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What do human rights defenders do?

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What do human rights defenders do?

Human rights defenders are identified by what they do and the nature of their actions

Some examples of actions that can be conducted by human rights defenders:


Defend all human rights for all


A human rights defender acts to protect and promote any human right on behalf of individuals or groups. Defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights (the right to life, to a fair trial, to vote, etc.) as well as of economic, social and cultural rights (right to education, to social protection, decent housing, etc.).


Human rights defenders address any human rights and intervene in any kind of situations related to human rights. For example, they act in cases of summary executions, torture, discrimination, forced evictions or access to health care.


Defenders defend all those rights for all. They act for the rights of men, women, children, disabled persons, refugees, minorities, indigenous people or any individuals and groups.


Defend human rights everywhere:


Human rights defenders are active in every part of the world:

  • in States divided by conflicts as well as stable States;
  • in non-democratic States as well as in those that have a strong democratic practice;
  • and in States that are developing economically as well as in developed States, etc.

Some defenders focused their actions at local and national levels, others act at international or regional levels and some others work on different levels at the same time.


Defenders who act at national or local levels will work in order to support respect for human rights in their own community of country. Defenders acting at international or regional levels, for example, will monitor the situation of human rights in a certain area or across the world in order to communicate information to regional or international relevant actors, such as the Special Rapporteur.


Collecting and disseminating information on human rights violations


Some defenders will act for human rights by investigating suspected violations. For this purpose, they collect information and communicate it to any one who is relevant to act in order to protect violated human rights. For example, NGOs denounce ongoing human rights violations or any situation likely to lead to a violation by publishing report in order to draw the attention of public authorities or the international community.  


Supporting victims of human rights violations


Defenders can directly support victims of human rights violation through different means. They can provide legal aids, for example by submitting a complaint on their behalf, or by representing them in trial. They also can carry out actions of council, assistance and rehabilitation. Human rights defenders also act indirectly for the victims. For example, by alerting on a human rights violation they can contribute to put it to end or prevent it to happen.


Contributing to the implementation of human rights treaties, securing accountability and ending impunity


Human rights defenders make a major contribution to the effective implementation of international human rights treaties. For example, defenders conduct advocacy work to make sure that States respect their international human rights obligations.


By helping on the implementation of human rights treaties, human rights defenders work for securing accountability for respect legal standards of human rights.


More specifically, human rights defenders can bear witness, either in a public forum or before a court or tribunal, of human rights violations that have already occurred. In this way, they contribute to securing justice and to break patterns of impunity.


Defenders can also help the States in prosecuting perpetrators of violations by providing human rights training for prosecutors, judges and the police.


Supporting better governance and government policy


Some human rights defenders encourage a Government to fulfil its human rights obligations. For example, they can work in collaboration with States authorities by pointing out bad practices and showing them what it is possible to do in order to improve the situation. Defenders can also act for better governance and effective democracy by fighting against corruption and abuses of power.


Educating and training in human rights


A major part of human rights defenders action consists in providing human rights education. They can train for the application of human rights standards, raise awareness of students and children to human rights issues or spread information to different audiences on specific topics. 

 Human rights education activitiesRomina Santarelli / Ministerio de Cultura de la Nación de Argentina



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