Harman Patil

Human rights activists

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Human rights defenders or human rights activists are people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect some variation of human rights.


Declaration on Human Rights Defenders

The United Nations The Declaration on the right of individuals, groups of power in society to promote and protect universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms on December 9, 1998, commonly known as the declaration on human rights defenders. It 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 their need for better protection.

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 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 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.

Protection mechanisms

Following the adoption of the declaration on human rights defenders in 1998, a number of initiatives were taken, both at the international and regional level, to increase the protection of defenders and contribute to the full implementation of the Declaration. In this context, the following mechanisms were established:

  • The mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders (2000)
  • The mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on human rights defenders (2004)
  • The Human Rights Defenders Unit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (2001)
  • The European Union Guidelines on human rights defenders (2004)
  • In 2008, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), took the initiative to gather for the first time all the human rights defenders’ institutional mandate-holders (created within the United Nations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union) to find ways to enhance coordination and complementarities among themselves and with NGOs.

    In 2010, a single inter-mechanisms website was created, gathering all relevant public information on the activities of the different human rights defenders’ protection mandate-holders aims at increasing the visibility of the documentation produced by the mechanisms – press releases, studies, reports, statements, etc., as well as of their actions (country visits, institutional events, trials observed).

    Awards for human rights defenders

  • The United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights in 1998.
  • The Martin Ennals Award, a collaboration of several human rights NGOs. Martin Ennals was a renowned human rights defender and secretary general of Amnesty International. Its secretariat is located at the OMCT office in Geneva. The awardee of the Martin Ennals Award is granted at least 20,000 Swiss Francs (about 20,000 US dollars) to be used for further work in the field of human rights.
  • The human rights defender award is the highest award of Human Rights Watch
  • The Human Rights Defenders Tulip was established by the Netherlands government in 2008.
  • Imprisoned Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize for his "long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China"
  • The Front Line Defenders Award for Human Rights Defenders at Risk was established in 2005 to 'honour the work of a human rights defender who, through non-violent work, is courageously making an outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights of others.'
  • Transnational Advocacy Networks and Human Rights

    Margaret E. Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, in “Activists Beyond Borders” define transnational advocacy networks as “…networks of activists, distinguishable largely by the centrality of principled ideas or values in motivating their formation.” This definition can be seen in many human rights organizations.

    Keck and Sikkink write from a context before the universal availability of information technology and at this point the main actors are the States. The boomerang pattern, argued by Keck and Sikkink, is a model of advocacy where a State A causes “blockage” by not protecting or violating rights. Non-state actors provide other non-state actors from a State B with information about the blockage and those non-state actors inform State B. State B places pressure on State A and/or has intergovernmental organizations place pressure on State A to change its policies.

    In order to facilitate transnational advocacy networks, the network needs to have common values and principles, access to information and be able to effectively use that information, believe their efforts will cause change and effectively frame their values. Information use is historically very important to human rights organizations. Human rights methodology is considered “promoting change by promoting facts.” By using facts, state and non-state actors can use that viable information to pressure human rights violators.

    Human rights advocacy networks focus on either countries or issues by targeting particular audiences in order to gain support. To gain audience support human rights organizations need to cultivate relationships through networking, have access to resources and maintain an institutional structure.

    Activists commonly use four tactics in their advocacy efforts: 1) Information politics provides comprehensive and useful information on an issue that otherwise might not be heard from sources who otherwise might be overlooked; 2) Symbolic politics uses powerful symbolic events as a way to increase awareness surrounding an issue; 3) Leverage politics utilizes material leverage (examples such as goods, money, or votes), moral leverage (the "mobilization of shame") or both in order to gain influence over more powerful actors; 4) Accountability politics holds those who make commitments to a cause accountable for their actions or lack thereof.

    Information Technology and Human Rights Networked Advocacy

    The widespread availability of the internet, mobile telephones, and related communications technologies enabling users to overcome the transaction costs of collective action has begun to change the previous models of advocacy.

    Due to information technology and its ability to provide an abundance of information, there are fewer to no costs for group forming. Coordination is now much easier for human rights organizations to track human rights violators and use the information to advocate for those in need.

    One effect is that it is harder for governments to block information they do not want their citizens to obtain. The increase in technology makes it nearly impossible for information not to penetrate everyone around the globe making it easier for human rights organizations to monitor and ensure rights are being protected.

    In addition, the fact that the Internet provides a platform for easy group forming, the use of an institutional organization is not essential. With social networking sites and blogs, any individual can perpetuate collective action with the right tools and audience. The need for a hierarchy is diminishing with the great abundance of information available.

    Electronic Mapping

    Electronic mapping is a newly developed tool using electronic networks and satellite imagery and tracking. Examples include tactical mapping, crisis mapping and geo-mapping. Tactical mapping has been primarily used in tracking human rights abuses by providing visualization of the tracking and implementation monitoring.


    Human rights activists Wikipedia

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