Human rights from the front lines.

Frontline human rights defenders are increasingly under attack around the world.

Human rights defenders seek to protect and promote the rights of vulnerable and marginalized communities in the face of state or corporate repression.

Such attacks can take many forms: attacks on individual defenders and their credibility, security, and even their lives; closure and censure of civil society organizations and closing of civic space to limit freedoms of assembly, expression, and association; orchestrated and coordinated attacks through social media and other technologies to disempower and harass defenders and spread disinformation; and passage of laws and policies that restrict and punish human rights and civil society organizations. 

Women, indigenous, ethnic minority, and LGBTQ human rights defenders are particularly vulnerable, as are those who advocate for environmental protections.

Our Human Rights Defenders

Danson Kahyana

Carr Center Fellow;
Associate Professor in the Department of Literature, Makerere University, Uganda


Maria Kuznetsova

Carr Center Fellow;
MPP '25, Harvard Kennedy School

Amani Tom

Carr Center Fellow;
Founding Director, Action Kivu

About the Program

The Carr Center has had a long history of hosting scholars at risk and human rights defenders, including people from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Hungary, India, Uganda, and Venezuela. Scholars stay for a semester or year at the Center, and are involved in organizing educational programs and events around the pressing concerns facing human rights defenders and the organizations they lead.

Past Human Rights Defenders at the Carr Center include:

Nicholas Opiyo headshot

Nicholas Opiyo

Nicholas Opiyo is a Ugandan human rights lawyer known for campaigning for civil rights and political freedoms in Uganda—specifically electoral law, the restriction of freedom of assembly, and the clampdown on freedoms of speech and press. He received the 2021 Human Rights Tulip, which was created by the Dutch government to support human rights defenders.

Sima Samar

Sima Samar

Sima Samar is an Afghan women's and human rights advocate, activist, and a social worker within national and international forums. She served as Minister of Women's Affairs of Afghanistan from December 2001–2003. Sima was appointed as a member of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement in December 2019. 

Binalakshmi Nepram

Binalakshmi Nepram

Binalakshmi Nepram is an indigenous scholar and human rights defender whose work focuses on championing women-led peace, security, and disarmament in Manipur and South Asia. She is the founder of three organizations: the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network, the Control Arms Foundation of India, and the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples, Gender Justice, and Peace.

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith

Matthew Smith is co-founder and CEO of Fortify Rights, a human rights organization based in Southeast Asia that supports human rights defenders and investigates human rights violations. Fortify Rights was the 2018 recipient of the Roger E. Joseph Prize for its extraordinary work to protect survivors of mass atrocity crimes and hold perpetrators accountable in Myanmar. 

Scholars at Risk
The Carr Center's Human Rights Defenders join us through Harvard University's Scholars at Risk program.

Related Content


Maria Kuznetsova discusses her work as a human rights defender in Russia and her views on the Russia-Ukraine conflict from her unique perspective. 


Sima Samar discusses the situation in Afghanistan, the status of women and girls in the country, and the role and responsibility of the international community.


Matthew Smith, co-founder and CEO of Fortify Rights, discusses the Rohingya crisis and the power of narratives around human rights.


Nicholas Opiyo, Ugandan human rights lawyer, discusses civil rights and political freedoms in Uganda and the rights of LGBTQ+ communities.


Making a Movement delves into the past, present, and future of the human rights movement, evaluating its successes and failures, and presenting potential areas of progress.