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Human Rights Defenders

Human Rights Defenders Mission: Provide temporary, transitional support to activists who are forced to work underground or flee their countries so they can continue to fight in the human rights arena.

The McCain Institute at Arizona State University is deeply committed to upholding freedom, democracy and universal human rights.  Reflecting this commitment, the McCain Institute has launched a program to provide transitional assistance to human rights defenders who have been forced to flee their homes or to work underground due to harassment, intimidation or violent threats.

Democratic norms and human rights are under attack around the world as established democracies look inward, and authoritarian regimes take advantage of a world seemingly less concerned about promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.  These dramatic political changes portray a world that is drifting toward a period of nationalism and illiberalism.

Such trends put the lives of human rights defenders, as well as their friends and families, at grave risk. Many have to flee their homes.  Through the Human Rights Defenders program, the McCain Institute provides funding, logistical assistance and referrals to human rights defenders in distress, helping them to:

  • Settle into a safe environment
  • Receive training involving extra security precautions, networking, and career development if unable to return home any time soon
  • Find sustainable employment as a means to continue their human rights work throughout the time they are unable to return to their home countries

Each time a human rights defender or journalist is forced to abandon his or her work, a voice is silenced, and a repressive regime wins. The Institute’s goal is to make sure these critical voices remain loud and strong. The Institute provides them the opportunity to remain in the arena to defend human rights for the long-term. The assistance has a tangible impact on lives and advances the causes of liberty and justice.

Human Rights Defenders Conversation Series:

Nicholas Opiyo | Executive Director, Chapter Four Udanda

Each case is unique. As a result, the Human Rights Defenders program is extremely flexible in the kind of support offered, tailoring it to best meet the needs of the recipient.  The McCain Institute strives to keep individuals close to their homelands, although the program might also identify and support individuals already relocated to another country, including the United States.

Since the program started, the Institute has supported 90 defenders from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Burundi, Cameroon, Chechnya, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Libya, Malaysia, Myanmar Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Palestine, Pakistan, The Philippines, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Turkiye, Uganda, Ukraine, Venezuela and Yemen. The activists come from varying backgrounds – journalists, researchers, bloggers, civic activists, scholars – underscoring the growing repressive nature of governments around the world.  One activist survived repeated attempts against her life, others were jailed for their activism and all of them left their countries to seek safety and refuge.   Our support is aimed at helping them re-settle, while remaining engaged in the fight for human rights in their home countries. 

To contact our team, please text via Signal/WhatsApp at 202-868-7588 or email [email protected].

From our Human Rights Defenders:

Jamila Afgani

Activist for Women’s Rights and Education from Afghanistan

“I really appreciate this respected organization’s help and support during the difficult time of transition for me and my family. The situation came up in a way that we were not ready mentally, economically or physically, and we had no time to plan to exit. If today I am in a better situation, it is because of your generous support. It was extremely helpful.

I appreciate this innovative grant supporting human rights defenders, which is really lacking in many other donor organizations.”

MD Harun Or Rashid

Researcher and Civil Society Activist from Bangladesh

“I am extremely grateful to the McCain Institute for providing me support both financially and mentally during my difficult situation. The valuable suggestions I received from the Institute team on how to deal with the situation were extremely helpful. Besides, the grant I received from the McCain Institute helped me not only to survive in the United States and later in Nepal, but also gave me the opportunity to be reunited with my wife. I am going to start my Ph.D. in the United States this fall, and the McCain Institute has had a great role in the whole process.”

Roman Sacharov

Journalist from Russia

“Human rights defenders and civil activists, who are forced to leave their homeland because of pressures from regimes, face many difficulties. One of the main questions that you must confront is whether you can continue to effectively protect the values you have fought for all your life. I can say about myself: it was very important for me. Therefore, I am very glad to have received support from McCain Institute. With my participation in the HRD program, I am able to continue my human rights work on freedom of speech. And I have sufficient flexibility in the implementation of the project, because the McCain Institute understands very well the peculiarities of the situation of persecuted human rights defenders. This is very important.”