Karen Bennett (Human Rights & Social Justice Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, K.Bennett@londonmet.ac.uk)
Danna Ingleton (Amnesty International, Danna.Ingleton@amnesty.org,Twitter: @Ingleton)
James Savage (Amnesty International UK, James.Savage@amnesty.org.uk Twitter: @jamesmsavage)
This Special Issue of the Journal of Human Rights Practice is dedicated to critical reflection on the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs). In this article we consider existing research and knowledge about the protection of HRDs, highlight the contributions of the policy and practice notes in this collection, and put forward current issues and questions on the protection of HRDs for further exploration. Specifically, we highlight eight areas for research: the definition and use of the term ‘human rights defender’; perceptions of risk, security and protection; culture, gender and diversity (with particular emphasis on protecting women human rights defenders); the use of legal and administrative mechanisms for repression; the effectiveness of protection mechanisms; strategies and tactics for protection; fostering enabling environments for the defence of human rights; and the impact of technology and digital security on HRDs. In the last section of this article, we highlight the importance of more collaboration between academics, practitioners and HRDs for the effective evolution of protection mechanisms and practices. We reflect on the merits and challenges of collaborative applied research, suggesting how this can be done effectively.
POLICY AND PRACTICE NOTES
Addressing the special challenges human rights activists and promoters are faced with in the West Bank has been one of our major tasks as human rights attorneys working intensively on human rights issues, including the right to protest, in the occupied Palestinian territory. This policy and practice note sets out a detailed analysis of some of the challenges we initially faced while trying to apply the human rights defenders framework to protest actions taken by Palestinians to promote and protect their and their communities’ human rights as part of their struggle against the occupation and towards self-determination. These challenges were experienced on a principled level of identifying and defining ‘human rights defenders’ as such, and on the practical level of both selecting effective tools to support and protect the human rights promotion activities that these activists conduct on a daily basis, and assessing the implications of the human rights defenders framework for the construction and functioning of grassroots movements and solidarity-based groups.
All over the world, rural and minority communities are vulnerable to human rights violations, often due to larger economic interests in their land. This policy and practice note argues that it is important to recognize community initiatives that denounce and resist such risks as acts of autonomous human rights defence. To illustrate this, it looks at two experiences of community organization and resistance in Urabá, Colombia: the organization CAVIDA and their Humanitarian Zones in Cacarica, and the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó. The paper examines the context in which these experiences have emerged, how the communities were displaced off their land, and how they developed strategies for returning, despite ongoing conflict. It looks at the risks they face and the combination of complementary protection mechanisms they use in order to remain on their land. While being context specific, these experiences also have wider resonance for community human rights defence and protection strategies, especially against violations linked to economic interests and interests in maintaining impunity, and for pioneering the right to non-participation in armed conflict.
This policy and practice note outlines the experience and knowledge acquired by the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (referred to in Spanish as IM–Defensoras) during its two years of building solidarity, protection and self-care networks among women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Mesoamerica. It provides a regional context for the contributions made by WHRDs to the promotion of human and community rights; describes WHRD experiences of violence and rights violations; and outlines the history, characteristics and strategies of IM–Defensoras. The paper concludes by noting key achievements and identifying ongoing challenges for IM–Defensoras, namely the need to develop safe spaces that allow women to defend human rights, develop responses that address the specific protection needs of WHRDs, and redefine existing protection and security strategies within a feminist framework.
This policy and practice note is based on the experience of the Women Human Rights Defenders Program at Nazra for Feminist Studies, presenting an analysis of the experience of women defenders in 11 Egyptian governorates. It examines the risks and violations faced by women defenders, namely gender-based violence and family and social pressures. It also examines their protection tactics and the ways in which they diverge from the approach generally taken by rights organizations.
The Burundian government has pledged to end corruption and create a more transparent society. To fulfil this promise, the government established an anti-corruption investigatory unit and court. This policy and practice note examines the legal framework that created these institutions and their performance since inception. Drawing from two cases of activists who were charged with false declarations under anti-corruption laws, it demonstrates how the law has been used to punish individuals who denounce corruption and has adversely affected the important work of human rights activists and organizations. It provides some lessons learned for activists, legal scholars and donors working to promote anti-corruption legislation in other contexts.
In April 2012 the Mexican Congress unanimously approved the Law for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, mandating the creation of a Protection Mechanism to provide protective and preventive measures to those defenders and journalists at risk. After more than three years of work by civil society organizations, the Law provides certain tools to tackle many of the particular issues of concern that have permitted different authorities to make excuses for the lack of protection. Although many challenges still remain, some lessons can be learned from the Mexican process which could be further analysed and adapted to other countries where human rights defenders are at risk. In particular, the obligation to prevent and the inclusion of civil society throughout the whole process make the Mexican Mechanism unique.
Since the end of the second Chechen conflict, 1 Russian authorities have struggled to contain the spread of Islamic extremism across Russia’s entire North Caucasus region, especially in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and Kabardino − Balkaria. Grave human rights violations in the course of counter-terrorism operations in these regions have been widely documented during the second Chechen conflict and its aftermath. 2 While international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental bodies have long been concerned about the level of impunity for human rights violations in the North Caucasus, the murder of a well-known Chechen human rights activist in July 2009 prompted an equally strong focus on the security of human rights defenders (HRDs) working in this region. This paper first discusses several issues related to the protection of HRDs, specifically: the provision of security trainings; the application of the term ‘HRD’; the adoption of ‘tracking’ technology; the need for an integrated understanding of ‘security’; the importance of recognizing threats by non-state actors; the specific needs of women HRDs; and the effectiveness of evacuation. Finally, this paper presents questions on the sustainability of the one security model implemented thus far in a situation in which human rights work is simply too risky for local defenders to undertake.
Making the Transition: Engaging Communities in Uganda with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
Jamie Hitchen and Jacqueline Kasoma
The UN Declaration on human rights defenders was designed to promote and protect the rights of individuals engaged in the defence of human rights. Generating awareness of the Declaration remains a challenge. In Uganda, efforts to develop knowledge and awareness at the community level had been noticeably absent, but a recent initiative by the Human Rights Centre Uganda (HRCU) has sought to bridge the divide between the international and community spheres. This policy and practice note will seek to discuss a participatory simplification and translation exercise carried out in six linguistic regions of Uganda. It will outline the thinking behind the high degree of community involvement in the translation process by linking language to identity and culture. It will offer a detailed explanation of the process itself, in order to generate a strong sense of how it played out in reality, before moving on to suggest some of the expected results and acknowledge some of the challenges encountered during implementation. The paper will suggest that the model adopted should serve as an example of how to deliver a translation process that is both relevant and interactive. By taking a community approach, greater awareness of the values inherent in the Declaration are developed and this, combined with a greater sense of ownership of the document, provides human rights defenders in Uganda with some of the tools required to continue to advocate for socio-economic and political change, using a rights-based approach.
Networks for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders: Notes from the Field
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project: Neil Blazevic, Rachel Nicholson, Tabitha Netuwa, Nora Rehmer, Joseph Bikanda, and Hassan Shire Sheikh
Founded in 2005, the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) functions as the Secretariat to the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD-Net). Its core mandate is to offer protection to and promoting the rights of human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the East and Horn of Africa subregions. In this policy and practice note we reflect on strategies, tactics and results in four core areas of interrelated work: protection, security management, advocacy, and capacity and coalition building. We argue that a concerted, holistic approach to the protection of HRDs is necessary to mitigate the worst risks that HRDs face as well as to foster an enabling environment for the effective defence of human rights. This involves complementing urgent responses to HRDs at immediate risk with the provision of prevention-oriented security management training, as well as conducting sustained institutional and public advocacy. We also stress the importance of capacity building as well as coalition building and networking in this work. Supporting the growth of national HRD coalitions helps to bring protection expertise down to the national level, strengthening the regional network model. Finally, we put forward areas of work that need further development in the context of the East and Horn of Africa.
Rethinking Risk and Security of Human Rights Defenders in the Digital Age
Stephanie Hankey and Daniel Ó Clunaigh
Human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly empowered by, and dependent upon, digital technologies. These technologies have opened up new potentials, enabling HRDs to extend their capacity to document and analyse human rights abuses, to amplify them, and to more effectively organize locally and internationally. Digital technologies, however, have simultaneously created new points of weakness: exposing HRDs’ whereabouts, activities and networks, and creating evidence against them through data leakages, digital traces, and direct surveillance and interception. Attacks on HRDs have escalated over the past two years, with a significant increase in the number of entrapments and networks being compromised through the use of computers, cameras, mobile phones and the internet. This rapidly changing landscape poses a number of challenges to practitioners working in the field of security and protection for HRDs and has led to a growing concern about how best to enable HRDs to assess and mitigate the related risks. After contextualizing and introducing the dimensions of digital insecurity for HRDs, this paper will note some of the responses to HRDs’ digital security needs which have been developed, and their limitations. It will then go on to identify three key principles that should inform the work of practitioners in future and to raise a series of critical questions for further research and work in this area.
Human Rights Awards for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
The use of awards in human rights is relatively recent. The oldest is the Nobel Peace Prize (1901), followed by the Freedom Award (1943) and the Nansen Medal (1955). From the mid-1970s until the end of the twentieth century their numbers increase steadily with one or two awards created each year. This century has seen a remarkable increase in human rights awards, with more than 50 new awards created in just 12 years. This relatively recent development is perhaps one of the reasons why there is no systematic research on human rights awards, their impact and effectiveness. The aim of this essay is to give a brief review of human rights awards and discuss issues in regard to the protection function of awards. This essay reviews 100 awards, of which 88 are international in scope (with potential winners coming from anywhere in the world) and 12 are regional (winners must come from a specific region).