22 Jun

The UN and States must take visible and sustained action against acts of intimidation and reprisal against those engaging or seeking to engage with the UN, says ISHR in a new report.

22 Jun

In a Statement to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR called for a stronger focus on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations and the development of processes to ensure that civil society can freely engage without fear of intimidation and reprisal.

20 Jun

The Martin Ennals Foundation and the ten human rights organisations that make up the jury of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA), today renewed their appeal to the government of the United Arab Emirates to release immediately and unconditionally Ahmed Mansoor, the last remaining human rights defender in the UAE who had previously been able to criticise the authorities publicly.

16 Jun

The Human Rights Council must act to prevent the 'annihilation' of civil society in the midst of a human rights crisis in Egypt, a group of 10 of the world's leading NGOs said in a joint letter today. The NGOs are calling for a resolution or, at a minimum, a joint statement on Egypt at the next regular session of the Council in September.

16 Jun

In a statement delivered today, ISHR reminded the Council of the importance of responding in a consistent and principled manner to serious human rights situations. Failure to take action on countries which fulfil key criteria - like Bahrain, China, Egypt and Venezuela - undermines the Council's credibility.

#HRC34 | The vital importance of renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders


The role of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is to monitor and report on human rights violations and to advise and assist in promoting and protecting rights.

During the 34th session of the Human Rights Council, States will consider the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, pursuant to a resolution being negotiated and led by Norway. The Special Rapporteur’s activities have been vital in supporting and protecting defenders and therefore it is imperative that States with a genuine commitment to human rights, sustainable development and the rule of law reflect such commitments through strong and unconditional support for the renewal of Mr Forst’s mandate.

ISHR has collected several testimonies that underscore the key role that the mandate has played in providing visibility to the situation of human rights defenders. ISHR welcomes the remarks made by the following key opinion makers highlighting the undeniable importance of the Special Rapporteur and calling on member States to strongly support the renewal of the expert’s mandate.

Human rights and international human rights institutions are coming under increasing threats from the surge of popular movements that espouse nationalism, racism, sexism, exclusion and discrimination, that repudiate fundamental human rights norms. More and more governments are restricting civil society space and crushing the work of human rights defenders. In these troubling times, the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is crucial, not only to ward off attacks on the human rights movement but also to support brave human rights defenders all over the world.
Navi Pillay
Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Countless women, men and indeed children work in all regions of the world to promote and protect human rights.  They often do so at great personal risk and cost.  But human rights defenders need more than our admiration. They need our active support and protection.  We can and must continue to raise awareness and understanding of international law and standards applicable to the enjoyment of the rights of human rights defenders. And crucially, at a time when threats, intimidation and concerted attacks against human rights defenders persist, we urgently require renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders.
Patricia O’Brien
Ambassador of Ireland to the UN 
at Geneva

Human rights are currently under severe attack, and those standing up against injustice are being increasingly intimidated and even killed for speaking up. The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is key in ensuring that these attacks are effectively addressed by, among other measures, implementing protection mechanisms for human rights defenders at risk to allow them to continue their work without fear of reprisals.  At this 34th Session of the Council, States have again expressed their support for this mandate. The Council must now unite in renewing the mandate and publicly condemn attacks against human rights defenders in all their forms everywhere.
Guadalupe Marengo
Head of Global Human Rights Defenders Programme, Amnesty International

The role of human rights defenders is important and that is to ensure that human rights are well protected and shielded. The work of human rights defenders is critical and irreplaceable. Regrettably, in some circumstances, they are continuing to be exposed to serious restrictions and threats of violence. Therefore, all actors should do their utmost to ensure the provision of the best possible protection framework for human rights defenders. In this context, the work of the Special Rapporteur and his recommendations are a critical tool which plays a role in assisting States to address remaining challenges. Georgia remains a strong supporter of the Special Rapporteur's work and its mandate. 
Shalva Tsiskarashvili
Ambassador of Georgia to the UN at Geneva

At a time when there is a regression in the protection and promotion of human rights worldwide, it is now more important than ever to have a specific mandate that focuses on those who put themselves at risk every day to fight for rights. If governments are serious about fighting extremism and radicalisation, the best way to do this is by supporting human rights defenders and civil society; not by using violence and/or supporting dictators and absolute monarchies.
Maryam Al-Khawaja 
Co-director of the Gulf Center for Human Rights

In today´s world, with old and new tensions, where nationalism, xenophobia and attacks on anything or anyone different are threatening to seriously erode decades of gains in awareness and respect for the human rights of all, the work of thousands of human rights defenders is ever so important and also dangerous. Renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is an imperative to continue constructing the norms, standards and best practices that only a person with solid and wide experience can provide. Building institutions at the national level to ensure the safety and independence of human rights defenders and opening the ground for enabling them to work on the issues of today such as migration, are important priorities laid out for a second mandate by the Special Rapporteur.
Marta Maurás
Ambassador of Chile to the UN at Geneva

The nature of the mandate has allowed the Special Rapporteur to act upon the current global context and the situations faced due to corporate activities by environmental defenders, journalists and whistleblowers. The current visit of Michel Forst to Mexico, in a situation where corruption, impunity and criminalisation of human rights defenders prevails, promotes and reinforces recognition on the role of human rights defenders by the National Human Rights Institution, state actors, business actors, and investors; it also motivates the inclusion of a clause regarding respect to their work in the upcoming National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights, and meaningful participation of defenders.
Ivette González
Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) in Mexico

Defending the human rights of others at the risk of being targeted and even prosecuted is a noble action that deserves respect of all who value human dignity.
Janis Karklins
Ambassador of Latvia to the UN at Geneva

At the cusp of an uncertain era for human rights, it is those on the ground who defend rights that face the worst consequences. Without international support and recognition, many risk outright annihilation. Asian human rights defenders, even in the most vibrant democracies, face restrictions and are left at the mercy of geopolitical and economic dynamics. If the UN Human Rights Council is to be relevant, it is imperative that it supports people who legitimately stand for human rights. At this historic juncture, renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders should be a foregone conclusion and not a matter of contention.
R. Iniyan Ilango
United Nations Advocacy Programme Manager, FORUM-ASIA

Human rights defenders are inherent actors in free, vibrant and stable societies. Journalists, lawyers, trade union activists and other human rights defenders should be able to conduct their work safely without fear, harassment or retaliation. I highly value the work of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders to address the specific risks women human rights defenders may encounter when taking an active role in society.
Rauno Merisaari
Ambassador for Human Rights and Democracy of Finland

Human rights defenders assist states in service delivery activities, offer innovative solutions to complex political, social and economic challenges, help resolve conflicts, support the inclusion of diverse and otherwise excluded voices in decision making, and foster accountability over the use of public resources. The Special Rapporteur’s mandate exists to ensure that these defenders are supported and protected by the international community. 
Mandeep Tiwana
Head of Policy and Research – CIVICUS

Having a mandate for a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is essential to remind the UN and the international community of defenders on the ground who are risking their lives to achieve peace and democracy. It is also a way to tackle the important role of women human rights defenders, who are most of the times forgotten. Trying to protect human rights without empowering those who defend them in their communities will always make this process fall short of its goals.
Mozn Hassan
Nazra for Feminist Studies

Unfortunately, Australia is not immune from the global crackdown on civil society. There is a clear and worrying trend of new laws and practices that curtail protest rights, silence critics and threaten press freedom. The Special Rapporteur’s work provides critical support and guidance to our efforts to protect basic democratic freedoms in Australia. Michel Forst’s visit last year galvanised those efforts and brought together a broad range of Australian human rights defenders to highlight the growing constraints on our work.
Emily Howie
Director of Advocacy and Research – Human Rights Law Centre, Australia

Since the mandate’s inception seventeen years ago, the Special Rapporteur has helped strengthen the visibility and protection of human rights defenders, in particular those at high risk as they defend women’s rights, LGBTI rights, land and environmental rights. Mandate holders have documented violations against defenders in the context of counter terrorism, economic development, and armed conflict; they have consistently reminded states and non-state actors (including corporations) of their responsibilities to respect defenders and highlighted good practices in enabling and protecting them. In an increasingly hostile environment for human rights, the role of the Special Rapporteur in promoting and protecting human rights defenders is more critical than ever.
James Savage
Program Officer for an Enabling Environment for Human Rights Defenders - Fund for Global Human Rights

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders is not only an important mandate to bring attention to the situation of activists worldwide, it also gives legitimacy and support to those working on the ground, suffering from restricted civic space across the African continent.
Hassan Shire Sheikh
Executive Director of DefendDefenders, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project

Through consultations, in loco and academic visits, the Special Rapporteur has had direct, first-hand contact with human rights defenders around the world, strengthening our local work and bringing our voices to the international arena, strongly advocating for our right to defend human rights, free from stigmatisation and reprisals. The Special Rapporteur's academic visit to Venezuela in 2015 set the framework for a renewed commitment by Venezuelan human rights defenders and organisations.
Feliciano Reyna
Venezuelan human rights defender  - President of CIVILIS Human Rights

In today's world, defending human rights is a dangerous work. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders is fundamental to confront human rights violations with national and international mechanisms, to fight against impunity and to guarantee that victims obtain adequate reparation. Human rights defenders deserve international protection and all the support of the UN Human Rights Council.
Fabián Salvioli
Former President of the UN Human Rights Committee

The special mandate for the Human Rights Defenders plays a key contribution in promoting and protecting human rights. It creates a space where the rights of the defenders are promoted and protected. It will be difficult to realise human rights without ensuring the promotion and protection of those who promote and protect rights. The renewal of the mandate is not only important to the human rights defenders but to realisation of human rights for all.
Kenyan human rights defender 

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders since its creation in 2000 has helped to shape discusses on the roles, contributions and status of human rights defenders the world over. The Special Rapporteur has made it possible for us to recognise and appreciate the invaluable contribution of human rights defenders to the enjoyment and expression of human rights. It has also provided a veritable platform for advocacy to support the work of human rights defenders. It is therefore imperative that the mandate be renewed to support our continued enjoyment of human rights, especially by women.
Mrs Bose Ironsi
Executive Director of Women’s Rights and Health Project, Nigeria 

Las empresas pueden y deben aliarse con los defensores de los derechos humanos


Las empresas globales y los activistas de derechos humanos a nivel de base pueden parecer una pareja muy extraña. Sin embargo, conforme se intensifican los ataques contra las libertades democráticas más básicas y el Estado de derecho alrededor del mundo, quizás tengan más valores e intereses en común de los que habríamos imaginado.

Sabemos que las empresas se guían por los resultados financieros. Si no quisieran aumentar sus ganancias, simplemente no existirían. Pero también sabemos (y muchos dirigentes empresariales se están convenciendo de ello) que el éxito a largo plazo depende de más que la simple generación de ganancias y está relacionado con una variedad de factores externos, como la transparencia, la certeza y la estabilidad. Y una licencia social para operar.

La incapacidad de comprender esta licencia social, y en particular de evitar los impactos de su trabajo en los derechos humanos y responder a ellos, ha causado que muchas empresas globales se encuentren, sin desearlo, en el centro de la atención. No era necesario llegar a esa situación.

El daño a la reputación y los riesgos operativos son costosos para las empresas. Dado que los defensores de derechos humanos (como los abogados, los sindicalistas, los líderes comunitarios o los trabajadores de las ONG) utilizan la promoción pública como una herramienta clave para el cambio, las empresas suelen cometer el error de verlos como factores adicionales que generan costos.

Sin embargo, las empresas deben considerar a los defensores de derechos humanos como aliados inestimables. Ellos son los canarios en las minas de carbón, que indican cuando los fallos de gobierno se convierten en verdaderos riesgos financieros, legales y de reputación para las empresas. También son los testigos de los abusos que cometen las empresas contra las comunidades y el medio ambiente.

Debido a esto, el trabajo de los defensores a menudo hace sentir incómodos a los actores en el poder, tanto estatales como no estatales. Se les ataca con leyes y políticas para reprimir sus actividades y enfrentan intimidación y amenazas a su trabajo y a su vida.

Sin embargo, sin el trabajo de los defensores, las sociedades y las economías enteras salen perdiendo. Y eso significa que las empresas pierden también.

Consideremos el ejemplo del colapso de la fábrica de Rana Plaza el 24 de abril de 2013 en Bangladesh. Al fin de la jornada, el mayor accidente industrial en la época contemporánea provocó la muerte de 1,129 trabajadores. Las marcas multinacionales con proveedores en Bangladesh sabían desde hace mucho tiempo que el gobierno tenía poca capacidad, y menos voluntad, para hacer cambios importantes: contratar y capacitar inspectores laborales, actualizar los códigos contra incendios y remodelar los edificios para que los cumplieran, etc. También sabían que las autoridades y los socios comerciales locales habían emprendido una supresión activa de los sindicatos laborales y de los trabajadores que intentaban hacer oír su voz. Según las opiniones de muchos, de haberse escuchado estas voces, la trágica cifra de muertos no habría sido tan alta.

Para los defensores que intentan responder a estos problemas en la práctica, se trata, en un sentido muy real, de un asunto de vida o muerte. Basta con preguntarle a Laura Cáceres, quien habló en el Foro sobre las Empresas y los Derechos Humanos de la ONU de este año en honor a su madre. Berta Cáceres fue asesinada a balazos en marzo del año pasado en Honduras por su trabajo en defensa de las comunidades campesinas contra las violaciones vinculadas con la presa de Agua Zarca.

La respuesta mundial al caso de Rana Plaza puso en marcha un esfuerzo prolongado por parte de los principales socios comerciales (y sus países de origen), los EE. UU. y la UE, así como la OIT, a fin de aumentar la coordinación y adoptar un enfoque estructural para mejorar los derechos laborales en Bangladesh. El Acuerdo de Bangladesh es un acuerdo multilateral en el cual los trabajadores y los sindicatos tienen el mismo peso en la mesa de negociaciones que el gobierno y las empresas con el objetivo de mejorar la seguridad en el lugar de trabajo y la capacidad de expresión de los trabajadores. La muerte de Berta Cáceres provocó que el Estado finlandés y el fondo holandés de pensiones FMO se retiraran del proyecto. También volvió a centrar la atención de los Estados, las organizaciones de desarrollo y la ONU en el continuo acoso que experimentan los defensores en Honduras.

Estos casos muestran que el sector empresarial puede marcar una diferencia. Tiene una capacidad única para crear, mantener y defender espacios para la sociedad civil a través de tres herramientas: la influencia, el liderazgo y las alianzas.

¿Cómo funcionan estas herramientas? Pongamos como ejemplo a un gobierno que está elaborando una ley que pretende reducir el espacio de operación de las ONG. Además de que iría en contra del derecho internacional, esta ley también cerraría canales que permiten a las empresas beneficiarse del trabajo de las ONG, ya sea mediante la implementación de proyectos comunitarios o la ayuda para capacitar trabajadores. Así que, ¿cómo podrían responder las empresas?

Pueden utilizar la influencia que les otorga su acceso, sus relaciones personales y su participación en el mercado para contrarrestar los impulsos autoritarios. Por poner solo un ejemplo, cuando 30 marcas y sindicatos globales se unieron para hablar en contra de la dispersión violenta de las manifestaciones y la detención de activistas en Camboya en 2014, además de lograr que se liberara a los activistas, el problema subyacente del salario mínimo ocupó un papel protagónico en las negociaciones entre las marcas y el gobierno.

Las empresas, y en particular las empresas progresistas, también tienen que ejercer liderazgo. En 2015, Adidas publicó una declaración de política con respecto a los defensores de derechos humanos que sin duda sentó precedentes, con lo que estableció un compromiso en toda la empresa de alzar la voz en defensa de las libertades fundamentales en sus países proveedores. Cuesta mucho trabajo que una empresa asuma este papel de liderazgo, especialmente cuando sabe que las ONG estarán muy atentas para ver que estas políticas se lleven a la práctica. Pero colocar el listón en alto resulta atractivo para los consumidores y puede desencadenar una carrera para llegar a la cima.

Por último, las empresas tienen recursos. Aliarse directamente con las ONG puede ser polémico, y las empresas necesitan escuchar y atender las inquietudes sobre la cooptación y el encubrimiento. Sin embargo, el entorno mundial para los mecanismos tradicionales de financiamiento cada vez es más tóxico. De acuerdo con los expertos de la ONU y los principales financiadores, casi una centena de gobiernos han impuesto límites a las operaciones de las ONG, incluida su capacidad de aceptar financiamiento extranjero (particularmente de otras ONG). Para la supervivencia económica de la sociedad civil, buscar el apoyo de las empresas puede ser una alternativa viable; siempre y cuando sea en igualdad de condiciones y existan límites claros para mantener la independencia.

La sociedad civil necesita espacio y protección para realizar su trabajo. Ayudar a garantizar este espacio y esta protección no solo es un imperativo moral, también es una oportunidad de inversión para las empresas. El liderazgo, la influencia y la solidaridad que manifiesten las empresas que consideran el apoyo a las libertades cívicas y a los defensores de derechos humanos como parte de sus actividades empresariales básicas rendirán dividendos a largo plazo.

Photo: The aftermath of the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse in Bangladesh. 
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Sharat Chowdhury (Some rights reserved)




Webcasting sessions of the NGO Committee is an important exercise in transparency, accountability and accessibility at the UN, write the Permanent Representatives of Chile, Mexico and Uruguay to the UN in New York.

Browse our articles:






ISHR commences work to develop an international Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders


ISHR publishes first Human Rights Monitor, connecting human rights defenders on the ground with international human rights systems and developments


ISHR facilitates global civil society engagement with the Second World Conference on Human Rights, which leads to the strengthening of women’s rights, the affirmation of universal rights, the adoption of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action and the establishment of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


ISHR provides training, technical assistance and support to its 1000th human rights defender


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


UN Secretary-General appoints Hina Jilani as inaugural UN Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders, strengthening protection of human rights advocates at risk worldwide.


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