International Service for Human Rights

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The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is a Geneva- and New York-based human rights NGO that specializes in providing training, information and advice for defenders of human rights worldwide. Established in 1984, ISHR provides information on both international (UN) and regional human rights law and procedures. ISHR's role is to facilitate human rights defenders' access to information and knowledge, strengthen their capacity and skills, and to offer them technical and strategic support as well as practical means to actively participate in the meetings of UN and regional human rights bodies.

In order to maximise the engagement of human rights defenders with the United Nations and regional human rights systems, ISHR works to increase the effectiveness of these systems. In this respect, accessibility and responsiveness to human rights defenders is key. ISHR reaches this goal by carrying out advocacy, developing policies and promoting specific strategies that aim to strengthen the mechanisms for the protection of human rights defenders as well as the United Nations and regional systems


ISHR's mission is to support the engagement of human rights defenders with the United Nations and regional human rights systems. In turn, ISHR also aims to make these systems more effective, more accessible to human rights defenders, and more responsive to their concerns.


ISHR's vision is a world where the UN and regional human rights systems effectively promote and protect the human rights of all and where everyone defending human rights enjoys protection of their rights.


In 1984 the UN human rights system was very far removed from the realities of the work of human rights defenders at the national level. ISHR was established at the time with the objective of bridging this gap by enabling defenders to access the UN system and to effectively participate at the international level.

Over time, ISHR’s geographic reach has broadened to incorporate regional systems of protection. While its capacity and staff has increased at all levels, advocacy, training, and information services have remained at the heart of ISHR’s work since the beginning.

ISHR has been involved in the development of almost all international standards and protection mechanisms relevant to human rights defenders. These include advocacy around the drafting of the 1996 ECOSOC Resolution providing for the accreditation of NGOs to participate in the work of the Commission on Human Rights and the drafting of the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human Rights Defenders) in 1998. ISHR’s advocacy around the creation of the mandates of the UN and African Commission Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders in 2000 and 2005 respectively resulted in the establishment of a dedicated Human Rights Defenders Office within ISHR in 2001 to work directly with the Rapporteurs and strengthen their effective engagement with defenders.

In 2003 ISHR assumed a facilitating role at the NGO Forum prior to the annual meeting of the African Commission and became a co-facilitator of NGOs for the Asia Pacific Forum in 2006.

In 2006 ISHR was instrumental in the drafting of the Yogyakarta Principles on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity. It also played a central role in the creation of the United Nations Human Rights Council (the Council), particularly the drafting of the modalities of the Universal Periodic Review mechanism (UPR) and the review of the system of special procedures. And also has been instrumental in drafting of the "Activist's Guide to the Yogyakarta Principles" by the Yogyakarta Principles in Action.[1]


- With offices in Geneva and New York, a short distance from the headquarters of the United Nations, ISHR closely monitors all major human rights meetings at the UN and is a long-established and recognised expert on the UN human rights system. This gives the organisation a unique perspective on the functioning and evolution of key UN human rights bodies that is both holistic as well as analytical.

- ISHR has also developed expertise in the functioning of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Asia Pacific Forum of national human rights institutions (the APF) and supports active engagement of defenders with the regional human rights systems.

- ISHR’s proximity to the UN and regional human rights mechanisms as well as its continuous engagement with human rights defenders, puts the organisation in a unique position to contribute to the sharing of best practices across different mechanisms and to ensure that the concerns of human rights defenders remain at the heart of UN and regional human rights mechanisms.


- ISHR has established lasting partnerships with human rights defenders and national human rights institutions (NHRIs) that enhance the impact of its activities in countries.

- ISHR has close relationships with human rights defenders, NGOs, academia, and other experts from the UN and regional systems that strengthen and inform its work.

- ISHR’s presence within the UN and regional systems makes it a valuable resource for human rights defenders wishing to use these systems.

- ISHR is a trusted advisor and facilitator of NGO collaboration.


ISHR publishes the Human Rights Monitor Quarterly four times a year (January, April, July and October). The Quarterly presents a global picture of developments in the international and regional human rights systems. It also highlights events, meetings and opportunities for engagement by NGOs and national human rights institutions.

In addition to the Quarterly, ISHR also produces more regular news pieces and articles, which are distributed through its website and by email. The news items cover such topics as the Human Rights Council, including the Council’s five-year review, and the Universal Periodic Review.

An updated Simple Guide to the UN Treaty Bodies was also published by ISHR in 2010, and is available in both print and electronic forms.


- ISHR’s information products and news stories are delivered in real time or shortly after the meetings take place.

- ISHR’s internship programme offers unique opportunities for aspiring human rights activists to develop both their substantive knowledge of the UN human rights system and their practical and professional skills in a supportive learning environment.


  1. ^ New tool for LGBTI launched

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