A YEAR OF CONTRAST AND HOPE

2020 has been a year marked by disruption, change, and, for the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, new opportunities and growth.

It has been a year that has highlighted the crucial role that strong and diverse rights-based movements and organisations play.

A year of contrast and hope

Word from the Chair and the Executive Director from NHRF's Annual Report 2020.

2020 has been a year marked by disruption, change, and, for the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, new opportunities and growth. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of millions of people that are invisible in social protection programs and suffer from inadequate access to healthcare, and repressive state responses have exacerbated existing issues of inequality, discrimination and marginalisation. It has been a year that has highlighted the crucial role that strong and diverse rights-based movements and organisations play: not only in holding authorities accountable for their service provision, but also in stepping in and providing communities with vital information, supplies and protection of their rights.

The struggle for human rights fulfillment and democracy across the world and in the countries where the NHRF works in continues. In 2020, we saw that violence and assassinations in Colombia rose significantly. Demonstrations erupted across the world, including in countries we provide support. In Thailand, protests calling for democratic reform were met with violence and harassment, and human rights defenders have been criminalised by authorities. Similar patterns of violence have taken place in India against farmers objecting to the deregulation of the Indian agricultural economy, or the attempts to strip away citizenship for religious minority communities. Last year we saw women taking to the streets in Mexico to highlight the country’s menacing and increasing levels of violence against women, and activists opposing the Indonesian “Omnibus law” dismantling environmental, labour and human rights protection to benefit businesses in a time of economic crisis. Evidence of a backlash against human rights globally can be seen in many countries where we provide support, and it threatens many hard-won victories in its attempt to further curtail legitimate human rights work and suppress those who defend them.

"Evidence of a backlash against human rights globally can be seen in many countries where we provide support, and it threatens many hard-won victories in its attempt to further curtail legitimate human rights work and suppress those who defend them."

This turbulent and repressive context is the one in which many of NHRF’s grantees work, but they continue to defend human rights and to build on the progress made. Grassroots initiatives and projects at the local level are directly connected to the issues people face, and our grantee partners have in many cases been the first responders to crises and challenges the human rights movement face. NHRF's annual report attempts to provide a snapshot of some of the victories of the critical human rights work that our grantees commit to amid this global decline and pandemic.

Flexibility has always been one of our core values, and this year it has been crucial to demonstrate this to our grantees. As the outbreak hit, we committed to responding in a flexible way and to ensure that we could complement the evolving needs of our partners amid the uncertainty that they faced. We are proud to have worked alongside organisations that have continued to work and fight despite challenges and adapted in a remarkable way to continue serving their communities and seeking structural change.

The pandemic has also forced us to adapt and to embrace the new circumstances, our new working format, and the growth in financial resources that 2020 has yielded the NHRF. The establishment of our country office in Colombia has been a major step towards a new grant-making model. In addition to having hired new staff in Norway, Thailand and Indonesia, an entire new team has been recruited in Colombia to make a substantial contribution to support Colombian civil society in a very volatile situation. In 2020 we have also undertaken a significant expansion in our communications work on our various communications and social media platforms, held meetings, panels and seminars involving decision-makers from the various local, national and international levels of human rights work and politics. We are glad to see new partnerships and collaboration arising including, with UC Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic and the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, and further strengthened cooperation with the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. In addition, the secretariat developed a series of new guidelines and policy documents relating to gender and equality, ethical guidelines and a new theory of change. Finally, the Secretariat has throughout 2020 been engaged in a consultative process of developing and drafting NHRF’s new five-year strategy. The strategy will guide us to meet the stated objectives, so that marginalised and vulnerable individuals and groups can claim their human rights and that their rights are fulfilled.

John Peder Egenæs

Chair of the Board

Amnesty International Norway


Sandra Petersen

Executive Director

Norwegian Human Rights Fund

The photos are from some of the many protests in Thailand during 2020. Credit: Kan Seangthong.