New ICJ guide for human rights defenders and civil society organizations

Today, the International Commission of Jurists launches a guide for human rights defenders who work on accountability for serious human rights violations, including, in particular, unlawful deaths and enforced disappearances.

Entitled: “Access to Justice for Unlawful Deaths and Enforced Disappearances, a guide for human rights defenders”, the publication provides accessible information on the applicable international human rights law framework, and offers practical guidance to human rights defenders working on cases of unlawful deaths and enforced disappearances, among others.

The guide is divided into two parts. The first covers applicable law and standards that States should follow in terms of the investigation, prosecution, sanction and effective remedies, including reparations. Among other things, the guide considers the definitional elements of an unlawful death and an enforced disappearance under international human rights law and standards.

In its second part, the guide focuses on and provides practical guidance to human rights defenders working on those issues worldwide. It begins by providing a definition of a human rights defender, and goes on to analyze the different challenges that human rights defenders face in their work.

The second part of the guide also provides practical guidance on human rights campaigns, as well as some guidelines for their effective implementation. In addition, it presents a roadmap at national and international levels of the initial steps human rights defenders should take when faced with an enforced disappearance or unlawful death. Finally, the guide ends with a brief note on strategic litigation, explaining what it entails, and highlighting its current relevance and some criteria that should be taken into account in deciding whether in a particular case it may be strategic to consider embarking on litigation.

The guide is available in Spanish and in English.

The ICJ’s regional project “Promoting justice for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in Colombia, Guatemala and Peru”, sponsored by the European Union. This publication also had the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.

Additional information

The content of the guide may usefully be supplemented by a number of ICJ Practitioners’ publications, including, in particular: Practitioner’s Guide No. 2 (The Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Gross Human Rights Violations, updated version); Practitioner’s Guide No. 7 (International Law and the Fight against Impunity); Practitioner’s Guide No. 9 (Enforced Disappearances and Extrajudicial Executions: Investigation and Sanction); Practitioners’ Guide No. 10 (Enforced Disappearances and Extrajudicial Executions: The Right of Family Members); and Practitioners’ Guide No. 14 (Investigation and Prosecution of Potentially Unlawful Death).


In the following video, Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Director of Global Accountability & International Justice explains the content of the guide and its importance.