12 Dec

Five years after the kidnapping of human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh and her colleagues, 15 NGOs* stand in solidarity to remember them and call on the UN and international and regional actors to actively facilitate an investigation into what happened to the four human rights defenders. Join the world in acknowledging Zaitouneh’s outstanding contribution to human rights by visiting and sharing a website documenting her work. 

11 Dec

ISHR joins dozens of organisations and individuals today, ahead of a key U.S. congressional hearing, to call on Google CEO Sundar Pichai to respond meaningfully to broadly-held human rights concerns and cancel Project Dragonfly, Google's censored search app project.

09 Dec

States have a responsibility to protect fundamental freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The international community should refuse to turn a blind eye to gross and systematic human rights violations committed against women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia. 

10 Dec

‘Women human rights defenders have flooded the streets, the airwaves, and the internet with their energy and their testimonials, bringing to light truths that are too often buried in darkness’ said a group of UN experts, recognising the important leadership role of women activists.

10 Dec

Today is Human Rights Day. Today is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a day to say thanks and contribute to a better world through ISHR.

Has the UN Declaration made a difference to the lives of human rights defenders?


Download the report in English here

Téléchargez le rapport en français ici 

Descargue la version española acquí 

The UN Declaration on human rights defenders provides an important articulation of the right to defend rights and State obligations to ensure the right is upheld.  Subsequent resolutions and recommendations from UN human rights mechanisms have provided policy detail and a push for action. 

The new report from ISHR, the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ) and the Tunisian Human Rights League (LTDH) looks at whether commitments made in NY and Geneva have been translated into positive changes in policy and practice on the ground in Colombia and Tunisia. 

‘Declarations, resolutions and recommendations mean little if rights-holders experience ongoing violations and abuses,’ said ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. 'A primary focus of our research was on whether States had systems in place for ensuring effective implementation.’



In Tunisia, the establishment of a body focused on follow up of recommendations, bringing together people from relevant ministries, has been a key development since the revolution.  However, defenders believe it must be strengthened to be impactful. 

‘Despite good will to implement recommendations, there is still an inexplicable lack of urgency on the part of the Minister in charge of Human Rights,' noted Bassem Trifi, of the Ligue Tunisienne des Droits de l’Homme. ‘In addition, there is a lack of involvement of civil society in the formal implementation processes.’ 


In Colombia – a country where attacks against defenders have been relentless over many years –  recent positive changes are limited in their impact by the continued lack of presence of State entities in large areas of the country.

In a recent visit to the country, the UN Secretary-General Guterres called on the Colombian government ‘to accelerate the active presence of the State across the country.’ 

‘Colombia has passed a number of measures and established mechanisms to counter violence against human rights defenders,’ said Ana Maria Rodriguez, of the Colombian Commission of Jurists. ‘Unfortunately, the State has not looked at nor adopted an integrated and comprehensive approach to protection.  The international community must continue pressing Colombia to address the structural reasons for the risks human rights defenders face.’

The report provides a raft of recommendations for State officials, as well as UN bodies and mechanism in the country and in Geneva and New York. 

‘Effective implementation of international commitments requires clear laws, policies and protocols to inform, monitor and regulate the action of State officials, effective coordination amongst State entities and, ultimately, the political will and courage to make that happen,' said Openshaw. 

The 2017 UN General Assembly resolution on human rights defenders focuses on implementation of the Declaration. There will be a General Assembly high-level event this December – under the presidency of Ecuador – where risks, challenges and good practices regarding protection will be discussed. 


Contact: Eleanor Openshaw, NY Co-director: 

Photo: Wikimeida/ Basil D. Soufi










HRC38 | NGOs call on States to fulfill their duty to protect LGBTI defenders


Everyone has the right to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms. However, in the current climate, those defending human rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) persons, not only suffer risks common to all defenders, but they are also stigmatised, lack recognition and support from civil society, are arbitrarily arrested and detained, and even killed.

The joint submission by 12 NGOs to the Independent Expert on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, made in the leadup to the presentation of his report to the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council, details State obligations based in existing international human rights law that have been articulated in the Yogyakarta Principles and Yogyakarta Principles plus 10. These obligations, if implemented, would work towards ensuring that LGBTI defenders’ rights are protected.

‘LGBTI rights defenders are targeted by States, non-State actors, members of their own community, and even other defenders because of their identity and work. It is essential that States ensure this group of vulnerable defenders are protected,’ says ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.

The submission calls for States to protect LGBTI defenders by fulfilling their duties, including to:

  • Take appropriate measures to eradicate all forms of violence, discrimination, and other harm on grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC);
  • Exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide remedies for discrimination, violence, and other harm on the basis of SOGIESC, whether committed by State or non-State actors;
  • Ensure access to effective complaints procedures and remedies, including reparation, for victims of violence, discrimination, and other harm on grounds of SOGIESC; and
  • Enact a law to establish, designate, or maintain an adequately resourced mechanism for the protection of LGBTI rights defenders.

Critically, the joint written submission calls on the Independent Expert to:

  1. Use the authoritative interpretations in the YPs and the YPs plus 10 in engagement with States on issues relating to LGBTI defenders; and
  2. Engage with other relevant Special Procedures mandate holders and LGBTI rights defenders to identify protection needs of these individuals and organisations.

Contact: Tess McEvoy,

Photo: Flickr_Danilo Urbina 

NGO Access | According space to civil society is not optional, says UN High Commissioner


In a new report on civil society engagement at the UN, the High Commissioner for Human Rights concludes that the effective functioning of international and regional organisations is inextricably linked to civil society participation. Concurrently, he highlights that human rights defenders and NGOs continue to face a vast array of restrictions and risk being targets of reprisals when seeking to engage with the UN. The report reflected various restrictions on civil society, as well as recommendations to improve civil society participation, set out by in ISHR in its submission to the report.

Restrictions faced

The High Commissioner acknowledged that numerous obstacles to the full and effective participation of civil society remain. For many defenders, restriction begins long before they reach UN grounds. At the 61st session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, women human rights defenders were denied visas and security clearances to enter the US. The exclusion of women human rights defenders recurred this year in the 62nd session to a higher degree.

‘Civil society’s right to communicate with intergovernmental organisations is well established’, says ISHR’s Eleanor Openshaw. ‘It is unacceptable that civil society voices continue to be restricted, and even silenced, in many UN spaces.’

Referring to the Secretary-General’s annual report on reprisals, the High Commissioner listed a range of reprisals experienced by those engaging with the UN, including travel bans, financial persecution, surveillance, smear campaigns, unlawful arrests and detention, torture, and sexual assault, among other abuses.  

The High Commissioner is clear about the adverse impact of reprisals against individuals seeking to cooperate or cooperating with the UN.  He notes that they both generally constitute individual human rights violations but also risk undermining the effectiveness of the system as a whole.

ISHR welcomes his recommendation to ‘ensure the safety and security of persons seeking to engage with regional and international organisations, including online, prevent any acts of reprisals by State or non-State actors against them and, when such reprisals do occur, condemn them and ensure accountability and access to an effective remedy ‘.

ISHR’s Tess McEvoy says that the UN needs to take more concrete action on intimidation and reprisal. 'There needs to be a unified and comprehensive response to these cases', she adds. 'All States need to take action against cases of reprisal no matter where they occur.’

Proposed reform

Though dire in its description of restrictions at the UN, the report does propose some institutional reforms to deepen civil society participation in UN bodies, such as NGO advisory boards or liaisons, accountability mechanisms to address restrictions, and expanded remote participation.

The High Commissioner also emphasises the need to diversify civil society participation by reaching out to groups including women, children, young people, older persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic, national, linguistic and racial minorities, migrants and indigenous peoples.  

The report specifically points to the NGO Committee - notorious for its politicised practice - as an area for reform, including reviewing the practice and procedures of the NGO Committee to ensure it complies with international standards such as non-discrimination, accountability and transparency.

‘The High Commissioner’s conclusion about the effectiveness of the system riding on civil society engagement is significant’, said McEvoy, ‘It speaks to the essential role civil society plays in holding States to account and contributing to UN debates, but also in striving for a system fit for the purpose of fulfilling the aims of the UN Charter.’ 

‘We call on UN bodies and mechanisms, as well as States, to ensure recommendations in this report become reality,' McEvoy concluded.  

Contact: Tess McEvoy,

Photo: flickr_us_mission_in_geneva.


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After 14 years of ISHR lobbying, advocacy and negotiation, the UN General Assembly adopts the landmark Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


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ISHR leads a successful campaign for the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights


ISHR co-founds and supports a range of international and regional human rights coalitions, including the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and the West African Human Rights Defenders Network


ISHR contributes to the establishment and institution building of a new global peak body for human rights issues, the UN Human Rights Council


ISHR leads and coordinates the development of the Yogyakarta Principles on sexual orientation and gender identity, strengthening legal recognition and protection of LGBT rights worldwide


ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders leads to adoption of landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals


Working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR leads civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground


Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy leads to adoption of historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders