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10 Dec 2016

Iva Dobichina, Open Society Foundations & James Savage, Fund for Global Human Rights, in Guardian (UK)

Commentary: Donors & protection groups need to find new ways to protect human rights defenders, emphasising role of non-state actors

"We must find new ways to protect human rights defenders", 10 Dec 2016

Human rights activists take part in a protest following the murder of Honduran environmental campaigner Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty

In 2018 we will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders...[b]ut despite the declaration, the settings in which defenders work are becoming more contested and volatile – not less. Around the globe, a tectonic shift towards autocratic and semi-authoritarian rule by law, and the pernicious influence of corporate, criminal and fundamentalist non-state actors, has put human rights activists on the defensive and let rights violators go on the offence...Most security and protection approaches involve some level of interaction with the state as primary duty bearer and guarantor of human rights. The crackdown on civic activism in recent years seemingly support this assumption. Yet closer inspection of the drivers – including development, trade and security imperatives, and the rise of fundamentalism – exposes a growing confluence of interests and actions between state and non-state actors. Donors and protection groups must adapt to this profound change in the political context...International groups and donors should look at how homegrown and long-term approaches to movement-building, community inclusion and active participation offer effective and sustainable models for collective protection and defence of civil society space. We might also seek allies from those powerful political and economic interests that may not be as homogenous or monolithic as we think.