Defending the human rights defenders - 25 years on

Protestor for pro-choice and police block
Photo: © Rafal Milach / The Archive of Public Protests / Magnum Photos

We invite you to a breakfast meetup - on the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, how can we support, promote and protect those who defend human rights today and in the future?

Time: 16 May 2023 06:00 - 08:00 CEST
Place: Norwegian Nobel Institute

With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it has become even more clear to everyone what the consequences of authoritarian leadership can be. We see similar authoritarian tendencies all over the world. There is increased pressure on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of association globally – rights that are fundamental to human rights work. Digital surveillance, threats, smear campaigns, imprisonments and lawsuits challenge the work, security and well-being of human rights defenders. It is in this context that human rights defenders operate and somehow manage to keep up the hope for a better future where human rights are respected and protected. How do they find the strength to keep going on, even when colleagues are killed, or their own communities are attacked? How can we support them on an international, national and local level from Norway? These are some of the questions that will be discussed at this event.

In 2023, 75 years have passed since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and 25 years have passed since the adoption of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The anniversary provides an opportunity to highlight both the important work done by human rights defenders across the world and the measures needed to support them on an international, national and local level going forward.

On an international level, the Norwegian government has given priority to supporting human rights defenders in the UN for decades. 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 Mary Lawlor from Ireland.

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 according to the government’s own words “difficult terrain”, as the UN’s member states have divergent views on the role of human rights defenders in society. Nevertheless, strong resolutions have been adopted, generally by consensus, in both the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council in recent years.

On a local level, In 2023, Oslo will become a “Breathing Space City for human rights defenders”. The project is an initiative carried out in cooperation between several Norwegian human rights organisations and will have its secretariat with the Norwegian Human Rights Fund. The city council of Oslo is committed to the project, following a commitment in the political platform of the current city council to explore possibilities of Oslo “continuing to be a city of refuge for persecuted writers and investigating the possibility of creating a similar scheme for human rights defenders”.

Oslo, as a Breathing Space City (Pusteromsby), will offer a space for human rights defenders who need a break, solidarity and new motivation. During the pilot project period of two years, Oslo will be the host city for a total of eight human rights defenders from around the world.