What is a Human Rights Defender?

A Human Rights Defender (HRD) describes people who individually or as a collective act to promote and/or protect human rights. HRD’s is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote and/or protect human rights.

The term ‘human rights defender’ has since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998 been used increasingly – as a result it has unified and replaced such terms as ‘human rights activist’ or ‘human rights monitor’ for instance.

We believe that anyone regardless of their class, sex, job, age or race can be a HRD. It is our view that they are identified by what they do rather than by their profession. Some HRD’s can be professional human rights workers who may work for an NGO or a campaigning body, but most HRD’s are lawyers working on human rights cases, journalists, trade unionists, socialists or community activists involved in promoting human rights or exposing human rights abuses.

What do Human Rights Defenders do?

The rights defended by human rights defenders can include:

  • civil and political rights – these rights include issues such as the right to a fair trial, and the right to be free from torture.
  • economic and social rights – these rights include issues as diverse as the right to housing, education and water. It also will include campaigns against forced eviction.
  • cultural rights – these rights include campaigns for the rights of indigenous people to have control over their land, the right to free, prior and informed consent  and control of the resources on them.

The work of HRD’s is diverse. It can include campaigns to against forced eviction or arbitrary arrest. HRD’s also work for the rights of particular groups. This can include campaigns  for indigenous people, rural women, street children, or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – but the work is not limited to this.

HRD’s work mainly at a local or national level and concentrate on supporting human rights campaigns within their own areas or countries. HRD’s organize campaigns to promote human rights and/or will investigate and report on human rights violations. Subsequently HRD’s may organise demonstrations, pickets or lobbies to highlight where key political or judicial decisions have been made which fail to address or ignore human rights. Whilst this work maybe done through human rights organizations, it maybe completed by lawyers or journalists. As a campaign we hope that not only will this continue but that trade unions will become more involved in this.

Human Rights Defenders – internationally.

HRD’s work to promote, protect and realise the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Further human rights standards are outlined in a number of conventions, and declarations that the UDHR has given rise to.

HRD’s are active in every corner of the globe. The Defending Human Rights Defenders campaign established by the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers sets itself the task of supporting those HRD’s in a select number of countries which are outlined on this site. We also periodically support individuals or groups from other countries– who in their role as HRD’s are threatened.