The work of human rights defenders is essential for the advancement of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Human rights defenders play a central role in making state policies human rights compliant and authorities accountable. Human rights defenders are also instrumental in defending victims of human rights violations and ensuring their access to redress and remedy. Human rights defenders are key partners of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. Civil society human rights activists face numerous obstacles in their work, including: legal and administrative restrictions impeding the registration of NGOs and their access to funding; excessive financial and reporting requirements; judicial harassment; smear campaigns; threats and intimidation; abusive control and surveillance; confiscation and destruction of working materials; unlawful arrest or detention and ill-treatment. In some cases, human rights defenders are kidnapped or even killed. The absence of effective investigations into violations committed by state and non-state actors against human rights defenders targeted because of their human rights work remains a major problem. This results in the impunity of perpetrators and the recurrence of violations, which also facilitate reprisals.(http://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/human-rights-defenders)
The Subcommittee on Human Rights of the European Parliament had recently a meeting, on 17.02.2016, , where issues regarding the violence against human right defenders (HRDs) were approached. Even if put in very difficult situations, even if they are regularly subject to persecutions, punishment, arbitrary arrest or detention especially in countries lacking an effective rule of law, these entities (either individuals or different type of organisations, the main being the NGOs) prove the courage to continue their actions of defending human rights. In this context, it is very important for the EU to urgently adopt new resolutions in order to control these situations.
With the support of the European Parliament a mechanism to address such needs was created by the European Union, as foreseen in the REGULATION (EU) No 235/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council. ProtectDefenders.eu is the name of the new EU platform that aims to provide assistance to Human Rights Defenders in situations of risk and offer them urgent, medium and long-term support. Officially launched in December 2015, the initiative is managed by a consortium of 12 regional and international NGOs. 15 million Euros were allocated by EIDHR for the planned duration of the project (36 months).
Front Line Defenders is one of the 12 organisations involved in the platform. It was created in 2001 in Dublin, with the specific aim of protecting HDRs at risk. Its head, Andrea Rocca, represented it in the meeting on 17th of February. According to their report, Stop the killing of Human rights defenders, published in the beginning of 2016, he estimates that 156 HDRs were killed or died in detention in 25 countries in the first eleven months of 2015. We can read in the report; “this number marked an increase over the previous year, both in the number of killings and in the number of countries where they occurred. Killings were reported in Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Egypt, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Libya, Mexico, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey and Yemen, with over half of the killings occurring in Latin America.”
Despite this situation, in 2014 no actions of justice were taken in 90 % of cases. It is why there is a huge need for them to get support from their countries’ and the international organisations dealing with human rights.
Different means of putting pressure on HRDs were used, as for example intimidation and targeting of family members, threat with physical harm or deprivation of liberty and prosecution, loss of employment, breaking contact between HRDs and their international partners and supporters (see Russia Federation and China, in 2015), preventing HRDs to attend international events (see Asia and Middle Est or North Africa), cessation of support, limits placed on discussion about the country in international forums. State security and anti-terrorism laws become more and more a common tactic of repression against HRDs across all regions. This becomes a particular concern, for example, in relation to visas for temporary relocation in cases of HRDs in extreme danger.
On a positive side, there are countries which passed laws establishing new national systems for the protection of HRDs (Honduras following the footsteps of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico). “The first challenge the government needs to address is to draft regulations to make the mechanism operational, rapid and effective. This must be done in consultation with HRDs. High level political support, adequate resources and implementation by an independent body, separate from government, are essential” states the Front Line Defenders’ report.
The ProtectDefenders.eu platform was presented in the meeting of the EP subcommittee on human rights .They stated that a major part of the project consists in providing grants that insure HRDs’ needs are met: accommodation, expenses, family support, work support etc. Grants may include also physical security, digital security, office security, legal and medical support and emergency relocation. In the first 4 months, 95 grants were already accorded, following the criteria established by the platform. It aims to help HRDs to become stronger and more resilient in their actions. The platform provides also technical support in the implementation of activities aimed at advancing a HR agenda and to counter violations. Through a specific granting programme, local NGOs can apply for support with capacity-building training, advocacy and campaign strategies or core funding.
The representatives of the EU organisations concerned mentioned that there are also other projects supporting HRDs activity and the EU structures are having weekly meetings in order to avoid double funding. ProtectDefenders.eu aims at building public awareness and ensuring enhanced visibility about the situation of HR Defenders at every level. ProtectDefenders.eu dispatches urgent alerts and coordinates immediate responses, but also monitors the individual situation of defenders in critical situations and advocates for the end of impunity for perpetrators. The platform pursues the engagement of relevant stakeholders, including governmental bodies, EU institutions, international community and media by alerting on specific cases and situations of repression to prevent the escalation of human rights violations. In the long term, new protection mechanisms against legal frameworks that inhibit, criminalise or undermine the freedom and rights of HRDs and their work will be initiated.