Who are Human Rights Defenders?

Human rights defenders (HRD) are individuals, groups, or a community of people acting peacefully to promote and defend human rights and the rights of others. They are identified by what they do, through the description of their actions and the context in which they work and, particular to Woman Human Rights Defenders, because of who they are.

Human rights defenders play a vital role to monitor and challenge human rights abuse and violations. They address various human rights concerns ranging from the promotion and protection of civil and political rights (such as the right to be free from torture or the right to a fair trial) to realization of economic, social and cultural rights (such as the right to highest attainable standard of health or the right to education) as well as rights of indigenous people or rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, etc.

In this video, FORUM-ASIA highlights the profile of HRDs in Asia and the challenges they face defending human rights, paying homage to their courage and stressing the need for greater protection.

By standing up for the rights of others against powerful interests, human rights defenders and their families are often exposed to a wide range of risks and threats, with women human rights defenders facing specific risks. Defenders are subjected to death threats and torture; persecuted through the use of the judicial system; silenced by restrictive laws; disappear or are murdered. This video is a tribute to all HRDs - their commitment and dedication to promoting and protecting not only their rights but those of others, often at their own risks and at the cost of their own lives. Below you can read stories of defenders who have been struggling to promote and protect human rights. >

Ruki Fernando lives in Sri Lanka, where he works on enforced disappearances particularly in the war affected North and East of Sri Lanka.

The Khon Rak Ban Koed group from Thailand has been monitoring and inspecting the impact of the Phuthapfa gold mining site on the community’s environment, health and livelihood. The villagers oppose the adverse impact of the mining operation and the expansion of the mine’s operational area.

Irom Sharmila Chanu is from India and she is a poet and civil & political activist. She has been involved in campaigns against the repressive law called the Armed Forces (Special Power) Act, 1958 (AFSPA).

Ruki, the Khon Rak Ban Koed group, Sharmila and others are just a few of the thousands of human rights defenders who act in many different ways and in different capacities to protect and promote human rights.

Definition of human rights defenders, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights: _

“[…] human rights defenders can be_ **any person or group of persons working to promote human rights, **ranging from intergovernmental organizations based in the world’s largest cities to individuals working within their local communities. Defenders can be of any gender, of varying ages, from any part of the world and from all sorts of professional or other backgrounds_. In particular, it is important to note that human rights defenders are not only found within NGOs and intergovernmental organizations but might also, in some instances, be government officials, civil servants or members of the private sector.”

_ “[…] common to most defenders are a commitment to helping others, a commitment to international human rights standards, a belief in equality and in non-discrimination, determination and, in many instances, tremendous courage.” For more cases of human rights defenders, please click here.