In Pakistan, all human rights defenders face severe risks, but women human rights defenders even more so. They need security …
Securing the security of human rights defenders is one of the biggest challenges of human rights work. The work of human rights defenders has always been challenging in Pakistan, but recently the situation has deteriorated. KIOS supports Blue Veins in training human rights defenders on security issues and their rights in Pakistan on the most unstable area of the World.
One of the consisting challenges in human rights work anywhere is the security of the human rights defenders themselves. All over the world they face restrictions on their civil liberties and work under a threat of violence. Especially in Asia many governments fail even to recognize, let alone respect or protect the rights of human rights defenders adequately.
In Pakistan the social environment has always been challenging for human rights defenders, but in recent years the lack of cooperation from the government authorities and hostility of both military elite and especially armed fundamentalist groups has made the situation even worse. The need for an active civil society to promote the rule of law and expose violations of human rights is as urgent as ever, but the risks involved in human rights work have become extremely high. Furthermore, the constantly deteriorating security situation in Pakistan has made the cooperation between human rights organisations difficult, and the state has repeatedly refused entry to the United Nations’ special rapporteurs on human rights, including the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
Blue Veins is a non-governmental organization formed in 1999 to promote the rights of women in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of Pakistan. Their main areas of operation are education, health and human rights. Despite the difficult circumstances they have carried out various projects dealing with issues such as violence against women, maternal health and sexual abuse of children. The security situation in their field of work, however, has changed for the worse.
In April 2009 KIOS organized an information-gathering and monitoring trip to Pakistan together with the Norwegian Human Rights Foundation (NHRF). With the valuable assistance from the local contacts of the fellow organization, KIOS had an opportunity to discuss the difficult situation of human rights defenders in Pakistan with a representative of Blue Veins in Islamabad. As both organizations acknowledged the urgency of the issue and showed interest in cooperation with each other, in the August of the same year a funding of 12 700 euro was granted to Blue Veins to implement a project to promote the security situation of Pakistani human rights defenders.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district, formerly known as the North-Western Frontier Province, is one of the most restless and dangerous areas in the world, especially for people who work for the promotion of the rights of women. In addition, most of the local human rights defenders facing the threat of violence were more or less unaware of their own legal rights, including the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
The objective of the initial project funded by KIOS was to promote the awareness of human rights activists on security issues by translating a Frontline manual based security guide for human rights defenders from English to Urdu and distributing it to local organizations. The guide had been designed specifically to be used in Pakistan, and it covers questions such as personal security, risk evaluation and cooperation in security issues. Altogether 10 000 copies of the manual were printed and distributed mainly in North-Western Pakistan. During the implementation of the project the considerable need for security training of grass-roots human rights defenders became even more evident.
One of the most positive outcomes of the project was the enforced cooperation between the grass-roots level organizations. Not only did the human rights defenders in the villages and mountains receive important training, but during the project they also created new networks that still help to sustain and develop their activities to promote human rights. Today the manual is still utilized to facilitate the work of several small local organizations also elsewhere in Pakistan.
At the moment KIOS is supporting Blue Veins to build the capacities of the human rights defenders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The project currently funded by KIOS and implemented by Blue Veins aims to establish a security counselling service for the human rights defenders, and to promote awareness on the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. By helping the human rights defenders to do their work and strengthening the bonds of civil society, Blue Veins is creating preconditions for the development of a democratic and just society in one of the most unstable areas of the world.