How can the human rights community support the well-being and security of defenders?

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How can the human rights community support the well-being and security of defenders?

The following questions are meant to help spark the conversation:

  • How can grant makers support the well-being and security of their partners?
  • How can we communicate concerns about security and well-being better? If there is a movement to pay more attention to security and well-being among human rights organizations and grant makers, how can we support it?

Share your thoughts, ideas and stories to this discussion thread by adding your comments below, or responding to existing comments.

Grant maker support

I think there is a growing recognition of the security and well-being concerns/priorities of human rights defenders within the grantmaking community, and more examples of good support strategies -- both in terms of prevention and response. 

I wonder if we might be able to gather some examples of grantmaker support that has worked well to support hrds?

I agree, Jane! It seems to me

I agree, Jane! It seems to me that more and more grantmakers are identifying the types of support they are best-placed to provide to their partners and reaching out to other organizations that can be supportive.  As grassroots grantmakers, AJWS has received increasing numbers of alert from our partners regarding their security.  We've recently published a grantmaking strategy paper regarding this work, entitled "Risk and Responsibility: Protecting Human Rights Defenders". 


This work is integrated throughout our grantmaking with our partners, though.  It includes having ongoing dialogues with partners and providing general support that allows for flexibility.  At times it is reflected in administrative costs - health insurance, pensions and staff salaries.  At other times, it falls under conference participation for activists that may need an opportunity to "get away".  It is our security work and includes asking questions about psychosocial support and the needs of grantees' families.  It is award and fellowship nominations...It includes providing partners' with time to come together and plan, reflect and celebrate their  work.  It seems tricky but are there grantmakers that have successfully developed guidelines for their security and well-being practices?


In addition, AJWS partners with local organizations that work specifically on these issues and understand the context best.    Does anyone have good examples of national organizations working on security and well-being of HRDs that they could share?  One is UDEFEGUA in Guatemala?  Who else is out there?

Well-being of HRDs in Thailand

One organization that is doing some amazing work in Asia is the International Women's Partnership for Peace and Justice. (From their website http://womenforpeaceandjustice.org/) The are a spiritual based feminist organization working to support grassroots women`s activism in Thailand and the Asian region. Founded in 2002, IWP leads  workshops, retreats and training  courses which share in common  the  integration of feminism, social  action and spirituality for  sustainability and transformation  at the personal, community and  society levels. Among the activities they conduct are retreats that focus on "Mindfullnes in Health and Healing" and "Women Allies for Social Change," the latter of which builds solidarity among women activists (including human rights defenders) from the local and international women's and peace activists communities, with a focus on self-care and solidarity.

IWP

Thanks Patrick, for mentioning IWP's work -- I've just made reference to them in another thread. They are fantastic, and still one of the only organizations of their kind that I know of in the world.

 

Network of orgs defending defenders in Africa & Protection Desks

jwrenn wrote:

In addition, AJWS partners with local organizations that work specifically on these issues and understand the context best.    Does anyone have good examples of national organizations working on security and well-being of HRDs that they could share?  One is UDEFEGUA in Guatemala?  Who else is out there?

There is a network of national organizations working on security of HRDs in Africa called the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP).  The EHAHRDP seeks to strengthen the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the region by reducing their vulnerability to the risk of persecution and by enhancing their capacity to effectively defend human rights.  The EHAHRDP Network was established in 2005 and currently brings together more than 65 non-governmental organizations active in the protection of human rights throughout the region.  EHAHRDP focuses its work on Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia (together with Somaliland), Sudan (together with South Sudan), Tanzania and Uganda.

Also, Protection International has established at least four Protection Desks in:

Working in close conjunction with local human rights organisations and defenders Protection Desks are set up in order to train local defenders (HRD) and organisations (HRO) in improving security measures and protection mechanisms.

Are there hopes to create more closely connected network of organizations that work on protecting the well-being and security of human rights defenders?  Are steps being taken to move towards something like this?

More on regional networks

kantin wrote:

There is a network of national organizations working on security of HRDs in Africa called the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP).  The EHAHRDP seeks to strengthen the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) throughout the region by reducing their vulnerability to the risk of persecution and by enhancing their capacity to effectively defend human rights.  The EHAHRDP Network was established in 2005 and currently brings together more than 65 non-governmental organizations active in the protection of human rights throughout the region.  EHAHRDP focuses its work on Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Somalia (together with Somaliland), Sudan (together with South Sudan), Tanzania and Uganda.

Also, Protection International has established at least four Protection Desks in:

Working in close conjunction with local human rights organisations and defenders Protection Desks are set up in order to train local defenders (HRD) and organisations (HRO) in improving security measures and protection mechanisms.

Are there hopes to create more closely connected network of organizations that work on protecting the well-being and security of human rights defenders?  Are steps being taken to move towards something like this?

Kristin, thanks for listing these organizations, I have heard good things about EHAHRDP, but don't know much about them.

I believe that Protection International also has a desk in DRC (Bukavu).

I know that the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRDIC) has a focus on security and well-being.

The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation has worked extensively on integrated security for their partners in the South Caucasus, and the Middle East and most recently in DRC.

The Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders is a grantmaker, but I believe is also active in advocacy and perhaps in networking?

Jane

Grantmaker Support

I agree that there is a slowly growing recognition within the grantmaking community of the security and well-being concerns of human rights defenders.

Urgent Action Fund takes sustainability of activists very seriously and is trying to identify more ways in which we can be supportive.  We have supported various WHRDs and SOGI organizations with Sustaining Activism and Integrated Security workshops as they identify the need and desire.  This falls within our Advocacy and Alliance Building Program rather than our Rapid Response Grantmaking.

With regards to grantmaking however, it is indeed a bit more tricky, as Jesse mentioned.  We also use the SA lens when evaluating requests and ask questions with regards to personal security of the activist and their families.  Our security grants often include provisions for counselors or psychotherapists for a WHRD and her children who are affected by the threats and their precarious security situation.  Of course, these are named and included in the budget by the activists themselves and not prescribed by UAF.  There are times when we review a request, which speaks to threats and major security concerns but no where in the budget are there security measures.  In these instances we are very careful not to prescribe but to ask questions with sensitivity regarding their security plan.  We remind these groups that we can also support them with their security needs and for us, this includes well-being.  This is our understanding of integrated security.  These types of provisions fall within our Protection and Security grantmaking category.

I am not aware of many international funders that have grantmaking programs or priorities that are specifically for the well-being and sustainability of activists.  I would love to hear if other folks know of some out there?  There is a huge variety of needs these HRDs have that range from individual to collective support such as health related costs (e.g. chemotherapy), to taking a sabbatical for either the indivdual or organization, or regrouping and rebuilding (i.e. general operating support).  It seems as if the need for this type of grantmaking is definitely there, but how does a donor go about establishing sustainable funding parameters that are supportive and expansive enough to the needs of these activists? 

freeDimensional and the Creative Resistance Fund

The growing recognition among the grantmaking community regarding support for well-being and security concerns is a critical development.

I want to share the availablity of the recently established Creative Resistance Fund by freeDimensional. The first round of grants was underwritten by Freedom to Create.

The Creative Resistance Fund provides small distress grants to people in danger due to their use of creativity to fight injustice. The fund may be used to evacuate from a dangerous situation; to cover living expenses while weighing long-term options for safety; or to act on a strategic opportunity to affect social change.

freeDimensional has been working to advance social justice by hosting activists in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work. I have been very impressed with how they have used these kinds of resources to address the well-being and security concerns of activists. In 2009, New Tactics and freeDimensional partnered for an on-line discussion Art spaces hosting activism & strengthening community engagement that also resulted in the development of a tactical notebook that shares their innovative tactic to address well-being and security concerns - Art Spaces Hosting Activism: Using surplus resources to provide individual assistance and strengthen community engagement.

Best practices for grantmakers to support HRD wellbeing & safety

UAF Saira wrote:

There is a huge variety of needs these HRDs have that range from individual to collective support such as health related costs (e.g. chemotherapy), to taking a sabbatical for either the indivdual or organization, or regrouping and rebuilding (i.e. general operating support).  It seems as if the need for this type of grantmaking is definitely there, but how does a donor go about establishing sustainable funding parameters that are supportive and expansive enough to the needs of these activists? 

Thank you, Saira, for sharing the challenges that Urgent Action Fund faces when working to support the well-being and safety of HRDs.  I really hope that we hear more examples and ideas from others in this dialogue! 

So that we are all on the same page, I wanted to share with this group, the best practices highlighted in the AJWS paper Risk and Responsibility: Protecting Human Rights Defenders shared by Jesse in a comment above. It sounds like UAF is already utilizing many of these approaches.  I would love to hear all of your reactions to these best practices - anything missing?  Please read the entire paper for more information and examples for each of the best practices below.

1. Provide emergency, capacity-building and long-term security grants. Capacity-building grants with specific funds earmarked for security can ensure that HRDs are planning for their own safety. However, it is also important that other funding be flexible enough to allow HRDs to respond to threats in unexpected emergency situations—for example by using grant monies to purchase bus tickets or new cell phones to avoid surveillance—even if those funds were earmarked for something else. Donors should provide support to HRDs and their dependents to seek safe shelter or relocate when necessary. In addition, donors should support HRDs in exile to stay connected and continue their work.

2. Build the response capacity of grantmaking staff. Program and grantmaking staff often develop long-term, trust-based relationships with their grantees who then are comfortable reaching out to staff and consultants in response to threats. Country-based staff members need to be equipped with the tools necessary to document threats and communicate with headquarter staff, playing a vital liaising role.

3. Support HRDs in developing and implementing a security plan. While security risks may emerge from a variety of actors in multiple contexts, there are consistent themes that can be addressed by good security plans. In developing their plans, grantees should be encouraged to work with recognized professionals. Experts may include police officers, private security specialists, professional soldiers, firefighters, therapists, doctors, nursing staff, lawyers and/or security guards.

4. Identify regional “hot zones” and issues that are likely to place HRDs in danger. Many HRDs that AJWS supports work in areas that are flashpoints of violence or protracted conflict. Other grantees advocate for issues that are known to be controversial in their local political context. When grantees are at increased risk of threats for the work they do, grantmakers should be proactive with grantees about discussing the types of emergency support they can facilitate. Grantmakers should also provide flexible funds to allow grantees in these hot zones to respond to urgent situations.

5. Improve digital security and support grantees in doing the same. Even in the remotest areas, grantees utilize cell phones, communicate through internet calling services and use video cameras to document abuses. Staff, consultants and grantees should be trained in basic digital security in order to work safely.

6. Work with grantees to establish security networks. Networks of community-based organizations can provide immediate protection when an HRD is threatened, and national and international NGOs can provide support by issuing press releases or contacting government officials.

7. Fund psychosocial support. HRDs operating under insecure circumstances for extended periods often experience reduced productivity, depression, illness and burnout. Local, national and international psychosocial support organizations should be identified, with attention given to cultural contexts and individual preference (for example, while one HRD might prefer a therapist, another might prefer to consult a traditional healer or spiritual leader).

8. Support local responses. While international organizations currently provide support when an individual or an organization is in danger, it is important for activists to have access to experts and organizations that understand the cultural, legal and political contexts within which they are operating. Funders should therefore support regional organizations, offices and training programs that are dedicated to exploring these issues locally.

9. Consider Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation.  Funders should familiarize themselves with the security issues that affect women and LGBTI activists and support partners to develop security plans that address the needs of these activists.

10. Foster dialogue among funders about security and protection. AJWS welcomes continued dialogue with other funders on the issues and strategies raised in this paper as we move toward our goal of offering stronger protection and support of the courageous activists defending human rights around the world.

Do grantmakers currently utilize the Grantmakers Without Borders network to carry out this dialogue and push these issues forward?  Are there other networks that grantmakers can utilize to talk about challenges, best practices and examples?

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