On June 8, ProtectDefenders.eu, the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism, organised a panel session at the European Development Days 2017. Under the title 'Protecting human rights defenders as a development strategy', the session highlighted best cases and success stories of the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism for local NGOs promoting human rights in a difficult environment, making sure that promotion of Human Rights was represented at the EDD 2017 as an integral part of the discussions and debates around development.
Moderated by Antoine Madelin, International Advocacy director at FIDH, this panel included the participation of Sarah Rinaldi, Acting Head of Unit Human Rights, Gender, Democratic Governance at DG DEVCO, Liliana De Marco, Executive Director at Protection International, Anne-Sophie Schaeffer, Programme Director at the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders and Sandra Lorena Neira, representative of CPDH Colombia and coordinator of a protection project in rural communities, funded by ProtectDefenders.eu.
ProtectDefenders.eu supported in Brussels a consultation with Human Rights Defenders for the draft of the next report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, Michel Forst, on defenders working on business and human rights.
This meeting with representatives of grassroot movements worldwide favored an open discussion on their specific challenges and needs and how to address them. ProtectDefenders reaches out to the most particularly targeted defenders around the world, with immediate protection measures, training, monitoring and advocacy.
From July 11 to 19, 2017, OMCT, in the framework of the Observatory and ProtectDefenders.eu, carried out an international fact-finding mission in different areas of Colombia (Bogotá, Norte de Santander, Antioquia and Valle del Cauca). The work of human rights defenders continues to be a high-risk activity in Colombia, marked by a climate of constant threats and a sharp rise in killings of human rights defenders. The persistence of paramilitary structures, impunity and limitations in the State response are among the main reasons for this reality. Moreover, human rights defenders who are local leaders, particularly those who defend rights related to the land and environment in rural areas, are the group most vulnerable to constant threats.
More information on the preliminary findings of the mission can be found here: http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/colombia/2017/07/d24455/
ProtectDefenders.eu, the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by International Civil Society, is organising its Annual Meeting 2017, under the motto "Champions of change - Human Rights Defenders at the forefront of Development and Democracy", on November 8th, 2017.
Have a look at the highlights of last year's meeting.
Save the date and join us at this event, which will bring together Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights NGOs, Representatives of international and regional Protection Mechanisms, Members of the EU Temporary Relocation Platform, as well as other Representatives of EU Institutions, providing therefore valuable networking opportunities for all participants.
In addition to highlighting the main achievements and challenges of ProtectDefenders.eu, this annual meeting will celebrate the work done by human rights defenders as a cornerstone of development, progress and justice, responding to widespread attempts to criminalise and delegitimise human rights' work and human rights defenders worldwide, by promoting a positive narrative grounded on the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
On 11 June, ProtectDefenders.eu participated in the opening session of the cluster on Human Rights Defenders of the Venice School of Human Rights, sharing information on practical support for defenders at risk and discussing about the challenges and risks faced by human rights defenders throughout the world.
Human rights defenders play an essential role in the realisation of rights. Not only do they fight for human rights in situations of oppression and abuse; they also act as monitors, drawing attention of the international community to otherwise neglected violations and threats; they assist victims in claiming their rights; and they contribute to holding those in power accountable..
EIUC Venice School of Human Rights was born in 2010 with the goal of studying today’s challenges in the field of human rights. It allows its participants coming from all over the world to list these challenges and examine their reasons and possible solutions they can deploy. The EIUC Venice School at the same time, combines theory and practice and its faculty involves both academics and practitioners. The Venice School intends to highlight that the respect for human rights is the responsibility of all, that "Human Rights are our responsibility".
Over the past year, Russia has twice moved to roll back legislation that criminalizes domestic violence, including child abuse. Urgent Action Fund has been alarmed not only by the legislative retrenchment, which represents a failure to protect the right to freedom from violence but by the attacks on civil society leaders and human rights defenders who work on issues of domestic violence that have accompanied the legislative changes.
According to UAF, the Russian governments' tacit endorsement of family violence is emboldening ultra-nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and in some cases, commit violence against defenders who work on these issues. Because of ProtectDefenders.eu, Urgent Action Fund has been able to assist defenders impacted by these hate crimes, which are aimed at deterring them from their work, including in the following cases:
An emergency grant was immediately made available to a center that provides free legal aid to domestic violence survivors in the city of Soch, to hire a temporary guard and provide secure transportation to the center for clients or staff members. The request for emergency support was submitted after staff members and clients were assaulted and the office vandalized by members of an ultra-nationalist group dressed in military garb. Critically, these measures enabled it to stay open after the attack.
Besides, in August 2017, two emergency grants were provided for immediate temporary relocation of women human rights defenders under threat in Russia. Both work with local NGOs that have programs for domestic violence survivors. The first instance assisted a lawyer in the Belgorod region of Russia who provides legal representation to survivors of domestic violence. The second assisted the Program Coordinator for a community organization in Ingushetia that provides assistance to domestic violence survivors along with other empowerment programs for women and girls. In the latter case, the defender was targeted and harassed by the Russian security services after she attended a session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
In May 2017, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), conducted a trial observation mission on the case of Mr. Levent Pi?kin, a human rights lawyer belonging to the Association of Lawyers for Freedom (Ozgurlukcu Hukukcular Dernegi – OHD), a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual and Intersexed (LGBTI) rights activist, and a member of the Justice Commission of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
According to the information received, during the May-18 hearing which was monitored by an Observatory trial observation mission, the Heavy Penal Court in Bursa heard the case against Mr. Levent Pi?kin on charges of “undermining the image of Turkey” and “support to a terrorist group” (Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law – ATL and Article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code). The defendant is criminalised for fulfilling his duties as an attorney, in particular for being part of the lawyers team of HDP co-chair Mr.Selahattin Demirta?.
During the May-18 hearing, the accusation upheld the argument of the investigators, who had considered during the pre-trial stage that a meeting between Mr. Demirta?’ lawyers, where they had decided to share the costs of their dinner, was amounting to “financial support to terrorism”.
The accusation went on alleging that interviews given by Mr. Pi?kin to international media, notably Der Spiegel, had contributed to “undermining the image of Turkey”.
In turn, Mr. Levent Pi?kin’s lawyers demonstrated that the investigations against the defendant violated the principles of the due process and rule of law, in particular in terms of fairness and impartiality, relying on provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) and on relevant case-law from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Several activists were present in the courtroom in a sign of support to Mr. Pi?kin.
The next hearing was set for November 30, 2017. Mr. Pi?kin remains free but under judicial supervision.
The Observatory deplores the continuing judicial harassment against Mr. Levent Pi?kin, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities as an attorney. The Observatory urges the Turkish authorities to drop all the charges against Mr. Levent Pi?kin and to put an end to any kind of harassment against him.
In July 2017, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) conducted a training around digital security for LGBTI human rights defenders, supported by ProtectDefenders.eu. For three days, 25 participants from nine countries across Asia gathered together in Bangkok to improve their digital security practices, learn how to make informed decisions when communicating online, and safely exercise their rights without falling prey to preventable digital threats.
Digital space has a crucial role to play in the LGBTI movement: not only it can bring isolated LGBTI individuals together, but it also offers accessible means to help change public awareness on issues related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics. Unfortunately, there is also another side to the coin: a dramatic growth in the use of online spaces to further activism efforts and for personal use has resulted in more visibility, leaving members of rainbow communities more vulnerable and exposed to threats.
After an assessment of their level of knowledge, human rights defenders took part in an interactive role-play activity: a simple game that helped everybody understand how the internet works, and why making a conscious effort to develop safe practices is necessary, especially in their specific area of work.
A threat analysis exercise was then conducted to help participants to the training realise who they could possibly be under threat from, and what assets of theirs are under threat: this was an essential step to help human rights defenders start developing their organisations’ digital security policies. During the training, participants also received an intensive introduction to encryption for emails, messages and file sharing services, and learnt how to protect themselves against internet surveillance.
In essence, it was an important occasion for capacity building. At the end of the training, human rights defenders noted how their knowledge of secure communication and safe internet browsing had increased: they are now ready to use this knowledge in their activism, and to transfer their new skills to colleagues and partners they are in contact with through digital and online media.
In June 2017, OMCT pursued its efforts in order to raise the awareness of and call upon action from relevant stakeholders, including United Nations (UN) institutions, to address the situation of human rights defenders in Kenya. In that framework, OMCT invited Ms. Teresa Mutua, representative of the International Commission of Jurists - Kenya (ICJ-Kenya), to Geneva, Switzerland, to carry out an international advocacy mission in the margin of the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council.
During the mission, the main conclusions and recommendations of the Observatory mission report on the situation of human rights defenders in Kenya were discussed with key stakeholders, including representative of diplomatic missions as well as of various UN Special Procedures. OMCT also organised a side event during the 35th session of the UN Human Rights Council on June 9, 2017, with the participation of Ms. Mutua, Mr. Maina Kiai, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, Ms Manon Yard, PBI Switzerland Advocacy Coordinator, and Mr. Peter Zangl, OMCT Representative to the EU.
Through this advocacy mission, OMCT was able to give visibility and enhanced recognition to the situation of HRDs in Kenya, as well as to empower Ms. Mutua through building her capacity to better work with the UN.
Due to the persistence of the aggressions against women human rights defenders and the importance of their recognition as peace builders in Colombia, form 17th June to 1st July, PBI organised an advocacy mission in Europe for the Colombian human rights defender Olga Silva, director of Humanidad Vigente – human rights organisation that works in the fight against impunity, with emphasis on the rights of children, women and the defense of territory.
The advocacy mission took place in Belgium, France, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Holland, centered around the current situation in Colombia in terms of human rights, the vulnerability of human rights defenders, particularly women and indigenous communities (particularly those affected by the extractive industry such as in the case of Cerrejón in La Guajira), the challenges of the implementation of the Peace Agreements, the importance of the support from the EU for the ELN peace process (particularly the quick advance of humanitarian agreements and measures such as a bilateral cease fire). In Brussels Olga had meetings with European ministers and with the EEAS. She also participated in a panel at an event at the European Parliament, for the projection of the documentary “Women at the Front” by Lúla Gomez. During this event the human rights defender was able to explain the current situation in Colombia and particularly how it is affecting children, women and indigenous communities.
A cohort of nine grassroots human rights defenders from six different provinces across Indonesia attended a four month training, from mid-February to mid-June 2017, in Jakarta, where they developed skills in safety and protection mechanisms, human rights law, and techniques to monitor and investigate human rights cases in the field. The training, supported by ProtectDefenders.eu, covered the full spectrum of human rights, and developed research projects to look at topics including support for women victims of human rights abuses, environmental and social impacts of large-scale agribusiness, access to education and healthcare in rural areas, and violence against women and children. A highlight of the training was a briefing hosted by the German Embassy, with representatives of 13 different embassies engaging with the HRDs to learn of the threats and challenges they face in their work.
A compilation of research from previous trainees has been translated into English and can be downloaded at: http://elsam.or.id/2017/05/writing-for-rights-human-rights-documentation-from-the-land-of-papua/
ProtectDefenders.eu participated in a roundtable on protection of threatened lawyers, organised in Madrid by the Observatoire international des avocats en danger (OIAD), gathering individuals and organisations involved in the promotion of human rights.
During the session, the practical operation of the EU HRD mechanism and its application to lawyers at risk was discussed, as well as other relevant initiatives, such as the presentation of the Index of attacks and alerts, seeking synergies that lead to greater coordination and interrelation between actors involved in the defense of groups of individuals facing threats for defending human rights and / or ensuring access to justice as a fundamental right.
Maik Müller 27 June 2017 - Through my work with Peace Brigades International (PBI), I’ve been in contact with diverse members of local and international NGOs working on human rights, but few—if any—of these organisations have integrated a clear approach to counteracting the negative psychosocial impacts of human rights work in repressive contexts.
As an independent consultant, I recently worked with PBI to document and systemize the work done by PBI Mexico over the last 10 years, and our case study indicates that the inclusion of a psychosocial perspective can be an important mechanism to strengthen human rights organisations and their members. In our surveys and interviews, past and current members of the organization gave a variety of examples of how integration of the psychosocial perspective—in addition to specific tools and procedures—led to increased resilience, decreased internal conflicts, and improvements in protection and security work.
Our interviews and surveys found that sensitisation and awareness raising about the psychosocial impacts of political violence (and human rights work in such contexts) were key—people who are aware of the psychosocial impacts of repression are more willing to prioritise adequate self-care.
To increase this awareness, PBI offered regular mental health workshops facilitated by an external expert, which addressed the impacts of violence and the problems that members of the organization deal with in their daily work. PBI also facilitated self-organized workshops, which are set up and managed by the teams in order to work on any issues related to mental health. These workshops—utilizing existing tools, knowledge, capacities and previous experiences of each member—helped staff and volunteers to recognise negative impacts and to develop strategies to prevent, cope with or counteract these effects.
Another important tool that the organization introduced was “check-ins”: these were spaces at the beginning of meetings (in person or virtual) where each person can comment on how they are doing and about aspects that influence their well-being (work-related or personal) and in which members can hear from others about how they are doing, express needs, concerns. The excessive workload and the dynamics of human rights work in the field can lead to situations in which team members do not know how their teammates are doing, and this lack of exchange can lead to misunderstandings, friction and conflicts. Proper use of check-ins can be a useful tool for preventing conflict and to promote mutual support. The tool helped to get staff and volunteers used to including expression of emotions and (the lack of) “well-being” into certain spaces, and in many occasions team members noted an increase in their empathy for each other.
In addition, PBI Mexico created “mental health minimums”, which are individual commitments by all team members to practice self-care and maintain a good state of mental health during the year in the field. These minimum commitments are different for each team member and involve simple things such as doing sports at least once a week, writing daily, and going to dance classes.
They are the result of an individual reflection process (sometimes promoted and/or guided in a workshop) and are shared with the other members of the team so that everyone is aware of each other’s needs. The implementation of these minimums is done individually but if stress dynamics linked to a lack of implementation arise, the team uses the workshops and/or the “check-ins” to follow-up as a collective. As such, the minimums help with conflicts about different perspectives on work management and self-care.
The organization also decided to rotate certain tasks considering the mental health of the team members. One example is the person who is on-call. This person is responsible for checking the phone and e-mail in order to respond to emergency situations, and PBI has taken care to avoid exposing the same people to the most difficult testimonies, such as victims of torture and forced disappearances. “During my year, the hardest moments for me emotionally were listening to testimonies of mothers of disappeared people”, stated one of the volunteers. During the workshops, the external expert provided tools to better deal with such situations and at the same time the rotation system avoided constant exposure to these testimonies.
Finally, PBI offered individual support programs with therapists through Skype. This is an external service to support employees and volunteers so that they can prevent and/or cope with situations or periods of stress and/or emotional charge. PBI has a working agreement with the European Gestalt Therapy Association where members can request individual pro-bono counselling at any time throughout their service (before, during and after the volunteer year, and also for paid staff) in order to prevent burnout and secondary trauma. At the beginning of the collaboration volunteers and staff did not used this specific service much. PBI Mexico started to promote this opportunity for support and integrated further information about this service in training and orientation of staff and volunteers alike. Now there is a regular use of the service and in the questionnaires and interviews several people stressed the importance of this tool.
PBI Mexico made extensive use of an external professional expert to support field teams to address the negative psychosocial impacts of the dynamics inherent to frontline human rights work. Before this collaboration (ten years ago) there was little work on mental health and the accompaniment work of PBI Mexico did not consider well (if at all) psychosocial aspects of the security and protection work for human rights defenders. While there was initially resistance from some members, people were rapidly convinced once they experienced the support. Over time the collaboration with the external expert led to the integration of a psychosocial approach in the internal and external work of the organization. One public example of this integration is PBI Mexico’s facilitator’s guide for security and protection workshops, which explicitly integrates a psychosocial perspective in each training module.
Although we found that workshops with the external expert were especially important, it was the combination of the different tools and procedures that led to a proper integration of the psychosocial perspective. The ongoing support via the regular workshops helped to develop or adjust these tools and procedures to make them more effective. We found that participative processes were important, as commitment and implementation depends on buy-in from all team members—coping mechanisms should not be imposed from the outside, in order to avoid resistance and/or dependence on intervention. Our study also illustrates the need to create an organizational culture that not only allows and promotes the use of time and resources for well-being and mental health, but actually integrates it as important part of the human rights work that is obligatory, reflected in work plans and job descriptions. Unless this incorporation happens, we observed that self-care gets lost or de-prioritized in the frequently overloaded agendas of HRDs and their organisations.
The horizontal and participatory working approach of PBI has certainly facilitated progress, but most of the tools and procedures described can be integrated and adapted by other local and international NGOs alike. In addition, a similar type of case study to what we completed could also help organizations identify their specific needs.
Of course, a cultural shift and strong effort to raise awareness are still required in order to foster well-being and counter negative impacts of repression within the sector. But profound changes in the staff and organisation are possible with proper investment in and implementation of psychosocial support.
Maik Müller is an external consultant and works for PBI, partner in the implementation of ProtectDefenders.eu.
This articles was originally featured in OpenDemocracy.net.
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.
In July 2017, OMCT allocated a grant to Honduran human rights defender David Valle, to allow him to receive medical and psychological treatment after suffering an attempted killing on July 10, 2017, as reprisals to his LGBTI rights activities in Honduras, where LGBTI rights defenders are facing a climate of extreme violence.
The grant enabled David Valle to receive an adequate, specialized and emergency treatment to safeguard his psychological and physical integrity, as well as to keep on continuing its human rights activities as the Project Coordinator of Centro para la Cooperación y Desarollo LGBTI SOMOS CDC (Centre for LGBTI Cooperation and Development), a civil society organisation based in Honduras which aims at improving the quality of life of the LGBTI population, by developing programs that support their access to education, employment, health services, human rights and security.