ProtectDefenders.eu has provided targeted emergency responses to certain crises affecting human rights defenders, as in the case of Syria, Egypt, Burundi, Bangladesh, Turkey, or Nicaragua, as well as responding to the backlash reported against defenders of land and environmental rights or defenders advocating for the freedom of expression -including journalists and bloggers -, or LGBTI rights defenders. Moreover, a particular effort was made to support and reach out to particularly vulnerable HRDs and those working in the most difficult contexts.
Thanks to ProtectDefenders.eu support, organisations working in these hostile contexts and facing difficulties were able to maintain their core activities, increase their own capacity in security and protection and therefore improve their capability to continue their work in this repressive context, to find and access funding and to set up new initiatives to strengthen their advocacy capacities and structures. A number of organisations in particularly critical situations avoided closure as a result of that support. Many organisations were supported in creating bigger coalitions and networks in order to work together to overcome common obstacles and achieve better results, including as a measure of protection. In other situations where return to the country proved impossible. the mechanism could provide the seed funds for the creation of new human rights structures to continue addressing the protection of human rights defenders and crucial victim support.
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The increased demand for funds attests not only the success of ProtectDefenders.eu in terms of outreach and visibility but also the deteriorating situation of the human rights situation across all regions and the crucial need for international community to increase resources to protect defenders and to adapt to the continuous transformation processes evolving at the societal level. At the same time a low and declining level of funding for human rights defenders and their organisations is available at the global level, as was concluded by a ProtectDefenders.eu report, commissioned and presented in 2018.
Human rights defenders, including groups and communities, reported unanimously that support received via training and capacity-building has increased their skills and tools to better manage their security situation and to better develop their work. Defenders and groups have been able to develop and strengthen protection, support and advocacy networks, as well as strategic activities enabling them to address the restrictive contexts where they carry out their activities. Training on digital security proved particularly useful in contexts where cyber-attacks continued to be widely used as a means of disrupting the HRDs' work or obtaining information which could be used to prosecute defenders or otherwise harm them, as sophisticated digital attacks, surveillance, monitoring – including surveillance of the HRDs in exile -, as well as offline and online censorship of the work of human rights defenders continue to increase across the world. Growth in the targeted stigmatization of HRDs in order to delegitimize their activities across all regions has further increased, including through digital communication means, and together with the increased criminalisation of individuals and their activities present distinct challenges in terms of providing protection.
The accompaniment and advocacy work at the local level, as well as the ongoing monitoring of the situation of individuals and the environments, have reportedly dissuaded direct attacks and allow the defenders to continue their work even in very hostile and risky environments. ProtectDefenders.eu has contributed to the improvement of the situations of the defenders reporting attacks and threats, and it has been a notable contributing factor in the release of HRDs in several countries such as Algeria, Belarus, Cambodia, Cameroon, Colombia, Chad, Chile, Djibouti, the DRC, Ecuador, Egypt, Mauritania, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Zimbabwe, among others. Finally, ProtectDefenders.eu contributed to increasing the visibility, solidarity and legitimacy of defenders within the international community and raising awareness and visibility within national, regional and international media, in social networks and has in turn been reflected in international diplomacy actions.