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Strategic Plan

Every four years, Front Line Defenders develops a strategic plan, after carefully consulting with human rights defenders, other key stakeholders and active organisations working with human rights defenders, as well as assessing the impact of its programmes and resources of support.

Several thousand years ago Sun Tzu set down a concept which has been repeated in the handbooks of oppressors right up to the present day:

'Kill one, terrify a thousand.'

Front Line Defenders works to do the opposite:

'Protect one, empower a thousand.'

Human rights defenders are often the key agents of change within society. They are at risk because they touch on powerful interests when they promote social justice and human rights for all. The repression against them is a measure of their effectiveness. Protecting human rights defenders and expanding the space for civil society to work in is a crucial element in any strategy that seeks to promote good governance, peace, development or human rights.


  • increased repression of human rights defenders, including killings, disappearances, imprisonment, arbitrary detention, torture;
  • a strategic approach by many repressive governments to increase legal restrictions (NGO laws, registration) and control foreign funding and international links;
  • continued efforts to defame, denigrate, marginalise and de-legitimise human rights defenders;
  • increased use of spurious prosecutions of HRDs on criminal or civil charges;
  • increased violent attacks on defenders of Economic, Social and Cultural rights;
  • increased attacks from non-state actors including armed groups, fundamentalist religious or political groups, criminal gangs and businesses;
  • increased requests and demands on Front Line Defenders from HRDs at risk;
  • the difficulty of sustaining attention on long-term cases;
  • weaker UN and other international mechanisms for protection as a result of a regional bloc or west v the rest political dynamic;
  • the economic crisis and a consequently difficult funding environment.

HRDs have particularly highlighted:

  • the importance of increased Front Line Defenders field presence and supportive accompaniment;
  • the need for more campaigning;
  • the importance of supporting strengthened legitimacy and visibility for human rights defenders;
  • the importance of also addressing issues related to stress and burn-out as well as the needs of the families of HRDs;
  • the need to develop alternative strategies to relocation where possible and/or to support a process that facilitates sustained work and return;
  • the need for further efforts to promote stronger implementation of the EU Guidelines;
  • the need to build capacity of HRDs;
  • the importance of focusing on particularly vulnerable groups including LGBTI, women human rights defenders and those working in rural areas.

1. Provide rapid, practical and effective support to human rights defenders at risk:

1.1 Provide fast, flexible and effective 24 hour emergency response that contributes to the protection of HRDs at immediate risk.

1.1.1 Maintain and develop research contacts with at-risk HRDs and others;
1.1.2 Increase focus on particularly vulnerable groups including isolated HRDs/those working in rural areas, indigenous rights, LGBTI rights, ESC rights;
1.1.3 Develop work on the specific security needs of women human rights defenders integrated across all programmes;
1.1.4 Sustain and develop 24/7 emergency response system;
1.1.5 Provide authoritative information on HRDs at risk (including briefings, country or thematic reports, UPR submissions and Annual report);
1.1.6 Maintain emergency relocation capacity (including humanitarian visas).

1.2 Provide practical support that contributes to strengthening HRD capacities to manage security, including well-being.

1.2.1 Maintain and deepen the personal and organisational training/security management programme with more focus on follow-up and support with implementation, sharing of resources and best practice and sustaining a pool of experts/trainers;
1.2.2 Maintain and deepen the digital security programme including Security in-a-Box, with more focus on practical support, follow-up and implementation of secure tools and tactics, and sustaining a pool of experts/trainers including an expanded pool of regionally based digital security consultants;
1.2.3 Develop resources and promote awareness of well-being and stress management techniques for HRDs and their families;
1.2.4 Provide grants for security and protection, including for practical security measures, urgent relocation, legal or medical costs, trial observation, well-being/stress management, and undertake selected in-depth evaluations of such measures in order to enhance sharing of best practice;
1.2.5 Develop Fellowship and Rest & Respite opportunities which enable individual HRDs to avoid burnout, develop their capacities and contribute to the protection of HRDs including through South-South exchanges;
1.2.6 Sustain regular communications with HRDs in several languages.

2. Enhance the visibility of human rights defenders and the recognition of the legitimate work that they undertake:

2.1 Generate HRD focused content for dissemination in both traditional and social media in relevant languages (including by HRDs themselves), and curating the material we produce via our website, youtube channel, social media etc. to bring greater visibility to HRDs (including video profiles, short documentaries, infographics, podcasts, mixed media, articles etc);

2.2 Promote media coverage of HRDs and their role as key agents of change and Front Line Defenders work to protect them in Ireland and in their own countries;

2.3 Maintain the Dublin Platform as an opportunity for sharing, exchange, rest and respite, solidarity and networking between at-risk HRDs;

2.4 Sustain and develop the Front Line Defenders Award for HRDs at risk with a focus on increasing the media impact in the countries of shortlisted HRDs;

2.5 Develop strategies on long-term cases of HRDs in prison, including through partnership with high profile interlocutors/envoys;

2.6 Give personal recognition to every HRD that Front Line Defenders works with including through personal pages on the website and exploring ways in which they can add content, as well as through "HRDs in the News";

2.7 Identify and develop opportunities to partner with international media organisations;

2.8 Sustain and develop the Front Line Defenders ID cards;

2.9 Develop a programme on behalf of HRDs who have been killed (in coordination with other NGOs) and establish a memorial (physical and online) which records and makes visible who they are and what action has been taken to bring those responsible to justice.

3. Strengthen national and international protection of human rights defenders at risk:

3.1 Support the strengthening of national and international mechanisms for the protection of HRDs.

3.1.1 Promote the visibility and implementation of the UN Declaration on HRDs including through a multilingual user-friendly version and integration with advocacy, training and publications (explore potential for strengthened international mechanism);
3.1.2 Support the strengthening and visibility of the role of the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs including through an internship and the Dublin Platform;
3.1.3 Promote access of HRDs to UN mechanisms with a particular focus on the UPR and side-events;
3.1.4 Promote strengthened regional mechanisms (ACHPR, IACHR, CofE, OSCE) for the protection of HRDs and lobby for their effectiveness/ implementation including via the ACHPR internship and follow-up on OSCE/ODIHR Recommendations;
3.1.5 Promote stronger implementation of the EU Guidelines on the Protection of HRDs including through advocacy on individual HRDs, the shelter initiative and lobbying for stronger policy and protection mechanisms.

3.2 Support the strengthening of the active constituency of support for the protection of HRDs.

3.2.1 Engage non-EU governments to take responsibility for security and protection of HRDs building on the Brazil project;
3.2.2 Develop capacity to engage and influence perpetrators and non-state actors including through more systematic direct contacts and through the development of a pool of interlocutors;
3.2.3 Stimulate discourse on the crucial role of HRDs.

4. Further develop Front Line Defenders as an effective and sustainable organisation that retains agility and innovation in responding to the needs expressed by HRDs.

4.1 Sustain and develop the staffing, management and operational systems of the organisation, including digital and information security;

4.2 Develop regional presence with expansion of field-based model in each region working together with digital security consultants, other experts and trainers;

4.3 Integrate risk analysis systematically into planning of all missions and other field-based activities;

4.4 Sustain and develop Front Line Defenders funding base including through sustaining and developing institutional funding, major donor cultivation and public engagement;

4.5 Support effective functioning of governance structures in accordance with the Dochas Code of Corporate Governance.

Crosscutting themes:

1. Ensure Front Line Defenders is driven by the aspirations and needs expressed by human rights defenders themselves.

2. Ensure that Front Line Defenders responds and is present in a real way when HRDs are most at risk.

3. Ensure Front Line Defenders works equally for men and women human rights defenders, seeks to address the specific challenges faced by women human rights defenders because of their gender, and gives particular attention to threats faced by human rights defenders working for economic, social and cultural rights, for sexual identity rights and for indigenous peoples rights.

4. Develop Front Line Defenders as an Ireland based international organisation which reflects its internationalism in the geographic reach of our activities, the diversity of our Board and staff, our commitment to multilingualism and the international breadth of our support network.

5. Front Line Defenders will continue to play a facilitating/catalytic role in bringing together human rights defenders, decision makers and those with specific areas of expertise to promote innovative approaches to strengthening protection.