Human rights defenders project

Human rights defenders project

Human Rights Defenders(HRDs) Unit


The HRDs Unit was established to provide protection to human rights defenders who face human rights violations related to their work as individuals and also as institutions, groupings or associations.  Located within the theory of change as an intervention towards  “provision of legal support to HRDs to safeguard their rights, enhance their operating environment and strengthen the effectiveness of their work”.

The Unit plays a big role in the  democratisation agenda of the country and  ensures that HRDs are not only able to continue with their work, but to do so in a safe environment. Through a holistic integrated approach,  ZLHR’s provision of legal services as a safety net ensures that HRDs working on their own or in their communities advocating for their rights, are capacitated to effectively carry out their work in a safe environment.

Goal: To protect the rights and enhance the safety of human rights defenders through litigation, education and advocacy

Emergency legal services

The emergency legal services consist of rapid reaction wherein we provide legal support to respond to distress calls from human rights defenders (or through their families, associates or members of the public) facing arbitrary arrests in violation of their rights, detained or where there is a threatening harm(of their rights) from state and non state actors. We operate a 24-hour hotline available to such HRDs in need of emergency legal support. Our response protocol provides that we should respond within ten minutes of receiving a distress call and this entails deploying a lawyer to provide legal services to victims of rights violations. The emergency legal services ensures propriety by police in handling human rights cases and seeks to minimize chances or incidences of torture at the hands of police or other state agencies. Our HRDs Unit handles an average of 200 cases annually.

HRDs Capacity Building and Advocacy Initiatives

The HRDs unit runs a database of all HRD cases taken up to allow for follow up and monitoring case management.  Advocacy initiatives on HRDs happen at the national, sub regional, regional and international levels. The advocacy includes monitoring human rights developments, research and publications. A recent key effort has seen the Unit providing leadership in local UPR processes. ZLHR has observer status with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Advocacy initiatives involves low cost action of sending real time information in cases of emergencies, or reports on the situation of human rights defenders calling for interventions by strategic offices such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Charter- and Treaty-based mechanisms of the United Nations (UN). Working groups and other special rapporteurs of the AU and UN are always targeted. At the political level, ZLHR will continue to monitor and engage with the human rights situation as it has done for the last decade at the Southern Africa Development Community and African Union platforms as part of broader efforts to maintain and expand civic space and contribute to the protection of HRDs. Advocacy meetings are carried out in country with representatives of targeted country missions. Strategic Networks are fostered with strategic law-based organisations and other networks such as the SADC Lawyers Association, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, the Pan African Lawyers’ Union and the Pan African HRDs Network, through attendance of strategic meetings, and seminars to harness support for human rights lawyers as well as solidarity for HRDs.  ZLHR as an institution with a memorandum of understanding with the National Human Rights Commission will also develop a referral structure that will be used by HRDs to report violations to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission as a constitutional body mandated with promoting and protecting human rights in Zimbabwe.

Capacity building efforts involve training/capacitation of human rights lawyers and HRDs. ZLHR runs a training curriculum for HRDs broadly and for lawyers who are working on cases of HRDs and broader human rights issues (relating to access to civil, social and economic justice specifically).

Unit Outputs

  • Emergency legal support services
  • Follow up legal support services
  • Database maintenance, update, analysis
  • Development of referral mechanisms for service providers to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
  • United Nations Universal Periodic Review Civil Society/Stakeholder Reports
  • Participation in sessions of the UN Human Rights Council
  • Participation in sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • Participation in activities of the SADC and AU
  • Strategic networking meetings, seminar attendances with law-based as well as other CSOs.

Target groups


Women, men, youth and marginalised individuals and groups who are HRDs; trade unionists; constitutional rights activists; socio-economic justice activists; communities and individuals subject to forced evictions, internal displacement, other emergencies; media practitioners; environmental rights activists; artists, bloggers, actors; innocent bystanders who are caught up with HRDs; Local policy-makers; other community and civic leaders; regional and continental bodies – SADC, AU; international rights bodies – UN