Over the past few decades, human rights organisations across the world have successfully raised the profile of human rights defenders and their vital role in protecting the rights of ordinary citizens. As a result of these efforts, human rights defenders began to enjoy increasing international recognition and respect.
Paradoxically, as awareness of their work blossomed internationally, they were being subjected to escalating violations of their own rights within their own countries – at the hands of their government, armed groups and even their own communities.
In response to these mounting threats, a number of human rights organisations started to work towards developing international legal mechanisms to enshrine the rights of human rights defenders to allow them to do their work, and to do it safely.
These efforts culminated, in 1998, in the adoption by the United Nations General Assembly of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.1 This was followed in 2000 by the appointment of Ms. Hina Jilani as the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, with a clear mandate to work with human rights defenders around the world to document violations committed against them and to recommend specific strategies for their protection.2
The adoption of the Declaration and the appointment of the Special Representative helped enormously in establishing a framework for ensuring the rights and protection of human rights defenders. But this was only the beginning.
In the years following, human rights organisations have continued to consolidate these gains by working to increase awareness of the security constraints faced by human rights defenders, while simultaneously developing an array of practical resources for their protection. These include deeper analysis of the general security situation of human rights defenders, documented by Front Line: International Foundation for Human Rights Defenders3 and many other human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition, and the Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights (UAF). Several of these organisations also match their documentation and advocacy commitments with specific grants to support human rights defenders at risk, and for some, grant-making is their primary focus. Others, increasingly within the academic world, are offering ‘protective’ fellowships to provide human rights defenders safety and respite.
In 2005, Front Line went a step further in developing the very practical Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders and has since conducted training workshops based on this publication for human rights defenders globally.4
While these developments have had a marked impact on increasing the awareness of security risks to human rights defenders generally, human rights organisations have more recently recognised the need for documentation of and tools to address the security risks, vulnerabilities and strategies that are specific to women human rights defenders.
Several human rights groups began working, individually and collectively, on efforts to understand better the particular situation of women human rights defenders and how best to offer them tools for protection. These included the collaboration of Front Line, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the UAF through the Defending the Defenders Project. During the first phase of this project, beginning in 2005, the partners documented the particular security experiences and protection strategies of women human rights defenders, with to the objective of developing future practical protection guidelines and resources. This collaboration resulted in Insiste, Persiste, Resiste, Existe: Women Human Rights Defenders Security Strategies (Resiste).5
Subsequently, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the UAF implemented the second phase of the Defending the Defenders Project: translating the research for Resiste into practical tools to support women human rights defenders in developing and deepening strategies to stay safe and well.
During this phase, Integrated Security: The Manual was designed and tested through a series of around 30 integrated security workshops for more than 300 women human rights defenders from over 50 countries worldwide.
- 1. The Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Work on elaborating the Declaration began in 1984 and the Declaration was adopted in 1998. http://www.unhchr.ch/huridocda/huridoca.nsf/%28symbol%29/a.res.53.144.en
- 2. Ms Hina Jilani, a noted human rights attorney from Pakistan, was appointed as the first Special Representative. When the mandate was renewed in 2008, the title was changed in that of Special Rapporteur and Ms Margaret Sekaggya was appointed as mandate holder. The change in title has no implications on the activities and functions of the mandate. http://www.ishr.ch/protection-mechanisms/united-nations
- 3. Hereafter referred to as 'Front Line'.
- 4. Front Line: International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and E. Eguren (2005) Protection Manual for Human Rights Defenders, Front Line, Blackrock, County Dublin, and Peace Brigades International—European Office, Brussels. http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/manuals/protection
- 5. Barry, J. with V. Nainar (2008) Insiste, Persiste, Resiste, Existe: Women Human Rights Defenders Security Strategies, Front Line International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the Urgent Action Fund for Women's Human Rights, Boulder, CO. http://www.kvinnatillkvinna.se/sites/default/files/File/Rapporter/insiste_resiste_persiste_existe.pdf (available in Arabic, Bosnian, English, French, Russian and Spanish).