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Human Rights Defence

The situation of human rights is deteriorating on a global scale. From the increasingly frequent subversion of the rule of law by authoritarian regimes, shrinking civic space and fundamental freedoms, to a sharp rise in nationalist and xenophobic rhetoric and practice in democracies, the universal human rights values and principles are coming under intensifying threat and attack. What was once perceived as a given – a shared culture of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms – is more and more showing itself to be a precarious ideal that must be ardently fought for and consistently defended.

Despite this sobering context, human rights organisations fiercely push back against repression. To support this push back, our ambition is that by 2026 human rights defenders, civil society activists and their organisations become more resilient catalysts of change within their countries; their support base is increased; and their activities have greater impact and outreach, allowing them to effectively contribute to the process of building just and rights-respecting societies in wider Europe.

How we work

In order to achieve this ultimate goal, we will focus on the following intervention strategies:

  • Strengthening the capacity of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and their organisations: through peer-to-peer coaching, training, facilitating exchange of best practices with and between HRDs and their organisations, we strengthen their profiles with regard to communication and advocacy campaigns at national and international levels. Support also includes providing targeted and emergency support.
  • Amplifying voices of HRDs and increasing the impact of their activities through networking and bridge building for joint advocacy: we rely on our convening power and mobilise actors through our multiple networks. Together we strengthen the voice of civil society to call upon governments and international organisations such as the OSCE, CoE and EU, to uphold, support and promote fundamental rights, to implement judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, and to strengthen civic space.
  • Solidarity with HRDs and their organisations by campaigning for more awareness on human rights and the work of HRDs: we amplify the voices of human rights defenders by drawing attention to their work and their fight; by issuing calls to action towards a variety of stakeholders and the public, to support HRDs and their activities. We critically evaluate how we measure reach and engagements, in light of digital rights and the need for big tech to be held to account under a values-based, human rights narrative.
  • Integrating an intersectional approach: we will provide targeted support for and solidarity with those groups and people whose rights are first and most under pressure because of their backgrounds and historic position in society. Building on our history of engagement, we especially look for alliances with and support to LGBTQI+ and women’s rights and gender equality organisations that are active in the field of human rights.
  • Awareness raising and advocacy towards Dutch public and political actors on the issues focused on civic space and pushing for development and implementation of effective strategy aimed at protection of civic space within the Netherlands and the European Union: we will monitor and critically assess civic space developments in the Netherlands and use these data in building the counter narrative against populist and anti-democratic movements in the Netherlands and in our advocacy towards relevant actors.


Working together

We believe no one can achieve things alone. That is why we see the power of connecting different actors and collaboration as we work towards building and securing justice across Europe. If you are interested in collaborating with us in improving access to justice, contact the Programme staff below:

For any questions relating to our projects or the work of the Human Rights Defence team, please email us.