Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Defenders World Summit (Javier Roura Blanco, 2018)

Human Rights Defenders (HRD) are routinely the target of judicial harassment, smear campaigns, intimidation, death threats, unlawful surveillance, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, assault, torture, enforced disappearances, and even assassination.

Since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998 until 2021, an estimated 4,814 HRDs have been killed worldwide. In 2022 alone, over 401 HRDs were killed globally according to Front Line Defenders. Amnesty documented in its 2022/23 Annual Report that 49% of countries around the world arbitrarily detain human rights defenders.

Amnesty International considers a human rights defender (HRD) to be a person who, individually or in association with others, acts to defend and/or promote human rights at the local, national, regional or international levels. Amnesty International does not consider a person to be an HRD if they resort to or advocate hatred, discrimination or violence, or if they deny the universality of human rights or take action that seeks to undermine the human rights of others.

HRDs come from every walk of life. They can be journalists, lawyers, trade unionists, whistle-blowers, victims or relatives of victims of human rights violations and abuses, members of human rights organizations, women’s rights leaders, environmental activists, teachers, etc

HRDs play a key role in defending the principles of freedom, justice, and dignity, and their work contributes directly to the realization of human rights, strengthening the rule of law, supporting democracy, and fostering security and well-being in countries around the world and here in the United States as well. 

HRDs who are imprisoned solely for their peaceful human rights work are also considered Prisoners of Conscience. A prisoner of conscience is any person who is imprisoned or otherwise physically restricted (like house arrest), solely because of who they are or their political, religious or other conscientiously held beliefs, and who has not used violence or advocated violence or hatred in the circumstances leading to their imprisonment. Amnesty International calls for all prisoners of conscience to be immediately and unconditionally released.

Amnesty further calls on all governments to immediately investigate and promptly prosecute all those found responsible for attacking and killing HRDs, including the intellectual authors behind such crimes. Amnesty also calls for the implementation of concrete measures to protect HRDs including the repeal of any legislation that criminalizes or restricts the work of HRDs.

By the numbers
Number of human rights defenders killed worldwide in 2022.

By the numbers
Number of countries that accounted for over 80% of the global total of killings (Colombia 186, Ukraine 50, Mexico 45, Brazil 26, and Honduras 17).

By the numbers
Of human rights defender killed globally in 2022 worked on defending Land, Environment, and Indigenous People’s Rights.


This podcast series explores the last 25 years of defending human rights. Amnesty International’s Tatyana Movshevich meets courageous activists from Chile, the U.S., Nepal, Ireland and Ghana who are fighting for the rights of the marginalized and risking their lives because of it. She discovers the story behind the watershed UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and explores how the human rights movement is changing.

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On the Side of Humanity podcast
(Amnesty International)
person holding Free rights defenders sign
(Amnesty International)

Human Rights Defenders – A Short Guide

The course equips and enables you to talk to your family and friends about human rights defenders and the issues faced by them.

row of human rights defenders in protest
(Amnesty International)

Human Rights Defenders – Long Course

Learn about human rights defenders, their work and the threats they face. Discover how to become one and use your skills to speak out against injustice.