Tirana Legal Aid SocietyThrough our collaboration with, Tirana Legal Aid Society in Albania for example, we have helped thousands from the Roma community to register with the authorities, thus making it possible for them to claim their basic human rights. Photo: Tirana Legal Aid Society.


Civil Rights Defenders is an international human rights organisation defending people’s civil and political rights and empowering human rights defenders. While upholding respect for human rights is the responsibility of governments it is essential that all countries have a vibrant civil society to act as independent watchdogs to counteract the power of the state.

We believe that local Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are often best placed to be an effective driving force due to their proximity and presence to those whose rights are violated. Our approach focuses on long-term perspectives and is based on working in the field, our regional expertise, and above all close collaboration with local partners.

We aim to strengthen civil society and empower human rights defenders, including those at risk. Human Rights Defenders have dedicated their lives to assisting victims of human rights violations, often placing themselves in the firing line where they often face harassment, imprisonment and in some cases are murdered or simply disappear. These violations are often perpetrated by governments and state sponsored apparatus.

Together with a great number of partner organisations, we monitor the actions of governments and authorities, demanding change, justice and reparations when people’s civil and political rights have been violated.

We continue to take legal action against state authorities, lobby and advocate in order to effect change and influence public opinion. In totalitarian states, we support efforts to ensure that people have access to independent and reliable information

In September 2009 we decided to change our name, from the Swedish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, to one that better reflects who we are and what we do – Civil Rights Defenders – an organisation that defends people’s civil and political rights. For our symbol we chose the nib of a fountain pen to underscore that the pen is often the mightiest of weapons – mightier than the sword and can achieve a lot more than violent means.

The heart in the centre represents the individual whom we strive to empower and support. When we changed our name we also broadened our geographical mandate which began in the Eastern Bloc (Eurasia) to include several regions : East & Horn of Africa, The Western Balkans, Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Our priorities in terms of where we work and what we do are presented below in our strategy.

Robert Hårdh,

Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders

Our Vision

A peaceful and secure world with freedom and justice for all.

We believe that a world where people’s civil rights and liberties are respected is a safer world to live in. Our vision is based on the Helsinki Accords (1975) which acknowledged that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms constitutes a significant factor for creating peace, justice and the development of friendly relations and cooperation between states.

Our Mission

We defend people’s civil and political rights and empower human rights defenders.

To achieve our vision, we aim to ensure that people are able to enjoy their civil and political rights. Human rights is often in the firing line in totalitarian states but also in new and well established democracies as world events can often influence how human rights are perceived.

We are an active voice in Swedish civil society, while also empowering human rights defenders in countries with undemocratic regimes and in countries transitioning from dictatorships or violent conflict.

We actively monitor human rights compliance within states, demanding accountability, justice and reparations when people’s human rights have been violated.

Our work

Our overall objective is to improve and accelerate individuals and communities access to freedoms and justice through improved mechanisms for the realisation of civil and political rights. To achieve this we work towards the following goals:

People are empowered to claim their human rights by receiving

–    Increased access to legal aid.
–    Increased access to information.

States take responsibility in respecting, protecting and fulfilling human rights by

–    Improving human rights compliance in law and practice.
–    Improving implementation of human rights norms, values and standards.

Local human rights defenders are empowered through

–    Strengthening their skills and expertise.
–    Stronger protection mechanisms for human rights defenders at risk.

We also defend human rights in Sweden where our head office is located. Through our international activities, our goal is to be an active force in countries and regions where respect for the individual’s civil and political rights is at its weakest. We take a regional perspective when conducting our work since the problems that need to be addressed often form part of a wider regional problem.

Ten rights in focus

We emphasise the following ten rights throughout all our work and activities:

The right to life and physical integrity
The right to liberty and security of person
The right to a fair trial and an effective remedy
The right to respect for private and family life
The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
The right to the freedom of expression
The right to freedom of assembly and association
The right to protection against hate speech and war propaganda
The right to political rights

The tenth and most fundamental part of our activities is to promote the right to protection against discrimination. We always take the aspect of discrimination into consideration, in order to draw attention to and protect groups that are particularly vulnerable.

Working methods

We believe that all states need a strong civil society to scrutinise those in power. People who defend the rights of others in dictatorships and authoritarian countries are often subjected to persecution themselves. Many are threatened, harassed and imprisoned  – or worse as they risk lives to promote a better society for all. Empowerment of our partners is key to this. We primarily use the following three working methods:

Support to human rights defenders:

We use our international network of human rights defenders to empower our partner organisations and networks. We seek to draw attention to the situation for human rights defenders in the countries where we work. We support them with training, resources and expertise to protect the space in which they operate it and strengthen their presence.

Monitoring and accountability:

Together with our partners we monitor the actions of state authorities and demand accountability when legislation, or indeed the way it is applied, is in conflict with civil and political rights. If in breach, we initiate legal proceedings against the states in question and those in power that violate human rights.

Lobbying and advocacy:

We conduct lobbying and advocacy work aimed at national and international decision makers. In totalitarian states, we reach out to the public with independent and reliable information through the medium of alternative media.

Our fundamental values

In order to achieve our objectives in a rapidly changing world we continually review and sharpen the methods we use. We also stay true to our fundamental values: Integrity, skills and efficiency dominate our organisation and our way of working.


We are an independent non-governmental organisation that advocates for, supports and empowers those working for human rights. We are highly committed to our work and we do not shy away from difficult topics or geographical regions in which the political authorities do not tolerate human rights defenders. We do not accept grants from donors who want to allign our operations or who are not supportive of our objectives.


We have considerable expertise in our field. Our analysis is based on solid research and fact checking, and on international human rights standards. We always aim to achieve the highest quality possible in our operations and seek to support the develop the skills and expertise of our local partners.


We are a result-oriented organisation with tight financial controls and management. To ensure accountability and transparency in our results reporting and follow-up, we are constantly refining our result based management system. We adjust to changing situations and are flexible if and when required.


We work with organisations and individual human rights defenders. We only work with non-governmental, religiously and politically independent organisations that do not use or advocate violence. Generally, our partners are local NGOs. However, in countries where civil society is not permitted or tightly controlled, we may collaborate with individuals and loose networks with the aim of building an organisational structure.

Most of our partners work on a non-profit basis. Exceptions do exist in the field of independent media for example, which require support to operate in highly repressive regimes. However, irrespective of the situation, we always apply a zero tolerance to financial irregularities and corrupt practices. The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders makes it clear that everyone can be a defender of human rights. A human rights defender is someone who acts to promote or protect human rights. Our local partners are human rights defenders, and so are we. From our perspective, anyone who takes part in human rights activities is a human rights defender and so that carries certain obligations and responsibilities. This includes accepting that human rights applies to everyone, everywhere and most importantly that a human rights defender must always act in a peaceful manner.