Human Rights Watch / Hellman-Hammett Grants

Human Rights Watch administers the Hellman/Hammett grant program for writers all around the world who have been victims of political persecution and are in financial need. The grants are named for the late American playwright Lillian Hellman and her longtime companion, the novelist Dashiell Hammett. Both were questioned by US congressional committees about their political beliefs and affiliations during the aggressive anti-communist investigations inspired by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Hellman suffered professionally and had trouble finding work. Hammett spent time in prison.

In 1989, the trustees appointed in Hellman's will asked Human Rights Watch to devise a program to help writers who were targeted for expressing views that their governments oppose, for criticizing government officials or actions, or for writing about subjects that their governments did not want reported.  Over the past 22 years, more than 700 writers from 92 countries have received Hellman/Hammett grants of up to US$10,000 each, totaling more than $3 million. The program also gives small emergency grants to writers who have an urgent need to leave their country or who need immediate medical treatment after serving prison terms or enduring torture.

Forty-one writers from 19 countries have received 2012 Hellman/Hammett grants for their commitment to free expression and the courage they showed when facing political persecution.  Learn more about the 2012 awardees.

The grants are awarded annually after the nominations have been reviewed by a selection committee composed of authors, editors, and journalists who have a longstanding interest in free expression issues. Nominations should be sent to the New York office of Human Rights Watch. The form for making nominations can be downloaded here.  For further information, contact

The nominator should try to provide:

1.  Biographical information about the nominee;
2. A list of the nominee's published writing;
3. A statement about the political persecution suffered;
4. A statement of need.

Nominations for the grants to be awarded in 2013 must be submitted by February 15, 2013. Emergency nominations are accepted throughout the year.  

Hellman/Hammett grants typically range from $1,000 to a maximum of $10,000. In addition to providing much needed financial assistance, the Hellman/Hammett grants focus attention on repression of free speech and censorship by publicizing the persecution that the grant recipients endured. In some cases the publicity is a protection against further abuse. In other cases, the writers request anonymity because of the dangerous circumstances in which they and their families are living.

Free expression is a central human right, enshrined in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” On July 21, 2011, the Human Rights Committee, the expert body established under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reiterated the central importance of freedom of opinion and expression, stating that these freedoms “are indispensable conditions for the full development of the person. They are essential for any society. They constitute the foundation stone for every free and democratic society.”

In violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of opinion and expression, governments have used arbitrary arrest and detention, politically motivated criminal charges, and overbroad libel and sedition laws to try to silence writers. The winners of Hellman/Hammett grants are only a small portion of the many writers around the world whose books have been banned or who have been exiled, imprisoned, tortured, and harassed because of their work.  Their compelling stories illustrate the importance of insisting that governments respect and protect freedom of opinion and expression.

(Last updated on December 4, 2012)