Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (A/RES/53/144, 1998)
The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, as it is more commonly known, was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly after almost 20 years of contentious negotiations. It acknowledges the vital role that human rights defenders play in achieving the full and effective enjoyment of human rights by all and in advancing the realization of fundamental freedoms everywhere. It also places an obligation on States to protect human rights defenders from threats, attacks, and reprisals by both government authorities and non-state actors, and to create an enabling environment by passing laws that implement the provisions of the Declaration.
A commentary issued in 2011 confirms that the Declaration is firmly rooted in international human rights law. It presents numerous examples of activities of human rights defenders and the many forms of reprisals they face, including journalists investigating government corruption, activists advocating for the rights of LGBTI persons, trade unionists striking for decent working conditions, or indigenous communities resisting business activities that threaten their land and resources.
Since 2000, a Special Rapporteur has been monitoring the situation of human rights defenders. A key role of the Special Rapporteur is to advocate for human rights defenders at risk by sending urgent appeals and letters of allegations to States. In a recent report (A/HRC/34/52) the Special Rapporteur recognized human rights defenders as the “heroes of our time”.