Protecting human rights defenders at risk: Asylum and temporary international relocation

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The response of the international community and civil society to human rights defenders at risk has thus far failed to take adequate account of the international refugee regime. The refugee regime can offer a meaningful remedy to human rights defenders at risk. More specifically, human rights defenders at risk seeking asylum abroad can qualify as refugees and receive meaningful protection from the international refugee regime. In a more organised manner, temporary international relocation initiatives (TIRIs) for human rights defenders at risk provide good examples of the emerging regime of protection for human rights defenders intersecting with the international refugee regime. Human rights defenders at risk within and those who manage TIRIs frequently grapple with issues concerning asylum – and the fundamental tension between TIRIs and asylum seeking. However, TIRIs also reveal a set of similarities between the two regimes: their shared recognition of the failure of states to fulfill their human rights obligations; their shared focus on (and contestation) of risk; a similarly shared focus (and contestation) of who is and within and outside each regime; and similar attempts to translate political sympathy into protection. These similarities can assist in charting a more productive, and explicit, engagement between the two regimes in the future that provides for better protection for human rights defenders at risk.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)935-960
JournalThe International Journal of Human Rights
Issue number7
Early online date25 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - 3 Oct 2015


  • human rights defender
  • refugee
  • asylum
  • temporary international relocation programme

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