes. From changing laws, getting people out of prisons, exposing corruption, providing humanitarian aid, documenting human rights violations and holding businesses to account, the report describes some of the achievements of human rights defenders over the last 25 years. In order to protect defenders and counter anti-rights agenda, the report stresses the importance for States and people in power to shift the narrative, emphasise the contributions of human rights defenders, and recognise frequently and publicly their legitimate work. 

The side event in which the report was launched on 14 March gathered more than 100 people  online and offline: diplomats, activists, journalists – all potential messengers of this more effective narrative. You can watch a recording of the event below.

We tracked the words that were used to describe defenders during the event (see word cloud above). All are extremely positive and encouraging; reflecting the fact that indeed, a more positive and hope-based narrative is permeating the UN when it comes to speaking about defenders! 

It’s rare to finish a side event at the margin of a Human Rights Council session with hope – and this was exactly what happened. And so, we invite you to read the report, feel reinvigorated by what we can jointly achieve, and spread this inspiring narrative. We can all cultivate narratives that support human rights and the people who defend them. We just need to talk more about the hope and improvements they bring to our lives. 


Would you like to read more articles on this groundbreaking report? Check out the Special Rapporteur’s op-eds in The Rappler, The Irish Examiner and Jeune Afrique.

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