In May 2020 we announced the launch of our Portraits of Resilience, Hope and Solidarity webinar series. We wanted to shine a light on the heroic efforts of brave individuals to expose human rights violations and support vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 health crisis.

These online sessions were an opportunity to hear the stories of human rights defenders and learn about the innovative strategies they are developing to keep their communities alive. Together we  explored the impact of COVID-19 on defenders and the wellbeing of the marginalised communities they support, as government measures encroach on basic rights and civil liberties. They are an essential pillar of their communities; key workers rooted in their neighbourhoods, able to reach those outside the system. They take incredible risks because they believe in a better world, where everyone’s rights are respected and upheld.

Resilience, hope and solidarity are essential for human rights defenders and for all of us struggling through this crisis. We still have so much to learn from human rights defenders who have demonstrated these qualities for so many years.

“Community organising against oppression is a clear manifestation of humanity’s potential to change, and our own abilities to influence change as single individuals.”

Rahma with UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions Agnes Callamard, February 2020 (photo by Manu Valcarce)

Human Rights Defender ‘Mama’ Rahma Wako with UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Dr. Agnes Callamard

The series aimed to bring our global network together, share expertise, and show solidarity for those campaigning for justice and upholding universal rights. Defenders from across the world were invited to speak about the ways community solidarity has saved lives and how present challenges can be overcome with international support.

The past few months have been a challenging time for them. We continue to fear for vulnerable communities living without access to water, healthcare, sanitation and other necessities. Defenders have redirected their time and energy towards providing for their neighbours at this time of need.

In this context, we are acting urgently to find innovative solutions that will keep networks of at-risk human rights defenders alive, globally connected and technologically equipped. PBI UK supports over 1,300 defenders and grassroots movements, which benefit around one million marginalised individuals around the world.

The webinars approached the challenges presented by the outbreak and consequences of COVID-19 from the perspective of human rights defenders on the ground. Discussions addressed  responses of governments in the countries we work in to assess their legal basis, level of proportionality and accountability. Socioeconomic issues such as the provision of food, water, and healthcare as well as the impact of Western self-isolation measures on informal workers were addressed. Human rights defenders also discussed the impact of corruption on healthcare provision and the fragility of judicial systems in the context of court suspension. Throughout the series we explored the broader question of the rule of law in lockdown, and the future of human rights norms around the world.

The sessions were an opportunity for everyone to meet human rights defenders in our network and learn more about the situation on the ground, the impact of COVID-19 on their work, and what they are doing to address the challenges posed to communities. It will be an opportunity to connect with one another and find strength in the resilience of human rights defenders.

Follow the links below to find out more about each webinar and watch full recordings of the sessions.




All photos by Manu Valcarce