Protection International (PI) strives to empower human rights defenders (HRDs) in ensuring their own security, rather than fostering a reliance on external actors and emergency interventions. PI has evolved and grown significantly over the years, starting from just a few inspired activists with a vision, to now a global organisation of nearly 100 staff.

PI was formally established in 2007 by former volunteers of the NGO Peace Brigades International who decided to form a new organisation that focused on the preventive and collective approaches to HRDs’ protection.

Working in partnership with local civil society groups, we have supported individuals, organisations, networks and communities facing threats, judicial harassment, stigmatisation or other forms of repression in order to best mitigate risks. PI’s participatory model of intervention is continually evolving in accordance with the changing socio-political contexts in which human rights defenders are situated.  We started with ‘Protection Desks’ in countries that needed particular support, and then we expanded into a larger collection of offices around the globe which reported to a centralised headquarters in Brussels. Now, we are going through a decentralisation process to create regional hubs that are able to make context-oriented strategic decisions for their teams.

Overall, within the last 15 years, PI contributed to the implementation of tools and strategies for the protection of HRDs, by:

  • piloting new methodologies, including by drafting the first manual on the protection of HRDs;
  • supporting defenders at risk in developing their own security and protection strategies from and for their territories;
  • exploring innovative approaches for the self-protection of organisations and grassroots communities;
  • monitoring and advocating for public policies initiatives for the protection of HRDs worldwide; and
  • contributing to the recognition of human rights defenders as actors of positive social change.


Protection experts, who eventually became the founders of PI, organise the first European Parliament hearing on the newly adopted UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.


The future founders of PI participate in the drafting committee of the Deng Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (today the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement).


PI organizes international conferences on the protection of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP), in the presence of IDP community leaders from Chechnya, Sudan, Colombia and Indonesia.

As a result of the previous year’s advocacy efforts, the Belgian Chamber adopts the first national parliament resolution for Human Rights Defenders, a second resolution in the Belgian Senate in 2005 and a third resolution in the Belgian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission in 2011.


Peace Brigades International Europe and Frontline Defenders publish their manual on the protection of HRDs, which was researched and written by PI founding members Enrique Eguren and Marie Caraj.

As a result of the previous year’s advocacy efforts, the Belgian Chamber adopts the first national parliament resolution for Human Rights Defenders, a second resolution in the Belgian Senate in 2005 and a third resolution in the Belgian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Commission in 2011.


The future founders of PI contribute to the development of the European Union Guidelines for the Protection of HRDs and set up steering committees and consultations with HRDs for in-country implementation of European Union human rights strategies.

As a result of previous advocacy efforts, a motion in the German Bundestag is passed in 2004 that recognises the importance of protecting human rights defenders.


The future founders of PI produce their first documentary on situation on HRDs (in Nepal).

The future founders of PI launch as a web platform to provide information about 50 human rights defenders organisations worldwide.


The first Protection Desk (an office focused on preventative protection of HRDs in the country) opens in Nepal (which was closed in 2011).


Protection International is formally registered as an international non-profit association by Pascale Boosten, Marie Caraj, Enrique Eguren and Christoph Klotz.

PI officially joins the Human Rights and Democracy Network- HRDN in Brussels.


A PI Protection Desks open in Uganda, in partnership with the East and Horn HRDs Project, and in Guatemala, in partnership with UDEFEGUA.


PI publishes its New Manual on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which is based on research by Enrique Eguren and Marie Caraj, and contributions by defenders from all over the world.

PI, jointly with 20 national and international organizations, launches the National and International Campaign for the Right to Defend Human Rights.

PI publishes its first trial observation report on the Maheshe case in DRC.


PI’s documentary on the situation of defenders in Turkey “Living Like a Tree” is selected at the Labour Film Festival of Istanbul and screened in over ten cities in the country.

PI publishes the action-oriented research publication Protection of Human Rights Defenders, Best Practices and lessons learnt.

Protection Desks open in Indonesia and Honduras.

PI Protection Desks open in Thailand, Kenya, Colombia and Mexico (with the latter closing in 2012).

PI, together with Amnesty International Belgium, launches the first twinning initiative between defenders in Burundi and members of the Belgian Parliament. In 2012, it expands to include the Dutch Parliament jointly with the Justice and Peace Commission.


PI’s new New Manual on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is translated into 12 languages.


PI releases its first FOCUS report , pioneering a global overview of the state of the art of national public policies for the protection of HRDs. The Focus Report series was published regularly until 2018. The online Focus Observatory was later launched in 2021.


By 2014, PI had delivered more than 100 protection and security trainings to over 1,200 HRDs in 22 countries.

PI conducted its first “organizational management review” to strengthen its internal structure and procedures.


PI publishes the report Criminalisation of Human Rights Defenders  which aims to provide responses to protection challenges for criminalised HRDs, civil society organisations and rural communities. 

In coordination with 11 NGOs, PI co-establishes the consortium, which is the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism to protect human rights defenders from around the world who are in grave, high-risk situations.

PI launches its woman human rights defender interview series with testimonies from Mexico, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Pakistan and Indonesia.


PIs award-winning photo exhibition “For Those Who Died Trying”(photographed by Luke Duggleby) opens in Geneva.

PI's documentary "No estamos solas" (directed by Maria Aizpuru) about the Lenca women human rights defenders in Honduras and El Salvador, won the gender equality prize at the International Festival of Invisible Cinema of Bilbao.

See our 2016 Impact stories.


Protection International and the Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) of the University of York organise an International Round Table on “Rethinking the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: A critical and creative reflection on protection approaches”.

PI launches the first edition of a new publication series on criminalisation. 

See our 2017 Impact Stories.


PI, in collaboration with Broederlijk Delen, CNCD-11.11.11, CIDSE and the EU-LAT network, organizes a public meeting with Berta Zúñiga Cáceres and members of COPINH, as part of their European Union advocacy tour #COPINHTourMay2018.

Protection International, in collaboration with WHRDs, the award-winning photographer Luke Duggleby and the Canadian Embassy, publishes “Her Life, Her Diary: Side by Side”to raise awareness on the vital work of WHRDs.

Protection International and the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) present their publication The Time is Now: Effective public policies for the right to defend human rights, in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.


PI began implementing its 2019-2023 Global Strategy, which aims to decentralise operations towards the establishment of regional hubs. The Global Team begins working to strengthen their operational capacities and decision-making powers within the organisation.

The first PI Africa hub is launched in Nairobi, Kenya, with the aim of this hub expanding to serve human rights defenders across the African continent.

PI’s advocacy work towards improving public policies leads to the adoption of a Provincial Edict to Protect HRDs and Journalists in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


PI brought together a group of interdisciplinary experts from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia to craft a list of principles for “redefining the risk approach” which were later called The Risk Analysis and Protection Plan Principles. These principals are the new minimum standards for how states and protection mechanisms should approach HRD protection. 

The PI Mesoamerica hub is launched in Guatemala City, Guatemala, with the aim of expanding to serve human rights defenders in the entire Mesoamerican region.


PI launches the Focus Observatory on Public Policies for Human Rights Defenders. This observatory is an online platform aimed at monitoring, analysing and promoting good practice in policy developments that governments and other state authorities adopt for protecting human rights defenders and their right to defend human rights on a global level.

PI implements a newly re-vamped version of its e-learning programme for human rights defenders, with improved methodologies based on the lessons learned over the years.

PI created the internal staff learning and knowledge sharing platform LERNI, so that best practices and new methodologies can be more effectively exchanged across offices and regions.


PI Africa gets observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

PI, together with the University of York and the mechanism, carried out the Human Rights Defenders Poetry Challenge. UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor and representatives from the European Commission were involved in the closing poetry reading.