Throughout 2021, the EU human rights defenders mechanism, ProtectDefenders.eu, has delivered life-saving support and multi-faceted assistance to nearly 8,700 of the most at-risk human rights defenders and grassroots human rights organisations around the world – 23% more than in 2020. The EU HRD mechanism’s strategic, flexible, and efficient support has mitigated the ravages suffered by the human rights defence community last year, amid the pervasive impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the most critical global and geopolitical environment for human rights defence work reported since the creation of ProtectDefenders.eu in 2015.
Despite this extremely adverse situation, ProtectDefenders.eu has continued to mobilise protective support to individuals at risk, and to provide comprehensive assistance to organisations and movements confronting security threats. The support of ProtectDefenders.eu has helped human rights defenders and grassroots human rights groups to strengthen their resilience and protection globally, particularly in the most difficult contexts, making a significant contribution to their ability to continue their work.
Last year, the activities of the EU HRD mechanism have been impacted by an unprecedented increase in requests for urgent materially protective support from defenders and communities: ProtectDefenders.eu has had to respond to, among other severe crises, the dismantling and repression of civil society in Belarus, the consequences of the coup d’état in Myanmar on civil society and HRDs, and the collapse of Afghanistan as the Taliban took over its government. Thus, significant efforts were made to reach these most difficult countries and the most at-risk groups of defenders, who have absorbed an unprecedented level of the support delivered by the EU HRD mechanism.
In a quickly evolving context, creative and flexible solutions and adaptations have been implemented, and this year the consolidation of the ProtectDefenders.eu consortium has given rise to new spaces to explore the privileged positioning of the EU HRD mechanism in the international community in support of defenders. This is illustrated by the launch of the first HRD resettlement stream by the government of Canada in partnership with ProtectDefenders.eu, the articulation of a comprehensive response in Afghanistan through new programmes in partnership with the EU, and the steps taken towards a more comprehensive and collective approach to advocacy on issues of common interest.
ProtectDefenders.eu has continued to provide a comprehensive, holistic and effective emergency protection for HRDs at the greatest risk, including 24/7 support, and to invest in the resilience and capacity of human rights organisations to continue their work in adverse environments – notably through lifeline and core-funding grant-making to local actors, including communities defending rights. ProtectDefenders.eu has also ensured that international temporary relocation capacities remain operational and accessible for HRDs and members of their families, and has taken a significant step in strengthening regional relocation structures through the Shelter Initiatives program. Furthermore, and despite the prevailing limitations created by the pandemic, capacity-building activities have continued to provide access to knowledge about reinforced protection strategies for the community of defenders. Similarly, ProtectDefenders.eu has strengthened its support to individual HRDs and NGOs through its reactive and protective advocacy work to HRDs at risk through urgent interventions, reports, and related proactive steps, mobilising the international community in an effort that has led to multiple success stories throughout the world.
This coordinated implementation, coupled with a holistic and complementary approach between partners, actions, strategies, and programmes, continues to step up the practical support available to HRDs at risk and local human rights NGOs in a timely and comprehensive manner; the vast majority of HRDs accessing ProtectDefenders.eu’s support have reported enhanced security and protection, and highly positive outcomes. Although the extreme situation in 2021 has pushed the mandate and resources of the EU HRD mechanism to the limit, ProtectDefenders.eu has managed to maintain and generate a consistently noticeable and positive impact on the HRD community at highest risk.
The 2021 ProtectDefenders.eu Annual Report is introduced by Victoria Fyodorova, a woman human rights defender from Belarus, Jamila Afghani, a WHRD from Afghanistan, Josep Borrell, Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, and Maria Arena, Chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on Human Rights.