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We Have the Right to Defend Human Rights – Infographic for Strategically Taking Action on Human Rights Issues

Each journey of a human rights defender is unique however, there is the shared experience of sometimes feeling discouraged or isolated, in addition to the joys of making progress. This tip sheet is inspired by the experiences and strategies shared by participating human rights defenders in the Spring 2022 EquiTalks panel discussion. It serves as a guide for strategically taking action to challenge injustice while safeguarding your own rights as a human rights defender. Practical resources to support you in understanding how to pursue these strategies are also listed below.

The EquiTalks featured the insights and advice of our guest of honour, Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. This mandate plays an instrumental role in promoting the work of human rights defenders across the world and protecting defenders at risk. This is carried out in the context of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which outlines protections for those who seek to defend the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This declaration, and other UN human rights mechanisms, are referenced throughout this tip sheet to underscore the rights you hold as a human rights defender.

The dialogue of the Spring 2022 EquiTalks, including themes such as sustaining hope as a human rights defender and the importance of solidarity among social movements, didn’t end with the panel discussion. This infographic aims to also provide you with key considerations and guidance as you continue along your human rights journey.  

“There will always be people like you, who seek to fight injustice and inequality with madness and a little bit of hope. And the magical thing about hope is that no state can ever defeat it.” – Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, at the Spring 2022 EquiTalks Panel Discussion.


To download the tip sheet infographic, click below:


A Tip Sheet for Strategically Taking Action on Human Rights Issues

Peacefully taking action, individually or collectively, to promote or protect human rights makes you a human rights defender. 

How do you take action to challenge injustice?

How do you protect and promote human rights?

Name and document the human rights violations you are witnessing or experiencing.

Take note of how these violations may be experienced differently among marginalized populations, such as:

  • Women and girls
  • LGBTQ2I community
  • Children and youth
  • Indigenous peoples
  • People living with disabilities

Remember that human rights are for everyone (Article 2, Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Identify who bears responsibility and hold them accountable.

Remember that State actors are duty-bearers, meaning that they, along with other entities and individuals, have the specific obligation or responsibility to respect, promote and realize human rights and to abstain from human rights violations (Article 2, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders).

Ask yourself:

Do the duty-bearers know about the human rights violations?

Do they care?

Do they have the solutions to fix it?

Diversify your peaceful actions for human rights.

Unite with other human rights defenders

We have the right to meet or assemble peacefully; to form, join and participate in NGOs, associations, or groups; and to communicate with NGOs or intergovernmental organizations, for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms (Article 5, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders).

Educate about human rights

Human rights education is a process of transformation that begins with the individual and branches out to encompass the society at large. It includes:

  • Education about human rights: Providing knowledge and understanding of human rights norms/principles, their underpinning values, and mechanisms for their protection.
  • Education through human rights: Learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of learners and educators.
  • Education for human rights: Empowering people to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others.

(Article 2, UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training)

Keep in mind:

We also have the right, individually and in association with others, to develop and discuss new human rights ideas and principles and to advocate their acceptance (Article 7, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders).

Engage powerholders and decision-makers

Mapping out who has power within the system and identifying how they can influence decision-making is a strategy to hold duty bearers accountable.

Everyone who, because of their professions, can affect the freedom and dignity of others, should respect and promote human rights (Article 11, UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders)

Use the UN System as an instrument in your toolbox

Since the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN system includes international human rights standards for populations including women and girls, children and youth, Indigenous peoples, people living disabilities, racialized peoples, and other vulnerabilized groups. This includes the crucial work of protecting and promoting the work of human rights defenders.

Take care of yourselves along the way

Human rights defenders may face many challenges along the way. Due to systemic and structural forms of discrimination and violence, these challenges disproportionately affect human rights defenders from marginalized groups, especially women and LGBQT2I people.

Find your sources of joy and motivation

Ask yourself, what gives you hope? What replenishes you? Allow yourself the time to seek peace and connection.

It is important to recognize how physical, emotional, and psychological trauma may impact you and others and to create spaces for safety and healing.

Seek out direct assistance/practical support

Reach out to one of the many organizations which exist to help people doing the work like yours, such as Front Line Defenders. Familiarize yourself with Canada’s Voices at Risk guidelines to understand the Canadian diplomatic support available to you as a human rights defender.

Everyone has the right to be protected from violence, threats, retaliation, discrimination, pressure, or any arbitrary action as a consequence of their human rights work. (Article 12, UN Declaration on human rights defenders).


  1. Front Line Defenders
  2. Canada’s Voices at Risk Guidelines for Diplomatic Missions Around the World
  3. UN SR Human Rights Defenders – How to Submit Information on HRDs at Risk to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders