Countering repression and bolstering security for human rights defenders

Publish Date: 
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

ESCR-Net’s Strategic Plan (2017-2021) calls on the Network to “counter growing repression, reinforcing the credibility and capacity of human rights defenders and connecting reprisals to underlying ESCR issues.” In the past few months, ESCR-Net has taken several steps in pursuit of this goal.

The Network has continued to undertake collective actions as a strategy to improve the security situations faced by members who work in contexts where actions to defend and promote human rights are met with reprisals. A petition launched by the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) was circulated throughout November in response to the beating of Ogoni people who protested the laying of oil pipelines across their communities without their consent. MOSOP has made repeated requests of Shell Oil to carry out an environmental impact assessment on the proposed pipeline and enter into broad-based discussion with the Ogoni community based on their right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC).

On 5 December, ESCR-Net sent a letter to the President of South Africa on behalf of the Network’s collective membership to denounce the murder of Sibonelo Patrick Mpeku, leader of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a social movement of shack-dwellers living in South Africa’s informal settlements. 32-year-old Mpeku was abducted and stabbed to death in an apparent reprisal for his work to defend and promote the right to adequate housing for area residents. ESCR-Net’s letter noted that this murder is the most recent in a wider trend of ongoing threats and attacks perpetrated against community leaders in the informal settlements in and around Durban, South Africa.

Recent reports of arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders from ESCR-Net members in India, Guatemala and Pakistan, and an intensifying crackdown in Cambodia have also prompted concern amongst Network members.

On 8 November, ESCR-Net was represented at the annual meeting of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, established to protect defenders at high risk.

In November, several ESCR-Net members (including Forum-ASIA, Front Line Defenders and Just Associates) also participated in a meeting to discuss approaches for supporting the security of human rights defenders in particularly dangerous situations. In the meeting, co-organized by ESCR-Net member Just Associates and ally the Fund for Global Human Rights in Johannesburg, South Africa, evaluated several strategies, including the use of a power analysis framework and actions for collective self-protection.

Further, ESCR-Net has worked to incorporate provisions relating to security and protection for human rights defenders into ongoing thematic work to progressively advance human rights standards and their applications in practice.  Most recently, members of the Corporate Accountability Working Group, in collaboration with the Advisory Group to ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity, advocated a common position on human rights defenders  in the context of the forthcoming UN treaty on business and human rights.

Moving forward, ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity will continue to harness the collective voice of Network members in times of urgent threats, while proactively working to address the underlying systemic injustices that form the foundation for the ongoing risks faced by defenders of economic, social and cultural rights. The Network will also facilitate a few security and protection trainings alongside major events throughout the year, as well as guidance on digital security and other tools available to members and allies.