Recognising Human Rights Defenders as Remarkable Agents of Positive Change — Global Issues

  • Opinion by Olive Moore (dublin, ireland)
  • Inter Press Service

And our response to this is severely lacking. Authoritarian and repressive forces are ever more emboldened by a permissive international environment, which fails to protect HRDs and hold aggressors to account.

Civic space restrictions, conflict and crises, climate crisis, technological threats, rising authoritarianism and anti-gender policies all significantly affect the work, safety and well-being of HRDs.

But thankfully, there is a flipside to this grim panorama. I recently had the privilege of spending some time with five HRDs who are among those leading the charge against these sobering trends. Courageously, they are stepping up to these challenges, to fight for their space, to champion collective rights and to stand for a better, more just world.

The five HRDs were visiting Dublin as the recipients of an annual award Front Line Defenders has been presenting to HRDs from all over the world since 2005. The recipients, from each of the major world regions, are among those most at risk for their peaceful work in defense of human rights.

In all cases, they demonstrate a steadfast commitment to the communities they support and represent. They offer inspiration for our times, and give us all reason to continue to care, to stand together in solidarity and to speak out and act.

I would like to highlight some of their invaluable contributions to the greater good.

Our Africa winner, Olivier Ndoole Bahemuke, is a leader among environmental and land defenders in Democratic Republic of the Congo, and one of the most trusted advocates on behalf of communities impacted by land grabs, trafficking, and illegal resource extraction activities.

Known in North Kivu province as the “Green lawyer,” he is an ardent defender of the rights of communities and the environment in Virunga National Park and areas around Goma. He has faced death threats, been beaten to the point of hospitalisation and faced ongoing persecution for this work.

Our Americas winner, Segundo Ordóñez, an Afro-descendant human rights defender from Ecuador, is one of the most visible faces and the community representative in the two legal proceedings brought against the multinational company Furukawa Plantaciones C. A. and the State of Ecuador. The cases have focused on how workers on abacá (Manila hemp) plantations suffer labour exploitation as they farm the raw materials in conditions of modern slavery.

From Asia and the Pacific, Jeany ‘Rose’ Hayahay is a woman human rights defender based in Mindanao, the Philippines. Since 2019, she has been the spokesperson of the Save Our Schools Network (SOS Network), a coalition of child-focused NGOs, church-based groups and other stakeholders advocating for children’s right to education in Mindanao, particularly in the context of militarisation and attacks on schools.

Rose is consistently red-tagged and monitored as a leader, facing reprisals and threats, both directly and indirectly. She is at high risk of being killed, arrested or imprisoned yet continues to lead at the forefront with determination and courage.

Our Europe and Central Asia winner, Digital Security Lab Ukraine, represented by their executive director Vita Volodovska is a team of specialists in the field of digital security and internet freedom.

Amid the dangers of Russia’s full-scale invasion of their country, they help Ukrainian journalists, human rights defenders and public activists solve problems with digital security, as well as promote the realisation of human rights on the internet by influencing government policy in the field of digital rights.

And, last but not least, our Middle East and North Africa winner, Hala Ahed, from Jordan is one of the few women human rights lawyers in her country, who has worked with a number of human rights and feminist organisations to defend women’s rights, workers’ rights, and the freedoms of opinion, expression and peaceful assembly in Jordan.

Despite her vital work and advocacy, Hala has endured various forms of intimidation and harassment, including facing threats and being summoned multiple times by the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate.

These five HRDs are remarkable agents of positive change – representing our best chance to withstand, counter and find solutions to the significant challenges we face today.

However, they all face tremendous personal risk because of their human rights work – with ongoing threats to their security, well-being and reputations and the safety of their families. As we met with diplomats, dignitaries and like-minded organisations in Dublin and Brussels, our Award winners told us about the cost to them and their families and communities, and the huge personal sacrifice they make.

In some cases, they literally put their lives on the line to continue with their crucial work in defense of human rights; in others, they have been labelled “terrorists”; organisations they support have been criminalised; or their family members have faced threats and abduction.

It is a fate that is reflective of our wider work to protect human rights defenders – in 2022, Front Line Defenders supported 2,675 HRDs and 404 organisations at risk in over 140 countries – including in some very challenging contexts of armed conflict and crises.

One part of the Front Line Defenders Award is about recognition for and solidarity with these defenders, for whom the limelight brings a level of international attention and protection. This is important, but this is only only part of what HRDs require for their protection, and for their human rights work to thrive. They also need concerted political action.

That is why, as Front Line Defenders, we will continue to work directly with HRDs to advocate with governments, international institutions and corporations, to ensure that the crucial work HRDs do to advance human rights and justice is valued and that as individuals they are respected and protected.

Olive Moore is Interim Director of Front Line Defenders

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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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