Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders


The Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders is one of the special mechanisms overseen by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission created a Unit for Human Rights Defenders in 2001 and established the Rapporteurship during its 141st Session in 2011. See, e.g., IACHR, Press Release No. 28/11. Its purpose is to protect people who defend human rights throughout the Organization of American States (OAS) Member States. Human rights defenders are not only activists, but also “justice operators,” who ensure that individuals have access to justice, including judges, attorneys, and ombudspersons.


One of the Commission’s seven Commissioners is selected to be the Rapporteur for a three-year term, which may be renewed once. Each Commissioner serves in an independent capacity and does not represent his or her country of citizenship. The Commissioner who holds the office undertakes his or her work on a part-time basis, including during the three times per year that the Commission is in session. One or more lawyers in the Commission’s Executive Secretariat, in Washington, D.C., assist the Rapporteur.

The Rapporteur has many duties, including conducting country visits to OAS Member States, undertaking specialized studies, and engaging in promotional activities. The studies help to develop international standards for protecting human rights defenders. The Rapporteurship also advises the Commission in its processing of individual petitions, cases, and requests for provisional and precautionary measures that involve protecting human rights defenders. On its website, the Rapporteurship lists the Inter-American decisions and judgments addressing the rights of human rights defenders.

Country Visits

The Rapporteurship conducts country visits to OAS Member States, with their consent. The Rapporteur is often accompanied by other members of the Commission or members of the Executive Secretariat staff. During country visits, the Rapporteur engages with government officials and civil society organizations, which allows the Rapporteur to expand his or her understanding of the problems human rights defenders and justice operators encounter. The Rapporteur uses this information to develop recommendations to Member States to assist them in fulfilling their international obligations. The Rapporteurship provides brief descriptions of its country visits on its webpage, and also links to sections of country reports published by the Commission following more general on-site visits.

Receiving Information

Aside from information gathered during country visits, the Rapporteurship often obtains information through its participation in promotional activities on human rights defenders, including seminars, workshops, conferences, and specialized meetings. The Rapporteurship is often invited to participate in panel discussions or forums on the challenges that human rights defenders face and the best practices for promoting and protecting their rights. The Office of the Rapporteur has also issued questionnaires to gather information for its reports.

Additionally, the Commission holds thematic hearings to gather information from States and civil society on particular issues. The Rapporteur may participate in these hearings or refer to the information discussed in subsequent reports. View the Commission’s searchable database of public hearings to see those related to human rights defenders and justice operators.


The Rapporteurship publishes thematic reports and studies on issues affecting human rights defenders and justice operators. The Rapporteurship has a duty to provide the Commission with annual reports of its activities, which the Commission then shares in its own Annual Reports to the OAS General Assembly. The Rapporteurship has collected excerpts of these reports related to its activities through 2010 on its website. To view reports on the Rapporteurship’s activities in more recent years, see the Commission’s annual reports page.


The Rapporteurship may be contacted by:

  • Mail:

Rapporteurship on Human Rights Defenders
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
1889 F Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006

The Rapporteurship does not receive individual complaints or requests for precautionary measures. Such petitions and requests must be addressed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For additional information, see the petition form or IJRC’s resources on the Inter-American human rights system.