Human Rights Defenders

The work of human rights defenders is essential for the advancement of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders play a central role in making state policies human rights compliant and authorities accountable. Human rights defenders are also instrumental in defending victims of human rights violations and ensuring their access to redress and remedy. Human rights defenders are key partners of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

Civil society human rights activists face numerous obstacles in their work, including: legal and administrative restrictions impeding the registration of NGOs and their access to funding; excessive financial and reporting requirements; judicial harassment; smear campaigns; threats and intimidation; abusive control and surveillance; confiscation and destruction of working materials; unlawful arrest or detention and ill-treatment. In some cases, human rights defenders are kidnapped or even killed. The absence of effective investigations into violations committed by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders targeted because of their human rights work remains a major problem. This results in the impunity of perpetrators and the recurrence of violations, which also facilitate reprisals.

Support for the work of human rights defenders, their protection and the development of an enabling environment for their activities lie at the core of the Commissioner’s mandate. The Commissioner assists member states in fulfilling their obligations in this regard by providing advice and recommendations. She raises issues related to the working environment of human rights defenders and cases of those who are at risk through her dialogue with authorities as well as publicly, including through the media. She has also intervened before the European Court of Human Rights in a number of cases concerning human rights defenders. The Commissioner and her Office are regularly in contact with human rights defenders and organise mutual thematic consultations on an annual basis, and closely co-operate with the UN and regional mechanisms such as the OSCE/ODIHR in supporting human rights defenders.


Europe must end repression of human rights defenders assisting refugees, asylum seekers and migrants

22/02/2024 Strasbourg

“Across Europe, individuals and organisations are facing growing harassment, intimidation, violence and criminalisation simply for contributing to the protection of the human rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. European states must stop this repression”, said today the Council of...

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Reconquering Lost Ground: A Reflection on 75 Years of the UDHR in Europe

22/12/2023 Paris

Speech (delivered online) at the Conference organised by the Université Paris Nanterre to mark the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, by Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Excellencies, Dear participants, It is a great honour for me to be...

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Russia: decision to label the ‘international LGBTI movement’ as extremist is a grave attack against LGBTI people and human rights defenders

01/12/2023 Strasbourg

“The Russian Supreme Court’s labeling of the 'international LGBTI movement' as extremist is a grave attack on LGBTI people and those who defend their human rights”, said today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic. “This stance goes against the fundamental principle...

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  • Visit to Azerbaijan
    12/07/2019 - Azerbaijan should ease the pressure on free speech, improve the situation of lawyers and continue to work towards better livelihood opportunities for IDPs
  • Visit to Turkey
    08/07/2019 - Turkey needs to put an end to arbitrariness in the judiciary and to protect human rights defenders
  • Report on Hungary
    21/05/2019 - Hungary should address interconnected human rights issues in refugee protection, civil society space, independence of the judiciary and gender equality
  • Statement on the Russian Federation
    18/03/2019 - Commissioner Mijatovic dismayed at verdict sentencing Oyub Titiev to 4 years of deprivation of liberty
  • Visit to Hungary
    11/02/2019 - Hungary should address many interconnected human rights protection challenges including civil society space, gender equality, refugee protection and independence of the judiciary
  • Statement on Azerbaijan
    07/01/2019 - Commissioner calls on the authorities of Azerbaijan to drop charges against Mehman Huseynov
  • Letter to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
    17/07/2018 - The Commissioner requests decisive measures to safeguard Oyub Titiev’s rights
  • Statement on Ukraine
    25/06/2018 - Ukrainian authorities should step up their efforts to stop attacks against Roma and human rights defenders
  • Statement on Hungary
    01/06/2018 - Hungary: Commissioner concerned at further planned barriers to the work of NGOs assisting migrants
  • Statement on Turkey 
    26/07/2016 - Measures taken under the state of emergency in Turkey
  • Report on Armenia
    10/03/2015 - Armenia should intensify its efforts to ensure gender equality and protect human rights in the justice system
  • Report on mission to Kyiv, Moscow and Crimea
    27/10/2014 - In Crimea serious human rights violations and attacks on minorities and journalists require urgent action
  • Visit to Azerbaijan
    24/10/2014 - Azerbaijan: Stop reprisals against human rights defenders
  • Letter to the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Office
    24/07/2014 - Commissioner expresses concern over NGOs in Hungary
  • Observations on Azerbaijan
    23/04/2014 - Freedom of expression, assembly and association deteriorating in Azerbaijan
  • Report on Ukraine
    04/03/2014 - Ukraine: Fight against impunity and judicial reforms are necessary to improve human rights protection
  • Report on Azerbaijan
    06/08/2013 - Azerbaijan should ease restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly