Strategy for the NHRF 2016-2020

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund

The Norwegian Human Rights Fund’s mandate is to promote and protect human rights. The NHRF shall be a flexible, courageous and global actor that provides direct support to local organisations working for the rights of vulnerable and marginalised individuals and groups. The NHRF prioritises initiatives where affected communities and people on the ground mobilise and take the lead in the struggle for their rights.

The NHRF was established in 1988 and sprung out of Norwegian civil society, academia and workers’ unions. As of 2016, the following organisations and institutions contribute strategically, professionally and financially to the NHRF’s work and are represented in the NHRF’s Board:

  • Amnesty International Norway
  • Norwegian Centre for Human Rights
  • The Atlas Alliance
  • The Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations
  • The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions 


Human rights are under pressure. Despite comprehensive ratification of international conventions over the past three decades, the implementation of important human rights conventions is weak in many countries. As promoters and watchdogs of human rights, local organisations play an indispensable role in contributing to bridging this gap. 

In many parts of the world, human rights defenders are subject to pressure, threats and abuse from both state and non-state actors in relation to the work they undertake on civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, several states use national legislation to limit the space for workers’ unions and civil society, through for instance complicating the procedures for registering organisations, limiting opportunities for receiving foreign funding, surveillance and the use of security and anti-terror legislation that limit the rights to freedom of speech and association.   

Parallel to this development, the international work for the protection of human rights defenders at risk is being strengthened. The UN’s declaration (1989) and subsequent resolutions establish norms which contribute to the recognition and protection of human rights defenders. The NHRF contributes to increased protection and fulfilment of these international ambitions through direct support to organisations which work with local human rights defenders at risk.

Despite great human rights challenges, financial support to human rights work in many parts of the world is being reduced among others as a result of changing political and donor priorities. In order to ensure continued support to local human rights work, the NHRF prioritises organisations in countries where few other funding sources are available. The NHRF has a unique combination of professional competence and access to local, national and international actors within the human rights movement, and will continue its work to strengthen the link between these different levels and actors. 


The NHRF’s overall objective is:

Increased respect for the human rights of vulnerable and marginalised individuals and groups through support to local human rights organisations.

In order to achieve this, the NHRF will:

  • Provide direct economic support to local human rights organisations’ work for access to justice, mobilisation and advocacy
  • Strengthen the ability of human rights defenders at risk to safeguard their own security
  • Connect local human rights defenders with national and international mechanisms and networks for increased visibility and influence


Criteria for support

Human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent. The mutually reinforcing relationship between civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights is central to the work which the NHRF supports. The focus on women’s participation, women’s rights and gender equality is integrated and prioritised in the NHRF’s work.

The NHRF supports local initiatives and actors who know the local structures and work where human rights violations take place, so called front line organisations. The NHRF prioritises projects where vulnerable and marginalised groups mobilise and take the lead in the struggle for their rights. In addition, the NHRF supports professional human rights actors’ work for the protection of the rights of vulnerable and marginalised individuals and groups through initiatives such as legal assistance, advocacy work, documentation, and rights education.   

The NHRF’s funding scheme mainly involves the allocation of comparatively small grants to be utilised within a limited time frame. The NHRF has its own guidelines for grant allocation.

In order to contribute to the overall objective, the NHRF will support projects that:

  • Work against impunity and for access to justice
  • Work against discrimination and/or marginalisation of vulnerable individuals and groups
  • Support to improved working conditions and security for human rights defenders at risk.

In the assessment of applications, the NHRF will prioritise projects using one or more of the following methods:

  • Advocacy towards decision makers
  • Access to justice
  • Competence building which equips vulnerable groups to make better use of existing legal frameworks to defend their rights.

The NHRF does not support projects limited to general awareness-raising.

The NHRF will assess project applications from the following countries: Colombia, Mexico, Nigeria, Liberia, Pakistan, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The NHRF’s Board may adopt changes in the selection of priority countries during the strategy period.

The NHRF has developed a set of criteria for its selection of countries which emphasises: the human rights situation; opportunities for improvements through advocacy work and work for access to justice; the presence of competent organisations; and the need for the type of support which the NHRF can offer. Input from donors and owners are considered in the mapping of new countries, in addition to possible synergies with networks and owner organisations.

In order to spread information about the NHRF’s work and ensure the availability of relevant applications, the NHRF uses local consultants, owner organisations, networks, and resources persons.

Strategic priorities for selected countries are described in brief country strategies.

The NHRF supports organisations working for the protection of human rights defenders at risk, independently from the geographical priorities above. The NHRF’s strategy for support to human rights defenders at risk will be revised early in the strategy period. The NHRF does not give support to individual human rights defenders.

During the strategy period, the NHRF will further develop its cooperation with specialised actors within the field of protection and security, as well as assess the opportunities for closer cooperation with some of these in particular.

It is possible for the NHRF’s owners and donors to recommend project applications and organisations. 


Networks and communication

The NHRF actively participates in national and international networks for professional competence and experience exchange, and in order to connect local human rights defenders to national and international actors. The NHRF will prioritise targeted advocacy work through networks and in cooperation with its owners. The NHRF will provide professional input to decision makers, especially regarding the work for protection of human rights defenders at risk.  

Clear communication of results and the importance of the work supported is essential for sustained engagement in the NHRF’s work. The NHRF uses different platforms for communicating results and will assess possible initiatives for further developing its communication work during the strategy period. The NHRF’s work within networks and communication will be covered in annual plans. 


Finances and organisation

Solid and predictable finances are a prerequisite for the NHRF’s ability to operate with clout. The NHRF achieved its goal of economic growth during its last strategy period and will continue its work for further increasing the NHRF’s financial resources. The NHRF will fulfill its potential for growth and develop a fundraising strategy with concrete goals and action points early in the strategy period.

There is potential for increased synergies between the NHRF and its owner organisations. The NHRF will thus develop a plan for follow-up early in the strategy period in order to expand possible cooperation and synergies. The NRHF will work with targeted measures to include new owners in order to strengthen the NHRF’s finances and professional platform.

 A risk analysis will be conducted early in the strategy period, with subsequent annual revisions.