Document Type: Defenders Tools

The Right to Defend Human Rights, From a Critical Approach

30 August 2021

Protection International aims to enable and protect the free exercise of the right to defend human rights. To achieve this, we promote a comprehensive approach to the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs). Our approach is multifaceted, interdisciplinary and ever-evolving. There are a few core elements that constitute the foundation for our interventions at the local, regional and international levels:

  • Right to defend human rights: We promote a rights-based approach to the protection of HRDs, seeing them as subjects of rights, rather than objects of protection.
  • Collective protection: We promote collective strategies that strengthen the group and allow for more sustainable protection practices that go beyond individual security measures.
  • Protection networks: We promote the strengthening of internal and external solidarity networks among HRD groups and communities so that they are better positioned to confront threats and attacks.
  • Psychosocial approach: We understand that care and protection are indivisible. This means that protection strategies should address the individual and collective emotional impacts that HRDs experience as part of their struggles and processes, as well as integrate strategies for individual and collective well-being as a part of protection.

Explaining the Core Elements of Our Approach

To further explain the key elements of our approach to HRD protection, we are developing a series of concise and pragmatic publications.

The first one is “The Right to Defend Human Rights, From a Critical Approach”. In this publication, we explain our understanding of this right by emphasising the collective and diverse identities that the term “HRD” encompasses. The publication also proposes key elements for a renewed narrative that better reflects the different realities and experiences of human rights defenders.

This publication is intended for human rights defenders, organisations and key stakeholders who aim to promote wider, diverse and inclusive narratives about human rights defenders. It contains proposals for new narratives that can be useful for advocacy, communications and fundraising strategies linked to human rights defenders.

Some key messages from the publication:

The individual and collective exercise of this right requires an enabling environment that does not obstruct this right, but rather protects those who exercise it.

Relations of domination, discrimination and the imbalance of power all influence the visibility of defenders’ struggles and the support they receive. The defence of human rights must always be contextualised and cannot be depoliticised.

Human rights defenders are defined by their actions and the rights they are defending, regardless of whether or not they self-identify as human rights defenders.

We cannot reduce or simplify the identity of defenders. Several identities can be manifested within the same person or collective (e.g. woman, woman farmer, indigenous woman, woman trade unionist) and all should be recognised.

The publication “The Right to Defend Human Rights, From a Critical Approach” is currently available in English, Spanish and French.

E-learning module: Understanding the Right to Defend Human Rights

To mark the publication of “The Right to Defend Human Rights, From a Critical Approach”, we are glad to share with you our new, free online module on the right to defend human rights.

Designed for all human rights defenders, organisations, and key stakeholders who wish to learn more about this topic, the module is a short preview of our general course on security and protection for human rights defenders.

While presenting the content of our publication in a didactic format, the course provides additional material on the topic, such as a video, self-evaluation quizzes, a short assignment, and a forum for discussions and debates. It should take you between 4 to 6 hours to complete the module. You can take it at your own time and follow your own pace, logging in and out of the module as many times as you wish.

If you wish to take the free online module “Understanding the Right to Defend Human Rights”, please follow instructions below:

  1. Go to
  2. Scroll down until you find the name of the module you want to access (Understanding the Right to Defend Human Rights)
  3. Place your mouse over the image and you will see the guest access password that you will need to access it.
  4. Click on the course and enter the guest access password.
  5. Watch the introductory video below for more information or click on this link.

Download your files here