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[Event] Resisting in Exile: Voice of Human Rights Defenders

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HRC55 side event | Resisting in Exile: Voice of Human Rights Defenders

Tuesday, 5th March, 2pm | Palais des Nations, Room XXV


“I do not like the idea of being a refugee. I do not want to leave the country because I wanted to make it better.” 

Human rights defender quoted by the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in A/HRC/37/51.

In ‘People Power Under Attack’ (2022), CIVICUS reports that the number of countries where civic freedoms are being curtailed and civil society is under severe attack is increasing. Restrictions on fundamental freedoms, the gutting of protections for defenders and stigmatisation, criminalisation and physical attack are experienced by defenders in too many countries. In such contexts and under such pressure, defenders can see leaving the country as their only option. These defenders, along with defenders expelled by their home governments, face the huge challenges of short or protracted exile, including economic insecurity and ongoing threats. Defenders in exile question if and how they can continue human rights work from abroad and how those who remain deal with a fractured human rights community.

In this event we will bring the voices of human rights defenders from around the world to the Council so that States, UN experts and officials and civil society colleagues can here their voices. What is the experience of being in exile like? What is the impact on individual work and that of the community of defenders? What demands do exile defenders make to the Council?

This event aims to raise greater awareness about the phenomenon of defenders in exile and encourage discussion and action on how to support these defenders. It is also aimed at looking at what is needed to prevent exile becoming some defenders’ only feasible option.

During this event, defenders in exile from will speak of the impact of their experience of exile on their own lives, those of their families, and their communities. They will highlight the specific needs defenders in exile have in terms of legal guarantees, and political and financial support and of their ongoing work to defend rights from exile.

Defenders in exile will also send in testimonies, to be shown in video form or read out by fellow defenders. We aim to fill the room with the voices of those in exile who cannot be in Geneva to participate directly.

We will  recall recommendations made by the previous Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, in his 2018 report to the Council (A/HRC/37/51), including in regard to the prohibition of non-refoulement to persecution, relocation schemes, and access to protection measures for defenders in exile.

The conversation will take place during the Council session when the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders will be presenting her report to the Council. We hope that the Special Rapporteur will be available to, highlight the  need for greater attention to, and investment in the prevention of, the closure of civic space so as to forestall the need for defenders to leave the country.




Event organisers:

Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR-Centre)

International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights, (Race and Equality)

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)