ProtectDefenders.eu is the European Union’s Human Rights Defenders mechanism, established to protect defenders at the highest risk facing the most pressing human rights situations around the world. “Defenders” includes a broad range of individuals and groups working for the promotion and protection of human rights, including professional and non-professional human rights workers, volunteers, journalists, lawyers, communities, artists, activists, and anyone else peacefully carrying out human rights activity.
“Human rights defenders are neither enemies of the State nor enemies of development, but champions of change.”
Based around a coalition of twelve international organizations spanning a wide range of human rights advocacy, the ProtectDefenders.eu secretariat is headquartered in Brussels. Together, they offer emergency protection grants, educational training, grants to local organizations and human rights groups, respite programs, relocation services, and a 24/7 emergency hotline, among other crucial resources.
Particular attention is afforded to advocates in remote areas where human rights work is the most dangerous, as well as to defenders who are women, LGBTI, minorities, land and environmental rights advocates, labor activists, and those fighting for freedom of expression and association.
The mechanism was established as the European Union’s comprehensive response to the UN Declaration of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), initially adopted in 1998. The declaration was a critical moment in the history of human rights, recognizing the importance not only of the rights themselves, but also of the individuals fighting to maintain them; it posits that “all individuals, groups and organs of society have the right and the responsibility to promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
ProtectDefenders.eu works tirelessly to raise visibility of worldwide political repression and quashed freedoms—hosting, for example, real time figures, statistics, and case information of human rights abuses—and makes urgent resources and on-the-ground assistance to HRDs and activists more accessible and effective. Their 2017-2018 statistics highlight the ubiquity of rights violations and the methods by which states stamp out dissent. More than 300 defenders were killed in 2017 alone, and the prominence of arbitrary detention and legal harassment continues to grow, along with criminalization, a common tactic of the state for intimidating and silencing defiant voices and dissuading others from speaking out.
The twelve constituents of ProtectDefenders.eu are chaired by a board of four organizations:
Front Line Defenders, an international advocacy organization for human rights defenders founded in Dublin in 2001 with an EU office in Brussels and regionally-based field staff worldwide, offering grants, respite, training resources, networking opportunities, and access to a 24/7 emergency phone line; it has consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
Reporters without Borders, an NGO with UN, UNESCO, and Council of Europe consultative status that protects freedom of information and expression, particularly mobilizing support for journalists; founded in 1985 and based in Paris, it has numerous international bureau offices and a network of correspondents in 130 countries and publishes the yearly World Press Freedom Index
World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), based in Geneva, is the main coalition of international non-governmental organisations (NGO) fighting against torture, summary executions, enforced disappearances and all other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), founded in 1922 with a secretariat headquartered in France, is an international human rights NGO federating 184 organisations from 112 countries that aims to secure human rights defenders’ freedom and capacity to act through urgent responses, investigative missions, legal defence, and advocacy
The remaining eight coalition organizations of ProtectDefenders.eu include:
Recently ProtectDefenders.eu has participated in international conferences concerning the particular challenges facing women human rights defenders (WHRDs), part of the 2018 European Development Days, as well as the OSCE-sponsored human rights workshop in Rome. On top of raising visibility, ProtectDefenders.eu aims to make their resources as accessible as possible to the most at-risk, including women activists and leaders, who made up 40% of their beneficiaries in 2017. In a particularly illustrative case, ProtectDefenders.eu and OMCT allocated a grant in September 2017 to cover legal expenses for and abate the judicial harassment of the seven women members of the Khon Rak Ban Kerd Group (KRBKG), a community-based group in Thailand that has fought to protect local environments and resources against toxic contamination from an open-pit copper-gold mine in the Loei Province.