Last year, over 450 human rights defenders gathered in Paris to attend the Human Rights Defenders World Summit. The previous summit was held 20 years ago, in 1998. The summit held last year commemorated the achievements in the protection of human rights during these past 20 years, while reaffirming the need to respect and protect defenders around the globe.

The summit was a three-day event filled with plenaries, roundtable discussions, workshops, along with side events such as various art exhibitions. At the end of the summit, a new and updated Action Plan was achieved. The plan meticulously directs powerful stakeholders to different ways they can promote, protect and respect human rights in their work. These stakeholders were namely states, businesses, financial institutions, donors (both private and government) and intergovernmental organisations.

The Action Plan acknowledges the changes that have taken place the past two decades and takes into account the existing mechanisms that can be used to enhance the recognition and respect for human rights defenders. For states, the action plan begins by explicitly calling the need to recognise human rights in the first place followed by suggestions to carry out this recommendation. For example, through education, acknowledgement of challenges, and condemnation of attacks and threats towards human rights defenders.

For intergovernmental organisations, the action plan emphasises the importance of prioritising human rights defenders – whether it is by legitimising their role and their work or including them in conversations at high-level dialogues with people who have the authority to listen and change dire situations. PBI emphasises this recommendation and the importance of encouraging diversity in these spaces. Human rights are not a commodity to be sold but a public good that everyone deserves equal access to.

Undeniably, it is too early to tell what the impact of the Action Plan is but just like how the first Human Rights Summit laid the foundations for the protection of human rights defenders as we know it today, perhaps this Action Plan can also act as a template for how defenders need and can be further protected in the 21st century.

PBI continues to stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and acknowledge the importance of their work. Next week, PBI will be hosting a speaker tour in Europe where human rights defenders from Latin America will share their experiences and challenges they still face.  It is events like these that help raise awareness about defenders´ needs and encourages authorities with protection mandates to adapt their strategies to ensure defenders are protected across the world.