International Human Rights

Since 1948, the international community has developed an extensive body of international legal standards and institutions that relate to the promotion and protection of human rights. However, many individuals who seek to uphold their rights or the rights of others are threatened and punished because of their work, and their space for activism is restricted. National security fears, the economic crisis, hostility to human rights and the emergence of a multi-polar international order also present threats and opportunities. There remains a gulf between the theory and the realisation of these rights in practice.

In the International Human Rights Programme (IHRP), we work with partners to: end impunity for the gross violations of human rights; uphold prohibitions on arbitrary detention and torture; protect human rights defenders at risk; and multiply and amplify influential voices on IHRP global priorities.

Oak Trustees have a long-standing interest in protecting the fundamental rights of the individual, supporting those who champion that struggle, and ensuring that perpetrators of gross abuses are held to account.

We support activist organisations involved in documentation, evidence collection, campaigns and strategic litigation that address our priorities. We also support those who empower human rights defenders, by improving their physical and digital security and enhancing their effectiveness through a range of technology tools. We provide core, project and seed funding in multi-year grants.

Priority Areas
Our grant-making is organised along four priorities:

Priority  One — To end impunity for gross violations of human rights by upholding the rights to truth, justice and redress for victims and the maintenance of public memory.
We support efforts which seek to:

  • research, document and collect evidence of gross abuses;
  • advocate and campaign for accountability at national, regional and international levels;
  • hold abusers to account in civil or criminal proceedings, and strengthen the implementation of judgements;
  • safeguard access to archives and historical documentation of abuses and publicly campaign to maintain public memory; and
  • identify and disseminate best practices and create a strong global community of anti-impunity litigators.

Priority Two – Freedom from arbitrary detention and torture by upholding fundamental guarantees in international law which prohibit arbitrary detention and torture and ensure the observance of due process guarantees.
We support efforts in three contexts – counter-terrorism, immigration and criminal justice – which seek to:

  • challenge indefinite and/or excessive detention regimes and promote alternatives to detention;
  • challenge the criminalisation of specific populations, namely LGBTI individuals and irregular migrants;
  • prevent torture by ensuring access to and transparency of places of detention, accountability for acts of torture and by opposing threats to the absolute prohibition on torture; and
  • strengthen the torture rehabilitation movement worldwide, in particular through supporting groups in regions of greatest need, deepening the evidence base on rehabilitation techniques and leveraging additional funding.

Priority Three – Supporting and protecting human rights defenders by protecting human rights defenders at risk and strengthening their capacity to be effective.
We support efforts which seek to:

  • monitor and engage in protective advocacy for human rights defenders at risk, and ensure access to targeted emergency assistance;
  • strengthen international protection networks and support a localised, contextual approach to threat analysis and preparedness;
  • ensure physical and digital security preparedness by human rights activists; and
  • strengthen the institutional capacity of our grantees through building core functional capacities and encouraging the adoption of best practices.

Priority Four – Broadening human rights constituencies by multiplying and amplifying influential voices, especially from the Global South on the International Human Rights Programme’s priorities.

We support efforts which seek to:

  • build public support for human rights, including through professional communications capacity–building, to deliver positive attitudinal change and reinforce traditional advocacy and campaigning;
  • promote and disseminate innovative campaigning methods;
  • promote strong human rights voices in the Global South; and
  • promote the human rights content of the foreign policy of emerging powers.

The International Human Rights Programme is international in focus and supports non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working at the global, regional and national levels.
As well as supporting international NGOs who operate in multiple countries, we are engaged directly in the EU, the US, Russia, India and Burma.
We have very limited capacity to expand its geographic coverage, but have funded some specific areas directly in pursuing specific thematic objectives around a cluster of grants, including in Argentina and Turkey.
We also work through re-granters to support activists and organisations in critical areas where Oak is not currently able to fund directly (such as in the Middle East, North Africa and the Former Soviet Union).



Our grant-making is underpinned by the following:

  • upholding the international legal framework: we support work that is based upon and seeks to uphold, strengthen and implement international human rights law;
  • promoting systemic change: we prioritise initiatives that seek to deliver concrete systemic change beyond individual redress;
  • supporting activism: we support initiatives that are activist in orientation (for example, advocacy campaigning and strategic litigation, rather than the delivery of services or academic research);
  • strengthening our partners: our grant-making is a partnership and one of our key priorities is to empower and build the capacity of our grantees; and
  • strengthening the global human rights movement: we seek to support and mobilise diverse constituencies in support of human rights worldwide.


Photo band © American Civil Liberties Union