Developing a model national law to protect human rights defenders – major project by the ISHR

November 21, 2013

The legal recognition and protection of human rights defenders is crucial to ensuring that they can work in a safe, supportive environment and be free from attacks, reprisals and unreasonable legal restrictions. Despite this, governments in all regions are increasingly enacting laws which restrict and even criminalise the work of human rights defenders and NGOs. In response the Geneva-based  International Service for Human Rights [ISHR] in partnership with regional, sub-regional and national human rights defender groups from around the world announces its plan to develop a model national law on human rights defenders to be enacted locally.ISHR-logo-colour-high The model law will assist States to develop laws, policies and institutions at the national level to support the work of human rights defenders and to protect them from reprisals and attacks. ISHR has already mobilised significant support for this ambitious project from human rights defenders working at national regional and international levels, with the concept being strongly endorsed by human rights defenders attending the African Commission in October 2013, defenders who work on issues of corporate accountability at the November Peoples’ Forum on Business and Human Rights in Bangkok, and by a meeting of international law experts in Vienna earlier in the year. The project has also harnessed support from progressive States, with Ireland and Liechtenstein pledging financial support. The UN Human Rights Council itself has adopted a landmark resolution in March 2013 calling on States to amend national laws which target or criminalise human rights defenders, including laws which restrict NGO access to foreign sources of funding, which criminalise ‘homosexual propaganda’, or which limit freedom of expression, assembly or association on discriminatory grounds. The Council went further again in September 2013 when it adopted a resolution calling on States to enact specific laws and policies to protect human rights defenders from reprisals.

The model law project is proceeding through a number of key stages over three years (2014-2016):

  • Comparative research across more than 50 States on the existence of, and best practice in relation to, laws, policies and institutions which recognise, protect and support the work of human rights defenders and NGOs. The research will also identify and document laws and policies which unduly restrict, hamper or interfere with human rights defenders’ work. This legal research, which is being undertaken on a pro bono basis by leading international law firms, is already under way.
  • Regional consultations organised by ISHR, in partnership with regional and sub-regional NGOs, to obtain input from national human rights defenders on the scope and content of a model law, together with identification of the types of laws and policies that restrict or hamper their work. These consultations are planned for 2014.
  • Drafting of a model law by ISHR and pro bono legal experts based on the comparative research and regional consultations, and development of a comprehensive audit of the types of laws and policies requiring review or amendment to ensure that defenders are not unduly hampered or restricted in their work. This stage is planned for 2015.
  • Refinement and ‘adoption’ of the model law by a meeting of international human rights experts. This stage is planned for 2015.
  • Advocacy efforts at the international level for the UN Human Rights Council to endorse the model law and at the regional level for relevant human rights bodies (such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights) to do likewise. This stage is planned for 2016.
  • Advocacy efforts at the national level in two or three strategically selected States with a view to enacting the model law in legislation or implementing it in policy. This stage is planned for 2016.

For further information about this project, please contact:

– See more at:


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