To mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, PBI is championing the nomination of the global community of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. The nomination was made by Ann Clwyd MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group, at the request of PBI UK.

Every day, individuals, groups and communities risk their lives to achieve freedom, justice and peace in the world. Human Rights Defenders may be community leaders, lawyers, journalists, environmental activists, victims of abuse, trade unionists, teachers, students and more. They are the people who speak out against injustice, discrimination and the abuses of power. They hold governments to account, protect fragile environments, and create innovative proposals for change. Our freedoms depend on their commitment and sacrifice.

Every day, HRDs across the globe are attacked, imprisoned and killed. Critically, those who suffer most are those activists working at grassroots and community levels, in isolated regions and from marginalised populations, who lack the networks and the resources to command international attention. With this nomination, we hope to shine a light on these hidden heroes, and spark new conversations about how to ensure their protection.

This year provides a unique moment for the Nobel Committee to send a powerful message to the international community. 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the UN’s Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights. Adopted on the 9th December 1998, the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is a landmark in human rights history. It reminds us that human rights are not only granted by law, but upheld by those who struggle for their protection. The responsibility to protect human rights lies with all of us; every person can and should be a Human Rights Defender.

The Declaration comprises an important series of principles that recognise the role and enshrine the rights of those who defend and promote human rights. Yet despite this protective framework, HRDs across the world continue to live in fear. Over 3500 have been killed since 1998, and these killings represent only the most prominent symptom of a growing trend of repression against their work.

A 2017 policy brief by the Global Governance Institute compiles alarming indicators regarding the increasingly dangerous environment faced by Human Rights Defenders. Among them: Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World” index charts a continuous decline in political rights and civil liberties over the last decade. The Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index also reveals steady deterioration. The International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law documents 64 new restrictive laws adopted by governments around the world with the effect of limiting the freedoms of civil society organisations.

PBI has been standing shoulder to shoulder with at-risk Human Rights Defenders for over 35 years, in some of the most dangerous countries in the world. With this nomination, we seek to bring to the public eye the repression of activists that we have observed in the field. We hope to trigger new debates, and procure new policy commitments from States around the world. Securing the prize would challenge the growing discourse that dismisses and delegitimises non-violent activists as terrorists, anti-patriots, or threats to security and development. Ultimately, it would help to change the narrative regarding Human Rights Defenders, recognising them not as trouble-makers, but as peace-builders.

The award would mark a world first; never before has a community won the prize. By nominating the community, rather than individuals or organisations within it, we seek to highlight that community itself is integral to the defence of human rights. It is the idea of community that motivates people to take enormous risks defending the rights of others and advancing peace. In an age that tends to value and reward individuals in societies, bestowing such a prestigious award upon a community would send a powerful message that peace is founded on solidarity.

We believe the anniversary of the 1998 UN Declaration is a landmark in our journey towards a better world. It should be a time to celebrate those who dedicate their lives to the defence of human rights. To reflect and to learn from our victories and failures. And to demonstrate international commitment to protecting the democratic mechanisms that are fundamental to non-violent conflict resolution. The Nobel Peace Prize will thrust Human Rights Defenders into the public focus, using the greatest stage available for humanitarian achievements.

Human rights are not only granted by law, but upheld by those who struggle for their protection.