In recent years several governments have developed specific national mechanisms to protect defenders, all of them in countries seriously lacking in protection for human rights defenders. These mechanisms (laws, action policies, offices) have been established under pressure from (and with the cooperation of) national and international human rights organisations, with essential legal support from the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

At Protection International, this development has led us to set up a study group focused on these national initiatives: what are they and what do they consist of? How did they come about, how do they work and what is their impact on the protection of defenders? In our view there is a need to better understand all the initiatives that have been taken in the world to this end and to show what the defenders think constitutes good practice and what we can learn.

Given the vast and complex nature of the results of the survey we decided to compile them in one volume under the general title, “Protection of human rights defenders: best practices and lessons learnt”:

This publication is divided in two parts.

The first part is subtitled “Legislation, national policies and defenders’ units”, and in it we analyse the legislative and structural aspects of these protection initiatives.

The second part, “Protection Programmes for Defenders”, analyses the practical aspects of protection programmes: the measures they include, how they are structured, and their results. This second part focuses on the three countries whose protection programmes were examined, namely Brazil, Guatemala and Colombia.

The background to this debate needs to be addressed first. That is whether it is necessary for the state to create mechanisms (laws, policies, offices) specifically for the protection of defenders or if it is better to ensure the institutions (the legal system and security forces) fulfil their obligation to guarantee protection for this group.