08 Jul 2021

We are and we stand for Human Right Defenders: Stories from the NHRI Academy 2021

Over the course of two weeks, representatives from 20 selected European National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) came together for engaging sessions and learnt to work with human rights defenders. Inspiring discussions brought innovative ideas for participants to build their institutional and individual resilience and to better protect fellow human rights defenders.

‘Human rights defenders are defined by what they do and by addressing any human right (or rights) on behalf of individuals or groups’: this was a key phrase of the NHRI Academy this year. On the one hand, it means that there is no clear-cut definition of who is a human rights defender; on the other hand, it recognises that a very broad range of human rights actors, including NHRIs, are indeed human rights defenders.

NHRIs should aspire to protect human rights defenders and participants of the Academy demonstrated how they do so. For instance, the Greek NHRI monitors human rights violations at their borders and supports organisations protecting the rights of migrants. Within their structures, the NHRI created a specific body comprised of civil society organisations – ‘a racist violence recording network’. The network records incidents of hate crime and hate speech. The Georgian NHRI explained how it devised specific internal guidelines to monitor the situation of human rights defenders, and often speaks publicly on behalf of the defenders.

Participants agreed that in a climate of increasing disrespect towards the rule of law, democracy and human rights, NHRIs, as human rights defenders, often come under pressure because of their work. They face criticism or threats including defamation or personal attacks, as well as challenges of non-cooperation, budgetary or resource cuts. In order to effectively respond to these situations, participants recommended: establishing coalitions with fellow human rights defenders; reporting to UN treaty bodies; requesting help from ENNHRI, GANHRI, ODIHR, OHCHR, UNDP, the Council of Europe and the EU; issuing public statements; raising issues with state authorities; or engaging with the media and the general public.

All the participants were mid-senior level staff from European NHRIs. They are crucial to ensure resilience of each of their NHRIs and ENNHRI as a whole. At the Academy, they were provided with sessions to bolster their own resilience, shield their well-being and relieve stress in order to uphold their institutional resilience and back their leaders when in need. NHRI leaders, as well as other human rights defenders and individuals, need resilient NHRI staff to react to human rights violations and strive for better protection and promotion of human rights in Europe.

» Learn more about the NHRI Academy
» Learn more about ENNHRI’s work on Human Rights Defenders
» Learn more about ENNHRI’s policy on NHRIs under threat
» Explore the online course on how to frame migration from a human rights perspective