Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Best Practices and Lessons Learnt

Protection International

In recent years several governments have developed specific national mechanisms to protect defenders, all of them in countries seriously lacking in protection for human rights defenders. These mechanisms (laws, action policies, offices) have been established under pressure from (and with the cooperation of) national and international human rights organisations, with essential legal support from the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
At Protection International, this development has led us to study these national initiatives: what are they and what do they consist of? How did they come about, how do they work and what is their impact on the protection of defenders? We set up a study group (made up of protection lawyers and experts) and carried out a large number of interviews with men and women defenders as well as government officials in 16 countries on three continents.

We also embarked on a process of compiling and analysing legal enforcement instruments at the national level (while examining existing universal and regional ones). During the study we only found national non-governmental initiatives of this type in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru (Central and South America), in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Africa) and Nepal (Asia). While there may be several organizations working on protection-related matters and making important contributions, only Guatemala (UDEFUGUA Programme), Uganda (EHAHRDP) have three defender units specifically set up by civil society. They are pioneers in the field and together with the Protection Desks established by PI and supporting organizations (such as Peace Brigades International), are among those civil society groups whose sole mission is the protection of defenders on the ground.


Given the vast and complex nature of the results of the survey we decided to compile them in two parts under the general title, “Protection of human rights defenders: best practices and lessons learnt”. Part I is subtitled, “Legislation, national policies and defenders’ units”, and in it we analyse the legislative and structural aspects of these protection initiatives. Part II, “Protection Programmes for Defenders”, analyses the practical aspects of protection programmes: the measures they include, how they are structured, and their results. Part II focuses on the three countries whose protection programmes were examined, namely Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia.

Find the document in its original source here (Protection of human rights defenders: best practices and lessons learnt is also available in Spanish and French).