Case study

Security and protection of human rights defenders at risk

Through protection initiatives and efforts to enhance civic and political space, research by the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) is shaping the way states, civil society actors, donors and human rights defenders understand and respond to risks to human rights movements.

Graphic showing fists and peace signs

The issue

Human rights defenders risk their lives fighting injustice. Yet, in many parts of the world they still face imprisonment without charges, torture and death threats.

The UN has described attacks on human rights defenders and the shrinking civic space across the world as "an epic struggle… that could shape the course of our world for generations to come."

The research

Funded by the Open Society Foundations (OSF) as a "global thought leader" on these issues, the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) is shaping the research agenda by supporting the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.

The project works collaboratively with non-governmental organisations and social movements. Focussing particularly on the experiences of human rights defenders, CAHR explores topics such as the types of risks faced, factors that may make the defenders feel secure, security management practices and enhancing civic space. 

The outcome

CAHR acts as a "norm entrepreneur", shaping good practice on security, protection and prevention. The impacts range from devising seven principles of good practice in temporary relocation to enhancing individual and organisational protection and effectiveness at grassroots level. 

Key areas in which CAHR is exercising its influence are: global policy-making concerning human rights defenders at risk; the impact of protection work on security and effectiveness within countries; temporary relocation initiatives, and practices to strengthen the wellbeing of defenders.

CAHR is doing vital work to help develop the research environment. It is crucial that we provide an evidence base and a space for reflection for those who are making major policy decisions. I am confident that CAHR will continue to play an internationally important role.

Michel Forst
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders

Additional information

Featured researcher

Alice Nah

Dr Nah is a leading authority on strategies for managing human rights defender risk and security, and on activist wellbeing.

Featured researcher

Paul Gready

Professor Gready is leading research on development organisations and universities seeking to enhance civic space.