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Human Rights Defenders: FAQ

Q: Who are the Human Rights Defenders?

Human Rights Defenders can be lawyers, teachers, farmers, journalists, doctors, and many other things, but they have made a decision to stand up against injustice. They face complicated and sometimes controversial issues and bring them to light for all to see. They are truth tellers, diagnosticians who analyze the health or weakness of their nation's democracy, with the aim of finding effective remedies. For the most part, Human Rights Defenders are those who dedicate their energies to holding governments accountable to international standards of human rights that are well-defined by numerous treaties. They are not diplomats or politicians, though individuals may migrate between those roles. 

Q:  What is the work of Human Rights Defenders?

Human Rights Defenders have a specific job – to defend the victims of violations and to watch and tell the world whether internationally recognized human rights are being respected by governments or those with control over the lives of populations in cases of conflict or breakdown of the state.  They rush to the front of the battle that is always waged between the limits of power of the state and respect for the liberties of the individual.  

Q:  Do Human Rights Defenders advocate violence?

Human Rights Defenders do not use or defend violence to further the cause of justice, but rather they seek to build institutions that will make justice and protection of human rights a permanent pursuit within their society.

Q:  Why is the work of Human Rights Defenders so important?

Human Rights Defenders work toward realization of all human rights around the world by linking individual human rights problems to a global movement. By reporting and disclosing human rights violations in their respective countries, they provide an alternative to the governments' picture of events, trends, and progress on the ground. They serve as a system of early warning in identifying dangerous oppressive trends by governments or other powerful groups and sound the alarm for the public and the international community.  

Q:  What challenges do Human Rights Defenders face?

Promotion of human rights is frequently viewed by governments as an attempt to change the existing power balance within a country; therefore, defenders are frequently threatened by governments and other groups who may feel threatened by the information presented by Human Rights Defenders. Human Rights Defenders have been subject to torture, arbitrary detentions, and extrajudicial execution. 

Human Rights defenders experience harassment by security officials, including constant monitoring of their movements and communications, and it is not unusual for them to be denied travel documents. In the context of the war on terrorism, under the scope of "security measures," various laws were passed in a number of countries prohibiting the publication of human rights violations and have been used against human rights activists to prevent their work. 

Q:  What does The Carter Center do to support Human Rights Defenders?

The Carter Center, under leadership of President Carter and U.N. High Commissioner of Human Rights Navanethem Pillay, convenes annually the Human Rights Defenders Policy Forum, a gathering of human rights activists from all regions of the world. The forum generates a picture of the state of global democracy and human rights movements and further reports to public and U.S. policy-makers.

Q: How could you become a Human Rights Defender?

While there is no one formula for becoming a Human Rights Defender, one characteristic common to all Human Rights Defenders is standing up to injustice in one's community or country in the face of difficult obstacles. Some Human Rights Defenders created organizations that provide legal, medical, or other social services. Others investigate and report on injustice around them. On a very general level, identify an issue in your community and SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER.  

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