New Secretary General should put promotion and protection of human rights defenders at heart of UN’s agenda


Eighty civil society organisations have called on the new Secretary General to ensure better protection of human rights defenders who engage with the UN.


ISHR offers a warm welcome to Antonio Guterres as the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations.

Earlier this year 80 civil society organisations from across the world called on the next Secretary General to place the promotion and protection of human rights defenders at the heart of the UN's priorities.

ISHR’s Madeleine Sinclair said now that a new Secretary-General has been formally recommended by the Security Council the open letter is as relevant as ever, and said ISHR staff were looking forward to working with Mr Guterres in the pursuit of stronger protections for human rights defenders.

'The work of human rights defenders to promote the three pillars of the UN is widely acknowledged, but sadly remains under threat at so many levels,’ said Ms Sinclair.

The priorities civil society organisations highlight include:

  • Speaking out strongly and consistently against attacks on defenders and restrictions on civil society space and in support of vibrant, independent civil society at the UN and at the national level.

  • Ensuring UN staff are aware of the importance of the work of HRDs and take action to prevent and address attacks against them. 

  • Designating a civil society liaison at the most senior level at the UN.

  • Recognising that the work of human rights defenders is essential to international peace and security. Taking steps to promote prevention of systemic attacks and restrictions against HRDs which may be an early warning sign of more widespread gross and systematic violations.

The announcement earlier this week that the Assistant Secretary General, Andrew Gilmour, will be appointed to a new role to help combat reprisals against human rights defenders was a very positive initiative, but Ms Sinclair said there was plenty more the UN could do to promote the protection of human rights defenders around the world. 

A copy of the open letter can be found here.



  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • NGOs
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
  • UN General Assembly