Press Release

DIALOGUE WITH WOMEN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS: Fostering a conducive environment for the free and safe work of women human rights defenders through coalitions, joint action, and use of the United Nations human rights mechanisms

08 December 2023

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Women, with the support of the Embassy of Austria in Bosnia and Herzegovina, held a dialogue in Banja Luka on December 6th on the work of women human rights defenders. Of note, 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly. 

In 1993, the World Conference on Human Rights adopted the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which reaffirmed the universality, interdependence and indivisibility of human rights and strengthened the United Nations human rights system, notably by establishing the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights mandate. It also put a strong emphasis on women’s rights and on the role of civil society in promoting and protecting human rights.

The event brought together women human rights defenders, journalists, representatives of the Human Rights Ombudsman Institution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Agency for Gender Equality of the Ministry of Human Rights and Refugees of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Gender Centre of the Republika Srpska entity.

The dialogue focused on the challenges faced by women rights defenders and actions to support and strengthen their engagement.

In a powerful exchange, women human rights defenders described the serious challenges they encounter, including frequent harassment, threats and attacks in the conduct of their work, as well as institutional barriers and the lack of responses from relevant authorities to the risks they endure.

Women human rights defenders expressed their concern regarding the draft Republika Srpska law on the special registry and publicity of the work of non-profit organizations. They warned that if adopted, it would significantly curtail the space for civil society to conduct its essential work and noted that its chilling effect was already tangible.

The participants agreed upon the importance of thoroughly documenting human rights violations and attacks they faced. The importance of strengthening coalitions for joint action and leveraging the use of international human rights mechanisms was underscored as part of key strategies to address the challenges faced by women human rights defenders and other civil society actors.

Representatives from the United Nations in Bosnia and Herzegovina underscored their commitment to supporting women human rights defenders and the use of United Nations human rights mechanisms, and to facilitating capacity building and other actions to support civil society organizations. The participation of women rights defenders in the preparations of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Bosnia and Herzegovina was highlighted as a means to put the spotlight on the situation of women rights defenders.


Ajla Bećirspahić

Communication and Advocacy Officer

UN entities involved in this initiative

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Resident Coordinator Office
UN Women
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women

Goals we are supporting through this initiative