Protection International (PI) is glad to present its 2017 edition of its Focus Report, monitoring worldwide developments in the field of national protection mechanisms and public policies for the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs).

Since the publication of our seminal handbook Protection of human rights defenders: Best practices and lessons learnt (2011), the public debate regarding national public policies for HRD protection has evolved: initially only a handful of Latin American governments were addressing systematic attacks against HRDs through national protection mechanisms, and civil society organisations approached the issue with a lot of mistrust and scepticism. In recent years, it has become mainstream with the adoption of national laws and the emergence of draft bills in several countries of Latin America and Africa, while permeating the discussions on HRD protection in countries of Europe, Central and South-East Asia.

Many developments in this field of the HRD protection ecosystem also occurred since the publication of the last edition the Focus Report in 2014.

This heightened interest nonetheless, the implementation gap remains a big issue and trust is far from assured, especially among groups of HRDs taking the brunt of state repression and violence and those HRDs in remote areas where the presence of state authorities is weak or contested by non-state actors. Our research shows that political will and backing is key to overcome these problems.

With the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on HRDs fast approaching, more needs to be done. At Protection International we believe that it is now high time to shift the focus of the debate away from adopting – or not – legislation framing the existence of state mechanisms to protect groups of HRDs at risk towards a broader and more comprehensive approach, which delivers proactive actions to address the root causes of insecurity, structural violence and repression against HRDs.

We hope that this new Focus Report will effectively contribute to this objective, and to the broader reflection about how we can promote effective state action to ensure – in line with the spirit of the UN Declaration on HRDs – that individuals, groups and organisations can freely and safely exercise the right to defend human rights.

Protection International believes it is now high time to shift the focus of the debate away from adopting laws to protect human rights defenders at risk towards a more comprehensive approach, which addresses the structural violence and repression against them.