Everyone has the right to stand up, to speak out and to defend human rights.
Everyone has the right to defend human rights safely, without fear of retribution, such as physical violence, slander or attacks on their families.
Equally, everyone has the right to defend human rights and enjoy a full life, without sacrificing livelihoods, health or happiness. Everyone has the right to stand up, to speak out and to defend human rights.
We dedicate this manual to all of the human rights defenders who joined us in its creation, and in particular to three women: Natasha Estemirova, Biljana Kovačević-Vučo and Nirmala Thapa.
Each one spoke to us about different aspects of security – both private and public – echoing the stories of so many others.
Biljana Kovačević-Vučo highlighted the price of speaking out against injustice in Serbia. Her uncompromising stand met with vicious personal slander in the media, and death threats behind closed doors. She publicly challenged each attack with dignity and integrity.
Natasha Estemirova told us about another aspect of facing insecurity as a woman human rights defender: the toll it took on her personal life. She described how she coped with the stress of constant security threats as well as with the sadness of working with families of the disappeared in Chechnya.
Nirmala Thapa talked about how she tried to balance life as a woman human rights activist in Nepal with taking care of her family, and what it meant to be a ‘good wife’ in her culture. She explained how she managed to step out of that role to empower other women, despite the pressure to conform.
Tragically, their lives were cut too short.
But their voices, their strength, and their stories will remain a source of inspiration. They are a reminder, to all of us, to continue to do the work we love with passion, and with hope.
They remind us, too, to take the time to cherish and protect our own bodies, hearts and families with exactly the same passion that we give to others.
Defending human rights around the world, in our communities, is so important.
And the life of every human rights defender is equally important to this work.