Human rights defenders: We must find new ways to protect human rights defenders

December 10, 2016

Human rights activists take part in a protest following the murder of Berta Cáceres

In 2018 we will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which recognises the role and guarantees the rights of those who promote and protect human rights.

But despite the declaration, the settings in which defenders work are becoming more contested and volatile – not less. Around the globe, a tectonic shift towards autocratic and semi-authoritarian rule by law, and the pernicious influence of corporate, criminal and fundamentalist non-state actors, has put human rights activists on the defensive and let rights violators go on the offence.

As defenders seek ways to mitigate threats and safeguard themselves and their work, the protection regime or “ecosystem” of public policies, mechanisms, organisations, tools, training and funding that is meant to shield them is under strain.

Now, defenders and the groups and donors who support them face critical questions. Have we adequately analysed the changing dynamics influencing risk and contested civil society space, and adapted the policies and support to confront the new reality? Is the protection model of relying heavily on international groups and service providers insufficient and unsustainable, given the scale and severity of attacks on defenders? Should protection start closer to home?




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