Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

Protection of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly is essential for human rights defenders to do their vital work to ensure freedom, dignity, equality and justice for all.

The rights to gather together, share our views, raise our grievances, express dissent, propose solutions, and protest for change are vital for progress and for the realisation of all other human rights. 

Exercising, promoting and protecting these rights – the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly – is integral to the work of human rights defenders and to the promotion and protection of all other rights. Each of the rights is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and many national constitutions and laws.

Unfortunately, some governments, businesses and other non-state actors do not welcome scrutiny, accountability, criticism, free speech or calls for change. In some countries, human rights defenders face threats and attacks, have their organisations shut down, and are criminalised, detained or even killed merely for speaking out or protesting. They may also face intimidation or reprisals for providing evidence or testimony to the UN. 

ISHR supports human rights defenders in the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression and association at the international and regional levels, including by accrediting and supporting defenders to attend and speak out at the UN and in regional fora such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. We also stand up for defenders when their rights are violated or denied, mobilising high-level officials within the UN and allied governments to speak out and push for accountability when defenders are subject to attacks, threats or restrictions. At the national level, our work with local partners to promote the enactment of human rights defender protection laws helps ensure that defenders’ rights to free speech, access to information, peaceful protest, freedom of association and public participation, among others, are guaranteed under national law.

Latest updates

Check out all the latest updates to this topic

HRC52: Sudan must protect the rights of women human rights defenders

On 3 March 2023, the High Commissioner for Human Rights delivered an oral update on the situation of human rights in Sudan to the Human Rights Council. During the interactive dialogue that followed, ISHR delivered a joint statement highlighting the grave situation faced by women and women human rights defenders in Sudan.

Formula 1: Stop sportswashing human rights abuses in Bahrain

Formula 1 should stop sportswashing human rights abuses in host countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and instead use its considerable leverage to push for the release of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders and an end to the repression of civic freedoms, says ISHR and a coalition of over 20 NGOs.

Freedom of expression, association and assembly defenders' stories

One day, we should be entitled to go back to our hometown, but the condition is: with democracy, with freedom, with human rights, and without fear.

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