Protecting and supporting human rights defenders is a priority of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S. Department of State’s objective is to enable human rights defenders to promote and defend human rights without hindrance or undue restriction and free from fear of retribution against them or their families.
The work of these brave individuals and groups is an integral part of a vibrant civil society, and the U.S. government’s investment in and support of them is likewise an investment in and support of the rule of law and democracy.
Every day, around the world, many in civil society turn to the U.S. government for assistance in emergency situations and to help them achieve longer-term goals that will make their countries more just and democratic.
Human rights have not only been part of the United States since its founding— they were the reason our nation was created. The Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments protect many rights that, in the twentieth century, were recognized and protected in international human rights instruments and the United States played a central role in advancing these rights through 1948 the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, ensuing covenants, and beyond. On April 18, 1967, Liberia became the twelfth State to sign the International Covenants on Human Rights: The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which require States Parties to implement the rights and freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights upon their ratification. Liberia ratified both on September 22, 2004,
It is important that we stand beside those who, sometimes at great risk to themselves, work to ensure that their governments protect and promote human rights and implement their human rights obligations and commitments. This belief is the impetus for the U.S. government’s support of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which was adopted by consensus of the General Assembly in 1998, and our continued engagement to protect and promote fundamental freedoms and the role of human rights defenders both bilaterally and in multilateral fora.
“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 at the national and international levels.” the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
The Department of State defines Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) as individuals, working alone or in groups, who non-violently advocate for the promotion and protection of universally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Defenders can be of any ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious denomination, or age. They can come from any part of the world, any social class or background, and can be a person with a disability. How individual defenders promote and protect human rights also varies across country, context, and profession and can include, but is not limited to:
- Collecting and disseminating information on human rights violations;
- Supporting victims of human rights violations;
- Rallying action to secure accountability and end impunity;
- Supporting better governance and government policy;
- Contributing to the implementation of human rights treaties; and
- Educating and training others on human rights.
The Department of State protects and supports human rights defenders in a variety of ways, including:
- Designating a Human Rights Officer at every post whose portfolio includes activities to support Human Rights Defenders;
- Documenting and reporting on the situation of Human Rights Defenders worldwide throughout the year and in the annual U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices;
- Maintaining regular contact with Human Rights Defenders, including engagement at the ambassadorial level, and regular meetings by the Human Rights Officer and other embassy personnel;
- Advancing instruments in multilateral fora that protect Human Rights Defenders, such as the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders;
- Working with like-minded governments, the UN, and regional and/or international organizations to address specific threats to Human Rights Defenders and discourage laws that restrict the freedoms of assembly, association, or expression or otherwise constrain the operating space for Human Rights Defenders. The UN has special rapporteurs in each of these areas, including one on the situation of human rights defenders;
- Amplifying the voices of Human Rights Defenders through public diplomacy and local initiatives by posts to highlight the work of Human Rights Defenders. The United States raises the profile of Human Rights Defenders through its annual Human Rights Defender Award and International Women of Courage Award and its celebration of Human Rights Week each December;
- Encouraging host governments to engage constructively with Human Rights Defenders and seriously consider their information and concerns;
- Protecting Human Rights Defenders through emergency assistance. The U.S. government provides quick help to Human Rights Defenders worldwide with emergency technical and financial assistance. Through the “Lifeline: Embattled civil society organizations (CSOs) Assistance Fund,” which includes contributions from nineteen donor governments, the U.S. government provides emergency assistance when CSOs get into trouble for their work to promote human rights, democracy, and labor issues;
- Visiting Human Rights Defenders in prison, as appropriate, or, if they are under house arrest, at their homes (or visiting their families, if access to Human Rights Defenders in prison is not possible);
- Attending Human Rights Defender hearings and observing their trials; and
- Helping Human Rights Defenders obtain international protection upon their request through international organizations, non-governmental organizations, or governments, including our own, when appropriate.
ADDITIONAL INFORMATION AND WHERE TO TURN FOR HELP
The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to putting human rights and democratic principles at the center of our foreign policy. These Guidelines for U.S. Diplomatic Mission Support to Civil Society and Human Rights Defenders outline and amplify the U.S.’s commitment to supporting this vital work as part of the President’s strategic vision and U.S. foreign policy. It is addressed primarily to the U.S. Department of State Human Rights Officers at diplomatic missions and members of civil society around the world, including Human Rights Defenders.
Human Rights Defenders — including those engaging on worker rights and the environment — face increasing retaliation, threats, and violence for working to hold their governments and private sector actors accountable to respect human rights. Protecting and supporting human rights defenders is a key priority of U.S. foreign policy, in the real world, as well as in cyberspace. If you have experienced harassment or violence because of your defense of human rights in Liberia and need help, please contact U.S. Embassy Monrovia at HRDSupportMonrovia@state.gov.