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Supporting human rights defenders

Graphic: Sylhet / Bangladesh - closeup portrait of a group of women wearing traditional clothes looking at th

NHRI staff across the APF network have participated in an online course to strengthen their skills in protecting and promoting human rights defenders.

International Service for Human Rights LogoInternational Service for Human Rights
Asia Pacific Forum LogoAsia Pacific Forum

Staff from 17 APF member institutions have participated in an online course to strengthen their skills in protecting and promoting human rights defenders (HRDs). 

Held over four weeks from 8 November to 5 December 2021, the course was facilitated by the APF in collaboration with the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR).

HRDs are individuals, groups, or organisations working individually or collectively to promote and protect human rights using peaceful means. They are essential actors in the human rights space, raising awareness of human rights, investigating rights abuses, seeking access to justice, and advocating for the implementation of international human rights treaties. 

NHRIs occupy a unique position as protectors and supporters of HRDs and can often be considered as HRDs themselves. NHRI staff place themselves at risk of violence and reprisals every day, some paying the ultimate price for their commitment and dedication to human rights.

The online course was developed to support NHRIs as part of the APF’s Regional Action Plan on Human Rights Defenders (RAP). The RAP contains a range of actions that the APF and member NHRIs will implement at a regional and national level over a four-year period to recognise the inherent dignity of defenders and strengthen respect for their rights.

The course content was divided into two parts:

  • Part One: Understanding the role NHRIs occupy as protectors, monitors and supporters of HRDs  
  • Part Two: Implementing NHRIs’ support and protection mandates for HRDs in the Asia-Pacific 

Thirty-four participants registered to participate, from the NHRIs of Bahrain, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Nepal, Palestine, Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor Leste.

As part of the course, an online community of practice was set up to allow participants to network with each another and collaborate on joint activities beyond the life of the course. 

NHRIs were also invited to take part in a small grants programme to enable them to develop case studies on their work on HRDs to date. The NHRIs of Nepal and Jordan were the successful recipients of the grant, submitting documentary videos on how they have supported HRDs in their countries:

This case study submitted by the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal examines the situation of women human rights defenders in Nepal, who face entrenched discrimination and barriers to their work.

In Jordan, the National Center for Human Rights (NCHR) has been actively engaging with civil society to support the rights of human rights defenders.

This case study features interviews with representatives from civil society organisations, who share their experience working with the NCHR to protect the rights of HRDs across the country. 

The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal showcases its programme of work supporting HRDs, including partnering and collaborating with civil society organisations on the annual Magna Meet event, a national campaign to mark International Human Rights Day. 

Most participants reported that the relevance and usefulness of the course was either high or very high. 

“The course [included] reflections, opinions and case studies, making the activities more interactive and involved. The live sessions were a great experience to connect with the NHRI members across the region, getting to hear the challenges, initiatives and also interactions,” said one participant. 

Another participant said: “While studying this course, I have noticed that the scope of my knowledge has widened. Also, the experience and best practices sharing of various NHRIs was excellent.”

The APF will continue to support NHRIs throughout the life of the Regional Action Plan, through a range of initiatives and capacity development activities.

These activities are part of the APF's contribution to the NHRI.EU Project Phase II, funded by the European Union. The project aims to strengthen the capacities of NHRIs, individually and collectively, in line with the Paris Principles to increase their impact and effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights, with a specific focus on human rights defenders and the sustainable development goals.  

Date: 31 January 2022

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Funded by the European Union.

Image credits

  1. Sylhet / Bangladesh - closeup portrait of a group of women wearing traditional clothes looking at th - The Road Provides on Shutterstock
  2. EU Logo - European Union