What are the benefits and barriers to working with allies who are perceived as non traditional?

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What are the benefits and barriers to working with allies who are perceived as non traditional?

Welcome to the discussion! We thought we'd start this conversation by looking at what it is that makes an ally 'non traditional' and the benefits/barriers to engaging this type of ally. Consider these questions below when sharing your comments in this discussion topic:

  • What do we mean by ‘non traditional allies’? Why are some allies perceived as ‘non traditional’? How do we makes these allies that seem unusual to the human rights community, usual?
  • What are the benefits of working with allies perceived as non traditional?
  • Is it hard to develop these kinds of partnerships? If so, why? What are the barriers that get in the way?

Share your thoughts, experiences, questions, challenges and ideas by replying to the comments below.

For help on how to participate in this conversation, please visit these online instructions.


When having a short look at my biography, it's obvious, i represent somehow non-traditional allies in human rights issues. Without wanting to dominate this discussion from the very beginning of the week, i think the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender activists and grassroot organisation in very hostile countrries and countries that criminalise the act or the identifying as homosexual under national or religious laws, are non-traditional alies.

In Europe the involvement of asylumseekers, undocumented migrants in the struggle for human rights and for international solidarity is often seen as non-traditional, especially when it is an empowering and not a parenting approach.

I am here, ready to answer all possible questions about the barriers, the possible hurdles, the benefits of partnerships and much more, and i hope to  learn a lot from the other topics discussed.

Who are perceived as 'non traditional' allies in human rights?

Thanks for being the first to add a comment, Jan! I'm interested to learn more about how LGBT activists and orgs, and grassroots orgs are being seen as non traditional allies within the human rights community. Is this because human rights groups in repressive societies do not consider LGBT activists and orgs as part of the human rights community?

It's interesting to think of asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants as non traditional allies in human rights work. I would suspect that many human rights groups strive to engage these allies, but I wonder how this translates into practice. Do others have examples of successful partnerships of this kind - the kind that is empowering and not 'parenting'? Share those examples in this conversation!

I think that what you're saying is that these groups - LGBT, asylum-seekers and undocumented migrants - are not being as included as equal partners as they should be in human rights work. This is a point that I hope we explore in this discussion.

I also wanted to add that other kinds of groups and institutions perceived as 'non traditional' allies are those that are perceived to be 'the bad guy' - those that are in power to violate rights. Often, human rights groups run campaigns to name and shame these groups and institutions into respecting human rights. But that isn't the only approach, which is why we're hosting this discussion - to explore ways that human rights groups are working with these unexpected groups often considered the 'bad guys'.

We hosted an online conversation in January on Building strong human rights partnerships and coalitions and the benefits/barriers to working with non traditional allies came up. Here are a few quotes/thoughts from that discussion that I hope will be discussed here:

  • “In practice, when NGOs use only the tactic of criticizing police from the outside they are engaging only part of the total picture and having a mixed impact. NGOs can work together to engage in tactics that push on unacceptable behaviour from the outside while pulling for positive behaviour from the inside.” More info here
  • “Even the most difficult and ugly political situations in the world cannot be simply divided into good guys and bad guys. Bad situations are often only transformed into better ones step by step. One of the most crucial and difficult steps for a budding civil society in a post-repressive state is to make the leap of investing some hope and faith in the future of the state, and consequently to begin the arduous task of building alliances with the state administration.” More info here.

Looking forward to learning from all of you!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Ex of an empowering partnership, via Shari

Regarding my question about examples of partnerships that are empowering and not parenting, Shari shares a great example in her comment here. Authentic relationships are key.

Thanks, Shari!

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

what we mean by "nontraditional"

Thanks Kristin!

I've been really interested in seeing the various posts in this thread about whether different groups are nontraditional or not. I want to second Tracy's comment that the term is really relative.

At EJUSA, we work with different kinds of allies, many of whom may be perceived as nontraditional in one context but traditional in another. There are several types of constituencies that I think would be relevant to a conversation about nontraditional allies. I always hate to categorize people, but I also like lists so this is one way that I think of the different kinds of nontraditional allies with whom we could partner:

  1. Constituencies who are directly affected/engaged in an issue but assumed to be on the "opposite side" of it (for example in criminal justice reform this might include law enforcement or crime survivors, whereas on a different issue those same constituencies would be "traditional" -- or we say "natural" -- allies). Tracy's post about working with those who may have committed human rights abuses would fit in this category.
  2. Constituencies who are assumed to be on the "opposite side" of an issue because of their political orientation (for example conservatives on a presumed progressive issue or progressives on a presumed conservative issue). In our experience these divides are false to begin with, and referring to people in this category as "nontraditional" only works to entrench the assumptions about "sides." But we recognize that the outside world may perceive these alliances as nontraditional.
  3. Constituencies who have historically been left out / marginalized from engaging on a particular issue, although they might have a natural affinity or stake in the issue (several posts have mentioned the LGBT community in this context).
  4. Constituencies who have simply not been engaged on an issue because it's not a priority for them, it's not perceived as directly affecting them, etc. They may not be on the "other side" of the issue but they aren't really thinking about the issue at all. Some of the work in this category involves making connections between the impacts of the problem we're working on and the seemingly unrelated concerns of people we hope to work with. There usually is a lot more relationship than may be assumed at first.

EJUSA has placed a lot of emphasis on working with people in the first two categories, to build bridges across political divides and find common ground among people who seem to be coming from very different perspectives of an issue.

For example, we have a project called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty that fits in this category. People assume that the death penalty is a progressive or liberal issue, but in reality, the conservatives who run Conservatives Concerned will tell you that the death penalty doesn't align with conservative idealogy. So the political divide on this issue is really a myth. Many conservatives have come forward since the launch of the group saying they thought they were the only ones who opposed the death penalty. A great example of this kind of work in action is a video by Reason Magazine about conservatives at CPAC working on criminal justice reform issues. Conservatives Concerned is featured as well as other groups like Right on Crime.

Spectrum of Allies to provide yet another framework

Thanks, Shari! I like that list. It's so interesting to read how people are framing these concepts of 'non traditional' allies. All of those categories of potential allies (that are often overlooked) are really important to consider in a strategic context. It reminds me of a great strategic thinking tool called the Spectrum of Allies (I'm linking to this tool on Beautiful Trouble because we're in the process of launching our own set of tools, but it's not live yet). It helps you put people into categories (yes, I know it's something that makes people uncomfortable) around how much that person supports your efforts on a particular issue. The categories are:

  • Active allies
  • Passive allies
  • Neutral
  • Passive adversaries
  • Active adversaires

The key is to find the rights strategies and tactics to shift this spectrum a little towards your active allies. In this way, "movements win not by overpowering their active opposition, but by shifting the support out from under them." (from the Beautiful Trouble website)

Any other tools out there that are useful for bringing a different perspective this kind of analysis of allies, constituencies, etc?

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Partnering with Scientists and Engineers

I would like to add to the discussion a comment about partnering with scientists, engineers and health professionals. In my work, they are vital to contributing to the promotion and protection of human rights, and one of the challenges we DO NOT face generally is in attracting individual scientists with whom to partner. Our experience has been that most are interested to learn about human rights, if not already personally committed.

That said, there are challenges of partnering with these technical experts, though they are probably not unique and stem from their lack of formal training in human rights standards and mechanisms, the domestic context, and the lack of focus given to human rights in their work. These challenges include:

  • lack of understanding about what ‘human rights’ mean in principle and in practice;
  • the difference between ‘human rights’, and ‘social justice’ and ‘development’;
  • a fear that involvement in ‘human rights’ may be perceived as political;
  • lack of time to commit to human rights work considered separate from their core activities; and
  • the need for greater conceptual and practical guidance in how to incorporate human rights into scientific research, teaching and administration.

The benefits of working with this community are great and include:

  • greatly expanding the community of individuals and organizations knowledgeable about human rights;
  • helping strengthen human rights research and documentation through the application of rigorous scientific methods and development of credible and testable results;
  • incorporation of human rights standards into the practice, policies and procedures of scientists and the organizations that represent and support them;
  • bringing the voice of educated individuals to domestic, regional and international policy and legal discourse about human rights.

Have you faced similar challenges in engaging your allies? If so, I’d be interested to learn how you’ve overcome them? And, do you have any thoughts on other ways we may benefit in our partnerships with scientists, engineers and health professionals?

Defining "nontraditional" allies

A key aspect of Peace Brigades International’s (PBI) work in creating space for human rights defenders (HRDs) to safely carry out their legitimate work includes creating spaces for dialogue between members of the human rights community and key stakeholders.

In the context of PBI’s work, nontraditional allies are often those perceived as the perpetrators, instigators or those complicit in human rights abuses, including select authorities, businesses or community leaders. They can also simply be those whose motives are sometimes questioned or whose work is perceived as negatively influenced by outside actors or “Western interests”. Therefore, the term “nontraditional allies” can be relative; for example, building off of what Jan wrote, while partnering with a LGBTI organization seems like a natural initiative to PBI, others within the defined human rights community may perceive it as “nontraditional”. The same could be said while working in any human rights community that has ethnic or political divides among its members. Therefore, PBI must be cautious and strategic when developing relationships with any actor in order to maintain our credibility as a non-partisan organization.

Our approach does pose numerous challenges. There is often a lack of understanding of PBI’s mandate; while PBI maintains principles of non-partisanship and non-interference, this does not mean we are neutral toward human rights abuses. This distinction is a fine line and we have to be careful that our engagement with “nontraditional allies” does not translate into “taking sides” or an indifference to human rights violations.

Like AAAS, we also confront a lack of understanding of human rights and human rights movements. In engaging actors outside the human rights community, we are confronted by questions, such as, “Why are working with those people who take the side of criminals?” or “who are trying to stir up trouble?”

Furthermore, when PBI shares information with nontraditional allies about partnering with specific human rights organizations (at their request), we have to be careful that PBI’s support is not viewed as “parenting” or influencing the aim or work of HRDs. This could damage not only our credibility, but also the credibility of the partner human rights organization.

At the same time, we find many benefits in engaging such actors, including greater understanding of the work of HRDs, as well as more generally the responsibilities and duties of all actors involved to enable a safe environment for HRDs.

By openly engaging all stakeholders, PBI reinforces its principle of non-partisanship and thus our reputation as a trustworthy actor. We also lend legitimacy and international solidarity to those marginalized within the human rights community. In addition, with a cooperative approach that erodes the traditional “us vs. them” dynamic, we are able to facilitate greater space for dialogue and improved cooperation within the community. Furthermore, we indirectly reinforce the idea that the international community is watching, acting as a deterrence against human rights abuses.

I would be very curious to hear if anyone has examples or lessons learned when trying to create connections or dialogue between their traditional and nontraditional allies.

Connecting different types of allies, an example from Austria

Thanks for sharing these points, Tracy! I wanted to try to respond to your question at the end of the comment:

I would be very curious to hear if anyone has examples or lessons learned when trying to create connections or dialogue between their traditional and nontraditional allies.

New Tactics has an interesting case study from Austria about connecting police and migrants. It's probably not exactly the type of examples you're looking for, but you may find it interesting. After some pretty awful confrontations between the police and migrants in Austria back in the 90s, the MInistry of Interior needed to find a way to create connection and dialogue between these two communities. The International Centre for Cultures and Languages (ICCL) proposed seminars and trainings to promote and improve intercultural understanding. It was a very successful training program and both police and migrants left these training with new respect understanding for each other.

Regarding lessons-learned, the case study highlights program elements (page 16) that need to be carefully considered:

  1. Selecting participants
  2. Finding community members willing to pair w/ police officers
  3. Providing compensation
  4. Preparing migrants
  5. Creation of an effective setting
  6. Building Tandem Program Pairs
  7. Project management and facilitation
  8. Providing information learning situations

The picture of the two people on a bike on the main page of this discussion comes from this case study! So hopefully now that picture will make a little more sense. :)

- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder


Police and migrant during a Tandem program
'non-traditional allies": where and how does one draw a line

HI Tracy - will you kindly clarify PBI's definition of  "nontraditional allies (being) often those perceived as the perpetrators, instigators or those complicit in human rights abuses, including select authorities, businesses or community leaders."

I am finding this very problematic - it triggers in my mind the question:  where does one draw a line?  how can they be 'allies'?  what if they were proven to have committed human rights abuses?  Is  a distinction being made between 'engagement' and 'alliance' work". From where I stand - there is a vast difference between the two.

I have worked with Amnesty International  which has a very strong 'non-partisanship' policy but I could not recall an instance where it considers those perceived as 'perpetrators' or 'complicit' to human rights as 'allies'.  It had projects in certain countries like Brazil where it prvided human rights training to the police force or it engages with the military and police through human rights dialogues as part of its advocacy work and there are indvidual members of the mlitary and police who were (or still are ) members of AI but they don;t represent their respective institutions when they speak as part of AI voices.  The standards in engaging with such forces or institutions are very high.    How is it with PBI?



Engagement vs. creating allies

Hi Edna,

Thank you for your question; I think it presents a great opportunity to present some of the approaches to our work. I’d be happy to elaborate and would like to emphasize the word “perceived” in my statement. To take an example of a “nontraditional ally” as an authority, I will speak specifically to my experience in Nepal with PBI to provide some context to my post but first I’ll speak more generally about how PBI engages with authorities as a support network.

PBI strives to engage authorities along multiple levels of the chain of command structure to identify those who are human rights friendly and demonstrate a genuine commitment to support or provide protection to at-risk members of the human rights community. PBI is thus not necessarily allying with an institution but with individuals. Nonetheless, some members of the community may perceive these individuals merely in their role as an authority, a part of an adversarial institution, and thus not as a potential ally.

We have been able to call upon these individuals for their support against specific threats to human rights defenders or when an individual further down their chain of command may be blocking the legitimate work of a HRD. For example, there have been times when a HRD calls PBI because perpetrators from a case they are working on have surrounded their house, threatening to attack them. The HRD may be unable to contact the local police or believe they will be unresponsive to their call for help so PBI will call upon their allies within the chain of command to alert them of the situation. This approach has proven successful in getting a timely and effective response to the protection needs of select HRDs.

With those individual authorities that have, over time, demonstrated they can be relied upon to positively respond to cases of human rights violations, I personally would describe them as an ally. Of course, there are times we also confront those who are likely the perpetrators of human rights abuses and I would thus not consider them an ally. We may, however, in certain cases decide to engage in such a way that exerts pressure to cease the violation.  You are correct in stating that there is a vast difference between the two.

Thus, within institutions that are often generalized wholly as an adversary, we have found both allies and perpetrators. Had we chosen to take an approach that makes assumptions about the guilt or legitimacy of a party, we likely would not have created those allies and missed opportunities to deter attacks against HRDs.

When PBI first began conducting regular field visits to Eastern Nepal we found common generalizations that labeled authorities as adversaries to human rights, whereas members of the human rights community, as well as local political parties, were labeled trouble makers attempting to interfere in the work of local police or utilizing their position within the community for financial gain. PBI felt that in order for HRDs to work on human rights issues in a safe environment, support from authorities and political parties was critical. HRDs in the region also raised the need for a platform to communicate their concerns with authorities and other relevant stakeholders in order to improve the situation and tackle criminal activities. Thus, PBI facilitated the organization of two roundtables in the region attended by various HRDs, journalists, political parties, authorities, police, youth leaders and representatives of marginalized communities to create a space for dialogue, identify the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, and to obtain a commitment to promote and protect human rights. Because PBI had established a reputation of non-partisanship and a collaborative approach, we were able to help bring together actors whom would likely have not come together on their own.

In each of the roundtables a concept note, which outlined the human rights situation, challenges, roles and responsibilities, was presented for the participants to openly discuss and raise concerns on the issues contained therein. Authorities present in both roundtables admitted government failure to implement human rights policies effectively. However, they expressed their commitment to cooperate with, and support the work of HRDs, as well as called upon other participants to extend cooperation. As a show of commitment, one Chief District Police Officer proposed to hold jointly monthly hearings with the human rights community on service delivery, while another stated, “if HRDs have difficulties visiting villages please let us know, even if there is a problem of transportation to collect information and evidence related to human rights cases.” Members of the human rights community later shared with us that they welcomed the oral and written commitments from the authorities and political parties and the opportunity to create new connections and identify common goals with the participants. While time will tell if these commitments will be implemented in a meaningful way they at least provide a new basis of accountability.

For more information about our work in Eastern Nepal and the roundtables outlined above, you can read the newsletter here.

Challenges in engaging 'non traditional' individuals as allies?

Thanks for this great explanation, Tracy. I especially like the examples! Your post made me think of a few questions:

  1. I can see how other human rights groups might be a little confused about the allies you work with. I wonder how PBI (and other groups if anyone else can reply) explain their approach to building partnerships with key individuals and not institutions to other human rights groups. I would imagine that Edna is probably not alone with her questions and concerns about working with allies in the field who are often seen as the adversary.
  2. Any examples of when one human rights org is targeting an individual to shame or pressure them into doing something, at the same time that you are trying to engage them as allies?
  3. And building on that, are there any examples of when this approach backfired? Any examples of these relationships being abused by the individuals you had believed were your allies? Any lessons that you can share about building these kinds of relationships with 'non traditional' allies?


- Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Transparency and clarifying the mission

Hi Kristin,

Thanks for your questions; I’ll do my best to respond to each. I should start out by explaining that PBI’s broad mandate, to create space for HRDs to safely carry out their work, and unique model is only suitable in select human rights contexts in which PBI’s international character can be utilized to deter attacks against HRDs. We therefore conduct a rigorous risk and needs assessment before we decide to open or maintain our field projects. In the countries in which we work HRDs generally understand or expect that as internationals we will have influence and weight with institutions and actors that they generally consider adversarial and perhaps unapproachable on their own. As such, I have almost always encountered a positive reception from HRDs to our alliances and engagement with non-traditional actors and indeed, our team was often requested by HRDs to speak to these actors on their behalf when they found their security under threat.

For example, a women human rights defenders group requested that PBI contact a local district police chief and encourage him to provide protection to a colleague of theirs who was being threatened by members of the community for housing a woman that had escaped from an abusive forced marriage. Their own efforts to pressure the police had proven futile, allegedly because the perpetrators had their own allies within the police and because they shared the community’s perception that the woman should return to her husband. Our team conducted an assessment of our impact and determined it was reasonably safe and appropriate to respond to their request and relay their concerns to the police chief and our allies within the chain of command. Ultimately, the at-risk WHRD was extended protection until the WHRD group found a resolution with the community concerning this particular case.

With the HRDs I have encountered, I’ve found they may not make a distinction between an individual ally and the institution that they work for. As has been mentioned by others, transparency is key in building trusting relationships, as well as regularly clarifying our mission and methods of working. From meeting one, we make a great effort to clearly explain to HRDs that we strive to engage all stakeholders in the protection of HRDs, which includes authorities and security forces. We emphasize confidentiality; we would never share any information about the HRD, or their work, without their strict request that we do so. We explain that we meet with state actors to remind them of their responsibility to protect citizens and their right to carry out human rights work, as well as our willingness to collaborate where possible in this regard.

Before engaging with any actor, particularly those traditionally seen as adversarial, we contemplate much of the same questions as outlined by Edna, as well as carry out our own actor mapping and version of a SWOT analysis to determine whom to approach and our strategy in doing so. When creating formal partnerships with HRDs, we utilize Memorandums of Understanding to create clear expectations of the partnership, which are reviewed every 6 months to a year, both internally and along with the partner HRD.

Regarding your question of examples in which this approach has backfired, I personally do have examples of nontraditional allies resulting in further threats to HRDs after our engagement. However, I have only served with two PBI projects, in Nepal and Kenya, and PBI has been operating in countries in Latin America, North America, Asia and Africa for over 30 years so I imagine there have been times when this relationship has been abused by such allies. From my personal experience, I have more often encountered purported HRDs, who by no means represented the norm, who have attempted to utilize their relationship with PBI as a means to gain financially or gain the trust of victims who they themselves take advantage of.

One of the first things we are told when starting with PBI is that every decision and step we take has risks. This is the nature of our work and nothing can be done that is 100% risk free. Building off the contributions of others in this conversation, we too strive to maintain a ‘do no harm’ approach and take great care in exercising caution and conducting regular risk analyses for all our allies and activities, to minimize the risks.

If others have additional methods or examples of approaches that have minimized the risks associated with engaging non-traditional allies I would be really interested in learning more.

Are LGBT orgs non-traditional partners?

I try to elaborate a bit on the questions Kantin is putting forward:

(i will formulate thoughts about the undocumented migrants and asylumseekers in another comment)

theoretically LGBT activists are partners and the references on human rights at a global and multi lateral level are enough elaborated and inclusive to conclude so. Altough in hostile countries and within the UN there is a constant pressure to exclude 'same-sex rights' and 'same-sex relational rights' from the international framework and to consider 'traditional values' as prevailing.

That's why i explicitly mention the grassroots and local activists. In countries where corruption is high, local NGO's, and especially local development NGO's often count a lot on 'priviliged relationships' with the local authorities, that facilitates the freedom of networking, acting and moving in the region and is in the interests of a smooth realisation of the project cycle. Associating with local LGBT groups is often seen as 'impossible' because this would infrindge that priviliged relationship. So 'discretion' and 'invisibility' become a part of the requirements put forward to make the alliance possible.

Furthermore there are classical human rights professions such as lawyer and attorney, which are not at all open to defend 'offenders' under an anti-same-sex law if they do not deny the fact of being homosexual. In Nigeria for example, to find a lawyer to defend your case once arrested is almost impossible if you do not agree to plead unguilty (and evt. to bribe out yourself.) Making jurisprudential progress is hardly possible if there are no affirming cases known. I once visited the offices of Lawyers Without Borders in Brussels, with a gay-rights activist from cameroon, Lawyers Without Borders has different Cameroonian lawyers that worked for them inside Africa, but they never discussed the defense of LGBT- anti-same sex law offenders and they admitted in consensus that it was a topic for which young academics are hardly willing to dedicated a dialogue, let's stand to be involved in the defense of victims of arrestation pleading 'homosexual'.

I annualy give a course for general practicioners in the Institute from Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, all participants from over the world are very intrested in the topic of Aids/HIV prevnetion, which is the theme of the course, but when it comes to homosexuality, it's easy to feel how mucht academics has not been prepared to work inclusive and from a human rights equality-based approach once it comes to be confronted with persons identifying as LGB(T).

So maybe it is rather the 'traditional schooled' professionals in our law-enforcing and justice systems that are the non-traditional alies (did we overlook that being inclusive is not an evidence in some regions), and that comes close to the remarks Jessica Wyndham posted here.

I do believe that an appeal to the core values of the profession often open doors, but some attitudes has never been touched and remained as implicit as they are in society, the attitudes related to taboos such as homosexuality, read sodomy, because thats how people would define it.

In those contexts LGBT are alies, but they are experienced as non-traditional because they can quickly provoke very emotional and enflameable reactions because it touches a taboo in society.

On allies, risk, and reward

I wanted to pick up on the thread here and distinguish a few different ideas that have been raised:

Jan and others have noted that in some contexts organizing for LGBT human rights is more difficult or threatened than organizing for some other issues. Correctly, they point out that this not only because of social attitudes but because of unjust laws. At Urgent Action Fund, we find this to be true as well, the security requests made to Urgent Action Fund primarily come from two groups of activists, activists organizing on LGBT/SOGI rights issues, and women's rights activists that are organizing against sexual violence and gender-based violence. From casual observation of the requests we receive, human rights defenders working on these two issues do seem to be in a riskier position than others.

However, we see LGBT groups as very important allies to women's rights groups and vice versa. In a way, the threats to each occur because both are challenging traditional gender norms. In particular, we see the potential of feminist groups acting as allies to transgender rights groups. Certainly, the struggles and experiences of women's rights defenders and transgender rights defenders are not the same, but both seek to take apart the boxes that societies want to place men and women into and both experience backlash because they challenge those norms.

Cross-issue or cross-movement work, like LGBT and women's rights defenders working together, or environmental and labor rights coming together on the issues of "green jobs", etc. , doesn't always happen and can be difficult, but I think it can be particularly powerful when it does. 

Whether we are talking about cross-issue partnerships or work with "non-traditional allies" - these seem to be relationships that are difficult to pursue, but potentially very powerful. Human rights issues gain greater visibility when more diverse constinuencies get behind them, but the negotiation to find common ground is difficult. CSOs/NGOs are also usually given little incentive to invest in these kind of partnerships. Funders support single organizations, and too rarely fund collaboration that actually emerges from social movements themselves. We are all under pressure to the show "the impact of our organization" and anything done collaboratively becomes, by its nature, difficult to credit to any single organization (as it should be.) We know it is through this time of collaboration that real change happens, but our systems don't yet support or reward it. 

Are undocumented migrants and/or asylumseekers non-traditional?

At least we have to note that

  1. undocumented migrants and asylumseekers can not excercise all rights similar to settled activists, including travelling, working and housing (free choice of...), subconsequently their possibilities to engage in alliances are limited, in Belgium for example the law forbid volonteering work by asylumseekers when they have no working permit,
  2. undocumented migrants and asylumseekers does not benefit from any protection against persecution (of family members) by their home-countries, thats why the Geneva convention and thenprotective refugee status is a key-element. You cannot expect from someone to take risks and for example to speech and speak out publicly about an issue before he's duely protected, even witnessing in a private context about human rights violences before being protected can be experienced as a huge challenge,
  3. resources to protect an individual outside of the official system, through documents and e.g. refugee status are very limited for NGO's and many does not provide budget for legal protection of their resources when it comes to document human right violences by resources 'on the move' and 'in exile'. Some of those families or ondividuals are subject to 'orders tp leave the country' and live with a permanent fear to be repatriated.

Thus engaging with this group, experts in exile, is a huge challenge.

  •  I remember situation in which small activists-groups make an alliance with one person to witness about a situation in the home country at different moments, and then after some time, this one person, or family becomes on itself the project of the small group, because their situation is so precarious and vulnerable, and it blocks the wings of the group to really do anything substantial for the home country of the involved victims. -

Are human rights activists in exile non-traditional alies?

  • they are, for sure, when engaged for their expertise and netwprk, even before their own status is settled to protect them. Considering them as evident alies has harmed on both sides of the alliance.
  • they are when engaged after obtaining the refugee status, empirically is must say they are because of the followinf reasons: In my twenty years of work with refugees i have been triggered to show intrest in many different human right violences and all kind of conflicts from over the world, and i have heard so many dramatic and horrible stories of human roghts violences and threats lived by individuals before ending up in exile. Now amongst the thousands of stories receiving protection at the end of the asylumprocedures, not to talk about migrants, none of those throuroufhly checked and examined stories ends up in human rights reports, not through UPR not through other mechanosms. So we cannpt say we considsr these people as alies if we only protect them, and then, we just let them walk around with the feeling that none of the atrocities they have experienced are worth being reported, even if the Commissionner General for rRefugees has examined them and found them credible. The independence, neutrality and discretion of refugee status determination bodies is holy, so they are not to blame, but i don't know any country with a system in place that give a chance to individuals to contribute to reporting after the positive decision. I try to put it in place - with an up-to-international-standards-reporting for lgbt-recognised refugees in Belgium, and you can guess how 'non-traditional' this approach is seen.  We are now in the stage of negotiating the permission to inforù recognosed refugees about the option to do so.

Another aliance that was experienced as very non-traditional was held in Brussels in oktober 2010, with the workinggroup on international solidaroty with LGBT and Merhaba, we organised a training to give insght in the life space of lgbt-asylumssekers before being in exile and when in the reception centers during the determination procedure.  A group of 30 lgbt set up a training of half a day for 90 staff members of asylumreception centers and services, it was completely steered and filled by themselves and included play back scenes, traditional dance, interviews (with secretary of state for equality),  video-fragments, etc. It was the biggest eye-opener for years, but when we came up with the idea of doing it with this public, reactions were like 'this can never work, the group is to vulnerable, everybody is concentrated on its own case, etc.'  Afterwards we could not do anything different then concluding that it was a great empowerment, as less then two months later the same bunch of people started their own self-organisation. The training was all about equality, non-discrimination, gender and protection, it was far from being a folkloristic afternoon and it deeply touched the participants.

working with non-traditional allies : where to begin

Apologies for coming in late - I had some technical hiccups.

I view the question of engaging with 'non-traditional allies' as requiring a multi-dimensional approach:

1. The need to be strategic.  Here are some questions that are familiar when we map out our alliance -building and building of partnerships but which are useful to revisit again

  • what do you need it for
  • why do we want to engage with them?  
  • what purpose and objectives would it serve?
  • what criteria would one use in selecting whom to work with?
  • what skills and resources would it require from you - as certainly ' non-traditional' implies 'out of the ordinary or one's comfort zone' and may require new skills and resources and most especially, sensitivity on your part
  • use the SWOT analysis tool to map out your internal positioning and the external environment where this engagement is to take place  

2. Be sensitive and understand power dynamics. This is most essential when dealing with forces that are perceived as traditionally  'adversarial' to your cause. Do a power analysis.   Here is one useful tool for those working with communities. 

3. Visualise/ imagine:  why would these 'non-traditional allies' work with you?  What's in there for them?
4. Have an exit  / worst scenario strategies in place as you are entering what is probably an unchartered territory.


power dynamics and allies


you are speaking my language. I wanted to jump off the comment you made about power dynamics because I think it is very important for us to be aware of the impact power has in our movements. I think that as we build a bigger tent of allies it is critical to for us to work to make sure that those dynamics aren't replicated to the day-to-day campaign. I think this is important not just in being aware of those who, as you say, are traditionally adversarial to our cause, but also of the social power dynamics (I'm thinking of issues of race and gender) that so easily translate into movements. It means part of the work is to deconstruct those ism's around us within our work.

How do we do this? I would love to hear other tips/examples from y'all, but here are a few things we have tried:

1. training for staff and volunteers - there are many anti-opporession training models and great facilitators who will work with you to develop a training for your team.

2. be transparent that this team/campaign will not be business as usual and try not to be shy about reaching out to individuals who bring unwanted actions/words in the space.

3. Engage with your campaign team about how you want to model your values - this could also be a good opportunity to find some common ground with various actors.


Engaging non traditional allies

Dear all, because of internet connection problems in my region, I could not join the conversation earlier. Thank God we are together.

In the enforcement, protection and promotion of Human Rights, every individual is important! However, there is no gainsay that there do exist traditional and those perceived as non-traditional allies in the daily pursuit of the minimal respect of Rights in our communities. In our practice, we have been able to identify those generally perceived as non-traditional allies to include but not limited to; Top Government Functionaries, Law enforcement Officers, Warders(Prison Administrators) and members of the armed forces. We are equally agreed that, this is and remains only a perception for, when they are engaged, we generally discover that those perceived as non-traditional allies only suffer from some limited degree of ignorance.

As President of the Fako Lawyers Association (FAKLA) based in the South West Region of Cameroon, we have taken up issues as to the respect of the rights of Prisoners as enshrined in International Conventions and Municipal Laws in prisons located in our region. We had discovered that the number of persons in prison "awaiting trial" virtually tripled the number of those convicted after due process this, notwithstanding the fact that there is local legislation limiting the length of remand awaiting trial.

Initially, we thought of engaging only the services of the National Human Rights Commission to investigate this peculiar problem by identifying the detainees, reason for their detention, length of detention without any process and whether they had legal advice. The Commission is generally considered to be a traditional ally. However, upon a second reflection, we decided to engage the prison administrators who are perceived as non-traditional allies. Our first contact was that of total  acrimony when we sought to gain access to the prison records of the detainees. But after expatiating on the benefits of a decongested prison to the administrators and the fact we could equally advocate for the improvement of their working conditions, there was a 360 degree turn of the reception reserved us by our hosts(to be the subject of another write up on personal experience).

It is my humble opinion that Human Rights activists should never shy from engaging those perceived as non-traditional allies in the protection and promotion of Human Rights.


Working with prison administrators in order to protect prisoners

Thanks for sharing this, Ajong! This is a great example of finding common ground to build relationships from, as Mona pointed out on Monday. And this example reminds me so much of the example shared by Shari earlier today on how EJUSA works closely with the political right in the USA to change the death penalty policies. Thanks so much for sharing!

I also just wanted to mention that you might be interested in an online conversation that we hosted a few years ago on Monitoring Prisons to Prevent Abuse. There's a summary posted on that main dialogue page. I hope it's useful! In many places, working with prison administrators to protect prisoners is not an easy task. But it's important and powerful.

Looking forward to learning more from your experiences, Ajong!

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

Addressing assumptions and misconceptions

Hi all,

It's wonderful to hear of the breadth of 'non-traditional allies' with which we all work. Thinking of all these groups and the search for common ground among us reminds me of an exercise we went through early on in our own work to build the AAAS Science and Human Rights Coalition, a network of scientific and engineering membership organizations that recognize a role for science and technology in human rights.

As a preliminary exercise we mapped out the assumptions that one community has about the other and then considered how best to address those assumptions in our work, particularly in our outreach to scientists who we wanted to engage in human rights. As part of that exercise we even had to consider the meaning of simple terms like ‘science’, ‘rights’. What does one group think these means? How does the other group understand them?

Before engaging in any sort of partnerships across sectors, I highly recommend this sort of exercise. Has anyone else tried something similar? What was the result?


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