UN consensus on strengthening protection of human rights defenders

A resolution on human rights defenders put forward by Norway has been adopted by consensus in the UN General Assembly.

‘It is important that the UN member states have collectively recognised the crucial and legitimate efforts of human rights defenders across the world,’ said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt.

Norway has played a leading role in UN efforts to develop a framework that ensures the protection of human rights defenders ever since the Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted more than 20 years ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the comprehensive infection control measures adopted in response have exacerbated negative trends in many countries. Human rights and the principles of the separation of powers and the rule of law have come under increasing pressure. This has led to a deterioration in the situation for human rights defenders. Many human rights defenders are subjected to threats and violence as a result of their work.

The resolution adopted on 18 November recognises the key role human rights defenders have played during the pandemic and reaffirms that states have a responsibility to protect them. This is particularly important for those working to address human rights issues related to the environment, as is made clear in the resolution. The resolution also sets out that the right to protection applies in the digital space as well. This is crucial given that the need for protection from threats, harassment and digital surveillance has increased during the pandemic.

‘Human rights defenders play an essential role in promoting peace, democracy and sustainable development. Their efforts are vital for ensuring that human rights and principles of the rule of law are respected in the pandemic response and post-Covid recovery efforts. Human rights defenders also play a central role in upholding the core principle of the 2030 Agenda, to leave no one behind. I am therefore very pleased that the UN has now adopted this resolution,’ Ms Huitfeldt said.

Women human rights defenders are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and violence. Many are also intimidated in other ways, for example online and in social media smear campaigns. The resolution calls on states to develop and implement appropriate and effective mechanisms to protect women human rights defenders, including in the digital space.

Young people are at the forefront of many social and political movements. They are subjected to threats and discrimination as a result of their engagement and age.

‘In this resolution, UN member states recognise young people’s essential contributions to promoting and protecting human rights. The resolution calls on states to provide a safe and enabling environment for young people’s engagement ,’ Ms Huitfeldt said.


Norway is the main sponsor of a biennial resolution on human rights defenders in the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly.

This year’s resolution has a special focus on the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the situation for human rights defenders.