London Metropolitan University Research Institutes

Human Rights Defenders at Risk

The work under this strand is concerned with sustainable support for human rights defenders (HRDs)  working in countries, where carrying out  human rights activities, or giving voice to individuals and groups suffering human rights violations, can put HRDs’ lives at risk. Human rights defenders are incredibly brave in carrying out their work under extremely dangerous conditions and need sustainable support networks to strengthen their capacity to work under these difficult conditions.

During the 2007 -2008 HRSJ Seminar Series, the HRSJ Research Institute organized a round table discussion at London Metropolitan University with Ms. Hina Jilani, the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (Ms. Hina Jilani’s UN mandate ended March 2008), in coordination with Seminar 5: ‘Human Rights Defender’s Under Threat’, held in February 2008. This roundtable event included HRSJ and EHRAC representatives of London Metropolitan University, academics from Middlesex University and Birkbeck College, and human rights experts and practitioners from the Law Society of England and Wales, the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Human Rights Watch, and Peace Brigades International. The roundtable discussions focused three agenda items: the institutional relations between the UN Human Rights Council and the Security Council on human rights and peace and security in the context of human rights defenders; recent protection strategies of international NGOs; and idea sharing to improve and strengthen immediate practical international support to human rights defenders under threat.

In April 2009, HRSJ hosted a two-day Conference on Security and Protection for Human Rights Defenders at London Metropolitan University and the UK Houses of Parliament. The conference was organised in partnership with the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute (HRSJ) at London Metropolitan University, Peace Brigades International (UK Section), and the UK All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group (PHRG), with financial support from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Sigrid Rausing Trust. The Conference engaged European support, and UK focus, on the important work being done by human rights defenders in third countries in an increasingly dangerous climate and had a practical impact through raising the awareness of relevant UK Government ministers and high-level officials from the UN and EU of HRDs protection needs in third countries, and engaging them in a process for a more comprehensive protection policy for HRDs in third countries. An in-depth Conference Report summarises the main points concluded from these activities and offers recommendations where gaps in protection of HRDs has been identified.

From June 2009 – March 2010, the FCO commissioned the Institute to carry out the ‘Human Rights Defenders Diploma Programme’ as a Pilot Project in Central Asia (including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). The project was carried out in collaboration with Middlesex University's Law Department and was monitored and evaluated by external assessors to consider the feasibility of developing and delivering a Human Rights Diploma Programme in other geographical regions where human rights defenders are at risk. The aim of the programme (and pilot project) is to educate human rights defenders in high risk areas through an integrated training approach. 

From August- November 2010, HRSJ Research Development Coordinator Karen Bennett taught on a blended learning programme commissioned by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) and government of Norway, entitled ‘2010 Certificate Programme in Project Management, Human Rights and Conflict Sensitivity for Central Asia and Afghanistan.’ The Certificate Programme targets professionals from all five Central Asian countries and Afghanistan with opportunities in their field of work to promote human rights and conflict sensitive development. Karen taught a module in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on human rights based approaches and conflict mitigation strategies in project management, followed by on-line coaching, and a second visit to Bishkek for meeting with participants for the presentation of their projects to the six trainers and invited representatives from donor agencies and other relevant organisations.

In 2010 – 2011, HRSJ and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) are partnering to offer a week of training plus UN meetings to members of the Darfur Bar Association. The training for the Darfur Bar Association members will cover various topics related to human rights and international criminal law with an emphasis on combating gender based violence, and will take place in Geneva, coinciding with the 16th Session of the Human Rights Council in March 2011. The project is supported by the Open Society Institute East Africa and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In September 2010, The IBA Trust provided funds for HRSJ and IBA organisers to meet with members of the executive office of the DBA for discussions in Geneva during the 15th session of the HRC in September 2010, to assess the capacity building needs of the DBA members and to inform preparation of the training programme in order to best respond to the needs of the lawyers and provide useful knowledge to help facilitate their work in Darfur. The project partners also met with the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Sudan, Mohamed Chande Othman, and held meetings with other relevant UN and NGO offices in Geneva. 


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