Since the political crisis in Burundi started in 2015, most human rights defenders have been forced to flee the country to avoid persecution. With the help of DefendDefenders, Burundian defenders in exile have pushed the UN to investigate violations in Burundi.
Andrew Anderson was elected as Front Line Defenders’ new Executive Director this fall and he started with the new post on 1st of November. With KIOS invitation he visited Finland for the first time in the first days of December. He discussed the work of HRDs and the donors and international support in KIOS publication launch on 1st December. KIOS launched a booklet in Finnish highlighting stories from human rights defenders in South Asia and East Africa.
Front Line Defenders focuses its work on the protection of human rights defenders globally. The basis for their work is the local needs of human rights defenders. Front Line Defenders has four main categories of assistance: it gives financial support, trains, does advocacy work and gives visibility for the work of HRDs. Recently Front Line has initiated a project, HRD Memorial, in order to commemorate the work done by HRDS who have been killed since 1998 – the year when the UN Declaration on HRDs came in to effect.
Several countries in Latin America are especially crude places to human rights defenders when it comes to death statistics. Anderson mentions Bangladesh as an example of a country where the situation of human rights defenders has greatly deteriorated. Human rights defenders are under a serious attack in many countries today. “Human rights defenders often face threats because they are good at what they do. Their work makes a difference. For instance the rights of the LGBTI community have been enhanced in some parts of the world”, Anderson notes.
Often the visible international solidarity and support improves the security of HRDs. It can for instance minimize the risk of torture in specific cases. However, this is not always the case. Anderson reminds that renowned human rights defenders have been killed this year, one such example is Berta Cáceres, a highly respected environmental activist from Honduras. Sometimes the human rights defenders don’t want any visibility. It is crucial that the wishes of the human rights defenders are heard and respected in order to truly be able to support their work and improve their security.
Donors need more flexible tools in order to efficiently support human rights work. Innovative methods are needed, for instance, to support Ethiopian and Russian human rights defenders. Of course, the work has to be transparent and in respect of good governance. Anderson highlights that human rights defenders “often get the least support when they most need it”.
Anderson mentions that donors should sometimes be more willing to support less-established human rights organizations. “East and Horn of Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP) for instance does wonderful work. They got enough seed money in the beginning to strengthen their work. Donors often tend to admire EHAHRDP’s work and wonder why other similar networks on the continent are not as efficient. But they haven’t received the needed seed money to develop their work”, Anderson outlines. KIOS has been supporting the work of EHAHRDP for ten years. During this time the organization has grown to be a strong regional actor in the defence of human rights defenders.
EHAHRDP is also working in the Consortium of the EU human rights defenders mechanism which focuses on the protection of HRDs. Anderson represents Front Line Defenders in the same mechanism, which is implemented by a Consortium of 12 regional and international organizations. The mechanism has been in existence since one year and the work thus far has been good. The work of human rights defenders needs more serious support so that the work for equal rights of all can continue.