“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 the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognised Human Rights. Twenty years on, PBI UK is using this anniversary year to celebrate and reflect on the significance of the Declaration, the crucial role Human Rights Defenders play in democratic society, and the challenges ahead to ensure that Defenders are able to live and work free from fear.

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.

Throughout 2018, PBI UK will be organising activities around the Declaration. Through public events, roundtables and discussions with Human Rights Defenders, we hope to use this year to refocus attention on the intentions of the Declaration and spark new conversations about how to make its commitments a reality.

We hope you will join us.