“Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”                            

- UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders


On the 9th December 1998, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN adopted its Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Declaration is a landmark in human rights history, recognising that our freedoms depend on those who struggle for their protection. It reminds us that human rights defenders may be lawyers, journalists, volunteers, activists or simply concerned citizens. The responsibility to protect human rights lies with all of us; every person can and should be a Human Rights Defender.

Alongside reiteration of fundamental rights such as the freedom of assembly and association, the Declaration also articulates specific rights, such as the right to criticise government bodies and to make proposals for their improvement. It is through such activities that defenders build just and democratic societies.

The Declaration also outlines the duties of States in protecting human rights and respecting the work of defenders. Its provisions form the basis of key international protection mechanisms, such as the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.

Although the Declaration marked a milestone in legitimating the work of human rights defenders, twenty years on, defenders in many parts of the world continue to live in fear. Attacks and persecution remain common. In some regions, they are increasing. The Declaration provides a framework for lives to be saved, freedoms promoted and democracies strengthened. But its commitments need to be honoured.

For December, our Shoulder to Shoulder campaign focuses on defenders' experiences with the Declaration: how its tenets are reflected in their own work, how it has benefited them, and how it can be improved. Only by listening to these voices can we build systems of defender protection that will be effective for the next twenty years and beyond.

Click on the images below to read their voices:

If you share PBI's vision of a world where individuals and communities are free to protect their rights and lands without fear of reprisals and violence, you can help by donating to our Shoulder to Shoulder campaign.