ISHR launches global report in Spanish and consults defenders in Latin America


All States should develop and implement specific laws on the protection of human rights defenders and conduct a comprehensive legislative audit to repeal laws which criminalise their work, according to a major new report released in Spanish by ISHR in Bogota today.

(Este artículo se encuentra en español aquí) (Bogota) The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) today launched the Spanish version of its report From Restriction to Protection, which examines how the laws of 40 jurisdictions covering all regions protect, or unduly restrict, the activities of human rights defenders.

The report represents the first phase of an ISHR project to develop a Model Law for the protection of human rights defenders, and was launched in Bogota during a consultation, by ISHR, of 33 human rights defenders from 18 Latin American countries, designed to add first-hand testimonies and ground-level analysis to the body of research. ISHR is also carrying out regional consultations in Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, Europe and Africa.

‘The experiences which have been shared at today’s consultation illustrate how, across the region, legislation is drafted and implemented in a way which restricts the work of human rights defenders, contravening international law’, said ISHR’s Ben Leather.

‘Whilst there exist a range of specific proposals, policies and laws for the protection of defenders in the Americas’, he continued, ‘we have heard today that, not only is it proving difficult for civil society to participate in their development, but that States are often failing to guarantee their successful implementation’.

The report, meanwhile, concludes that all States should conduct a comprehensive legislative audit to repeal laws which criminalise the work of human rights defenders and implement specific laws for their protection.

‘Through this report, we join the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in urging States to incorporate the international Declaration on Human Rights Defenders into national law,’ said ISHR Director and report author Phil Lynch.

According to the report, such legislation ‘could assist not only to provide formal legal protection to their work, but also to give official recognition to the legitimacy of such work, educate law enforcement officers, public officials and the public at large about the importance of defenders and the protection thereof’.

In addition to providing guidance as to the consultative process for developing a human rights defender law, the report also advises as to the key provisions of such a law, recommending that it:

  • enshrine the rights of defenders and the obligations of the State to promote, protect and respect those rights;
  • mandate and ensure the adequate resourcing of programs and mechanisms to promote the importance and legitimacy of human rights defenders’ work, and to protect human rights defenders and their families and associates who may be at risk, whether from State or non-State actors;
  • oblige the State to investigate and pursue accountability for any violations of the rights of defenders, their families and associates; and
  • provide for access to effective remedy for victims.

The law should also include provisions to:

  • mandate research and analysis on threats and attacks against human rights defenders with a view to identifying underlying and causative factors and making recommendations aimed at prevention and the promotion of an enabling environment; and
  • ensure that the law itself is systematically evaluated, including through consultation with human rights defenders, with a view to identifying the amendments or other measures that may be necessary to ensure its effectiveness.

The report also contains 25 concrete recommendations to States to give legal force and effect to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders through legislative provisions in other areas, ranging from penal codes to tax law.

In this regard, the report found good practice examples of implementation of aspects of the Declaration in many regions and countries, including the UK’s 2011 Charities Act, the Colombian Criminal Code, the Ugandan Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act and the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Act in The Philippines.

The report highlighted that while examples of good practice can be found in most regions and many States, examples of laws which restrict or criminalise the work of human rights defenders in a manner that is incompatible with international human rights law can be found in all regions and in all States. Such laws range from counter-terrorism laws in Australia and Ethiopia, to NGO laws in China and Kenya, to public assembly laws in Egypt and Myanmar, to laws regulating journalists and freedom of expression in Italy and Russia. The report includes a checklist to assist States to identify and reform such laws.

‘A conducive legal environment that protects and enables the work of human rights defenders, and which does not unduly restrict or criminalise such work, is vital for democracy, development and the rule of law,’ ISHR’s Phil Lynch said.

The report was prepared with the pro bono support of five of the world’s leading law firms – Allens, Debevoise & Plimpton, DLA Piper, Reed Smith and Simmons & Simmons – with the findings and recommendations underpinned by over 2,500 pages of professional legal research. The governments of Ireland and Liechtenstein and the Overbrook Foundation provided financial assistance for publication of the report.

‘ISHR is aware of the risks which human rights defenders face in many Latin American countries’, said Ben Leather. ‘We hope that States themselves can consult defenders on their needs, pass legislation for their protection and guarantee the resources and political will to implement those human rights defender laws and policies where they already exist’.

For more information regarding ISHR’s new report ‘From Restriction to Protection’ contact: Phil Lynch, Director of the International Service for Human Rights, on or + 41 76 708 4738

For more information regarding ISHR’s Regional Consultation of Human Rights Defenders in Latin America, contact: Ben Leather, Advocacy and Communications Manager at ISHR, on or +41 22 919 71 03

Download a high-resolution Spanish version of ‘From Protection to Restriction: Research report on the legal environment for human rights defenders and the need for national laws to protect and promote their work’ here

Download the English version of the report here


  • Latin America and Caribbean
  • Human rights defenders
  • National HRDs laws/policies
  • Colombia