All kinds of people help make sure that everyone’s human rights are respected.

These human rights defenders protect our freedom of expression, our access to health care and clean water, our ability to protest peacefully, and all of our other fundamental human rights.

Human rights are increasingly under attack in the United States and around the world. That’s why human rights defenders are needed – and that’s why Amnesty International is working to protect them.


Individual cases

Human rights defenders face threats, intimidation and imprisonment. Governments around the world, including in the United States, prevent them from speaking out or imprison them because of their peaceful activism.

  • Worldwide, at least 156 human rights defenders died in detention or were killed in 2015.
  • At least 61 countries put people in prison simply for exercising their rights and freedoms.
  • At least 113 countries restricted freedom of expression and the press in 2015.

The right to protest

Governments around the world have long tried to restrict people’s human right to protest peacefully, often as part of broader crackdowns on human rights. In the United States, there is a sharp increase in attempts to limit and even criminalize peaceful protest.

  • Bills have been introduced in 19 states to restrict the right to protest. Read our recent letter to the Florida Legislature on HB1/SB 484.
  • On the federal level, the Department of Justice and Congress may consider policies to restrict the right to protest.

Changing lives and policies

For more than 55 years, Amnesty International has fought for – and won – the freedom of people around the world who were imprisoned for their activism, changed laws to protect human rights defenders, and ensured that activists can take to the streets to express their views peacefully.

  • Our research uncovers cases of individual human rights defenders worldwide who are targeted for their activism. We launch campaigns to publicize these cases and pressure governments on individuals’ behalf. Take action in urgent cases today.
  • We mobilize grassroots activists in the United States to defeat state and federal legislation that would limit people’s ability to protest peacefully. Take action to protect the right to protest in the U.S.
  • We deploy trained human rights observers to monitor police response to peaceful protests in the United States.


Number of human rights defenders who died in detention or were killed in 2015.


Number of U.S. states that have introduced bills to restrict the right to protest.


Number of countries that imprisoned people in 2016 for exercising their human rights.

Case Study

Ladonna Brave Bull Allard

When an oil company wanted to build a pipeline near the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, the Sioux Tribe was not properly consulted, and the impact on their water and culture was not fully studied.

LaDonna Brave Bull Allard and Indigenous communities decided to fight back. Police responded to protests with inappropriate force. After months of protests, the federal government, under President Obama, finally agreed to halt construction and conduct an analysis of the environmental impact – a decision that was reversed once President Trump was elected.

At the invitation of community leaders, Amnesty International sent several delegations of human rights observers to Standing Rock to document the police response to protests. For months, we pressed the governor and local law enforcement to respect everyone’s human rights, and we mobilized thousands of people to call and write to them. Through direct advocacy and grassroots mobilization, we also helped defeat five bills in the North Dakota State Legislature that would have restricted the right to protest.

Activists Demonstrate Against The Dakota Access Pipeline Project
WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 15, 2016: LaDonna Brave Bull Allard (C) of Cannon Ball, North Dakota, talks with Maj. Gen. Donald Jackson of the Army Corps of Engineers during a demonstration against the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline outside the Corps headquarters November 15, 2016 in Washington, DC. Allard’s father and son are both buried on a hillside overlooking the confluence of the Cannon Ball and Missouri rivers and she asked Jackson to block the proposed pipeline. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)


Human rights defenders across the globe risk imprisonment, harassment, torture, and even death to defend human rights. They work tirelessly at grave risk and count on Amnesty to support them.

Here are three priority cases you can work on now.

Mohammad al-Qahtani

Saudi Arabia

Mohammad al-Qahtani, an economics professor and co-founder of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association (ACPRA), one of Saudi Arabia’s few independent human rights organizations, is serving a ten-year prison sentence for his peaceful activism.

Máxima Acuña


Máxima Acuña, a peasant farmer in northern Peru, has braved violent harassment and intimidation from local police for refusing to leave the land where she lives with her family. She believes they want to drive her away from her home. But she’s not going anywhere.

Ilham Tohti


Ilham Tohti, a respected university professor, has worked tirelessly to build bridges between ethnic communities in China. He always opposed violence in his writing and lectures. But he’s been jailed for life – supposedly for stirring up ethnic hatred.