1st Edition

International Attention and the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Campaigning for Agents of Change

By Janika Spannagel Copyright 2023
    256 Pages 19 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    This book uses a practice-driven and empirically founded approach to address the question of whether and how international attention can protect and enable domestic human rights activists in authoritarian settings. It examines the untold origin story of the ‘human rights defender’ term and its uptake among international advocacy organizations, which coalesced with the rise of a theory of human rights change centered around the support for local actors.

    Rich with analyses of original qualitative and quantitative data, the author spells out this theory of change and tests its assumptions in two case studies: the individual casework of the UN special procedures, and the case of Tunisia under Ben Ali.

    This book is of key interest to scholars and students of human rights, of the United Nations, and more broadly of international relations and politics in general, and to practitioners working with human rights defenders at risk.


    Part I: The ‘Human Rights Defender’ in International Politics

    1. A Short History of the ‘Human Rights Defender’

    2. Unpacking the ‘Human Rights Defender’ Theory of Change

    Part II: Can UN Attention Protect Human Rights Defenders?

    3. What Do the UN’s ‘Independent Eyes and Ears’ See and Hear?

    4. Making a Difference: The Protective Effect of UN Casework

    Part III: Defenders’ Protection and Human Rights Change in Tunisia

    5. The International Protection of Tunisian Defenders under Ben Ali

    6. Translating Protection into Human Rights Change for Tunisia



    Janika Spannagel is a postdoctoral researcher at Freie Universität Berlin, Germany, where she currently studies the diffusion and contestation of academic freedom norms at the Cluster of Excellence "Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)". She previously co-developed the Academic Freedom Index. Her background is in researching human rights and political repression.

    "Based on a broad range of empirical data, Janika Spannagel demonstrates the potential of campaigns supporting human rights defenders. At the same time, she addresses serious risks and possible pitfalls. Her study thus harbors important lessons which yet need to be learned. A ‘must’ for all human rights practitioners."

    Heiner Bielefeldt, Professor for Human Rights at FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany, and former UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief

    "This thought-provoking publication examines the efficacy of the international human rights regime in protecting human rights defenders at risk. It is essential reading for anyone interested in how, and under what conditions, international attention produces protection benefits for defenders in repressive contexts."

    Alice M. Nah, Associate Professor at Durham University, UK

    “This excellent book offers a nuanced study of global efforts to recognize and protect human rights defenders. Spannagel weaves together case-study research, interviews, and sophisticated analysis of meticulously collected data. Highly recommended, both for its substantive contribution and its well-informed discussion of the uses and challenges of human rights data.”

    Ann Marie Clark, Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, USA