Become a Defender

Sonita Alizadeh speaks out against child marriage through rap. Van Jones found that taking on environmental issues gave him another way to address poverty. Can you think of unique ways to address the issues you care about? How will you, based on your experiences, redefine your issue to create change? How will you Become a Defender?

The purpose of Speak Truth to Power is to share the personal journeys of human rights defenders working today to inspire youth to take action and self-identify as human rights defenders.

We hope that by sharing these stories, we will inspire you to become a defender and take positive action to support human rights in your own life and community.

Being a human rights defender begins with empathy and the understanding that rights come with responsibilities. As you learn about these defenders, you will have opportunities to see how they have assumed this responsibility in their own lives to advance human rights in their communities and the world.

Defending human rights doesn’t require taking on all of the challenges of the world. It’s often the small choices we make in our everyday lives that have the most impact. Anyone can become a human rights defender, for a day or for as long as is necessary to address the issue they’ve chosen.

“Human rights defender” is a term coined by the United Nations to describe a person who acts, individually or with others, to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified by the actions they take in defense of human rights within the contexts in which they work or live. Human rights defenders investigate, gather information about, and report human rights violations. They also promote the protection and realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Defenders can act to address any human right (or group of rights) they feel is important. YOU CAN BE A DEFENDER.

Becoming a Defender

  1. Identify a human rights issue that interests you.

  2. Research the issue or story. Why is there a problem? Why do you care? What solutions have been tried?

  3. Ask yourself, what is the positive change you want to make happen? Who can make the change you want? Define your action and be specific about it.

  4. How can you get others involved?

  5. How do you know the impact you have had?

  6. Learn from your experience, celebrate your effort and share your story so others are inspired by your actions.

View the Civic Works video

Youth at Baltimore-based Civic Works, used their life experiences, passion for human rights and talents to produce this award-winning video about a defender in their own community. They are human rights defenders.


To help educators better prepare for conversations about civic engagement and human rights, this webinar walks through Speak Truth to Power's many resources and provides strategies for empowering and inspiring students.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.