In their essence, organized human rights groups act to protect vulnerable and politically marginalized people by harnessing social solidarity and human rights law to counteract power dynamics that inhibit governments from adequately realizing their rights and protecting them from harm.

The rise of formal human rights groups around the world was tied to the building of the international human rights field, following the founding of the United Nations. In the 1990s, human rights groups proliferated along with global trends in democratization at the national level and the incorporation of “civil society organizations” into the international development agenda.

In recent years, the entire international human rights system has been under pressure, along with the rest of the international order, as geopolitics has been affected by a rising China and a resurgence of authoritarian tendencies in many countries, and as populist politics from Brazil to Hungary reinforces an emphasis on national sovereignty around the globe. With the role of international norms weakening, governments took aim at the financial underpinnings of global civil society, playing up a perceived lack of legitimacy for locally-based civil society initiatives that rely on foreign grants for their financial sustainability. Just as these trends were gaining ground, along came a global pandemic, which created an even more dramatic disruption to the collaborative channels and funding practices that have supported international solidarity on human rights in the last half century.

Given all of these shifts, it’s a good time to ask: what are we trying to achieve, and what are the different ways we can achieve it?

The project on Mapping Civil Society Innovation to Advance Human Rights is a collaborative effort among a growing consortium of civil society resource hubs to help answer these questions. Together, we are identifying creative ways in which civil society actors are addressing the challenges of these times, documenting them, facilitating further innovation, and strengthening the new forms of organizing that support positive human rights outcomes.


Photo by Mark Seletcky on Unsplash