The Program assists defenders by coordinating trial observations, legal or litigation assistance, and/or advocacy campaigns. Please fill out this form to request assistance.
After observing several hearings in the cases against Jorge Acosta, an Ecuadorian workers’ rights advocate and coordinator of the banana workers’ union ASTAC, Center staff attorneys concluded that the criminal proceedings against him have been characterized by several serious irregularities. (Photo Credit: "The Banana Worker" by Sgillins13 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The Center’s staff have concluded that Konan’s guilty convictions were not based on the required standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Konan seems to have been held criminally liable for the acts of violence committed by others in violation of the requirement of individual criminal liability. (Photo Credit: Toba Moidjra Yvonne Lauria Juliana, No Vox - Côte d’Ivoire)
The Justice Defenders Program works with at-risk human rights defenders in over 65 countries.
In many countries, individuals are arrested or assaulted for exercising their legitimate right to participate in a peaceful gathering or protest, form associations, or exercise their right to speech. The Justice Defenders Program supports human rights defenders - including journalists, pro-democracy advocates, and labor activists - that face retaliation for exposing human rights abuses.
Human rights advocates are increasingly facing frivolous legal proceedings as a way to discredit their work and impede their activities. The Program observes trials and other proceedings to discourage the misuse of legal processes against defenders and provides technical assistance to local counsel representing defenders.
Many individuals working to protect the environment, expose corrupt business practices or ensure protections for workers or indigenous communities face different forms of retaliation. These include violent threats, restrictions on their ability to form associations and frivolous criminal charges. The Program works with local partners facing such threats to develop innovative strategies to document abuses, form cross-sectoral coalitions, build public support, and engage key stakeholders to increase respect for human rights in business operations. Additionally, the Program helps activists to obtain protection when facing violent threats.
Many states have begun using counterterrorism laws to crack down on legitimate human rights defenders. The Program has analyzed various national counterterrorism laws, outlining the problematic provisions of these laws that open them up to abuse.
The Program has supported threatened attorneys, prosecutors, and judges in over twelve different countries. Our efforts and support resulted in the activists' releases from prison, dropped charges, improved conditions of confinement, increased protective measures, reinstatement to the bench, decreased restrictions on the independence of the bar, and increased investigations into violent attacks against lawyers.
Individuals working to defend fundamental rights, including journalists, lawyers, union organizers, and indigenous leaders, are facing increasing acts of intimidation and persecution for the legitimate work that they do. The Program supports these defenders by petitioning international bodies to obtain protective measures (such as court-ordered bodyguards), referring them to organizations that provide funds for physical security and psychosocial support, raising their public profile where appropriate, engaging local authorities to investigate threats, and holding officials accountable when they fail to investigate credible threats or are complicit in such threats.