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UN expert urges States to recognise successes of human rights defenders

15 March 2023

GENEVA (15 March 2023) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, today urged States to publicly recognise the great successes achieved by human rights defenders all over the world.

“All over the world the positive achievements of human rights defenders too often go unrecognised. Twenty-five years after States agreed on a Declaration to promote and protect the work of human rights defenders, their successes are ignored,” Lawlor said in a report presented to the 52nd Session of the Human Rights Council.

The report includes details of successes achieved by human rights defenders in a wide range of contexts, including changing laws, getting people released from prison, providing humanitarian aid, and exposing corruption. The report shows that for some human rights defenders just continuing their work under immense pressure is in itself an achievement.

“Human rights defenders are often victims of their own success, targeted because they confront powerful vested interests, because they expose corruption, because they refuse to accept injustice, because they challenge criminal gangs, because they talk about things governments want to hide, because they tell the truth, and because they make good things happen,” she said.

“States can and should do more to protect defenders. They can start by publicly celebrating the work of defenders in their own country, and in other countries. Twenty-five years on from the declaration, defenders are right to expect more support and protection than they currently receive.”

The report notes that successes achieved by HRDs rarely happen overnight but are often the result of long struggles requiring perseverance and the help of networks and other allies in a collective effort.

“Ignoring or underplaying the vital contribution of human rights defenders increases the risks to them and their work,” said Lawlor. “This anniversary year of the Declaration should be one of celebration and recognition of the successes of defenders, one of not just recommitting to help them, but of showing in practical terms what that help should be,” she said.

The report includes practical recommendations for States, based on consultations with human rights defenders, NGOs, academic experts and government officials, on how to better support the work of defenders and promote their achievements.


Ms. Mary Lawlor (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Orsolya Toth ([email protected]  /+41 22 917 9913) or Ms. Sophie Helle ([email protected]/ +41 22 917 5669)

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

 Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts

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