Available translations: English العربيّة
News : Article

Protecting human rights defenders during COVID-19 and beyond

Graphic: Protesters hold candles at an evening vigil

The APF has prepared an action plan with concrete steps that NHRIs can take at the national and regional levels to protect human rights defenders

European Union LogoEuropean Union
Asia Pacific Forum LogoAsia Pacific Forum

The APF has prepared an action plan with concrete steps that national human rights institutions (NHRIs) can take at the national and regional levels to promote and protect human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific.

The APF Regional Action Plan on Human Rights Defenders offers strategies for NHRIs to respond to the combined challenges of shrinking civic spaces and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Over the past decade, countries across the region have experienced an erosion of the rule of law, often under the guise of national security, and new laws and policies that hamper the capacity of human rights defenders to work effectively and in safety.

This has been accompanied in 2020 by governments imposing sweeping restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, communication and other fundamental rights to counter the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

While the stated purpose of these restrictions is to safeguard public health, many emergency measures have been used as a means to crack down on political dissent or target human rights defenders with increased surveillance.


A woman confronts police during a protest

In 2019, Front Line Defenders' Global Analysis documented 69 killings of human rights defenders in the Asia Pacific region.

APF members have first-hand experience of human rights violations, either as targets of attacks or from documenting the stories of human rights defenders.


The APF Regional Action Plan is part of a global effort by NHRIs to strengthen their work with and for human rights defenders, building on the Marrakech Declaration, adopted in 2018 at the 13th International Conference of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions.

It sets out a series of practical actions, be implemented over a five-year period, to promote and protect defenders, with a focus on women human rights defenders.

These proposed actions are accompanied by case studies or good practice examples from a number of APF members.

National-level actions

1: Advocate for national legal protections

2: Promote gender equality and mainstream the recognition of women human rights defenders

3: Raise awareness of the rights of human rights defenders

4: Develop 'early warning systems'

5: Monitor violations against human rights defenders

6: Report on violations against human rights defenders

7: Engage with the international human rights system

8: Strengthen national networks of human rights defenders

Regional-level actions

1: Support regional policy making on human rights defenders

2: Engage with regional civil society actors and international partners

3: Collaborate between NHRIs

4: Facilitate relocation and respite for human rights defenders

5: Support the establishment of NHRIs

6: Develop regional data on human rights defenders

7: Strengthen the capacity of NHRIs


Graphic: Commissioner Jerald Joseph talks with two men in rural Malaysia


The APF Regional Action Plan has been drafted by representatives from the NHRIs of Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Mongolia, New Zealand, Palestine, Philippines and Sri Lanka.

It will be presented shortly to APF members for feedback and endorsement, and then finalised by the end of the year.

An online learning program on human rights defenders and how NHRIs can begin implementing the APF Regional Action Plan will follow in 2021.

Date: 20 October 2020


EU logo

These activities are part of the APF's contribution to the NHRI.EU Project Phase II, which aims to strengthen the capacities of NHRIs, individually and collectively, in line with the Paris Principles.


Image credits

  1. Protesters hold candles at an evening vigil - wajakemek | rashdanothman; Flickr CC
  2. A woman confronts police during a protest - Dying Regime, Flickr CC
  3. Commissioner Jerald Joseph talks with two men in rural Malaysia - Human Rights Commission of Malaysia
  4. EU logo - European Union