Human rights activists

Human rights defenders or human rights activists are people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. They can be journalists, environmentalists, whistle-blowers, trade unionists, lawyers, teachers, housing campaigners, and so on. They can defend rights as part of their jobs or in a voluntary capacity. As a result of their activities, they can sometimes be the subject of reprisals and attacks of all kinds, including smears, surveillance, harassment, false charges, arbitrary detention, restrictions on the right to freedom of association, and physical attacks.[1]

Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

The United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (A/RES/53/144) on December 9, 1998, commonly known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,[2] marks a historic achievement in the struggle toward better protection of those at risk for carrying out legitimate human rights activities and is the first UN instrument that recognizes the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as the right and responsibility of all to protect human rights.

The Declaration codifies the international standards that protect the activity of human rights defenders around the world. It recognises the legitimacy of human rights activity and the need for this activity and those who carry it out to be protected. Under the Declaration, a human rights defender is anyone working alone, as part of group or an institution, working for the promotion and protection of human rights. This broad definition encompasses professional as well as non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers and anyone else carrying out, even on an occasional basis, a human rights activity.

The Declaration articulates existing rights in a way that makes it easier to apply them to the situation of human rights defenders. It specifies how the rights contained in the major human rights instruments, including the right of free expression, association and assembly, apply to defenders.

The rights protected under the Declaration include, among others, the right to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and to advocate their acceptance; the right to criticise government bodies and agencies and to make proposals to improve their functioning; the right to provide legal assistance or other advice and assistance in defence of human rights; the right to observe fair trials; the right to unhindered access to and communication with non-governmental and intergovernmental organisations; the right to access resources for the purpose of protecting human rights, including the receipt of funds from abroad.

States have a responsibility to implement and respect all the provisions of the Declaration. In particular, states have the duty to protect human rights defenders against any violence, retaliation and intimidation as a consequence of their human rights work.