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A Guide on how Human Rights Activists can survive and protect themselves

Dublin:Front Line report documents the struggle for survival of human rights defenders in Colombia, Indonesia and Zimbabwe

Front Line's major new report “Strategies for Survival: Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia, Indonesia and Zimbabwe,” documents these threats, and identifies the creative strategies that human rights defenders have developed to improve their security. By sharing lessons
learned, the report can spread effective practices and encourage protection for these dedicated activists.


The report is being launched today at 12.00pm in Buswell's Hotel


Full Text of Press Release

Front Line's major new report “Strategies for Survival” documents the dangerous reality for human rights defenders in Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Colombia


Full Details on Strategies for Survival


Full Text of Strategies for Survival in PDF Format


A top Indonesian human rights lawyer is fatally poisoned with arsenic on an international flight. A Zimbabwean activist is abducted and held incommunicado before being tried on baseless charges. Leaked documents reveal plans to assassinate Colombian human rights defenders. And these shocking incidents occur in a day-to-day context of surveillance, threats, and other harassment.

Front Line's major new report “Strategies for Survival: Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Colombia, Indonesia and Zimbabwe,” documents these threats, and identifies the creative strategies that human rights defenders have developed to improve their security. By sharing lessons learned, the report can spread effective practices and encourage protection for these dedicated activists.


Over the past 10 years Front Line has consistently documented the threats against and attacks on human rights defenders. Those threats mayrange from harassment and intimidation to direct attacks on the

defenders themselves or their families, to stigmatisation in the media or at the political level as enemies of the state.


“The one thing all these human rights defenders share is that they are most at risk when they challenge the interests of the rich and powerful – those who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo” – said Front Line Deputy Director, Andrew Anderson in Dublin today.


“If we seriously want to make a difference and find new and more effective ways to protect human rights defenders at risk then we have to listen and learn from the real experts – the human rights defenders on

the ground – that is what this report is about”, added Mr Anderson.


Human rights defenders have developed strategies to protect an individual at risk and improve the overall security environment, including: detailed security planning, coordinated campaigns, pressuring governments to provide protection and change laws, creating civil society protection mechanisms, international advocacy, and, when necessary, relocation within the country or abroad.


Matt Easton, author of the report travelled, with Front Line staff to Zimbabwe, Colombia, and Indonesia, countries chosen for their strong human rights communities and geographical and political diversity. They

represent three broader categories of countries characterised by, respectively, authoritarianism, conflict, and transition.


Indonesia

When President Suharto stepped down amid mass protests in 1998, decades of authoritarian rule came to an end. However, many of the same people and institutions retained their influence, easily out maneuvering a weak and corrupt judicial system. As a result, not a single major human rights violation from the Suharto era has been successfully prosecuted. Officials tied to serious human rights violations remain in positions of influence throughout the government.

In 2004, six years after reformasi began, Indonesia’s leading human rights activist, Munir, was murdered by arsenic poisoning while traveling abroad. The Indonesian authorities have failed to bring those who planned or ordered his death to justice. Security forces continue to carry out surveillance and repression of human rights defenders.


“We were confident in the transition, it was going relatively smoothly, and Munir was suddenly killed. Now we can talk about anything freely, but we feel something could happen to us at any time.” Human rights defender Mugiyanto, October 2009 HRDs have used the transition to work with the democratic space available, pushing for changes to the laws and working with government institutions. They have struggled to address past violations by organising victims to become advocates.

They have identified new threats such as fundamentalism, anti-terrorism measures, and abuse of criminal defamation laws, and adopted legal and advocacy strategies to address them. Finally, they have developed national conferences, a consortium of HRD-focused NGOs, and other forms of coordination.


Colombia

Although Colombia has avoided the model of overt dictatorship familiar in the rest of the region in the 70s and 80s, many hundreds of human rights defenders have been killed in the context of brutal repression by security forces allied with paramilitary groups and powerful economic interests.


The Colombian state has an official protection programme that provides bodyguards, armoured cars, and other protective measures to human rights defenders and other vulnerable groups. The programme has

numerous flaws, including the involvement of bodyguards in illegal surveillance, but sets Colombia apart from countries that make no effort to protect activists.


However, while one branch of the state is supposedly offering protection, government officials are increasing the risks HRDs face,through public statements stigmatising HRDs as guerrillas, illegal

surveillance, baseless prosecutions, and impunity for those who kill and threaten human rights defenders.


“We are in an armed conflict. This can’t be forgotten. It affects all our relationships, our work with groups, our trust in institutions.”
—human rights defender, December 2009 Colombian human rights defenders have developed uniquely strong civil
society coordination and sophisticated international advocacy with
partners overseas. With these twin sources of pressure they have gained
government concessions and been able to push back against stigmatisation
by public officials. HRDs also work with the media and the public to
build support for HRDs and their issues. On a practical level, they
provide the most at-risk defenders with safe havens to develop their
skills or keep working on their issues in safer regions or countries.


Zimbabwe


“If the sun sets and I am at the bus stop, then I am in danger.” —HRD, Matabeleland South HRDs in Zimbabwe are targeted for their efforts to monitor abuses and use domestic courts and international advocacy to constrains the ruling
party’s ability to carry out violations without regard for domestic or
international law. Much of the risk originates in the ruling party’s
manipulation of laws and institutions. “The machinery of the state, in
the form of police, military, and prosecutors, can be used against HRDs
at any time, while armed militia groups are allowed to act with
impunity” said Irene Petras, Executive Director of Zimbabwe Lawyers for
Human Rights.



A power-sharing agreement has reduced some of the worst forms of violence, but defenders still face arbitrary detention and arrest,
surveillance, and violence. Many worry that a new round of elections, or
any perceived threat to the ruling party, could lead to new crackdown.
In response, HRDs have adopted flexible strategies that draw on the
support of their communities, each other, and the international
community, while maximising caution and confidentiality. Despite the
challenges, they have not abandoned legal strategies and have eventually
won the release of many of their colleagues and a gradual improvement
of the human rights situation.



Recommendations: In addition to detailed recommendations to human rights defenders and national governments, the report urges the
international community to: support strong security planning practices;
affirm the legitimacy of human rights defenders through public
statements, meetings with defenders, and other concrete measures; make
human rights defender protection part of dialogue with governments, and
to provide refuge through flexible emergency funding and visa programs.



Editors Note – the following key contacts in each country are available for interview Dublin - Front Line Deputy Director Andrew
Anderson New York - Author of Strategies for Survival Matt Easton,

+1-917-547-6300, meast99@gmail.com Zimbabwe – Irene Petras director Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights Indonesia - Usman Hamid Coordinator of
the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS)



FOR FURTHER MEDIA INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT Dublin – Jim Loughran – Head of Communications Tel +00 353 1 212 37 50 Mobile +00 353 (0)87
9377586 Email jimloughran@frontlinedefenders.org


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Comment by MARION MWEBI on December 11, 2010 at 11:31am

this is a great article on human defenders strategies to mitigate risks of detention. however, i feel that all human rights defenders need to have proper, active and creative intelligence oversight committees to ordinate and guide the rest. in addition, there should be a special commissions to protect their rights.

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