Human Rights Defenders

Working in the human rights sector has risks associated at various levels and often human rights defenders face imminent threats or experience targeted violence. There are emergency support and funds available from a number of sources, some of which are flexible while others have strict requirements on how the funds can be used.

Emergency Funds

The Netherlands: Shelter City Initiative

This national initiative is implemented by Justitia et Pax (Justice and Peace), a Dutch NGO. It allows human rights defenders who are being severely threatened because of their work to apply for a three-month temporary shelter in one of the six Dutch Shelter Cities: Amsterdam, The Hague, Middleburg, Maastricht, Nijmegen and Utrecht. The program covers travel and visa costs, as well as health insurance and the cost of the three-month stay. It also offers capacity building activities, medical care, and psychological care. To be eligible, defenders must speak English or French and be willing to speak out in public.

How to apply: Twice a year, by email and social media, Justitia et Pax calls for applications. Dutch embassies and consulates and the European representations also help to identify candidates. Defenders can also email a staff member at Justitia et Pax for more information through their website.

Human rights defenders can use these guidelines as resources to understand how diplomats based in their country are expected to support and protect human rights defenders. They can be the basis for conversations with embassies to request specific actions, such as trial monitoring or public statements on behalf of human rights defenders at risk.

European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders

Created in 2004 and updated in 2008, these guidelines provide practical suggestions for enhancing actions by EU Missions (Embassies and Consulates of EU Member States and European Commission Delegations) in support of human rights defenders.

Also available in Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, Greek, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Swedish.

Norway’s Efforts to Support Human Rights Defenders: Guide for the Foreign Service

Created in 2010, these guidelines are intended as a practical guide for Norway’s efforts to support human rights defenders through Norway’s diplomatic missions, as well as in multilateral forums, human rights dialogues, and consultations at the political level.

Also available in Spanish.

OSCE Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Created in 2014, these guidelines concentrate on the protection of human rights defenders at risk and are based on OSCE commitments and universally recognized human rights standards that OSCE participating States have undertaken to adhere to.

Also available in Hungarian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian.

Swiss Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Created in 2013, these guidelines aim to compile best practices and provide a uniform approach across all of Switzerland’s representations to working with human rights defenders for their protection.

Also available in Arabic, French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish.

UN Fact Sheet No. 29: Human Rights Defenders: Protecting the Right to Defend Human Rights

Created in 2004, this fact sheet aims to support human rights defenders and is addressed to state authorities, national and international NGOs, United Nations personnel, major private sector actors, human rights defenders, and the public.

Also available in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.

U.S. Support for Human Rights Defenders

Created in 2013, this policy statement identifies the State Department’s strategies to protect and support human rights defenders.

Also available in Chinese, French, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

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