The Protection Programme of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network was set up to fulfil the overall Network objective of protecting and defending HRDs in the countries of the sub-region.
HRDs in the region who advocate for the upholding and respect for any or all of the rights and freedoms stipulated in the UDHR without recourse to violence become targets themselves by the very perpetrators of rights violations who seek to silence HRDs to have their actions remain undocumented.
In the course of their work, HRDs are intimidated, harassed, physically assaulted and many times detained for varied periods of time in a bid to make them abandon their cause.
HRDs are men and women on the frontlines of the struggle to ensure that the principles laid out in national constitutions, regional and international human rights instruments are upheld. HRDs are a crucial link in the chain of human rights protection, from campaigning on behalf of victims of human rights violations to lobbying at the highest level for improved mechanisms for human rights protection. In the process, they support the rule of law and the institutions and principles of democracy around the world. By publicizing human rights instruments and lobbying state authorities and regional bodies, they raise awareness of human rights entitlements and help to mobilize victims to fight against the abuses. They may be members of explicit and exclusive human rights organisations, but they may also belong to youth groups, churches, or women’s and developmental associations while some may act in individual capacity. These may include; lawyers, journalists, teachers, social activists and or community leaders. Wherever and whenever there is persecution and oppression, minorities and other vulnerable groups are threatened and human rights are denied or human dignity is threatened, defenders tend to emerge and strive to protect the weak and hold the authorities to account.
The protection programme was set up to ensure that human rights defenders at risk receive the necessary support to mitigate the risks that they are faced and continue with their human rights work.
The specific objectives of the programme are;
Building on the collaboration with Protection International, the DefendDefenders Security Management Program works as part of the Protection Program to offer preventive strategies of protection for HRDs.
The preventive strategies are aimed at ensuring that activists put in place measures to mitigate the possibility of risks occurring to them in the course of their work. Security measures can be utilized to maintain operations in the face of imposed restrictions as well as measures that can be taken in advance to mitigate harm when severe limitations appear imminent. Security for HRDs and civil society activists entails understanding one’s working environment, conducting a thorough risk assessment that reflects the risks and includes an analysis of the feasibility of the threats and their vulnerabilities vis-à-vis their capacities. as HRDs and civil society activists. Security also entails dealing with the risks and analyzing the threats and security incidents.
Threats are the possibility that someone will harm somebody else‘s physical or moral integrity or property through purposeful and often violent action. Vulnerability is the degree to which people are susceptible to loss, damage, suffering and death in the event of an attack. This varies for each defender or group, and changes with time. Capacities are the strengths and resources a group or defender can access to achieve a reasonable degree of security.
Following a risk assessment, the HRDs and civil society activists should develop clear response protocols to the risks they have identified, e.g. what to do in case of arbitrary detention or office raid, emergency contact numbers; who must be informed, how and when? The strategies are contained in a security plan which is a set of day-to-day policies, measures and protocols for managing specific situations.
DefendDefenders Security Management Program offers comprehensive and in-depth security management capacity building, including trainings, mentoring, security advice and follow up, for HRDs and their organisations.
In addition to the preventive strategies, there is often the need for intervention strategies to be utilized when an HRD and civil society activist is at risk. Intervention takes the form of direct protection assistance, longer-term support strategies, which may be supported by advocacy efforts.
Direct protection assistance usually involves a financial outlay as well as hands-on and urgent logistical support to an HRD and civil society activist. The individual in need of assistance is assisted in assessing the particular needs of their situation and identify the ideal interventions. Long-term support strategies capacitate HRDs and civil society activists to do their work effectively and are important to counteract the chilling effect of threats on civil society.
The protection programme activities are enhanced by the activities carried out by the advocacy programme to bring to the fore the situation facing human right defenders and ensure concerted efforts at national, regional and international level to make policies and laws as well as create a climate where human rights activists can carry out their work in safety. The advocacy activities are carried out at national, regional and international level with particular emphasis on protection mechanisms including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In addition to the advocacy programme, the capacity building programme further enhances the activities under the protection programme by ensuring that defenders are equipped with skills that enable them carry out their human rights work. A major component of the capacity building programme is security management training and digital security, training in the use of international and regional protection mechanisms including the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the European Union Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Procedures mechanisms as well as the Universal Periodic Review Mechanism.