Advocacy statements

The importance of protecting human rights defenders globally

  • Date / 2026
  • Location / Greece
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 8: Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Humanists International

55th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (26 February to 5 April 2024)

General Debate on Item 8: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action

Thank you Mr President,

The Vienna Declaration outlines the need for states to respect and promote human rights. However, too often we see States themselves undermine these rights. Human rights defenders (HRDs), whether it be by supporting victims, securing accountability or disseminating information on human rights abuses, are at the front line of ensuring human rights everywhere for all.

However, this important work is not always well-received. The hostility faced by HRDs is pervasive, threatening, and can be seen across all regions. Government persecution and the criminalization of the acts of HRDs should be called out, and states should work to protect HRDs from extrajudicial abuse and violence.

To this end, we would like to highlight the case of Narendra Nayak[1] in India. Mr Nayak has campaigned for decades against superstition and so-called “God men,” and advocated for the upholding of secularism as India has seen a sharp rise in Hindu nationalism. As a result of his campaigning, Mr Nayak has been named on hit lists as a target for assassination. These credible threats led to the appointment of a police protection detail in 2016. However, one year ago on March 30th 2023, Mr Nayak had his protection removed, having been told that he must pay for it himself using his modest teacher’s pension. His life is in constant danger without this security, and we call on the Indian government to reinstate his protection detail.

The experience of Panayote Dimitras,[2] an HRD in Greece, is another compelling example. For his work defending migrants and combating hate, Dimitras has faced smear campaigns, threats of violence, and repeated judicial harassment, with his freedom of movement undermined and his assets frozen. We call on Greece to heed the concerns of multiple UN Special Rapporteurs and to drop the spurious charges against him.[3]

Thank you.

[1] https://humanists.international/case-of-concern/narendra-nayak/

[2] https://humanists.international/case-of-concern/panayote-dimitras/; https://humanists.international/2023/03/humanists-international-calls-out-greece-at-un-for-hostile-treatment-of-human-rights-defenders/; https://humanists.international/2023/02/greece-humanist-barred-from-human-rights-work/;

[3] https://twitter.com/MaryLawlorhrds/status/1618196397270130688; https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=27213

Suggested academic reference

'The importance of protecting human rights defenders globally', Humanists International

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