Managing Risk

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Managing Risk

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Below is a list of questions to serve as a framework for the discussion in this thread:

  • How do human rights organizations manage the risks involved by witnesses and victims in reporting human rights abuses?
    • How should protection work in practice?
Definitions of risk and protection

I think it would be really useful to start with defining what we mean by risk and protection. Some of the issues that might be good to address, both in principle and and in practice include the following, but other people will be surely have others:

It is obviously impossible to eradicate all risks, but what sort of risks are unacceptable, and need to be explicitly addressed? What are the criteria for inclusion in any protection regime?

Should human rights organisations be concerned primarily with the protection of witnesses and survivors seeking justice, or does the goal of protection apply more broadly? One way of putting this is what are the danger involved in seeing protection merely as a means to the end of greater accountability? Should it not be an end in and of itself?

Whose definition of risk takes priority? The definitions of human rights organisations or those of surivors and witnesses?

How wide does the net of protection go? Survivors and witnesses obviously, but what about wider family members, for example, who may also be at direct or indirect risk?

Is this an issue only after a human rights violation, or can the principle be applied preemptively? 

It would be interesting to hear what people had to say on these and other issues.

Lots of important points and

Lots of important points and issues here.  As noted in my comment (in State, Civil Society) on the distinctiveness or characteristics of war-torn settings in relation to a rule-of-law culture and related institutions, the local/national and international context, in my view, is critical. 

As a manager of a large UN human rights team in Afghanistan, a country where impunity was embedded and exacerbated by the strategic and political agendas of external actors (who brought back and backed well known, despised warlords), it was vital that (a) human rights were seen to be the concern of all, (b) that action on human rights concerns was not perceived as a passport or means to exit the country and (c) that UN human rights staff, including in particular national staff, were vigilant and objective about threats.  In sum, harm to HR workers was a problem for obvious reasons as well a minus for human rights programming in general.

In any HR initiative, it is important from the outset, to assess risks, take preemptive action to mitigate these, and have networks that facilitate or help enhance the safety of all affected by abuses whoever is the perpetrator including state authorities. 

Human Rights Up Front

I agree with Norah on all three points that you make, especially in regard to the first point-- that human rights become a concern for all. Time and time again, we see other agendas or interests compete with human rights concerns, to the detriment therefore of human rights protection, including those who are human rights defenders or who are survivors of rights violations.  The Human Rights Up Front initiative of the UN Secretary General was announced in December 2013, and it would be good to get a field perspective on how that vision in the Headquarters has become operationalised in the field. 

HRUF (HR Up Front)

I agree Ahmed that HR Up Front (the notion that all parts of the UN will prioritize HR concerns when lives are at imminent risk) is an interesting initiative. I am not aware of any study as such on its actual impact but when part of a humanitarian inter-agency commissioned "Independent Whole of System Review of Protection in the context of humanitarian action" that i was involvef in last year, it quickly became apparent that while there was lots of enthusiasm for this initiative it was seen as a "UN thing" and little clarity as to how it was going to be translated into practice in a meaningful manner.  Many feared that it was another HR mantra that failed to take account of power politics including geo-strategic agendas at the local and international level.

Further definitions

I would like to take this initial opportunity just to build on Toby's interesting starting point, which poses some excellent questions.

In terms of understanding what risk is, it may be useful to somewhat broaden our understanding. While it is of course important to think about whose definition of risk takes priority, it is perhaps important to understand what we actually include within the risk framework.

Traditionally, the protection of survivors and witnesses appears to have focused on physical risk factors, such as the risk of reprisals, arbitrary detention, torture or ill-treatment, and perhaps the right to life. There has also been some attention paid to psychological risk, such as the risk of traumatisation or re-traumatisation.

These could perhaps be developed, and expanded somewhat. When we think of risk, it may be useful to think of risk in terms of the dangers faced by survivors and witnesses of human rights violations, and those working with them (again, this builds on Toby's point above). This understanding of risk would accordingly include the risks faced by the survivors and witnesses themselves, but also the broader risks that emerging when working with survivors and witnesses.

In this regard, three forms of risk could perhaps be envisaged:

  • Physical risk. What physical danger are suvivors, witnesses, and those working with them exposed to.
  • Psychological risk. Again applied to the same group of people and organisations, but to include an understanding of secondary trauma, and re-traumatisation. This would include, for example, the trauma faced by journalists and human rights workers, as they interview survivors and witnesses, or trawl through documentation (including graphic images), and the risk of re-traumatisation, when survivors and witnesses are either interviewed inappropriately, or interviewed repeatedly (for instance, by various journalists, human rights organisations, commission of inquiry, etc.), without sufficient care for their psychological well-being.
  • Digital risk. In many ways this links to physical risk, in terms of consequences. However, in digital risk, I am thinking of the risk posed when communications between human rights workers (or others) and survivors and witnesses are intercepted. This is not an issue that has been comprehensively addressed by the human rights community.

In relation to digital security, I would be particulalry interested in discussing how this can be effectively implemented in practice, and peoples' experiences in this regard.





RISK definitions

Following on from DMurray, agree it is useful and important to have a clear understanding of risks in the context of advancing human rights. Drawing on work related to disaster risk reduction, emphasis is placed on the chance or possibility of a harmful event occurring coupled with the likely or potential consequences for an individual or community.   Thus, level of exposure to potential or likely harmful events/practices coupled with levels of preparedness  - measures taken to pre-empt or counter potential harm - determines level of risk that needs to be factored into decision-making.

Vicarious Trauma & the Human Rights Community

Hi all - to build on Daragh's points - in particular focussing on those who work with the victims, not the victims themselves - and that of psychological risk specifically, I led research conducted by my organisation, Eyewitness Media Hub, into vicarious / secondary trauma in journalism and human rights investigation - especially amongst those who use user-generated content (that's to say, audiovisual content (photo, video or simply audio) shared through social media networks (YouTube, Twitter, Facebook etc.) to investigate news events and / or human rights violations.  The goal of this research was to map the lie of the land - i.e. what are investigators and organisations noticing about secondary trauma as we stand today.  The results for the human rights community were very, very worrying.  Human rights professionals are increasingly using user-generated content in their work, and, increasingly, they are being affected by viewing horrible, distressing events.  Unfortunately, however, very little is being done about this in an organisational structure - except, maybe, for the "here's the number of a counsellor, give them a ring" approach.  As the use of UGC is such a new phenomenon, managers aren't really aware of its impact, so are exposing staff to truly toxic content without much due thought for how this is affecting them. 


So, when we talk about managing risk effectively, I'd really like to advocate for much, much more thought to be given to how we are using new tools that give us new avenues of investigation, new potentials for monitoring what's going on - but bring with them new challenges in terms of managing the risk of exposure to our staff.

Our research is available here: for those who are interested in learning more. 

Am very happy to discuss about this further.

Members tagged in this comment: 
Importance of self care - our most valuable resource

Thank you very much for raising this critical issue during this conversation. It is certainly a topic in and of itself that has begun to get more traction within the human rights community in the last years. Thank you for sharing your research link. I was particularly pleased to see the section on "recommendations" for  human rights workers/staff, journalists, managers and educators.

New Tactics hosted a conversation on the topic - Self-Care for Activists: Sustaining Your Most Valuable Resourcethe summary page provides an overview and excellent resources for those who would like to explore this topic more fully. One really terrific resource that is easy for anyone to use is the Emergency Kit by Capacitar. It includes simple, basic practices to deal with stress and manage emotions that you can do invidually, some exercises need a partner, and all can be done in a group to help support each other. The kit is available in 13 languages.

Members tagged in this comment: 
Healing resources for victims of torture & who work with them

I wanted to add an additional message on the topic of healing and self-care and share some additional resources. is a project of the Center for Victims of Torture. CVT works together with other torture treatment programs and professionals working with survivors of torture to provide a wide variety of resources (for mental health, social service, legal and medical professionals). The website shares a wide variety of articles, webinars, films, and workbook resources as well as connections to organizations. 

The self-care section provides resources for both the victim and the helper. On this resource landing page you'll see a list of other related content on this topic in the side bar.
In Chapter 3 of this this resource, What About You? A Workbook for Those Who Work with Others you'll find ways to check on the health of your organization and to create a healthy work environment in which a culture of self-care can become a system-wide priority. Such attention to the impacts of primary and secondary trauma on staff and the organization provides benefits for staff protection and those they serve as well as overall sustainability of the organization. 
Members tagged in this comment: 
Thank you, Nancy, for sharing

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this information-- especally the link to the workbook.

Sam's point is very

Sam's point is very interesting and important. Whilst new technologies are obviously creating great potential for monitoring and documenting, and spreading that information widely, they are obviouly creating their own risks, both to survivors and human rights workers. Digital responses to human rights absues can therefore offer new avenues of protection, but create their own risks. Sometimes, it is safer to write things down by hand! As Saira points out in one of her posts, if the police get hold of a laptop- it can have serious implications. Of course of these risks are always present, not matter what the technology.

Managing risk

When it comes to managing risk, the first thing that comes to mind is making sure victims and witnesses have as much information as possible so that they are in the best position to assess their own risk (often they will have the best information about the types of risk they face) and what level of risk they are comfortable with. From a legal sense this is about ensuring that it is possible to take instructions from the client, but in the human rights context it is more than just this: victims and witnesses who engage in legal or related processes ARE taking risks - they know it and we know it. We cannot treat them like children and decide for them how much risk is OK; we must put them in a position where they can take the decisions themselves, as they will live with the consequences of deciding to act or refraining from acting.

Fully agree. In terms of

Fully agree. In terms of digital security in particular - I think the challenge is ensuring that human rights workers (or others) are sufficiently aware of the risks within a particular context - in order that they may provide adequate information.

Agree absolutely. This is a

Agree absolutely. This is a situation a face daily in my work documenting human rights violations in Iran, where there appears to be a state policy of carrying out reprisals against those who give information to UN human rights mechanisms. I believe it is vital that those who speak to me are fully aware of the risks that are involved in communicating with me, even while I find various ways to avoid their discovery through a variety of means-- secure digital communications been an important component of that.

Beyond providing safe channels of communication, there is also the issue of weighing the potential costs and potential benefits of speaking out through the United Nations.  In several country contexts that I am familiar with, victims are told that their silence would lead to a swifter resolution of whatever violation they may be facing, while publicity to their plight will only cause them further harm. Then there is also the issue of managing expectations--- what can potentially be gained by giving evidence to a UN mechanism? For many this is vital, especially when they need to weigh it against the potential risk of reprisal by the State. An informed judgment obviously cannot be made in the absence of a realistic assessment of what can be done. Of course, there are several other risks involved--such as re-traumatisation, as noted by Daragh, especially when one person can be asked to recount the same stressful tale to different human rights investigators. Sometimes the calculus upon which the initial judgment by a witness to convey his or her account was made may change between the submission of the oral (or indeed written) testimony and the subsequent date of its use in  a public forum. My practice has been to ensure that potential witnesses make an informed decision on the potential risks involved before the they make a submission and to confirm that their view and consent remain unchanged at the time of going public with that information as well. The overarching principle is the cause-no-harm principle, and err on the side of caution. But this is never dilemma free, especially when the victim cannot be directly accessed, or is insistent on taking the risk because they believe it is in their interest to do so. 

other forms of risk

Thanks for this. I think distinguishing between different forms of risk is of crucial important. I wonder if alongside physical, psychological and digital risk, we might also add socio-economic risk. As I noted in one of my comments  elsewhere, the research we have been conducting in Nepal, Kenya and Bangladesh seems to indicate that livelihood strategies are of crucial importance, and one of the major threats than can be mae against survivors and witnesses is undermining their ability to make a living and support their families. This is of course especially the case amongst the poor. If a Nairobi street trader, for example, is threatened with no longer being able to use their particular patch of street, the long term implications can be just as pernicious. This raises important challenges as we need to make sure not only that people do not face physical and pyschological threats, but that they continue to have ways of making a living.

3 H( hope, honour and human dignity) are our way to manage risk

Three important words aptly capture the general outcome and changes in the lives of people brought about by our initiative:

Hope: the survivors helped and assisted by us spoke highly of hopes that see them through amidst torture experience and prolonged imprisonment. Never was hope erased from their memory and system. Hope was always present as a longing and a yearning. It speaks of one's personal spirituality and provides strength and comfort to survive in any difficulties, trials and adversaries. It is in fact, holding on to the attitude of never giving up in a situation despite all odds. It is having the faith that the situation will change for the better at the dawning of each new day.

Honour: the ceremonies honouring the survivors after the process of testimonial therapy was such an empowering and endearing moment and milestone in the lives of the survivors. It was a real recognition of the integrity of the survivors as human beings, that they possess value in every community and in society and they have right to be honoured in his/her community. The society provides acknowledgment and understanding of the survivors' suffering and the necessity for healing and reparation. This was a celebration of their breaking of silence towards achieving empowerment.

Human Dignity: this is the connecting thread between the survivors and PVCHR. They all spoke of human dignity as an important value that must be adhered to and recognized for all human beings. It is actually the measuring of treatment of human beings and his/her right to life. It is valuing his/her right to be treated with respect by any person in whatever culture s/he belongs.

This 3H (hope, honour and human dignity) rightly sums up the healing and empowerment outcome of the initiative in the lives of the survivors. Mohammad Aamir Khan is a classic example of a survivor, now a human rights defender who never for a while loses hope despite his 14 years imprisonment.

Few links:

Empowering survivors

The process of transforming the victims to survivors to human rights defenders is a critical development process for any victim or community that is affected by torture and organized violence. The ultimate healing and achieving justice is demonstrated in the victims and the communities fighting for their rights and overcoming their fear and dehumanization to face their perpetrators and reclaiming their rights as human beings with dignity and honour.

The community healing, empowerment and development became the bedrock of the survivors' hopefulness for a better tomorrow. They are holding to the fact that they are the ones that can make history, the ones that can change their situation for the better. This is the outcome of the interventions provided to them through the testimonial therapy, through the folk school, through community meetings, through neo-dalit solidarity and action.

The adaptation of the testimonial therapy in the context of India is truly effective. It has empowered the survivor's well-being. With the survivors gaining control of their situation after converting the traumatic event to a story of survival, then shared to the public through the honour ceremony, such had provided support for the survivors' search for truth and meaning. The survivor gained empowerment in the process when s/he has reclaimed his/her voice by becoming a defender for those who still continue to suffer in pain.

Just looking back on these

Just looking back on these very interesting posts. I wonder is there some scope for international standards, or best practice, in relatino to work with survivors and witnesses, targeting those who work with them, such as lawyers, human rights workers, humanitarian workers, and so on.

Just thinking that very few students get effective training in relation to interviewing vulnerable persons, and this seems to be a big omission. 

It is something that we have tried to remedy at Essex, by bringing in practitioners, and working through different case studies, and best practice, relating to working with victims of, and witnesses to, human rights abuses. 


I wonder if anyone else has experiene in this regard, or ideas they would like to share?

Supporting/Partnering with Activists, Survivors

In my experience in Afghanistan, the bulk of the work in terms of determining what happened in a particular incident of concern was undertaken by national staff who did not have formal HR training as such but they were politically aware and fully in tune with local norms, ethnic and gender sensitivities etc. They were not given training, as such, in “how to be sensitive” but did receive training in posing questions, documenting answers and using networks to get useful insights.   Frequently, the challenge was to understand circumstantial realities (for example in relation to an incident of warfare involving civilian casualties or determining what happened in an incident of sexual violence)  so the task involved speaking to a broad range of interlocutors, such as local police officials, medical staff, neighbours, journalists etc;   in this connection, it was super important to understand, in advance, local power realities and perspectives.  In sum, as populations grow, get more urbanized and IT savvy, and the incidence of “accidental activists” increase, it will be important to find ways and means to support local actors and initiatives that do not emerge from formal HR entities.     My impression is that traditional Western models of support, including training, will have to be re-thought so that partnerships can flourish in a manner that enables context-specific local initiatives to function effectively while simultaneously addressing actions beyond the local that have negative repercussions for those directly exposed to HR violations.

I have to admit to some

I have to admit to some hesitation about international standards for managing risk, but think that broad guidelines on best principle an best practice might be very useful- and would love to hear what other people think. Perhaps even a New Tactics Toolkit? As Nora points out above many of the people identifying survivors and those at risk will not be trained in human rights, but be medical workers, teachers etc. I think there might be a space for training or support here, as Declan points out above, in sensitive interviewing and identifying risk factors around psychosocial issues, but as Nora (and Lutz elsewhere) says my sense is that these will have to be partnerships, and not human rights organisations acting as service providers in the area of training.

A broadly applicable toolkit

A broadly applicable toolkit would be a hugely interesting thing. I would absolutely agree that it should not be targeted exclusively at human rights workers, but at all those (and as the discussion indicates, they will be very varied) working with victims and survivors. 

A core understanding could potentially be really useful, and a means of ensuring that best practice can be applied, even in light of the different constraints faced in various contexts.

What about making int. organisations a bit more accountable?

I am sorry, let’s be grounded as well.

One of the major challenges in protection and promotion of human rights is lack of protection to victims and witnesses. If no one feels safe in reporting the atrocities, it is bound to repeat with impunity and this is what we have been experiencing in many countries.

As I shared with you I have been currently dealing with the situations, where victims witnesses and those working with them (glad that in the discussions everyone seem agreeing to add them too), have no-where to turn for help when they face security threats (I am talking about imminent threat to their physical/ psychological health). Other member of community themselves feel threatened if they are seen being somehow associated with the victims. Many international organisations, including the UN do not feel comfortable to work in such a situation as internal security protocol of the organisations restricts their staffs to work in such a situation. If they are not working, there is very little information is known about such situation, situation here the situation of threat/ risk. These are not countries/ situations that would fall under the categories of situations triggering humanitarian intervention. I see this being a problem.

As discussed, there are different countries having different level of democratic culture and observance of rule of law. Prioritisation is important, meaning which kind of situation to be given priority for international attention and response.

We need to think what the toolkit that we are discussing offer to victims and witnesses living in such situation. If basic protection structures are not there, knowing international standards of protection may be of little help.

What about making international organisations little bit more accountable. As we know in every country we have the UN presence (largely UNDP, other as well in many situations), in how many countries, they have worked on this issue? How in-tune UN structures are in this issue?  My argument is lack of protection for the witness and victims is the major threat to our efforts in protection and promotion of human rights, then why is this not a priority in their work/ support.

I am referring to the UN because of its presence in every country and its mandate to protect and promote human rights. Same would apply to other embassies/ institutions representing different country as principally protection and promotion of human rights is the cornerstone of their work too.

One strategy would be making this a priority for the UN’s country team. It is not necessary that only OHCHR needs to talk about these issues and other organs of UN can afford to largely ignore this.

Once UN is involved in helping countries to have basic structures in protection of victims and witnesses, they speak at country level when issues of protection arises, may be situation would be different. 

A very good point, Mandira.

A very good point, Mandira. The concern for protection should extend beyond OHCHR to the UN Country Team. We have probably heard a lot of talk  on this subject, both before and after the annoucement of the Human Rights Up Front initatitve, but I think practical action has lagged behind, and vulnerable groups and victims in repressive regimes remain without access to available protection. Perhaps a culture change is needed in the way UN country teams are conceptualised, including in terms of recruitment, where a degree of human rights expertise should be required to head country teams?



Readily available guidance

My impression is that in a very fast chaning global context (politically including power shifts, demographicall including urbanizaiton,  technologically including in relaiton to the use of social media and more countires being classified as middle income) it is important to not over-proceduralize matters or, indeed, generate barriers that hinder engagement with or the funding of local initiatives such as is happening in Syria where many hybrid, local groups are doing much of the heavy lifting in terms of helping besieged communities and documenting HR/IHL violations but have limited access to, for example, humanitairan funding or help from established actors.

Anecdotaly, i was briefly in Lesbos last October as a volunteer to help with the arrival of refugees; after one difficult night when a large unseawortthy boat sunk, many lives were lost and some were rushed to hospital, i was told the next monring by a young relief official that i should not be speaking to refugees when i queried what was the system for family reunification as a young mother had, almost literally, fainted in my arms as she was desperate to figure out if her 2 month old baby had survived; she had been told that i had gone in an ambulance with some children to a local hospital. There are, rightly, lots of protocols to protect in crisis setings (and to prevent trafficking etc) but in this instance, refugees and those there to help were packed together in a small harbour where the survivors had spent the night.

The only point i am making here is that differnet sorts of  protection (and material help) is needed as is support for grass-roots groups that, increasingly, mushroom in situations of acute or chronic concern.  Support and guidance needs to take ground realities into account; good work is being done by HR activists (whether they identify as such or  not) even if they do not have much prior experience, legal training etc.

Fully agree with Mandira, but

Fully agree with Mandira, but I think that the issue may go far beyond the UN. While it is of course important to focus on the UN, doing so may let other national and international organisations off the hook. It appears that while there is always a willingness to work with survivors and witnesses, and to do so in their best interest, there is often insufficient understanding of the complexities that contribute to 'best interest'. These can be further accentuated when the survivors and human rights workers (broadly speaking) are up against an oppresive State, and there is a culture of solidarity and resistance. In this sense, doing things that are not in the best interest of the individual, may be perceived as being in the best interest of the 'cause', for want of a better word.

This is why I was thinking that some form of common understanding, or toolkit, would be really useful. The universality would be a key issue, as a constant criticism is things are different in X, or things are different in a conflict situation, but a universal toolkit (with broad contribution) would highlight that protection issues apply everywhere, and perhaps more importantly, are capable of being addressed everywhere.

taking into account the

taking into account the thigns that Mandira, Declan and Nora say, my sense, as with all things ethical (and protection is surely an ethical issue) that rather than setting out best practice or answers, it is more useful to set out the questions that need to be asked- and then then answers can be context specific. It seems to me that so far we have been pulling together some of the key questions that civil society and other types of organisations need to ask themselves in relation to protecting victims and witnesses. Hopefully by the end I will be able to pull them together into some kind of list.

EU could be another avenue ?

I fully agree with the point that the other organisations should also bear some responsibilities. In fact, they have certain responsibilities, for example EU guidelines on protection of human rights defenders.  I have been following up the effectiveness of the implementation of EU guidelines in some countries.  Experiences have been mixed.

As many human rights defenders face risk because of their work, I have seen victims and witnesses being vulnerable when defenders are under pressure or face risk and vice versa. I have been dealing with the situations where victims and witnesses are facing threats to retract their information, so the case could be built against human rights defenders for bringing false allegations (arguing that victims and witnesses themselves say otherwise)!!  In situation like this, how can we not see the protection of witness and victims within the ambit of protection mechanisms that are being developed or under development as national implementation strategy under the EU guidelines?

Where there are very clear links like this, my argument is that EU (basically EU embassies on the ground) should be considering the matter. Of course we can discuss how effective the strategies have been separately but I wanted to flag that EU should also be playing some roles into this. 

An accoutable UN

Further to Sharma and Ahmed Shaheed’s post, as a former, long time UN staff member I totally agree that all of the UN should be playing a more conscientious role in advancing HR, including the safety of those on the frontlines of this struggle.

I am not convinced that internal UN security rules disallow any individual UN institution or individual from intervening in a helpful fashion and especially doing so discretely if this is required.   As many probably know, the HRUF initiative is an out-growth of events in Sri Lanka during the end phase of the war when, according to the SG’s commissioned Petrie study, protection concerns were seen as “political” and thus not in the remit of UN entities including UNDP whose representative was the Humanitarian Coordinator (HC) at the time.    It may also be worth knowing that the ToR of HCs sets out specific protection responsibilities.  However, throughout the humanitarian community, and beyond, there is great confusion as to what “protection” means and implies in terms of protective action.  That is a separate discussion but it is worth bearing in mind as different conceptual understandings work against collaboration and meaningful interventions.   

In general, a key problem, from my perspective, is the low level of commitment to HR within the UN apparatus.   In the UN commissioned study on Sri Lanka (in which OHCHR staff played an important role) there was no real investigation or analysis of the role played by development and HR actors prior to and throughout the war years. The bulk of the focus was on how humanitarian programming was less than adequate – and it definitely was – but the assumption that humanitarians were solely responsible for not trying to counter policies of the warring parties and external backers of the Rakapakse regime effectively means that humanitarians are offended/stop listening...and, as articulated by the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) humanitarians were made the scapegoat for the failure of others.

In sum, challenging the UN to be accountable to its declared values requires a long hard look at how it delivers on its responsibilities either in the field or in HQ.

These posts regarding the

These posts regarding the role of international organisations in protecting victims and witnesses raise some very interesting and important points. However, I agree with Darragh that we must be mindful that we don't undermine the State obligation to ensure protection for victims and witnesses by focusing on the role of international organisations (or indeed, national CSOs). 

I also think it's important that we go back to Toby's initial post here and discuss further what we mean by protection. If we are talking about protection post-violation, there are a number of stages to this: protection immediately following the violation if a victim fears being targeted again (this could be in the form of temporary relocation or accompaniment at all times); protection following the filing of a complaint and during the investigation phase (for example investigators do not disclose the names of victims and witnesses); protection during court proceedings (which will need to be balanced with the defendant's right to a fair trial); and protection after the trial (which at the extreme end includes permanent relocation and change of identity). For many of these stages, there will be some reliance on agents of the State to participate in providing protection, which as discussed in this and other threads is problematic because of the overall dysfunction of criminal justice institutions in many countries and the lack of rule of law. It would therefore be interesting to elaborate a bit more what we mean by protection as we are talking about it here, and also what role civil society (international or national) might play in providing protection. . 


Does UN, civil socieyt action undermine State obligations?

In settings where the State, that we all agree has a core responsibility to protect, is the source of danger/harm/abuse, I fail to understand how actions by NGOs/other civil society actors and the UN can be seen as undermining state obligations.   States have obligations whether or not they meet them.

Many victims of HR violations do need help to survive, mitigate the harm done to them and patterns of HR violations do need to be challenged.  The support that can be provided to enhance protection will, surely, differ between contexts.

It should be seen as bridge

No doubt state has the ultimate responsibility. The issue of civil society/ UN/ EU other came underscoring the reality in many countries where the state is the primary source of such threat. I fully agree with Norah that it should not be seen as the factor undermining the responsibility of state rather a bridge. 

I completely agree that there

I completely agree that there is a role for CSOs, but I do think that if we place too much of the onus on CSOs to provide protection, then that makes it easier for the State to shirk its obligation, and it can also place an unreasonable burden on CSOs who may struggle to keep up with the demand. We have seen this when it comes to rehabilitation in some States--the only place victims can access rehabilitation services are through CSOs, and the State health institutions may even refer victims to these private CSO rehabilitation centres which the State does not support in any way (contrary to Article 14 of the CAT).  

I am very much in agreement with Mandira's comment below that CSOs can play a bridging role. I do not mean that there is no role for CSOs when it comes to protection--on the contrary, I think there is an important role they must play as you rightly point out, however this must be done alongside State efforts (and where the State is not meeting its obligations, then CSOs should advocate for it to do so). The Committee Against Torture (and indeed other human rights bodies), can also provide States with clearer guidelines as to what steps they must take to meet their obligations under Article 13. 


What do we mean by CSO?

Bridging role absolutely! Two questions we may want to address a bit more is 1) how we as human rights organizartions can support that - networkiong, training, commitment, funding and 2) how do we get them on board? As our research illustrates, these organizations often have very little connections outside their local areas. 

One more, rather conceptual question in this regard is what do we each 'see' when we hear the word CSO. Often we think NGO or some other rather formalized body with constitutrions and offices. But that is not always what they look like - at least if we take the concept of CSO serious. Here, religious organizations, lending schemes, etc might be more central and more present. Often, human rights are far down their agenda. Nonetheless, they might be exactly those  who could be present. Then my two questions above take on a slightly different dimension... 


Great point Steffen. We need to work with mass base or survivor centric organization