On the occasion of the second annual meeting of ProtectDefenders.eu, held on November, 8th, 2017, human rights defenders and grassroots activists, and representatives of various EU institutions involved in the protection of human rights defenders and current development agenda met in Brussels under the motto "Champions of change - Human rights defenders at the forefront of development and democracy". You can check out here the video of this unique occasion, which highlighted the fundamental role of human rights defenders as drivers of change in their societies, and as key actors in the frontlines of development, rule of law and democracy.
Watch the full version of the video here.
In addition, a strong call was made to national and international actors to strengthen their efforts to ensure the protection of defenders working in the most difficult and restrictive contexts, who are subject to threats, harassment and attacks. Finally, ProtectDefenders.eu members warned of the drifting narrative away from the human rights discourses and called on society to put human rights back at the centre of the political and social agenda.
With the strong commitment and financial support of ProtectDefenders.eu, Costa Rica was officially launched as a shelter hub for human rights defenders at risk from the Central America region. Human rights defenders from countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia will have the opportunity to temporarily relocate, and access essential tools and training to improve their security. Costa Rica long-standing commitment to the protection of human rights makes it an ideal location for this initiative, in a region which is particularly dangerous for human rights defenders' activities, especially for those individuals working for environmental and indigenous rights.
Click on the image to watch the full presentation.
ProtectDefenders.eu supports relocation initiatives for defenders at risk around the world. In just two years of activity, more than 850 individuals have accessed this comprehensive protection program.
On June 5, 2018, ProtectDefenders.eu organised a panel session at the European Development Days 2018, under the title 'Designing protection mechanisms that work for Women Human Rights Defenders'.
The session was moderated by Meerim Ilyas, a senior programme officer at Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, and included the participation and testimonies of Christine-Astrig Mardirossian, Programme Manager at the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (DG DEVCO, European Commission), and human rights defenders Emilie de Wolf (Consorcio Oaxaca - Mexico), Weeam Youssef (Gulf Center for Human Rights - Lebanon/ Syria), and Aigerim Kamidola (Feminita - Kazakhstan).
Through relevant examples from the field and the experience and highlights of ProtectDefenders.eu, this session discussed how to respond to the specific challenges when supporting the work of women human rights defenders, and how to improve the design of rapid-response programmes and advocacy initiatives that focus their needs and specificities.
Defending human rights remains a high-risk activity in Colombia, making it the deadliest country in the world for human rights defenders. In 2017, between 106 and 126 defenders lost their lives due to the State's inability to protect them. These are the conclusions of the report of the Observatory (OMCT-FIDH), presented in Buenaventura, a place that experiences all the risks faced by defenders in the country.
"It is obvious that defenders are not living in peace in Colombia, but what needs to be made clear to everyone is that there can be no peace without them", said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. "Colombia is at a historic crossroads as it could leave behind the armed conflict and consolidate the rule of law, in which all human rights would be respected. This can only happen if safeguards are provided so that defenders can carry out their work freely and safely".
In the context of the peace process in Colombia, which has led to a historic decline in the number of murders, it is of serious concern that the number of killings of human rights defenders has increased at an alarming rate, making Colombia the country with the highest number of killings of defenders in the world.
The Observatory report identified four main factors increasing the vulnerability of human rights defenders and which must be urgently addressed by the authorities:
Firstly, the defence of human rights in Colombia cannot be guaranteed until the continuing operation of paramilitary structures is not publicly acknowledged and all measures necessary to dismantle such groups are not taken, since they are the main source of attacks faced by defenders.
Secondly, the stigmatisation and criminalisation of defenders remain a major concern. The report documents several worrying examples of the stigmatisation of defenders in 2017 via public statements and actions by all branches of the State (executive, legislative and judicial), as well as by the State security forces, which contribute to increasing the risk of attacks even further, within a context of extremely high levels of violence against defenders in Colombia.
Thirdly, despite the move to a post-conflict scenario, the legal environment and public policies continue to stigmatise and criminalise social protest, while State security forces still resort to an excessive use of force during demonstrations.
Finally, the best way to prevent attacks against defenders is through a functioning justice system. While progress has been made to tackle the impunity in attacks against defenders, as demonstrated by the increase of the rate of indictment achieved by the Public Prosecutor's Office, the Observatory emphasises that cases can only be considered as solved when the perpetrators are sentenced, which means that 94.5% of the murders registered by the Prosecutor's Office since 2016 remain in impunity. Moreover, current investigations fail to identify masterminds or planners as well as motives for the killings. Furthermore, other types of attacks such as threats are not sufficiently investigated. Challenges faced by the justice system remain significant.
"During my visit to Colombia exactly one year ago, we noted that the implementation of the peace agreement was far from being an easy task. Nevertheless, in light of the serious incidents detailed in this report, we call upon the international community to condition support for the State upon guarantees of the effective administration of justice ensuring the decrease of rampant impunity that persists in cases of killings and aggressions against defenders in Colombia", declared Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President.
The Observatory launches its report today in the city of Buenaventura, where one defender received threats from paramilitary structures simply for having spoken to the Observatory delegation. The city also saw the repression of the Civic Strike in 2017. On the first anniversary of the strike, human rights defenders are facing a particularly critical situation, making Buenaventura an emblematic example of all the risks faced by defenders throughout Colombia.
On the 30th anniversary of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, ProtectDefenders.eu participated in a two-day conference organised by the European Parliament. A delegation of human rights defenders accompanied by ProtectDefenders.eu (Emilie de Wolf, Aigerim Kamidola and Lolita Chávez) also joined the conference and shared with the audience the positive impact of the support received, as well as powerful testimonies of the numerous challenges they still face in their daily work.
Antoine Madelin, FIDH International Advocacy Director and current chair of the board of ProtectDefenders.eu highlighted that "In a context of global deterioration of the situation of human rights defenders ProtectDefenders.eu is meeting our number one challenge: supporting those human rights defenders working on the most difficult issues and in the most difficult countries, As we manage to consolidate the impact of our work over the last two and a half years, we see that ProtectDefenders.eu has been a crucial tool for the security, protection and empowerment for at least 11,200 human rights defenders around the world"
In Guatemala, defending human rights has become the highest risk activity, and the people who carry it out, face threats of all kinds that often end in violent deaths. The murder, in less than a month, of seven peasant leaders who participated in the Peasant Development Committee (CODECA) of Jalapa and Jutiapa and in the Altiplano Peasant Committee of the Altiplano (CCDA) of Alta Verapaz, reveals, without a doubt, a alarming increase in risk, especially for people who defend the land and the territory.
In this context, PBI has seen with concern the security situation of three of the organizations that it accompanies, the Campesino Coordinator Ch'orti 'Nuevo Día (CCCND), the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and the Verapaz Union of Campesino Organizations (UVOC). These organizations are suffering, especially since the beginning of 2018, episodes of serious threats and intimidation, attacks with firearms, arrests and criminalization of their leaders. Faced with this situation, PBI has increased the frequency with which international volunteers are present in the Oriente and Alta Verapaz regions, especially in the most threatened communities. PBI has accompanied leaders to make complaints before the state institutions responsible for investigating the attacks and has observed court hearings in cases of criminalization to ensure due process, especially in the case of Bernardo Caal Xól, leader of the Cahabón Peaceful Resistance He has been deprived of liberty since January 30, 2018. PBI has also intensified the follow-up to the work of the state institutions responsible for ensuring the safety and protection of defenders, basically the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Attorney General's Office for Human Rights (PDH) and has maintained a continuous work of information towards the international community, through meetings and the publication of an Alert that collects the security incidents of the three organizations accompanied by PBI and shows their worsening situation.
As a result of this warning, and in the framework of Protect Defenders coordination, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders published an urgent appeal focusing especially on threats to the coordinator of CCCND, Omar Jerónimo. In addition, 61 European human rights organizations sent an open letter to the Government of Guatemala requesting an early investigation of the murders of defenders and the adoption of measures to guarantee the protection and safety of defenders at risk.
Because of the increasingly worrying context, PBI asks the international community to take actions to improve the protection of those who defend land and territory in Guatemala, among which those specific measures included in the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, and especially the realization of visits to the affected regions and the maintenance of meetings with CCCND, the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón and the UVOC. PBI's experience shows that the presence in regions far from the capital, making international attention visible on the situation of violation of rights that exists there, helps to deter new attacks and to preserve the security of those who are defending life.
On the occasion of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), ILGA launched a new campaign raising the voices of LGBTI persons and human rights defenders from around the world. Starting from May 17 and unfolding for a whole week, the #TurnItOff campaign featured six human rights defenders who shared their personal stories and cast a light on how lesbophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and interphobia have an impact on their lives and intersect with their identities.
As human rights violations against rainbow communities continue unabated all over the world, and we witness civil society spaces being shrunk, there has never been a better time to point out how the vital battle against LGBTI-phobia can’t be won in isolation. As this year’s theme for IDAHOTB was Alliances for solidarity, defenders also shared practical tips for allies to support rainbow communities.
Why #TurnItOff, then? For a very simple reason: lesbophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and interphobia are a constant presence in the lives of everyone within rainbow communities. They sometimes are a noise in the background, but some other times they dangerously come to the forefront, in all shapes and sizes. LGBTI-phobia is also dramatically internalised, and always ready to surface in how we talk to ourselves, or in how we point fingers at people within our own community. These negative feelings also do not act in isolation: they intersect with other aspects of people’s identities, and with the discrimination that they face based on them.
If there’s one thing that LGBTI communities and their allies can do is to keep talking about how this negativity impacts rainbow communities. Speaking up is essential to silence the noise, and to change hearts and minds.
Watch the introductory video for the campaign and listen to the voices of LGBTI human rights defenders from all over the world showing how LGBTI-phobia has impacted their lives.
From the 2nd of May to the 7th of May, RSF organised in Tunis a training on safety, with a training of trainers approach, to 9 Libyan journalists. The crisis for press freedom in Libya has reached an unprecedented level. Because of the political and security instability of the past four years and the open conflict between two rival governments, journalists have to risk their lives if they want to report, in a climate of complete impunity for press freedom predators, making journalism extremely dangerous. Hence the necessity of this training on safety considered, to provide comprehensive safety measures and awareness and mitigate risks and threats in a hostile environment.
An effort was put into the selection of the participants to reflect as much as possible the diversity, geographically, age-wise and among the profession. Special attention was also paid to form a gender-balanced group, though it may seem difficult when training groups are from war and conflict areas. Yet, 3 out the 9 participants were females. In addition, it was important to select the ones with the highest motivation and the best leadership skills as it was a training with a training of trainer approach, and they will be at some point reproducing the training and transferring the skills they learn. For 5 days, the 9 journalists were trained to better protect themselves, alternating between theory and practical exercises.
As the safety of journalists in conflict zones is a major issue, the trainer adopted a holistic approach and presented both psychosocial and digital security together with physical security. The participants were trained on how to identify and assess the risk while working in a hostile environment. An exercise was done about risks and threats facing Libyan journalists, and the participants learnt how to build a safety plan for a conflict reporting. A session focused as well on mobility and safety and how to deal with checkpoints in conflict zones, as well as surveillance and ambushes. The rest of the day was dedicated to a psychosocial safety and trauma session, where the participants learnt how to interview victims and how to deal with stress themselves.
Subsequently, the participants learnt how to deal with situations such as abduction, covering riots, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, through practical exercises and role play. How to deal with armed forces was later addressed when two journalists mentioned.
During the sessions, the participants learnt to concentrate on peacebuilding rather than the war or conflict itself: choosing well-balanced sources, expressions used, fact-checking, inclusive coverage. These discussions were good because they serve one of the objectives of the training, attitude change.
The next day tackled the issue of conflict sensitive reporting and the roles of journalists in the field (do’s and don’ts when reporting in unsafe places). The sensitive question of the ethical challenges and dilemmas relevant to safety was approached, as well as the challenges of dealing with violence and armed groups, and understanding their media strategy and ways to counter their propaganda. Discussions reflecting unconscious bias and differences between activism and journalism were an eye-opener for everyone.
In conclusion, the training was a success. Based on the trainer’s feedbacks, the performance of the participants was excellent. Some of them co-trained with her, and how they were able to give feedbacks and explanations reflected very well the skills and knowledge absorbed during the training sessions, especially the concept of safety and risk management. The participants managed to identify what they were doing wrong and will change that, and in addition, the training stressed some good practices they will continue doing it.
As we celebrate #WorldPressFreedomDay2018, ProtectDefenders.eu reiterates its sustained commitment to the protection and safety of journalists working in the most difficult environments around the world. However, as shown by the recently launched Reporters Without Borders 2018 Index, press freedom is far from reality in many countries, and the situation for journalists remains extremely dire.
Thanks to ProtectDefenders.eu and its partners, emergency assistance, temporary relocation, core support, and training are within reach for journalists under threat.
Since its launch in October 2015, ProtectDefenders.eu's support to journalists at risk has become a reality through 282 emergency grants, 15 grants to media outlets, 61 relocation programmes, 10 training actions, 17 field monitoring & fact-finding missions and 2 outreach missions to journalists in remote areas, as well as the ongoing advocacy work carried out by ProtectDefenders.eu's partners.
ProtectDefenders.eu conducted the opening lesson of the cluster on Human Rights Defenders, at the Venice Summer School of Human Rights. Together with the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the session highlighted the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection, reviewing the international instruments available in their support and the current challenges.
ProtectionDefenders.eu participated in the international workshop “Protection of Human Rights Defenders: good practices and the role of Italy”, organised by OSCE and the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which took place in Rome. The workshop was attended also by representatives of the international civil society, NGOs and European authorities in the field of human rights defenders.