In the first 18 months of activity, ProtectDefenders.eu, the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by international civil society, has emerged as a solid and increasingly referenced instrument to ensure that human rights defenders facing threats and risk can access immediate support and protection measures. Since the launch of the project in October 2015, ProtectDefenders.eu has allocated nearly 500 emergency grants, more than 60 grants to local human rights organisations and has set up a successful temporary relocation programme, approving nearly 160 grants for HRDs -and their families when needed- to temporarily relocate away from danger.
Moreover, at least 2350 defenders have accessed training and capacity-building to better respond to their protection concerns, improving their knowledge on digital security, physical security or risk assessment, through more than 100 trainings conducted worldwide. Besides, the project has been constantly developing a monitoring and advocacy work, also in the field, including through 15 trial observation missions to countries such as Morocco, Turkey or Guatemala; 17 advocacy and fact-finding missions to countries such as Tunisia, Honduras, Kenya or Mexico and more than 900 actions of mobilisation of public or media attention, including alerts and appeals and submissions to international mechanisms. Finally, the EU HRD mechanism has also undertaken relevant outreach actions, aimed at reaching out to particularly targeted and remote groups of defenders, including in isolated areas of Algeria, Tunisia, Peru or Colombia, among others.
Reporters Wthout Borders (RSF), within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu, has provided financial support to FalaRN.com, a Brazilian news website launched in December 2014, by two journalists Francisco Costa and Josi Gonçalves, aiming to offer journalistic information, analysis, opinion with credibility and transparency guided by editorial independence.
Fala RN has published a series of stories about embezzlement of public funds, nepotism and election fraud involving local politicians. Since, the two journalists have been victims of judicial harassment, and those local officials have brought a total of 11 defamation suits against the couple – seeking a total of more than 200,000 reais (57,000 euros) in damages –. In addition to judicial harassment, Costa and Gonçalves have feared for their safety. They have been victims of persecutions, as well as threats and suspicions of abduction. Increasing legal fees have put the media into a difficult financial position. This case has been denounced by RSF and, combined with public condemnation of this persecution, financial assistance was allocated to help them purchase equipment such as cameras, computer, microphone in order to be able to continue their high quality investigative journalistic work and develop their own production of content.
Article by Noor Ali, pen name of a WHRD benefiting from the ProtectDefenders.eu temporary relocation programme - For security reasons, information allowing her identification is not disclosed.
As a woman human rights defender, I have been living in constant state of danger for the last six years. A new war erupted in my home country of Sudan following five years of fragile peace. Alarming signs of potential genocide became hard to avoid, so I found myself doing what I can to report about these signs for international human rights organizations. Within few months my house was under surveillance, my phone was tapped and then was cut off by security, because I was making calls into the war zones...
Within 8 months I was arrested and detained several times, and finally my house was raided by 14 armed men with machine guns. I was accused of espionage among other serious charges, and threatened to be prosecuted. With the help of some friends, I managed to flee the country to escape prosecution of charges that could lead to execution.
My story didn't end there, although that could be the end of the journey for so many human rights defenders, especially women. When I arrived in exile, I found help from colleague human rights defenders, who guided me to apply for support from regional human rights defenders network EHAHRDP. Through their help I managed to start again and reorganize my life and resume my work. But most importantly I had confidence that, whatever troubles I might find myself in, I will find a safety network that can protect me and help me restart again. My own experience led me to start thinking about other women and colleagues in my home country who are at the same situation, but they did not have access to direct connection with human rights defenders protection mechanisms, either because of the language barriers or the lack of internet or safe communications in remote areas. So I started helping other women defenders at risk through coordination with human rights defenders safety networks such as Urgent Action Fund for Women/Africa. What I understood from helping those colleagues; that saving one life of human rights defender means saving the lives of so many other people.
Working from exile in helping other defenders at risk was not safe enough in the hosting country. Within couple of years I found myself once again at danger, when the country I fled to became more hostile against civil society organizations, and decided that my work and other NGOs or HRDs in general was not legal anymore. This time ProtectDefenders.eu came at my rescue. When I applied to them I was surprised by the fast response and close follow up, especially that such mechanism is covering applications from all over the world. In my case that fast processing of my application was timely needed, because I was at serious danger and I needed fast relocation. What made me more comfortable throughout the process with ProtectDefenders.eu, is the flexibility in the period of support provided and the wide covering of HRDs needs which is not always covered by most of other mechanisms. Within few weeks I was able to engage again in my work, but through secured communication channels, while I felt safer in my new location.
Working as human rights defender could be seen by some people as not quite a serious work, or more of a volunteering job. The spirit of volunteering is at the core of every human rights defender, but we must remember that; HRDs do not just volunteer or give up some of their time or money. They give up their security, their family safety and unfortunately in too many cases, they also give up their lives. When I say "they give up their lives", I literally mean it. In our days HRDs lose their lives while doing their work, either tortured in detentions or assassinated or executed. But they also lose their lives in other ways, although they remain physically alive. Human rights defenders who are forced to flee their countries, they are also forced to leave behind their families and their old lives, usually for indefinite periods of time; they are basically forced to start a new life in exile. Other HRDs are enforced to stay in prisons for years or live in hiding for months and sometimes longer. Therefore, a safety network like ProtectDefenders.eu, not only insure the security of the defenders at risk, but it also give them opportunity to reclaim their lives back or to start a new one.
Equally important to saving human rights defenders lives is helping HRDs to resume their work, which enable them to save the lives of so many other people. When HRDs defenders feel safe and have access to protection networks, they are also feel empowered to do better work and provide help to those most at need. HRDs who work in war areas providing aid or documenting violations are at risk of detention and sometime death during their work. One of the WHRDs from the war area of Nuba mountains who used to help displaced families inside Nuba mountains and in Khartoum, she was detained and sexually abused by the Sudanese security. We managed to help her and she had been supported to relocate her family and have access to medical and psychological treatment. After her relocation to safe place, and within few months, she started her work again. She campaigned to collect food, clothes and education materials for displaced children and sent them back to Sudan. Investing in supporting and protecting HRDs is an investment that empowers vulnerable communities; it's an investment that strengthens peoples' access to justice and builds foundation for sustainable development and peace. When human rights defenders have reliable and strong safety networks, they become able to create different safety nets for other people and make our world more humane.
ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism implemented by international civil society, launched its Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders, featuring a monitoring of alerts concerning violations perpetrated against individuals promoting Human Rights around the globe. The Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders is available on ProtectDefenders.eu website.
This Index does not intend to be exhaustive, as many alerts and attacks go unreported and real figures are much higher. Still, with more than 1000 documented alerts reported by ProtectDefenders.eu partners, it aims at becoming a source of updated information that should allow the identification of worrying trends and encourage the coordination of adequate responses by decision-makers and authorities to counter the violations faced by defenders.
Since January 2016 up to today, ProtectDefenders.eu has compiled more than 1000 documented alerts, provided by ProtectDefenders.eu partners: Front Line Defenders, Reporters Without Borders and FIDH and OMCT within the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. Alerts are based on verified information concerning violations affecting Human Rights Defenders. As part of its advocacy mission to raise awareness about the plight of Human Rights Defenders, ProtectDefenders.eu has created this new platform to provide the necessary information for relevant actors to engage and take action to alleviate the situation of Human Rights Defenders at risk. It is ProtectDefenders.eu's belief that an adequate warning helps to break the isolation in which actors of repression attempt to place Human Rights Defenders.
Only in 2017, more than 200 violations have already been committed against defenders, with at least 17 murders and 51 defenders imprisoned around the world. Judicial abuses, including arbitrary detention, judicial harassment, criminalisation or sentencing, are the most frequent types of alerts concerning defenders, with more than 130 cases documented in 2017 alone.
Among the areas of action of threatened defenders, the Index of Alerts confirms the particular plight faced by defenders of land and environmental rights, pro-democracy activists and defenders of freedom of expression, as the most targeted categories of defenders around the world.
All of the alerts of the ProtectDefenders.eu Index can be searched and refined by country, field of action of the Human Rights Defender, gender, profile or specific type of violation faced. The Index features interactive graphs and listings and aims at ensuring optimal accessibility to the information available.
Explore the new ProtectDefenders.eu Index of attacks and threats against Human Rights Defenders
In late April 2017, Front Line Defenders conducted a four-days training of trainers for Spanish-speaking defenders, supported by ProtectDefenders.eu. The training was aimed at increasing the capacities of participants, while developing local champions on risk assessment, who can work with others to enchance protection planning. The training took place in Costa Rica, in a relatively safe environment for HRDs to access in a manner which does not prove problematic on their return, and benefited 12 Human Rights Defenders, 6 of them WHRD, from Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela.
On May 30, 31 and June 1, in Mexico City, the Latin American Meeting "Strategies of protection for the defence of territory" was held. With the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, this event was organised by a group of international and regional organisations that support processes for the protection of human rights defenders, especially those who work in the defence of land and territory, including ProtectDefenders.eu partners PBI, Front Line Defenders and Protection Intrenational.
With the purpose of incorporating local and community perspectives, as well as taking advantage of their knowledge, local organisations from several countries also participated as conveners of this meeting, with the aim of opening a space for exchange and learning about experiences and protection strategies existing in the region that would strengthen the ongoing processes, as well as to foster a space of solidarity and articulation between different movements, organizations and territories.
The abduction, torture and killing of renowned Kenyan human rights lawyer Willie Kimani in June 2016 shocked the entire world, provoking a wave of outrage at national and international level. This is only the tip of the iceberg of a widespread pattern of violence and harassment aimed at silencing dissenting voices and perpetuating impunity, as concluded by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH partnership) after a fact-finding mission to the country, conducted within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu
Kenya, a country that in 2010 voted a very progressive Constitution strengthening the country’s human rights framework in compliance with international standards, has in recent years chosen a different path. Unfortunately, so far the freedoms enshrined in the constitutional Bill of Rights have not been fully incorporated into domestic legislation, and, most importantly, are not upheld or implemented in practice.
“To date, the effective implementation of this progressive framework unfortunately remains a mirage and still needs substantial improvement”, declared OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock. “With all the right instruments put in place to bring about change, lack of implementation and political will appear to be the main reasons for such disillusionment”.
On the contrary, a report published today by the Observatory accounts for high levels of police and security forces’ violence, especially against human rights defenders involved in the fight against impunity for human rights violations. The mission report compiles several testimonies of incidents of violence, including cases of harassment, threats, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
Moreover, human rights defenders are often criminalised on the basis of trumped-up charges, which aim at intimidating them through episodes of frequent arrests, detentions in police stations, long trials and punitive bail and bond terms. This inevitably prevents them from pursuing their legitimate human rights activities.
Adding to this, the lack of a clear legal framework regulating the civil society sector due to the failure to commence implementation of the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act 2013 creates a legal limbo which obliges NGOs to operate in a hostile environment, characterised by the threat of arbitrary de-registration and asset freezes, continuous attacks and smearing campaigns.
“In such a context, and ahead of the upcoming general elections, it is urgent that Kenyan authorities publicly recognise the crucial role of human rights defenders as pillars of democracy and watchdogs of the rule of law. They must improve their safety, truly implement the police and security sector reforms, hold perpetrators accountable, acknowledge the misuse of criminal law to harass defenders, and finally commence the PBO Act of 2013”, concluded FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.
The full report is available online in English:
on OMCT website
on FIDH website
As part of its support for media and journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), with the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, conducted a seven-day seminar on digital security for 7 Libyan journalists and activists with the aim of training them to be able to train others on digital security in Libya.
The seminar was held in two stages, seven weeks apart. The chosen approach was Training of trainers, in order to train them as well to later train their fellow peers in digital security, hence improving the impact of this training.
The first stage, that lasted 3 days and was organised in March, had two components: awareness raising and then a technical introduction to various digital security tools and strategies. In the second stage, a 4 day session hold in May, the participants were trained in the various techniques for training others in digital security, so that they would be able to use appropriate methods to pass on their technical knowledge.
As well as showing the participants how to hold their own digital security seminars, the second stage also developed and consolidated the links between the different modules and showed them how to develop complete digital security strategies.
The participants formed a very good group according to the trainer, one that should be encouraged to dedicate more time and effort to the field of digital security. Some of the candidates expressed a desire and determination to organize digital security training in their work or civil society environment. The trainer will follow-up on these future trainers by providing them with the necessary teaching tools, aids, technical assistance with improving when necessary and/or coordinate with the best students to invite them to participate as assistant trainers in the next digital security seminars.
Doaa Mostafa Ahmed Hassan is a lawyer and the director of the criminal justice programme in the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. Due to the situation in the country and the threats and criminalisation she faced because of her work, Doaa left Egypt with the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, and is currently participating in a fellowship programme with the accompaniment and collaboration of York University.
"I am working in an increasingly restricted space: NGOs and human rights defenders in Egypt are generally coming under severe threat due to an investigation into their funding sources. A number of key human rights defenders and organisations are under threat of closure, and subject to travels bans, asset freezes and heavy prison sentences. My work as a human rights lawyer researching, documenting and defending those whose rights has been disrupted since the moment of my arrest, and I am regarded as a thorn in the side of the regime.
There have been attempts to silence me on more than one occasion. I have even been detained in the Supreme State Security Prosecution Headquarters, one of the top investigating bodies in the country, where officers took me into a room to pressure me to cease my work and intimidated me to drop the work I am doing in the defence of human rights..."
"I work for an organisation whose directors are targets of the regime. Our director and co-founder, Mohamed Lotfy, was subjected in 2015 to a travel ban due to his human rights activities. He was informed of the ban after trying to fly to Germany, where he was invited to give a speech to parliament about the human rights situation in the country, at the same time that the Egyptian President was meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. Our other co-founder, Ahmed Abdallah, was arrested from his home on 25 April 2016 and is facing charges under the counter-terrorism law for his human rights activities..."
As a female lawyer, who comes into contact regularly with security officers, I am regularly sexually harassed by them through verbal insults. But this has not deterred me in my job, and going on a weekly and sometimes daily basis to police stations and prosecution offices to defend my clients. Also my 9-year marriage has recently ended because of the constant fear we live in. My husband could no longer take the fact that our home could be stormed by police at any point to arrest me, or anyone of my family as a means of pressuring me to stop the work I am doing. My husband asked me to switch careers even, and I found myself torn between my heart which loves this man, and my heart and mind that loves the work I do. I experienced the heartbreak of my two children, who I adore, moving in to live with their father for their own safety. But I truly believe that as long as a heavy price has been paid, there will be compensation."
Nodjigoto Charbonnel is a Chadian human rights defender supported within the ProtectDefenders.eu Temporary Relocation Programme.
"I am the founder and Executive Director of the Association jeunesse pour la Paix et la Non-violence (AJPNV), in Chad. The organisation works against torture and supports the victims of torture and ill-treatment, as well as victims of sexual violence against women in the community. We also carry out activities to educate Chadian citizens in the field of human rights.
We provide free of charge medical, psychosocial, legal support to refugees, IDPs, women victims of sexual violence, abandoned children, as well as empower women to fight against inequality, discrimination, poverty and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM). However, Human rights defenders Chad in general face threats, intimidation, harassment and are always brutalized.
This fellowship at the York University, supported by ProtectDefenders.eu within its Temporary Relocation Programme, is the opportunity to step back and look to what I am doing and make analysis to improve it. It is a kind of rest. It is also an opportunity to meet with others Human Rights defenders to share experiences, knowledge and learn new skills, which can help me to improve my way of work. Overall the fellowship is very beneficial for me and thanks for those who make it possible."
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu, has mobilised the public and media attention on the continued judicial harassment and the restrictions to freedom of association faced by several Egyptian human rights organisations, as well as their staff and members, in the framework of the so-called case No. 173/2011, also known as the “NGO foreign funding case”.
According to the information received, on May 24, 2017, Mr. Mohamed Zaree, Egypt Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) was interrogated by the investigative judge within the framework of the “NGO Foreign Funding case”. At the end of the interrogation session, the investigative judge ordered the release of Mr. Zaree on a LE 30,000 bail (approx. 1,482 Euros).
On March 29 and 30, PBI Guatemala invited 25 women human rights defenders of the territorio cuerpo-tierra, from 15 organizations and groups, from 15 organizations and groups and 9 departments to a meeting to exchange experiences about their realities and the challenges they face in their struggle.
The precarious situation of security and lack of protection of the defenders in rural areas was made evident during the discussion, since in many cases defenders do not have access to those State institutions in charge of protecting the women at risk. This gathering included a meeting with representatives of the embassies of Germany, Canada, Spain, the United States, United Kingdom and Sweden, as well as the EU Delegation and the OHCHR, where defenders shared their concerns on varied issues, such as the freedom of expression of community communicators and the lack of recognition of their work, the work of women's organizations that accompany women survivors of violence, who are highly exposed and vulnerable, and the lack of adequate responses by state institutions.
Throughout May 2017, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) supported by ProtectDefenders.eu, has raised the voice to warn about several acts of harassment targeting various human rights defenders, including excessive use of force, ill-treatment and torture in custody and other acts of intimidation by Bahraini security forces.
Concurrently to the repression of peaceful protesters, a number of human rights defenders, journalists and online activists have been summoned for interrogation, reportedly ill-treated, threatened and forced to publicly announce their resignation from their human rights activities during interrogation by the Bahraini National Security Agency (NSA).
According to the information received, on May 23, 2017, Mr. Mohammed Kadhem Mohsen, Deputy President of a local chapter of the Environment Friends Society  in the village of Duraz, died from injuries to his head caused by birdshot during a police raid on the same day against a peaceful sit-in organised to protest the harassment of religious leader Sheikh Issa Qassem . During the raid, 286 persons were arrested and at least four other peaceful protesters were killed, including Messrs. Mohammed Ali Ibrahim Ahmed, Ahmad Jamil Ahmed Mohammed Al-Asfour and Mohammed Ahmed Hassan Mohammed Hamdan . Throughout May 2017, peaceful protesters have been violently cracked down by authorities in Duraz, which access is restricted to since this is the city where Sheikh Issa Qassem resides.On May 23, 2017, Mr. Adel Al-Marzoog, member of the Bahrain Human Rights Observatory of the Al-Wehdawi Society, a political group, was summoned by the NSA in Muharraq and kept in custody until the following day. Following his release on May 24, 2017, Mr. Al-Marzoog announced his resignation and said that he will stop all his human rights activities. It has been reported that he was ill-treated during his detention and forced to remain standing for 18 hours.
On May 24, 2017, the Third Grand Criminal Court reduced Dr. Taha Al-Derazi’s sentence from six to three months in detention under charges of “illegal gathering”. Dr. Al-Derazi was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his sentence. Charges against him stem from his arrest, interrogation and subsequent release on August 14, 2016, after taking part in a peaceful assembly on July 19, 2016 in the village of Duraz protesting the arbitrary revocation of Sheik Issa Qassem’s citizenship.
On May 25, 2017, the Second Lower Criminal Court handed down a 1,000 Bahraini dinars (approx. 2,365 Euros) fine against journalist Ms. Nazeeha Saeed, France 24 and Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s correspondent in Bahrain, for “working without a license” . The Court of Appeals will review her case on July 18, 2017. Ms. Saeed, whose application to renew her license has been rejected without any basis at the end of March 2016, was summoned for interrogation and charged with “unlawfully working for an international media” under Article 88 of Law 47/2002 on July 17, 2016.
Besides, on May 27, 2017, Mrs. Ebtisam Al-Saegh, Monitoring and Documentation Officer at the NGO Salam for Democracy and Human Rights, was summoned by the NSA to Muharraq police station. She was released seven hours later and was immediately taken to the hospital in a very concerning psychological state, following a “severe nervous breakdown”. Upon her release, Mrs. Al-Saegh reported having suffered acts of torture, including severe beatings on the head, sexual abuse and was insulted threatened to be raped if she continued her human rights work. NSA agents also threatened to target her family members. According to reliable reports, she was also forced to repeat the royal anthem and beaten and insulted when failed to do so properly. During her interrogation, she was asked about the work of activists inside and outside Bahrain, including in Geneva during sessions of the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC).
Mrs. Ebtisam Al-Saegh, who together with 22 other human rights defenders in April 2017 was subjected to a travel ban and falsely accused of participating in “illegal gatherings” in the city of Duraz , is also the target of a defamation campaign conducted by the pro-government newspaper Al-Ayam, which accused her of fabricating reports on human rights violations in Bahrain. On May 15, 2017, Mrs. Al-Saegh’s car was burnt.
Summoned by the NSA in Muharraq on May 28, 2017, blogger Mr. Hassan Al-Sharqi, who had been tweeting about the Duraz protests, the rights of peaceful assemblers and calling authorities to allow families of killed protesters to see the bodies, declared on the same day that he would stop tweeting. Reports confirmed that during his interrogation he was insulted, beaten and ordered by a security officer to stop his online activities.
On the same day, the head of the monitoring and documentation team at the Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS), Mr. Abduljalil Yousif, was summoned to the headquarters of NSA in Muharraq. He was interrogated for four hours about his human rights activities with BHRS and about his private life. Upon his release, he reported that he had been subjected to insults and psychological torture and was threatened that if he does not stop his human rights activities, he would be exposed and his family will be targeted.
The Observatory condemns the killing of Mr. Mohammed Kadhem and urges Bahraini authorities to adopt effective measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders in the country. The Observatory also calls for an immediate, thorough, impartial, and transparent investigation into Mr. Mohammed Kadhem’s death and for those responsible to be held accountable.
The Observatory is appalled by the above-mentioned reports of torture and ill-treatment and expresses its outmost concerns over these new acts of harassment and intimidation against human rights defenders in Bahrain, which only aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and urges authorities to fully investigate the allegations of mistreatment by the authorities.
ProtectDefenders.eu participated in the roundtable 'Madrid for those who defend human rights', co-organised by Mundubat Foundation and Peace Brigades International (PBI), in collaboration with the Madrid City Council. The round table addressed the situation of human rights defenders, communities and organizations, as well as their protection needs and disseminated information about the protection programmes put in place to support defenders at risk, with the purpose of providing the municipal government with contents for the implementation of a municipal program for the protection of human rights organizations and individuals.
The video of the ProtectDefenders.eu 2016 Annual Beneficiaries' Meeting, held in Brussels on the 29 November 2016 under the motto "Defending Human Rights is not a crime - #DefendersNotCriminals", is now available.
The event gathered human rights defenders, NGO representatives, international and regional protection mechanisms and European insitutions to reflect on the first year of support of the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism and raise the awareness about the pressing threat of criminalisation against human rights defenders around the world.
Watch it now on Youtube.