Human rights defenders

Protection of human rights defenders is a key priority in Norway’s human rights efforts. Our overall objective is for human rights defenders to be able to carry out their work of promoting and defending human rights in all parts of the world without restrictions or threats to themselves or their families.

The term ‘human rights defenders’ refers to individuals or groups that work to improve the protection and implementation of human rights without the use of violence or force. They defend the rights of other people, and are often advocates for vulnerable and marginalised groups or individuals who are not able to defend themselves. In many cases they represent local forces that are seeking to bring about change in their community.

The work of human rights defenders is invaluable for the realisation of human rights and crucial for the development of democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders promote civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights. The work they do to highlight and document violations of a state’s obligation to promote and respect human rights is extremely important.

Fighting for human rights can be difficult and dangerous, particularly for those who raise human rights issues in their own country. The authorities in many countries view the work of human rights defenders as a threat to established power structures. The UN and Norway have expressed grave concern in various contexts about the increasing extent to which human rights defenders are threatened, stigmatised, intimidated, subject to reprisals and violence, or even killed, and about the failure to prosecute those responsible. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights defenders has particularly drawn attention to threats against human rights defenders who promote women’s rights and those who address human rights questions related to land rights and the exploitation of natural resources.

Protection of human rights defenders has long been a key priority for Norway. The Norwegian authorities support human rights defenders and their work through direct contact, economic support, and dialogue with the relevant national authorities, as well as through the work of organisations such as the UN, the Council of Europe and the OSCE. Norway aims to play a leading role and to cooperate with partners in various regions to combat the increased pressure on human rights defenders and to support their work.

Norway’s efforts in the UN
For many years, Norway has given priority to supporting human rights defenders in the UN. Norway chaired the working group that drew up the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. Following an initiative taken by Norway, the UN established the Special Rapporteur on the situation for human rights defenders. This post is currently held by Michael Forst from France.

Norway leads the negotiations in the UN on protection of human rights defenders. Both in the Human Rights Council and in the General Assembly, this is difficult terrain with divergent views on the role of human rights defenders in society. Nevertheless, over the last year clear resolutions have been adopted by consensus in both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. These include the first ever resolution on women human rights defenders.

Norway’s priorities:

  • maintain a leading role in UN negotiations on protection of human rights defenders, and seek to intensify efforts to implement the resolutions adopted by the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council;
  • increase support for regional initiatives and other schemes for protecting human rights defenders, not least women human rights defenders;
  • engage in close dialogue with organisations working to protect human rights defenders on how best to deal with the increased pressure they are experiencing, and host an international conference on human rights defenders in 2015.  

Guidelines for the Foreign Service:

Norway’s efforts to support human rights defenders (English version)

External links: