Defenders in Development

A global campaign for a new model of development that advances the realization of human rights and safeguards those who defend them

We seek a world in which individuals, communities, groups and peoples are able to exercise their fundamental human rights, determining and pursuing their own priorities about their lives, their futures, their lands and natural resources. We envision a world where development processes and activities advance the realization of human rights, respond to the needs and priorities of the most poor and marginalized, and promote a safe and enabling environment for public participation and accountability.

Human rights defenders are a cornerstone of truly sustainable development, the realization of the right to development and other human rights, and the achievement of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. They are the individuals, communities, indigenous peoples, journalists, activists, and others who – individually or collectively – speak truth to power and fight for the rights of all of us. Human rights defenders stand up for a clean and healthy environment, and to protect their lands, resources, and livelihoods. They fight for a voice in decision-making, to practice traditional cultures, to access health care and education, to have decent work and adequate food, to hold governments accountable, and to access justice.

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Yet, too often, policies and projects enacted in the name of development put human rights defenders at risk. Inadequately planned and ill-conceived investments with harmful social and environmental impacts are frequently imposed on communities without the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples or the meaningful consultation of others. Indigenous peoples and other communities are forcibly evicted from their territories and lands to make way for natural resource exploitation, monoculture development, infrastructure and energy projects that often serve to benefit powerful economic interests. These projects can fuel conflict and corruption, violate human rights and exacerbate climate change. At the same time, many governments are rolling back critical public interest protections and curbing public participation and fundamental freedoms in an effort to attract investment. When affected communities, individuals and groups try to participate in development processes, or to raise their voices and stand up for their rights, they often face threats, intimidation, stigmatization, imprisonment, violence, and even death.

Development Finance Institutions play a critical role – not only because they back development projects, but also because they have the power to direct resources and set the standards for a wide range of development actors at the international, regional and national levels. Development Finance Institutions have a range of legal obligations and responsibilities to respect and protect human rights and to ensure that their activities do not put human rights defenders or communities at risk. These institutions could help create the space for public participation in development processes, but instead, in many cases their projects and priorities, actions and omissions help foment an environment in which those who voice objections, suggest alternatives or defend human rights are excluded, silenced and shut down.

To address this growing challenge, the Defenders in Development Campaign brings together human rights defenders and advocates from around the world to ensure that communities and marginalized groups have the information, resources, protection and power to shape, participate in, or oppose development activities, and to hold development actors accountable.

We call upon Development Finance Institutions to take all urgent and necessary action to ensure they respect, protect, and fulfill human rights in all their activities. We work to change how States, development finance institutions, companies and other development actors operate, especially in contexts where human rights defenders are at risk, and to ensure that they promote a safe and enabling environment for public participation. And we urge these actors to prevent attacks by tackling the root causes of threats against defenders, to take necessary actions to support and protect defenders, and to work to guarantee accountability and remedy when defenders are targeted.

Bringing together our diverse knowledge, experiences and resources, we commit to collective action to usher in a fundamentally different model of development – one that respects, protects, and fulfills human rights and safeguards those who defend them.       [Learn more about the Campaign]

Endorsing Organizations:

ABColombia - UK | Accountability Counsel - US | African Law Foundation (AFRILAW) - Nigeria | AFREWATCH - Congo | Association Communautaire Pour la Promotion et la Protection des Droits De L’Homme (ACPDH) - Burundi | Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) - Philippines | Amazon Watch - US | Arab Watch Coalition for Just Development - MENA region | Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) - Asia region | Bank Information Center - US | Bank Information Center Europe - Netherlands | BankTrack - Netherlands | Both ENDS - Netherlands | Botswana Watch - Botswana | Bretton Woods Project - UK | CEE Bankwatch - CEE Region | Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) - International | Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) - The Netherlands | Coalition for Human Rights in Development - International | Collectif des Associations Contre l'Impunité au Togo - Togo | Comitato Verità e Giustizia per i Nuovi Desaparecidos - Italy | Crude Accountability - US | Defenders Protection Initiative (DPI) - Uganda | Derecho, Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (DAR) -Peru | EarthRights International - USA | EnvironSolutions Ltd. - Mauritius | Freedom House, Defenders Fund - US | Friends of the Earth United States - US | Friends with Environment in Development - Uganda | Forest Peoples Programme - UK | Front Line Defenders - Ireland | Fundación Pachamama - Ecuador | Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación - Mexico | Fundación para el Desarrollo de Políticas Sustentables (FUNDEPS) - Argentina | Gender Action - US | Green Advocates International - Liberia | Global Witness - UK | Human Rights Movement "Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan" - Kyrgyzstan | Human Rights Society of Uzbekistan (HRSU) - Uzbekistan | International Accountability Project - International | International Rivers - International | Jamaa Resource Initiatives - Kenya | Kalikasan People's Network for the Environment - Philippines | La Plataforma Internacional Contra la Impunidad - Guatemala | Lumiere Synergie pour le Developpement - Senegal | Manushya Foundation - Thailand | Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns - US | Narasha Community Development Group - Kenya | Observatoire d'Etudes et d'Appui à la Responsabilite Sociale et Environnementale (OEARSE) - Democratic Republic of Congo | Oil Workers' Rights Protection Organization Public Union - Azerbaijan | Oyu Tolgoi Watch - Mongolia | Project on Organizing, Development, Education and Research (PODER) - Mexico and Latin America | Protection International - Belgium | Public Association “Dignity” - Kazakhstan | Red de Género y Medio Ambiente - Mexico | Réseau Camerounais des Organisations des Droits de l'Homme (RECODH) - Cameroon | Rivers Without Boundaries Coalition - Mongolia | Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights - International | Steps Without Borders NGO - Mongolia | Terra Mater - Ecuador | Urgewald - Germany | WoMin Alliance Trust - African region