11 Dec 2020

Germany launches protection programme for human rights defenders at risk

Guest post by Rosa Öktem, German Institute for Human Rights

Earlier this year, the German Federal Foreign Office, working with the German Institute for Human Rights (an ENNHRI member), launched the Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative (ESI), a protection programme for human rights defenders at risk. The programme is open to human rights defenders, including members and staff of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), facing threats due to their work.

The programme is implemented by ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), which already has broad experience with protection programmes for academics and artists at risk. It consists of three programme lines – from on-site assistance to protect human rights defenders (PL 3) and relocation grants for temporary relocation within home countries or regions (PL 2) to relocation grants for temporary relocation to Germany (PL 1).

The German Institute for Human Rights (Germany’s NHRI) advised the Federal Foreign Office on the design of the protection programme and stressed the importance of providing low-threshold on-site support to human rights defenders at risk. On-site support strengthens and protects human rights defenders, enabling them to continue their work. Temporary relocation to Germany should always be the measure of last resort.

The protection programme is open to those who, because of their peaceful commitment to human rights, are threatened by physical and psychological violence, arrest, occupational bans and even murder. In line with the GANHRI Marrakech Declaration and ENNHRI’s Regional Action Plan to the Declaration, this includes NHRI members and staff, particularly heads of NHRIs, who are often particularly exposed or singled out publicly for their human rights work.

Programme lines 2 and 3 will be launched in 2021 and more information on programme details will become available over the course of the year. Programme line 1 has already been launched.

As temporary relocation to Germany requires a host organisation in Germany, the German Institute for Human Rights has committed to specifically hosting NHRI staff and members at its headquarters in Berlin. With the start of programme line 2 in 2021 (temporary relocation within the home region), it will be important that other NHRIs also commit to temporarily hosting colleagues from NHRIs within their region. The regional networks of NHRIs, like ENNHRI, can facilitate this discussion.

NHRIs can also disseminate information on the protection programme among civil society and activists in their own countries. The ESI website provides information on the programme and application process. ESI uses encrypted communication services such as Proton Mail and the Signal messenger app to ensure the safety of all applicants.

» Learn more about the Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative
» Learn about ENNHRI’s support for NHRIs under threat

The views, thoughts and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to ENNHRI.

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