Ground-breaking Methodology with Room for Improvement
In 2005, researchers from Protection International first conceptualised the idea of applying the risk approach for human rights defenders (HRDs) and, subsequently, elaborated the first Manual on this topic. Since then, the risk approach has become a cornerstone of protection strategies for HRDs all over the world. It is repeatedly used and considered by HRDs, the United Nations General Assembly, UN Special Rapporteurs, the Inter-American Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, regional human rights organizations, as well as constitutional courts in various countries.
However, its simplicity, applicability, and indiscriminate use have also allowed for shortcomings and limitations. For example, conducting a risk analysis has become an objective in itself, as opposed to what it should be, which is merely a step towards creating an actual protection plan. In other words, in many situations a diagnosis is made, but no treatment is given.
In addition, some Protection Mechanisms provide HRDs with a “quantification of their level of risk” using arbitrary figures calculated within spreadsheets. This falsely reduces the complexity of reality into one-dimensional numbers that subsequently determine the action or inaction of the State. This lack of contextualisation, together with the absence of a gender and intersectional approach, have been flagged as some of the most pressing shortcomings of current risk analyses conducted by Protection Mechanisms that use the risk approach.
Redefining the Risk Approach in 2021 and Beyond
In celebration of the 15th anniversary of the first thematic manual, we wanted to take the opportunity to reflect critically on how this method has been applied in practice until now. Upon PI’s invitation, over 65 human rights defenders and experts from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia came together to craft a list of principles for “Redefining the Risk Approach”.
Human Rights advocates from topical NGOs, UN agencies, donors, academia and state protection mechanisms came together to agree on how to create risk analyses and protection plans that are empowering, situated, intersectional, and, ultimately, human rights defender-centric. The ultimate goal was to produce a set of agreed-upon principles about risk analyses and protection plans for HRDs to be used as a reference and benchmark by HRDs, State and government officials, civil society, and all other key stakeholders contributing to the protection of HRDs.
These principles are just the beginning, and over the coming years we will continue to research and develop new initiatives for ensuring the more effective adoption of these statements in practice as well as continually improving upon the statements themselves. We highly encourage the human rights community to interpret these principles as ideal yet extremely achievable goals for any country they may be operating in. Advocating for these principles means advocating for inclusive, reasoned, and rights-based approach to protecting those that put their lives and well-being on the line for a better world for us all.