International Service for Human Rights
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The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) is an independent, non-profit organization with offices in Geneva and New York which promotes and protects human rights by supporting human rights defenders, strengthening human rights standards and systems, and leading and participating in coalitions for human rights change.
Established in 1984, ISHR's role is to support human rights defenders by building their capacity and expertise, strengthening their recognition and protection under international law, and protecting them from threats, risks and reprisals. ISHR provides human rights defenders with a range of tools and support, including access to high quality research and analysis, tailored training and capacity building services, legal advice and strategic litigation, and advocacy and networking support. ISHR works to strengthen human rights systems by: 1) creating space for human rights defenders and ensuring their voices are heard; 2) protection of human rights defenders from reprisals and intimidation; 3) stronger membership and cooperation with human rights bodies.
ISHR's mission is to:
- support human rights defenders at the international and regional levels
- strengthen international and regional human rights systems
- build, lead and support human rights networks and coalitions
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. 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 was also fundamental in the creation of the mandates of the UN and African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders in 2000 and 2005 respectively.
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.
In 2011 ISHR’s sustained advocacy on the issue of reprisals and intimidation faced by human rights defenders led to the adoption of a landmark UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning and strengthening protections against reprisals.
In 2012 working with key NGO partners such as Amnesty International, ISHR led civil society efforts to strengthen UN human rights treaty bodies, prevent their weakening and better connect their work with victims and human rights defenders on the ground.
In 2013 an ISHR proposal to develop a model national law on the recognition and protection of human rights defenders was unanimously endorsed by the Vienna+20 International Human Rights Experts Conference. Working with supportive states and NGOs, ISHR advocacy led to adoption of a historic Human Rights Council resolution calling on all States to review and amend national laws to respect and protect the work of human rights defenders.
- With offices in Geneva and New York, a short distance from the headquarters of the United Nations, ISHR closely monitors 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 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 periodic digital human rights monitors, including the monthly Human Rights Monitor, together with periodic monitors on the UN Human Rights Council, the UN General Assembly and the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights while they are in session. These monitors highlight developments in the international and regional human rights systems, as well as events, meetings and opportunities for engagement by NGOs and national human rights institutions.
In addition to the human rights monitors, ISHR produces regular news pieces and articles, analytic and research reports, briefing papers, manuals and handbooks for human rights defenders. The organisation also publishes opinion pieces from international human rights experts.
- ISHR’s information products and news stories are delivered in real time or shortly after the meetings take place.
- ISHR conducts regular training courses on the use of the main UN human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council, the special procedures, the treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Programme in Geneva, equips human rights defenders with the knowledge and skills to strategically integrate the system into their existing work at the national level. The programme also provides an opportunity for participants to directly engage in lobbying and advocacy activities at the UN level with the aim to effect change on the ground back home.
- ISHR runs an internship programme for aspiring human rights activists to develop their substantive knowledge of the UN human rights system and their practical and professional skills.
ISHR receives its financial support from major and individual donors. These include governments, trusts and foundations, law firms and private individuals.