Over the past 11 years I’ve led workshops for human rights defenders at risk in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and East and Central Europe. Many of the HRDs trained at those workshops on Risk Analysis and Protection Planning reported stigmatisation, online abuse, threats and attacks. But earlier this year I received a call for help from a much closer source.
Brutal and corrupt dictatorships trying to use sport to improve their image is nothing new, as TheGuardiannoted in February when it compared club ownership and the Champions League to Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup.
Andrew Anderson recently met with human rights defenders and protesters demanding reform on the streets of Sudan.
“It is a coup, done by the security committee which is NISS, the army, RSF and police. They have suspended the constitution, which means suspending the bill of rights, declared a state of emergency and a curfew. They are going to meet the angry protesters with brutality.”
- Human rights defender, Khartoum 11th April 2018
In October last year, I had the privilege of meeting Damian Gallardo for the first time. It is a name I heard many times since 2013, when he was arrested in the middle of the night in his home in Oaxaca; since then Front Line Defenders – with many others – supported him and his family and campaigned for his release. I met him in what had been his home for five years, a high security prison outside Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco.
Last week I attended the court hearings on case of Oyub Titiev, the head of the Human Rights Center Memorial branch in Grozny who was absurdly charged with drug possession. I first met Oyub Titiev in 2009 after our common beloved colleague Natalya Estemirova had been abducted and assassinated.
A few days before my friend Fatima* boarded a plane back to Bahrain last month, she sent me an blank email with no subject line. Attached was a PDF file labelled “RISKS.” It listed nearly twenty dates on which she had been threatened, harassed, interrogated, banned from travel, or watched her brothers be thrown in prison in retaliation for her human rights work.
Le Dinh Luong is a Vietnamese HRD who advocated on behalf of victims of the 2016 Formosa factory pollution incident, which resulted in the loss of livelihood and sometimes life of thousands of Vietnamese fishermen and farmers. In August, he was found guilty of "carrying out activities aimed at overthrowing the people’s administration” and sentenced to 20 years in prison, with an extra 5 years of house arrest afterward.
The European Union is currently developing Guidelines on the Right to Water. Human rights defenders protecting their communities’ access to water around the world face lethal risks for their work, and their expertise must be central to the EU’s proposed Guidelines.