Michel Forst about the security risks faced by Human Rights Defenders

July 7, 2020

Human rights defenders reconnect us to what makes the essence of humanity” says Michel Forst, the former UN Special Rapporteur in his foreword to the updated Guidelines on security and protection for grantees by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF).

Jalila, Mohamadou, Paulo and Lita are all human rights defenders who work in difficult areas. In forgotten places, where the State does not operate anymore or where conflicts rage on. They provide support to women victims of sexual violence; they advocate for transitional justice; they visit peaceful protesters who have been arbitrarily detained. They bring human rights to the darkest, most isolated places. They are the voices for those whose voices have been stolen. Each and every day these ordinary women and men brave countless risks to be close to those they defend. Because they defend human rights they are targeted by those who benefit from human rights violations. Each day they must reinvent themselves and their most trivial routines. Jalila turns her phone off while having discussions with other defenders; Lita makes sure she travels back home while the sun is still high; and Paulo frequently changes the passwords to his social media accounts. When traveling outside his village, Mohamadou leaves instructions for his family as preparation for the possibility of being arrested and taken to jail.

Each day these four defenders feel in their own minds and bodies what it means to defend human rights in complex settings and thousands of other human rights defenders face the same situation on the ground. They cannot depend on protection from the State or constant protection from their own communities, so they bear the heavy responsibility of protecting themselves, staying safe alone. Some are fortunate to have the support of their organizations and movements but must still practice self-protection. Sometimes this individual responsibility feels like a burden and can have lasting and severe consequences on their psychological, physical and social well-being.

Former Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, Michel Forst, with human rights defenders during a consultation on the situation in the MENA region (Photo: NHRF’s grantee partner, Gulf Centre for Human Rights).

In recent years, a number of initiatives across the globe have contributed to support defenders and to provide them with a set of concrete tools to mitigate risks. Defenders have been building solidarity networks and strategic alliances, they have developed risks analysis and digital security trainings. Women human rights defenders and indigenous communities have helped understand the necessity to develop collective and holistic approaches to security. Some States have developed laws and mechanisms to better protect defenders as a response to the current deterioration of the situation of HRDs. Over the past five years, I have heard and learnt about many good practices on protection, and I am pleased with the efforts of the NHRF to provide these guidelines as a resource to help identify and navigate these initiatives.

….Defenders often represent the last remaining hopes for those whose are left behind, who are excluded and despised by their societies. … it is imperative that we strengthen our support to these heroes. It is not only a matter of justice, it is for the sake of our common future, for our humanity. We must defend and stand and act in solidarity with these selfless, indomitable people.

Main photo: Mónica Orjuela/NHRF.

https://nhrf.no/article/2020/human-rights-defenders-reconnect-us-to-what-makes-the-essence-of-humanity-michel-forst

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/17/protection-internationals-next-e-learning-course-on-security-starts-19-february/

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