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NHC to enhance work in support of human rights defenders in post-Soviet countries

10 March 2014

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee, in partnership with its Polish sister organization the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, is starting a four-year project to support human rights defenders in a number of countries in the former Soviet Union. In many parts of the world, space for the defence of human rights is under threat. This does not only affect human rights NGOs, but a much broader group of persons and organisations working on environmental issues, against unjust government or business decisions and for equal rights for minorities.

In Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, policies of a combination of harassment, intimidation, short-term (administrative) detention, abuse of administrative power and unwarranted denunciation in the media are increasingly applied, combined with (threats to) derecognize NGOs and imprisonment on bogus charges.

In addition to these countries, the project also covers Ukraine, where central government policies have not been consistently explicitly authoritarian, but practices and attitudes of (mostly local) government officials continue to be arbitrary and the rule of law and democratic standards are not generally respected. Incidents of harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders are frequent and often not properly addressed by judicial authorities.

In each of the these countries, the project works with experienced human rights NGOs, all members of the Civic Solidarity Platform, a network of human rights NGOs in the OSCE region formed in 2011. The partner NGOs will report on cases of human rights defenders under threat and on legislative developments as well as coordinate concrete assistance activities such as trial monitoring, legal support and solidarity visits to defenders under threat.

In addition to this direct support work, necessary in response to immediate threats, the project foresees more longer-term building up of innovative strategies countering the stigmatization and marginalisation policies of governments. Advocacy work of human rights defenders will be reviewed and possibilities sought to create broader coalitions on human rights related issues and to find additional international pressure channels. Work within the standard intergovernmental human rights mechanisms, in particular of the UN and the Council of Europe, will also be supported.

A further innovative strand of work is planned regarding the development of communication strategies and methodologies to increase the appreciation of and support for human rights causes by the public at large.