HRDs being interviewed by journalists


Human Rights Defenders Poetry Challenge

16 September 2021

Created by: Protection International,, and the University of York

An entire year has passed since the kick-off of our #StayWithDefenders campaign, and we would like to call attention to all those human rights defenders who steadfastly continue their work despite the fact that COVID-19 rages on.

To honor the human rights defenders that have suffered, succeeded, fought, and fallen, Protection International,, and the Centre for Applied Human Rights of the University of York are launching a poetry challenge for all creatives, activists and advocates for human rights. This past year has been a difficult one, and during these times of mourning and collective struggle, we would like to encourage the human rights community to take the time to express themselves. Acknowledging the power of emotion and its relationship with protection, as well as the healing capabilities of art, this is an opportunity to dig down and reflect on what we’ve gone through as a global, interconnected society—looking at where we are now, and where we would like to go from here.

Tell us about the human rights issues that are most important to you, specifically about the right to defend human rights. Tell us your stories from this past year. Tell us which human rights you continue to advocate for and why. Tell us your vision for a future in which human rights are respected and protected. It can be personal, or it can be impersonal. It can take shape as a 3-minute slam poetry video or it can be a written haiku. We encourage creativity, and we accept poems in video, audio, or written form.

This is a free contest, with no entry fee. Human rights activists are strongly encouraged to apply and all voices are welcome—regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, migration status, ethnic identity, or any other category.  You do not need to have any prior experience with poetry to participate. All levels, including beginners, are welcome.

The top three contest winners will:

  • receive a prize of 200 Euros for first place, 100 Euros for second place, and 50 Euros for third place;
  • receive a hand-crafted #StayWithDefenders trophy;
  • be invited to participate in a live, virtual poetry reading to showcase their work to key international stakeholders;
  • have their poems featured on Protection International’s website and social media accounts, as well as any additional, relevant organizational reports related to the right to defend human rights; and


Please submit your pieces via the online submission form by 30 November 2021. Submissions must include:

  • Author’s name
  • Email address
  • Brief biography (3-5 sentences)
  • Phone number
  • Permission to publish
  • Transcript of the poem (if submitted in video or audio format)
  • Consent forms for those under 18

Who are human rights defenders (HRDs)?

“HRD is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights peacefully… Human rights defenders address any human rights concerns, which can be as varied as, for example, summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, female genital mutilation, discrimination, employment issues, forced evictions, access to health care, and toxic waste and its impact on the environment…They sometimes address the rights of categories of persons, for example, women’s rights, children’s rights, the rights of indigenous persons, the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersexual people, the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of national or linguistic.” (United Nations)

More simply put, human rights defenders are ordinary people who stand up for human rights through their words and actions. Human rights defenders are activists and artists working to make a better world for all of us.

What is the Right to Defend Human Rights (RDHR)?

Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders states: “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” This means that not only are we entitled to all of the human rights listed within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but we also have the right to speak out and stand up—through protest, song, or any other means of assembly, organizing, and expression—to ensure that those rights are being respected. International human rights law establishes and protects the right to defend human rights as an autonomous and independent right.

Rules of the challenge:

  1. The poem can be written in any poetic style and discuss any human rights issue. Please feel free to find inspiration from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
  2. Poems may be submitted in video, audio or text form. If you are submitting a multimedia entry, please ensure that you send a text transcript of your poem as well. If your poem is within the top 50, we will include this transcript in the final publication.
  3. All poems must be submitted in either English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Thai, or Swahili.
    • Multilingual poems are welcome, as long as they are accompanied by clear translations.
  4. The poem in its entirety must be an original work by the person entering the contest. Plagiarism is a serious offense and will not be tolerated. We will not accept previously published poems.
  5. Only one poem per person is allowed.
  6. Poets of any age can submit their materials, but those below 18 will need to also submit a consent form with the signature of their parent or guardian.
  7. Contest entries must be at least 3 lines long but cannot exceed 2,000 characters (with spaces, so approximately 300 words). Any submission that exceeds these limits will be automatically disqualified. The poem title does not count as a line, nor will it be included in the character count. To ensure proper lineation, please use the “Enter” key to start a new line, indicating all intentional line breaks.
  8. Poems containing language that is vulgar, offensive, or wholly inappropriate will not be accepted.
  9. Poems will receive bonus points if they:
    • Use the phrase “Stay with Defenders” at some point or in some creative manner. These words don’t necessarily need to be in sequence, nor in English;
    • Use positive narratives to describe the work of human rights defenders and collectives.

Poetry Challenge Terms and Conditions

About the Challenge

This poetry challenge aims to: encourage human rights defenders to utilize the power of poetry for thoughtful reflection and creative inspiration; support artists and cultural activists as they tackle difficult human rights issues; build up a strong recognition of the importance of creativity during times of crises; discuss the right to defend human rights in a new and approachable way. This initiative is organized by Protection International, and the University of York’s Centre for Applied Human Rights. There are no entry fees to participate in this poetry challenge.

Privacy Notifications

Some of the information that you are asked to provide on this form is personal information, such as your name and contact information. This information is being collected for identification of the author; communication about; and promotion of this entry in the Poetry Challenge. This information will only be made available to the event organizers and will not be given to any other third parties. The information that is submitted through this form will be treated in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) of the European Union.


Copyright for the outputs remains the sole and exclusive property of the artist and the activist. Terms of reference/contracts will provide the organizers with the limited right to reproduce, publicly display, distribute, and otherwise use the expected outputs about Protection International, or the University of York’s work, and as an example of work commissioned through donor funding. Use of the artist’s work will be through non-commercial capacities only. The artist will be properly accredited alongside the use of their work.

Confidentiality and Ethics

The organizers will discuss anonymity, confidentiality, and other ethical issues with artists and activists as they arise about the Challenge outputs.


All inquiries should be directed toward Meredith Veit (Meredith.veit [at]

Additional Terms & Conditions

  1. Each entrant consents to the organizers using and publishing their entry, including the name, and age of the entrant; and any photographs and/or video footage of the entrant for the poetry challenge, including but not limited to:
    • Uploading of the entry on the organizations’ websites
    • Display and promotion at any event associated with the poetry challenge, including the award ceremony and virtual poetry reading.
    • Other non-commercial activities related to the Stay With Defenders advocacy campaign.
    • Promotion of the poetry challenge in the media, both print and online;
      On all the above occasions, the challenge organizers will properly accredit the artist.
  2. Entries must only contain music that you have secured rights to use when appropriate.
  3. Please limit the promotion of individual businesses as a core part of the entry.
  4. Each entrant agrees that the organizers will only provide financial compensation to the top three winners with the specific, one-time amount that is stipulated in the call for poems. Each entrant declares that he/she will not seek now or at any future time any financial compensation from the organizers about any use of this entry or any photographs or video footage of the entrant.
  5. Judging of the poetry challenge will be conducted by a panel comprised of professional persons who are native or fluent in the language of the poem submission.
  6. Judging will be anonymous and scored with a points-based rubric. The criteria against which entries will be judged, will include, but not be limited to:
    • Relevance to human rights and the right to defend human rights;
    • Creativity and originality;
    • Overall presentation/execution of the poem;
    • Etc.
  7. Clarity and effective use of language
  8. The decisions of the judging panel about any aspect of the poetry challenge will be final and binding. We cannot provide individual feedback to each applicant.
  9. The winners of the poetry challenge will be notified via email. Winners’ names will be published on Protection International’s website.
  10. The virtual poetry reading and award ceremony is expected to take place in February 2022.
  11. Acceptance of any prizes from winning the challenge is conditional on the signing of the paperwork that will be distributed to the winners. The organizers will not make any adjustments to the available prizes based on suitability. The prizes are non-transferable and not exchangeable. Prizes cannot be transferred or on sold at a premium, offered as a prize or inducement, packaged, or otherwise used for advertising, promotional, or other commercial purposes.
  12. If the prize remains unclaimed for one month from the time notice is given, the organizers have the right to determine another winner or not.