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ISHR 25 years on...
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 13:20


In 1984 the UN human rights system was very far removed from the realities of the work of human rights defenders at the national level. ISHR was established at this time with the objective of bridging this gap by enabling defenders to access the UN system and to effectively participate at the international level. Over time, ISHR’s geographic reach has broadened to incorporate regional systems of protection. Beginning with a staff of three in Geneva, ISHR grew to include an office in New York and currently counts a total of 15 expert staff. While its capacity has increased at all levels, advocacy, training, and information services have remained at the heart of ISHR’s work since the beginning.

ISHR has been involved in the development of almost all international standards and protection mechanisms relevant to human rights defenders. These include advocacy around the drafting of the 1996 ECOSOC Resolution providing for the accreditation of NGOs to participate in the work of the Commission on Human Rights and the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) in 1998. ISHR’s advocacy around the creation of the mandates of the UN and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders in 2000 and 2005 respectively resulted in the establishment of a dedicated Human Rights Defenders Office in ISHR in 2001 to work directly with the Rapporteurs and strengthen their effective engagement with defenders.


In 2006 ISHR was instrumental in the drafting of the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. It also played a central role in the creation of the UN Human Rights Council (the Council), particularly the drafting of the modalities of the universal periodic review mechanism (UPR) and the review of the system of special procedures.

ISHR has always had a unique facilitating role among NGOs, coordinating meetings in Geneva and New York on joint strategies to strengthen the system and NGO engagement. In 2003 ISHR assumed a facilitating role at the NGO Forum prior to the annual meeting of the African Commission and became a co-facilitator of NGOs for the APF in 2006.

ISHR’s training and capacity-building activities have developed substantially over time and for the past two years have been supported by the expertise of an in-house training specialist. Beginning with small trainings around the annual meeting of the Commission on Human Rights, ISHR’s Geneva-based training now include regular advanced training courses in English and French on the UN human rights system, as well as specific trainings on the use of the UN treaty bodies and the UPR. The expansion of ISHR’s regional and national work has resulted in a large increase in trainings at those levels, which now comprise of approximately eight trainings per year for up to 200 participants from every region of the world.

Where ISHR’s initial quarterly reports, which began in 1988, comprised of narrative summaries of international developments, the organisation now provides more detailed analytical reporting as relevant to human rights defenders. ISHR has also expanded its publications to include practical guides - including a handbook on the Human Rights Council and the Simple Guide to the UN Treaty Bodies - and briefing papers for human rights defenders. ISHR currently distributes its reports by e-mail to more than 1,900 people on a regular basis. ISHR's flagship publication, the annual Human Rights Monitor, was replaced in 2010 with a new quarterly publication, the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly.

In order to continue to be accessible and relevant to human rights defenders, ISHR has broadened its visibility and outreach in recent years. ISHR’s website was redeveloped in September 2008 in order to make it more user-friendly and enhance its accessibility to people all over the world. It is envisaged that the website will play a much greater role in maintaining contact with and between former training participants, and facilitating follow-up to trainings.

The last 25 years have shown a consistency of approach to a unique and still very important mandate. For the foreseeable future of its strategic plan, ISHR will continue to provide an essential and unique service while adapting to its changing environment as it has always done.

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Last Updated on Monday, 10 September 2012 14:38
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