Prisoners of Conscience is committed to supporting human rights defenders. But what rights are these individuals defending? What do they do to defend them? And more importantly, why do they need our support or protection?

Every human has rights poster on a pole.

What are Human Rights?

Human rights are basic rights and freedoms inherent to all human beings. They recognise and protect the dignity of every person in the world, from birth until death. They are documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some examples include a right to freedom of expression, and freedom of religion.

So, What are Human Rights Violations?

A human rights violation is the disallowance of any of these basic rights and freedoms. When human rights aren’t protected, or are blatantly disregarded, they are violated. Violations exist in every part of the world. For example, some leaders are stopping fair elections, meaning people in a country can only vote for one person. Legally, human rights violations differ from human rights abuses, as they are committed by different groups of people. Violations are either directly committed by the state, or come about as a result of the state indirectly falling to prevent the violation. Human rights abuse is committed by non-state actors, such as rebel groups and individuals.

Protesters holding up a banner reading 'we who believe in freedom cannot rest'.

Who are Human Rights Defenders?

These are individuals who act to promote or protect human rights. Also known as human rights activists, these people aim to make the world a better and fairer place by peacefully protecting our common rights. Some examples of the acts of human rights defenders include raising awareness of abuses through the media, or peacefully protesting to lobby people in positions of influence. However, there is not just one way to protect human rights. Activists come from all walks of life, and undertake a diverse range of activities.

Why Do They Need Our Support?

Unfortunately, there are many dangers that come with being a human rights activist. In 2019, a human rights defender was killed every four days in Colombia1. If a state or group believe that their authority is compromised, or their reputation called into question, they may target these individuals. The persecution of human rights defenders is a major international problem. Many are held in harsh conditions, and are deprived access to adequate healthcare. As well as persecution, defenders could face harassment, bullying, and intimidation. They may also experience violence, sexual abuse, torture, and murder.

A prisoner of conscience is a person who is similarly persecuted for the nonviolent expression of their conscientiously held beliefs. Both prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders face extreme forms of persecution, and are in need of our support.

As democratic governments and global organisations charged with upholding human rights seem increasingly powerless to stop the tide of human rights abuses by authoritarian states, it is often the bravery of ordinary men and women that upholds the human rights of all of us. 

– Gary Allison, Director. Prisoners of Conscience.

To learn more about our impact, and the support that we offer human rights activists, see our impact report 2021/22.



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