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Impact Litigation

Pro Bono Litigation on Behalf of Political Prisoners

What is Impact Litigation?

HRF’s Impact Litigation program provides international legal representation to prisoners of conscience whose cases are emblematic examples of the brutality of dictatorship.

HRF’s team of international attorneys litigate on behalf of these courageous individuals before international courts and semi-judicial bodies, such as the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD).

Litigation before the UNWGAD addresses the inadequacies of judicial systems in authoritarian regimes, and offers remedies for pursuing justice to victims of corrupt judicial systems.

Each year, the UNWGAD receives thousands of submissions, but it only issues opinions on a very small number of filings. The Working Group has so far issued opinions on a majority of cases HRF has submitted, and each outcome has been in our clients’ favor.

Our Impact


Success rate petitioning the U.N.




New internships each year

HRF’s legal team represents clients who have been wrongfully detained before the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.


In democracies, the separation of powers ensures that the judiciary is independent of the legislature and the executive. The judicial process is an essential element in guaranteeing that politicians and governmental offices do not overreach their powers and abuse the fundamental rights of citizens.

In authoritarian countries, separation of powers does not exist, resulting in a lack of judicial independence. The lack of an independent judiciary that could potentially rule against the government and prevent its abuses is an essential component in the definition of an authoritarian regime.

Legal proceedings under authoritarian regimes are a mere formality and courts are, in practice, enforcers of discretionary rules used to harass, jail, convict, and impose arbitrary sanctions against critics of the regime.

Dissidents, journalists, and public intellectuals operating in authoritarian regimes face this reality daily. They are frequently arrested without charge for short periods of time, or alternatively charged, convicted and imprisoned for long periods of time, depending on the characteristics of the authoritarian regime.

I would like to pay a well-deserved tribute to the Human Rights Foundation for its advocacy at the United Nations and the strength of its multifaceted support in wresting me out of the inhuman jails of the Bongo dictatorship in Gabon. I regain my freedom to continue even more intensely the fight for democracy and respect for citizens' rights in my country.

Hervé Mombo KingaPro-democracy activist from Gabon


As dissidents and activists are unable to obtain efficient and unbiased remedy through domestic judicial channels, HRF seeks to help them pursue justice through international semi-judicial bodies.

As part of our Impact Litigation program, HRF’s Center for Law and Democracy submits emblematic cases of arbitrarily imprisoned dissidents and pro-democracy activists to several judicial and semi-judicial international bodies, including the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD), Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and multiple other special procedures under the UN Human Rights Council.

Litigation before the UNWGAD and other international judicial and semi-judicial bodies addresses the inadequacies of judicial systems in authoritarian regimes, and offers remedies to the victims of corrupt judicial systems through a reputable international semi-judicial body.

In each case on behalf of a dissident living under an authoritarian regime, there is an opportunity to achieve a positive outcome for the entire country — in the form of international public and legal pressure for greater transparency, and indisputable evidence of violations, a necessary and important component of any potential transitional justice effort.