The effectiveness of protection mechanisms

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The effectiveness of protection mechanisms

Thank you to all the Conversation Leaders for their time and commitment to taking part in this important conversation. Please take a moment to learn about the conversation leaders by clicking on their profile photos. Thank you!

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

  • How effective are current protection mechanisms for defenders in terms of responding to defenders at immediate risk?
  • How do protection mechanisms contribute to the creation of a safe environment for the promotion and protection of human rights?
  • What can different actors do to strengthen the effectiveness of protection mechanisms for defenders?
An architecture and its reality

Over the past two decades, states and inter-governmental bodies have developed a number of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders at the national, regional and international levels. These mechanisms vary in scope, design, implementation and effectiveness. They are continually evolving, being augmented and strengthened by new commitments and new actors, as a snapshot of the last 2 – 3 years alone shows.

For instance, at the national level, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs published guidelines on the protection of human rights defenders in 2013, aimed at making the work of Swiss diplomats and officials in this area of work more coherent, systematic and effective.

That same year, the United Kingdom issued its first National Action Plan to implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which included strengthening support to defenders engaged in business and human rights problems.

In 2014, Côte d’Ivoire adopted the Law on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Defenders – the first African state to enact specific legislation to protect human rights defenders. Work is ongoing in Honduras and Mali to develop legislation to protect human rights defenders.

At the regional level in Europe, both the Council of the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have strengthened their contribution to this protection regime through recent policy developments. In 2014, the EU marked the 10th anniversary of its European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders by committing better support for human rights defenders at risk.

The OSCE (within its Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) initiated extensive consultations with human rights defenders and other human rights experts across the OSCE geographic regions to develop the 2014 OSCE Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to harness better protection and support for human rights defenders by member states.

These (more recent) developments complement the ongoing work of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the African Commission on People’s and Human Rights for defenders at risk, in particular through their special rapporteurs who act as focal points on the situation of defenders in their regions.

As does the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, whose mandate was established in 2000 by the Human Rights Commission and is complemented by a number of other UN Special Procedures, all of whom document and act on aspects of the environment and individual cases affecting human rights defenders including, for example, setting out the legal and practical conditions for a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders.

Also in 2013, the UN General Assembly passed the first ever resolution on the protection of women human rights defenders. The UN Human Rights Council has similarly passed a number of important resolutions that signify its commitment to the protection of human rights defenders.

Another form of commitment to defender protection at the global multilateral level came in 2013 when the Group of Eight (G8) adopted a Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict that explicitly acknowledged the vital role of women human rights defenders, and pledging to provide them with better protection.

Yet, despite this plethora of commitments and mechanisms human rights defenders at risk commonly lack sufficient, timely or appropriate protection when they need it. Why? What does this say about the effectiveness of such mechanisms?

Defenders and practitioners have expressed concern about the uneven and inconsistent protection and support provided to defenders, resulting in some defenders from particular groups and those in specific geographic regions being partially or completely excluded. A frequent criticism of protection mechanisms is that they often do not take a holistic, gender-sensitive approach to protection.

There is also geographical unevenness in the availability of protection mechanisms. Many countries have neither enacted laws nor created institutions that recognise and protect the rights of human rights defenders.

It is important for us to take stock of the work of protection mechanisms around the world and to evaluate gaps, challenges and issues in the way they protect human rights defenders.

Are these issues of awareness, capacity, resource, competency or will? Or are other factors in play?

What is your experience as a defender trying to access such mechanisms, or a practitioner facilitating that such protection be provided? Can state or multilateral officials offer their insights here into the challenges and realities of implementing such mechanisms in practice?

It would be good to hear from a range of actors.

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networks and dialogue

In the opening comments for this stream of discussion, James has provided a synopsis of the multiple actors and levels by which protection mechanisms operate to try and assist, support and ensure the security of human rights defenders (HRDs). Each mechanism is complex in its own right, and James asks important questions to understand what are the impediments to the implementation or impact of the mechanisms when we see many human rights defenders are excluded from access or use of such protections, and in worst case scenarios, when defenders are victims of human rights violations and mechanisms are unable to provide protection.  I would like to pick up on the questions James raises as to why protection mechanisms fail – he asks ‘are these issues of awareness, capacity, resource, competency or will?’ I think for those involved in the areas of implementation of human rights protections we will all have examples where all of the above are problematic. However, I would like to introduce a further issue to the consider in the effectiveness of implementation of protection mechanisms, and that is the importance of building networks and dialogue amongst the stakeholders engaged in defending human rights, for example the networks amongst defenders engaging with mechanisms, and networks and dialogues of those implementing mechanisms as they exist to protect defenders.  In the research carried out for the European Parliament on assessing the effective implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Thailand, the importance of relationship building and frequent dialogue to bring into effect the Guidelines’ recommendations proved important: in dialogues between defenders; between diplomats; between defenders and diplomats; between state officials and diplomats; between state officials and defenders; between EU delegations and EU members states; and between EU policy makers and diplomats, to ensure the EU Guidelines for Human Rights Defenders are discussed, coordinated and incorporated across multiple and thematic areas where EU diplomats focus their work. In regard to dialogue and networks amongst EU member state missions, my research showed a number of good practices, for example, in Kyrgyzstan where EU member state missions and the EU delegation engaged in ongoing dialogue together to implement key recommendations of the Guidelines. This included their frequent meetings with each other and HRDs, and taking up issues with where defenders’ protections were compromised.  But there were also problems regarding establishing wider networks and dialogues, particularly with the protection of defenders working out of the main stream, and in more remote areas of Kyrgyzstan.  The research on assessing the effective implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Thailand led to a number of recommendations on how to strengthen networks and dialogue to impact defender protection, and it would be very good to hear from others on how establishing networks and dialogue is important – for example, amongst diplomats in actualising human rights commitments made to protect defenders, and amongst HRDs in how mechanisms are strengthening their ability to practice and contribute as civil society members, and how such dialogue contributes to mechanisms working as necessary for defenders’ protection.

Ref: Research report for the EU Parliament: Assessing the effective implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders in Kyrgyzstan, Tunisia and Thailand, 2013, available at:

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Networks/Dialogues for protection - benefits and challenges

I’d like to delve a bit deeper with one element in Karen’s post, regarding the building of networks and dialogues amongst stakeholders. At the domestic level this is a critical aspect of how HRDs needing support and protection and state and multilateral actors offering it, can get to know one another, assess and act where such protection is needed.

There are some useful guides for HRDs on how to access such protection mechanisms that speak to the importance of developing and maintaining contacts, such as ‘The European Union: What it can do. Getting it to take action’ written by Chris Collier for Front Line Defenders (also available in French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian).

There is also (usually confidential) guidance that has been drawn up by states for their diplomats, especially in missions, that suggests ways to build and maintain such contact and dialogue with defenders and their communities, including in repressive and closed countries.

Dialogues between defenders and officials takes different forms, routine and ad-hoc, bilateral (at level of individuals, institutions/orgs) and coordinated (filter / working groups, HRD committees such as the bi-monthly meeting of EU Delegation, and other diplomats with HRDs in Afghanistan that was set up in December 2014 following publication of a new EU+ Local Strategy for Human Rights Defenders). Both are valid and useful. Both present issues, pros and cons that it would be worth exploring.

How is the capacity, access, knowledge and will that I referred to, which can influence effectiveness in practice, shaped by these different forms of dialogue over HRD security and protection?

Some defenders and NGOs have established relationships with diplomatic officials of foreign governments and multilateral institutions (esp. UN and EU), and sometimes with relevant officials within their own government. In theory this provides defenders with better knowledge and access to the mechanisms of support and protection these bodies may provide. The benefit for the officials is the HRDs largely come to them, they get to know these HRDs / NGOs better and can rely on them (sometimes disproportionately) as their main point of reference on human rights in the country.

But, as Karen’s research points out, this relationship-building and dialogue is more difficult for defenders in provincial / rural settings which may be a long way from the capital-based officials, in insecure areas, from where there are barriers to them travelling to the capital, including expense, time and -particularly in the case of women HRDs- discriminatory societal norms that limit their movement. Where defenders who are capital-based or with ready access to it or their filter/coordination groups are insufficiently representative or connected to defenders in provinces, they may not advocate the protection needs of that wider group and of individual cases which can reinforce the lack of access to protection mechanisms for provincial/rural HRDs. The shortcomings and challenge facing the more institutionalised mechanisms coordinated out of capitals vis-a-vis protection for provincial / rural defenders is a key point for Masa Amir in her paper examining the experience of women human rights defenders in Egypt, for example.

So, how can or has this been addressed?

There are examples of where diplomatic coordination groups (e.g. in Mexico, China) have enacted burden-sharing to try to divide between missions the responsibility for liaison with HRDs across the country, and try to actively reach out to them, travelling to the regions where possible and sharing information back within diplomatic circles.

Are there examples that practitioners, defenders or officials online here can share of effective approaches to network-building, coordination and dialogue that has enhanced knowledge and access to protection mechanisms?

Or learning from where approaches did not work so well?

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Hurdles to implementation

Thanks for this thread of conversation Karen and James, it is really helpful and I agree with you that building networks is key – as his highlighted as important tasks for diplomats by the EU.


I would like to add a perspective on some of the hurdles (dare I say excuses) by/for diplomatic staff around actual implementation.


Physical security – In particularly dangerous contexts diplomatic staff are often unable to travel to more remote areas, or leave capital city locations. This, of course, makes it particularly difficult for diplomatic staff to understand the reality for HRDs outside capital, which in-turn makes it almost impossible for them to adequately or effectively respond when protection is needed or requested.   


Trust - In many situations I have seen there is a lack of trust and/or suspicion of human rights defenders. This gets in the way of inviting defenders to attend functions, visits to offices, or taking action on requests submitted by defenders. I believe that many embassies need to re-orient their perspective on HRDs to truly understand that they are a vital part of any civil society not to be treated as suspicious trouble-makers. If they can’t truly set this example then how could they possible convince governments to see HRDs in this light?


Verification – Both of the above issues make it difficult to actually get action from diplomatic staff because they cannot verify reports or threats, risks, attacks, etc. If they receive information about a threat or risk to an HRD who can they verify it with if they do not have a broad network of trusted HRD (civil society members)? If they are never able to go and visit the places where they threats and risks are happening, how will they ever be able to understand the gravity or respond adequately?


All this to say, embassies need to prioritise developing their HRD National Action Plans, doing so in a participatory and consultative way with a broad spectrum of HRDs and to ensure that that National Action Plan is made public.  I would love to hear from people of places where they think this has been done well.  

Reviews and critiques of national protection mechanisms

Over the past few years, there has been greater interest in the development of legislation and policies at the national level on human rights defenders. As I understand it, there are discussions now in Honduras and Mali about this. There has been a lot of critical reflection about the way the national mechanism in Mexico and Colombia function.

For example, PBI and WOLA issued a report on Mexico's Mechanism to Protection Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in 2012, highlighting the challenges that make it difficult for it to be an effective protective mechanism. These include the shortage of qualified staff and resources, problems with the way risk analyses are carried out, the inappropriate design of protection measures, and so on. Their report is accessible here:

Protection International has developed an online resource ( that provides information and critique of national mechanisms in different countries. This is a useful place to get information on how different mechanisms work in different countries.

Yes, but what do we mean by protection mechanisms?

The comments by James, Karen and Alice are very useful and provide a very good overview of the rapid evolution – and recent proliferation – of protection mechanisms.  However, before we get too far into this conversation I think we need to consider a fairly basic question: What do we mean by protection mechanisms?

I raise this question not for pedantic reasons but rather because I believe that by interrogating our shared (or perhaps discordant) views on what constitutes a protection mechanism we will both produce a fuller understanding of how protection mechanisms operate and reveal protection mechanisms that had previously not been recognised as such.  And of course, a discussion of protection mechanisms as a term can only help to deepen our understanding of what it means to protect or be protected – a concept and goal that must be at the heart of our work in support of human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk.

In his history, James has outlined a number of different interventions: policy; legislation; and, the creation of new institutions (though that seems perhaps too grandiose to describe the appointment of a chronically under-resourced UN Special Rapporteur).  Each of these interventions has created an avenue for action for a HRD at risk, whether it be triggering a particular state response, by appointing a diplomatic contact for emergencies or by creating a new process whereby concerns can be communicated internationally about the situation.  Karen responds to James’ concerns about the effectiveness of these mechanisms by citing the importance of networks (between HRDs and other actors and amongst HRDs) in making at least some of these mechanisms more effective.

I would take Karen’s comment a step further and ask not simply whether networks can make protection mechanism more effective but also whether networks can be a protection mechanism themselves?  Which raises the question we began with: What do we mean by protection mechanism?

This is an opportune moment for me to lay my point of view on the table: I think we need to think beyond traditional human rights mechanisms when we talk about protection mechanisms.  More pointedly, protection mechanisms may not primarily involve the state (and certainly not the HRD’s “own” state) as the provider of protection. 

To take an example: a HRD at risk flees the country and goes on a speaking tour or embarks on an overseas fellowship.  None of this action (which certainly improves her safety, primarily by removing her from a dangerous environment) involved her own state.  And it would be a stretch to say that it really involved any state (it will have likely involved visas and passports, but only peripherally and very little in our lives results in no contact with any state).  An easy riposte would be that this may gain her protection, but it is hardly a “mechanism”.  In response, I would note that a very similar (and largely equally recent) history of organised programmes for the temporary, international relocation of HRDs at risk could be written.  These are organised and sometimes heavily resourced; these sometimes (but not always) offer a path back to state protection (in the form of asylum, so still not by a HRDs own state).  For more on this example, see “Protecting human rights defenders at risk: asylum and temporary international relocation”.  My point here is that traditionally these "TIRIs" (Temporary International Relocation Initiatives) would not be recognised as a protection mechanism: firstly they don't involve a state (or at least not the local state) and asylum is not seen as a remedy of any kind in human rights circles (indeed, even describing asylum as a remedy brings out consternation amongst human rights activists - and yet not refugee activists!).

The bigger point here is that if we widen our view of protection mechanisms we may identify other avenues for action by defenders at risk – and we may also be able to apply our analysis and experience working with HRDs at risk to strengthen these mechanisms.  The ideological (and also perhaps practical) downside of a broader discussion is that we might dilute our analysis and critique of the state – and the extent to which it is meeting (or likely not) its obligations; the pragmatic benefit is we might be better able to assist HRDs in finding safety.

Let's limit discussion of definition to delve deeper in issues

Thanks Martin for opening up another important strand to this discussion of effectiveness of protection mechanisms. I began the conversation with an incomplete recent history of state and multilateral ‘mechanisms’ because the state has primary responsibility for guaranteeing the rights and safety of human rights defenders in their domain. We could spend much of this week just exploring the many facets of that, I’m sure.

It is important that a discussion of the effectiveness of protection mechanisms examines these ‘non-state’ mechanisms as well, and as Karen’s latest post refers, there are a host of less formal, non-institutionalised mechanisms for protection that work at the personal and community level that are in fact more accessible and relied upon by defenders day in day out –especially given some of the knowledge and access issues I allude to in my reply to Karen on network and dialogues.

I would like to suggest we focus in on these two principle arenas in which protection mechanisms of many forms exist - the formal, institutionalised (commonly provided by state, but also non-state, such as temporary relocation programmes), and the informal, personal, community-led approaches.

One could argue that some of these are protection ‘strategies’ or ‘interventions’ but I’m mindful that we don’t want to go off into a side alley trying to define the term ‘protection mechanism’ but instead actually explore research that has been done, and experience that can be shared to push our knowledge and learning about how these mechanisms work.

Can others jump in at this point and bring perspectives from research and practice to help us delve deeper in these two areas?

Tomorrow, perhaps we can also pick up another important dimension of the value of protection mechanisms as posed in our three guiding questions at the outset –how do the existence and functioning of these mechanisms contribute to a safe and enabling environment for HRDs?

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Are networks protection mechanisms?

I think that Martin brings up a number of important points when addressing the question of ‘what are protection mechanisms?’ And do we in fact consider dialogue and networks as protection mechanism in their own right? My response to this latter question is an emphatic ‘yes’, and many effective protection mechanisms are via the creation of networks that develop from personal relations and contacts, and what we learn and put in place from our ‘dialogue’ with each other. I think this can be true of all actors and stakeholders engaging in defender protection, both in formal and informal settings.

So perhaps a way of thinking about this developing human rights defender protection regime is to recognise the importance of mechanisms operating with what I will refer to as those with a large ‘M’ and small ‘m’.  I introduce a differentiation of mechanisms in this way, as we have identified in both James’ and Martin’s comments institutional, national, regional and international ‘M’echanisms at work, but as Martin importantly points out we need to widen our view on protection mechanisms. Much of the protection defenders rely on is created as local, organic, and personal or informal, often responding to how defenders operate on a day to day basis in their given communities. These protection ‘m’echanisms may not be ‘recognised’ outside of the communities where they exist, but are most critical and most relied on - and thus must be supported as needed, with needs identified and developed by defenders using them, for their own self-care.

But networking and dialogue are also critical in providing the support for the workings of larger ‘M’echanisms.  The way in which protection mechanisms for defenders can best be supported is to perhaps strive to understand these multiple dimensions of the ‘protection regime’, open the dialogue up to creative ways to engage, gather and share best practices. In considering how best to ensure a mechanism has its intended effect, all mechanisms need respect defenders to identify what and where support is needed, in varying stages of the protection process. This latter point is brought to the fore in the New Tactics on-line discussion strand that Craig opened up entitled ‘making protection personal’ and also provides a circle back to the importance of networks and dialogue!

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Mechanisms? versus public policies and protection systems...

For me the concept of "mechanism" relates to an assembly of different parts performing what we could call a pre-defined function... such as action responding to plans. But as you say in many cases it is not about clock work but about improvisation, flows and networks that are not always visible. To establish a difference from these semi-informal networgs we in Protection International think that the so called State mechanisms are better named as "public policies" for the protection of defenders: this term is not so legalist and by using it we can draw on all the tools, lessons learnt and evaluation devices available for public polices discussions....   ANd assessing and evaluating the already existing public policies for HRD is precisely one off the strongest requests by HRD in those countries... What do you think?

A case study (EU Guidelines) ... and a new approach?

Let’s take the often cited and heavily relied upon EU Guidelines on HRDs as an example. A common critique of their effectiveness is the gap between the stated commitment (the ‘public policy’ as Quique terms it) of the EU and its Member States and their implementation (the ‘action’) in practice.

The implementation gap is acknowledged by the EU itself. It has been highlighted in the EU’s own evaluations of the Guidelines carried out periodically since 2004, and by officials speaking about the ways they strive to give force in practice to the Guidelines. At a panel discussion on support and protection of civic space and human rights defenders at the UN Forum on Business and Human Rights this week, a senior official of the European External Action Service described the policies, funding and systems in place to support defenders, and the efforts they make to brief and train officials and diplomats at post in knowing the Guidelines and how to use them, but acknowledged it is imperfect, that they struggle to get to this consistency. Amongst the reasons he gave for this were variations in resource levels and local priorities at post. In 2008/9 Amnesty produced a report that responded to the common reasons given for these inconsistencies and ways to address them including burden-sharing and mandatory training.

What could be done to move beyond the current state of affairs which has persisted for years and that is so frustrating for HRDs and others who support them?

One suggestion made at a conference on security and protection of HRDs in 2009 organised by the Human Rights & Social Justice Research Institute, Peace Brigades International UK and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in the UK, was to embed the implementation of these commitments explicitly into relevant officials’ job descriptions, work plans and then monitor this through performance reviews. As one EU official explained, “a diplomat should know that the next promotion may hang on how well he or she is fulfilling their human rights role…”. I have yet to see any state or multilateral body operationalise their commitments in this way.

Has anyone seen such practice? Do you think assigning responsibility and accountability in this way could ‘move the needle’ on effective implementation of the Guidelines? And if so, should we as a community of practice start pushing together for this?

Raising HRDs Profiles as a Measure of Protection

Hello everyone.

Thank you for the interesting and informative discussion!

fvandervet, in the discussion of the issue of detachment (in a different conversation topic) has mentioned that in case of high-profile HRDs in Russia, their prominence gives them leverage on the one hand, but increases their vulnerability on the other hand.

This seems to be an important point. I would like to address it in the context of effectiveness of protection measures. In particular, what do the participants of the conversation think about raising individual profiles of HRDs as a protection measure? Do you agree that while raising a profile of a HRD helps to improve their situation, it may also increase their vulnerability?

Mostly, the measures that bring attention to a HRD at risk are undertaken at the international level. They may include awards, human rights prizes, campaigns to release a HRD, and statements of prominent people in relation to a HRD at risk. Theyalso include reporting cases of HRDs in the media.

Perhaps it is difficult to attribute success stories solely to these measures and, generally, to assess their direct effect on situations of HRDs (as stated by Mary Lawlor of Fronline Defenders in this interview ), but these measures seem to add to protection of HRDs.

For example, it may well be that the spotlight created by the Olympic games has led to release of Pussy Riot and Greenpeace activists. Furthermore, an example from history is the case of Andrei Sakharov. this case shows how his prominence and reputation of the defender made the KGB reluctant to arrest him. Even the alternative widely-employed measure of psychiatric treatment was not used against him. The HRD won a Nobel Prize for his essay on human rights. he kept writing and published in the New York Times. His profile prevented the shutdown of the Human Rights Committee and activities of the Soviet human rights movement.

However, it seems that often, raising a profile of a HRD may also harm a defender.Consider the case of Liu Xiaobo. Not only he was not released, but also his wife was taken under house arrest shortly after the announcement of Liu Xiaobo as the Peace Prize winner. It also lead to pressure on other activists. After Liu had won the prize, the active groups, signatories of Charter 08 were targeted.The authorities reported that the Peace Prize is “a tool the West is using to undermine China” and called The Dalai Lama and Liu Xiaobo are the political dolls of Western forces. (

Another example is that after the office of Committee against Torture was targeted in Grozny, Ramzan Kadyrov accused activists of provoking this incident themselves, in order to become famous in the international media and to receive American grants ( So, sometimes the measure of raising profiles of HRDs can be used against them. Also, the office of the Joint Mobile Group was been burnt - and having recieved the Martin Ennals Award not long before that did not prevent the act of brutality.

It seems important gain some understanding why states respond to pressure sometimes and do not respond to it and even tighten the grip in other cases. Do you agree with this observation? Do you agree that raising the profile of a HRD helps to protect them? Or do you think it has to be done with care? Does anyone notice any underlying trends or patterns or any examples that can help to explain this? Perhaps, the protection measures should be adjusted accordingly. Looking forward to your comments!

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I think the example of Liu

I think the example of Liu Xia given by Polina above illustrates an important point regarding visibility and the potential risk to others, not just the HRD whose profile is raised. At Amnesty, we try to ensure that our risk assessment procedures take into account not only the individual(s) we are working with but also others who could be affected, but this is obviously challenging. Even if we agree not to publicise information about an HRD's partner, family or colleagues, for example, this information may be available elsewhere and perpetrators/abusers may be able to obtain it in order to target those who do not have similar levels of visibility for their protection. I'd be interested to hear how others handle this?

HRD visibility as form of protection

I just want to comment briefly on a couple of points in Polina's post here:

Do you agree that while raising a profile of a HRD helps to improve their situation, it may also increase their vulnerability?

Yes, it can. But not always. And where it does, the key is for those raising the HRD's visibility to do so with their informed consent, mindful of the possible implications it carries, with potential mitigation actions in place for any reprisals / backlash. And having given consideration to how this 'vulnerability' intersects with the 'threats' the individual faces, but the 'capacities' they have. This is a well-established formula for undertaking risk assessment with and by HRDs that has been described and manualised as part of security management tools. See the work in particular of Quique Eguren on this model (produced initially for Peace Brigades International, and subsequently further evolved and published through Front Line Defenders and Protection International).

Mostly, the measures that bring attention to a HRD at risk are undertaken at the international level.

I'm not sure I agree on this point. In many instances the international activism / intervention simply complements and augments immense domestic campaigns and actions run by individuals, family members, organisations, movements, and communities that may have garnered significant domestic and/or regional and possibly international attention. Terrible generalisation I know but look at the way that Women of Zimbabwe Arise draw attention to the situation facing their members when , beaten, attacked and detained on marches in Harare, Bulawayo and elsewhere, and the international pick up by media and INGOs this then receives that follows the significant domestic publicity, social media attention and community awareness that WOZA will already have created. Or, the joined up statements, press releases, submissions, online actions and social media dissemination that Nazra for Feminist Studies in Egypt will do alongside other key Egyptian NGOs such as the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and so on, when activists are targeted during protests or women defenders are detained, charged and prosecuted.

And from your next post Polina:

Protective accompaniment is also a strategy of protecting HRDs where ordinary citizens may particpate

Protective accompaniment, used by several organisations along broadly siimilar lines, but most widely tested and deployed by Peace Brigades International, is a rather unique yet quite simple 'strategy', 'mechanism', call it what you will, to protect HRDs at risk, that brings together your two points I've cited above. The methodology and underlying 'theory of dissuasion' in protective accompaniment rests very much on the notion that greater visibility of the HRD, associated with international actors (from a diversity of regional or international countries) can -under certain conditions (i.e. it doesn't work everywhere, in all contexts) have a powerful protective effect. PBI has been accompanying defenders in Colombia for over 20 years many of whom will testify that if it wasn't for this accompaniment they would be dead or have left the country. For a great text on this read Liam Mahony's 'Side by Side' published with New Tactics.

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How can ordinary citizens help?

Most times, international attention and recognition of human rights defenders are insufficient to protect them from continued prosecution. Examples from Malaysia are:-

1)Malaysian cartoonist Zunar has been continually harassed and currently charged for sedition under Malaysian laws -

2)A successfull mass protest rally known as Bersih4 in several major cities in Malaysia and globally in August 2015 did not prevent the authorities to crackdown on the protest leaders -

3)Anwar Ibrahim, the former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia has been imprisoned yet again, declared as a prisoner of conscience by AI.

I would love to hear any suggestions/tips how citizens can assist in the protection of human rights defenders (taking into account a massive protest can have no substantial consequences from the government).

 How can ordinary citizens help?

Dear Shalaya,

Thank you for opening up this topic. I am a great believer in the necessity of support of HRDs by ordinary citizens... Will be happy to share some insignts with you.

I agree that massive protests often do not lead to positive consequences. Often, they only create a backlash, especially in authoritarian contexts. It is also not so easy to mobilize citizens for a mass campaigns or boycotts. However, there are other measures where ordinary citizens can help.

For example, there are social activists (who, depending on the level of their activity, can also be ordinary citizens). they practice political and social campaigning. they can seek to advance a cause of a HRD at risk. they can try to persuade authorities to stop the abuse of defenders. They may form groups (concern groups, social action groups) around a particular HRD at risk. An example is Liu Xia Concern Group, in support of the imprisoned Liu Xiaobo. members of the group  take symbolic actions in support of Liu Xiaobo. Their activities take place in Hong Kong as a space more open for public protest than Mainland China. I am based in HK, so this is especially relevant to me. For example, on February 14, 2014 the protestors in Hong Kong shaved their heads in support of Liu Xiaobo and as a symbolic act meant to symbolize lawlessness as the Chinese words “hair” and “law” have similar pronunciation.

There are also specific measures where citizens can participate. For example, the mechanism of urgent appeals - it invloves subscribers of NGOs. Protective accompaniment is also a strategy of protecting HRDs where ordinary citizens may particpate- for ex ample international or national volunteers. also, there are support networks. for example in Serbia there was used Serbian group “Otpor” that was creating support networks for the detained HRDs.

I would also suggest that citizens should support HRDs by writing letters, sending postcards, for example to prisons if HRDs are detained. there are many testimonies of HRDs on how helpful these acts of solidarity are in maintaining their spirit. I suggest to do that for the imprisoned activists you have mentioned.






How can ordinary citizens help?

Appreciate the examples you have shared on the various ways citizens can support HRDs, Polina, thank you. One of the important causes for the Bersih rallies was for clean (bersih in the Malay language) and fair elections. Logically, Malaysians await the next general elections to have a substantial change but when elections are not clean, the danger of the status quo is very real. This is more so especially when executive government processes have already been deeply entrenched. It is very hard not to feel frustrated. The role of ordinary citizens are very important  to HRDs for them to feel supported and appreciated. This of course does not neccessarily happen in every country.

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How can ordinary citizens help?

Hello everyone and thank you all for this interesting and detailed conversation.

 James correctly pointed out that the EU indeed acknowledges the exisiting gaps in implementing the Guidelines on HRD's in a sufficient way.I find the suggestion to embed the implementation of the commitments into relevant official's jobs descriptions,work plans and then keep monitoring them,really interesting and as an approach that could work in practice.(as James shared the relevant link   Although I haven't seen such practice, I think that it could be a great boost in the proccess of making HRD's protection mechanisms and guidelines more effective and sufficiently implemented.                                                                                                                                                                               As an ordinary citizen myself,who is willing to help in the protection of HRDs, I also found the tips that Polina suggested really helpfull.It is great to hear that ordinary citizens can help a human rights defender, even by a simple gesture as writing letters or sending postcards and maintaing a HRD's spirit.It is important for everyone to contribute any way they can to the protection of the defenders.I do believe that coordinated efforts from both ordinary citizens and communities of practice are needed in order to put pressure on the proccess of making the EU guidelines and HRD protection mechanisms more sufficinet and effective in practice. 

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furthering commitment to values - intersections

Very interesting to read the comments on all threads to date – I think all comments are bringing together well the intersection and interdependencies on interpretations of identity, the effective implementation of mechanisms, and considerations of strategies used for defender’s protection.  

In regard to implementation of the EU konGuidelines on HRDs, James raises an important point in that we have seen many good suggestions for developments of implementation strategies for strengthening the Guidelines’ effectiveness, but to a large extent, government actions will ultimately be responsible to make these realities.  The case example of work toward fulfilling human rights commitments as a job criterion for diplomats’ advancement is a case in point.  We see prizes and awards given out to exemplary persons who commit their life’s work to human rights achievements (see interesting discussion on this at thread on defining defenders).   But it is imperative that we strive to see human rights practiced as a norm, because of a belief in the commitment - that this is the right thing to do. Shayla, Polina and Konstantia raise this too in their discussion points on the ordinary citizen.

I would like to emphasise the importance of engaging perceptions of human rights as a valued and necessary condition for democratic life with the public at large, and the importance of the ‘public policy mechanisms’ (Quique’s earlier reference) to support these values genuinely, which in turn has an important intersection with public opinion, as they see the effective implementation of published and agreed human rights policies.  

Perhaps my post here is focused on these ‘intersections’ and how we can influence change by drawing attention to the significance of value based work and support.  It would be great to hear further from others on examples and thoughts on how to operationalise and promote these intersections? 

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Protective mechanisms for HRDs

Protective accompaniment is a great strategy as a protection mechanism for HRDs.Thanks for sharing, James. One of the most important protection mechanism for HRDs is having a free and fearless media. From the Malaysian context, the current political awakening and news on HRDs' welfare became accessible to the public mostly due to the online independant news portal Malaysiakini and ordinary netizens sharing news on social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. The internet plays a vital role as a protective mechanism for HRDs.

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Because the protection of HRDs is a challenging issue of great essence, raising awareness for the subject through campains or having fearless media is really important.If the "public policy mechanisms" show their actuall support and respect for human rights by conducting such acts,the public(the ordinary citizens) will be motivated(if not already) to do more and more to help the defenders.This could be a way to build mutual trust and co operation between the public and the "mechanisms"and maybe even promote this intersection.