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How are human rights defenders defined?

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How are human rights defenders defined?

The term “human rights defenders” is used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote and protect human rights.


Human rights defenders can:

  • set up actions to spread awareness of human rights
  • implement human rights and ensure their respect
  • react face to a human rights violation


There is no strict definition of human rights defenders because they can be anyone who act at any moment for any human rights. Therefore, the definition must be able to evolve for including all the possible profiles of defenders.


This is why human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do, their activities and not by what they are.


This means that each person who engages herself/himself and acts for the defence and the promotion of human rights can be considered as a human right defender.


A human rights defender can be a man, a woman, a lawyer, a student, an NGO’s employee, a doctor or any person from any profession, of all ages, nationalities, religions, etc.


A person can also be considered as a human rights defender whether she promotes and protects human rights her whole life, occasionally or only once.


Is there a minimum standard required to be a human rights defender?


No qualification is required to be a human rights defender. Thus, any person can be a human right defender if she/he wishes so.


However, a human rights defender should conduct his actions in compliance with the Declaration on human rights defenders and with human rights philosophy.


Human rights defenders must:


  • Conduct peaceful actions


Human rights defenders must establish peaceful actions to promote and protect human rights in order to be protected by the provisions of the Declaration on human rights defenders. For example, a person who will fights against human rights violation by disturbing public order or by using violence will not be a human rights defender under the Declaration.


  • Accept the universality of human rights


Human rights defenders must accept the fact that human rights are indivisible, interdependent and applicable to all, everywhere and at any time. One cannot define himself/herself as human rights defenders if he/she promotes fundamental rights of men but denies any rights to women. As well, a person cannot be a defender if she/he discriminates minorities.


Peaceful protest to urge the release of Raif BadawiAmnesty International-Finland


  • Protect a fundamental right


Human rights defenders must protect a right within the scope of human rights as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human rights.


To learn more about the Declaration, please consult OHCHR’s website.



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