Protecting Human Rights Defenders

Lifeline Fund

Lifeline Fund

Protecting human rights defenders is a global challenge, partners who share the same values can benefit by combining their voices and their resources. In October 2018, Finland added their voice to the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund.  Unique in its ability to provide large resources to support grass roots defenders, the Lifeline Fund was established in 2011 as a response to threats against civil society and a global decline in fundamental freedoms.

The fund is now supported by 19 governments: Australia, Benin, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, United Kingdom, United States, and Uruguay.  The Lifeline Fund is administered by a consortium of seven international NGOs that provide short-term grants to civil society organizations (CSOs) facing threats due to their human rights work and working in restrictive environments. To date, Lifeline has provided more than 12 million dollars in support to more than 1,800 CSOs in 104 countries.

The core of Lifeline’s work are emergency grants to CSOs under attack for their human rights work. Lifeline provides funds for urgent expenses such as legal representation, temporary relocation, office security, and medical expenses.  Lifeline supports unregistered and informal groups, as well as more formalized NGOs – groups that are often working to advocate for social justice, to protect natural resources, or to challenge the abuse of power.  These efforts often put NGOs in the line of fire from other forces seeking to maintain the status quo.  Lifeline fund recipients might be working to advance women and girls’ access to education, protecting indigenous land rights, or bringing attention to corruption of public officials, among many other issues.  In a recent case, Lifeline provided a grant to an environmental rights CSO in Thailand to provide legal representation to seven women human rights defenders.  The women had come under criminal investigation for their participation in non-violent protests, thanks to the grant, they were able to access legal assistance that ultimately resulted in their acquittal. Among groups that received emergency assistance, 98% of respondents have reported that Lifeline support increased their safety or reduced the threats that they faced.

Lifeline brings flexibility to respond to changing events quickly.  In addition to the emergency grants, Lifeline also provides short-term advocacy and resiliency grants to prevent attacks before they start.  Advocacy grants help CSOs to push back against restrictions on freedom of association and assembly. For instance, Lifeline supported a CSO in Pakistan to encourage the government to develop a national policy for the protection of human rights defenders.  This campaign resulted in the Pakistan National Commission on Human Rights adopting “Policy Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.” Resiliency grants enable at-risk CSOs to reduce threats to their work. This can include security training, peer-to-peer early warning systems, help to create offshore hubs to temporarily re-orient in exile, or training for compliance with onerous legislation that restricts freedom of association. For instance, in 2018 Lifeline supported a Syrian CSO to build a joint protection mechanism between local council members and CSOs in four localities in northwest Syria. The four cohorts addressed the lack of trust among these groups in order to build a program of digital and physical security training and networking. As the global trend of restricted civic space continues, the need for Lifeline grants to CSOs has never been more urgent.  Such grants enable CSOs to continue fighting these battles to uphold the most fundamental freedoms.

Learn more at or follow us on Twitter @CSOLifeline.


This article was written by the staff of the Lifeline Embattled CSO Assistance Fund (Lifeline Fund). The U.S.A. Department of State participates as one of the 19 member states contributing funds which are then distributed by our NGO partners like Front Line Defenders, Freedom House, and Civicus.