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Collective guidance for security and protection for human rights defenders

On 16-17 June 2017, the Advisory Group to ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity (SOS) held its first, full in-person meeting in Brussels, Belgium. Representatives from Consejo de Pueblos Wuxhtaj, Defend Job Philippines, Forum-ASIA, Front Line Defenders, Green Advocates, Just Associates, Proyecto de Derechos Económicos, Sociales y Culturales (ProDESC) and the World Organization Against Torture came together to define ESCR-Net’s particular approach to bolstering security and protection of human rights defenders and to generate guidance for the implementation of that system over the coming five years.

In the meeting, participants reflected on global and regional trends affecting human rights defenders working to advance and promote ESCR; including discrimination against women and gender stereotypes and the policies and practices influencing business actors and development financing. Participants also addressed specific challenges facing certain groups of activists and advocates working to defend economic, social and cultural rights, including trade union organizers, corporate accountability advocates and indigenous peoples.

Several members of the Advisory Group have, themselves, received support from the SOS in response to serious threats and attacks, and they shared their experiences with rapid response measures coordinated by ESCR-Net in the form of collective letters, petitions, referrals (link is external) for material security support and temporary relocations, among other measures.

Throughout the meeting, the Advisory Group stressed the need for ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity to strike a balance between reactive measures, which are undertaken after human rights defenders are threatened or attacked, and proactive actions. More proactive approaches would ideally build capacities to prevent threats and attacks and challenge their root causes, including the underlying economic and political forces that both perpetuate — and are sustained by — violence against human rights defenders working to advance economic, social and environmental justice.

The Advisory Group also recommended that the SOS coordinate support for human rights defenders at risk before attacks occur, as well as during and following incidents, and that new tools and strategies should be developed in order to address the role of non-state actors, including corporations, organized crime, the communications media and others play in perpetuating threats against human rights activists.