Photo: Ben Buckland

, Middle East & North Africa

Sixteen accomplished activists enrolled in ISHR’s flagship programme, HRDAP23

After a two-month online course and over ten intense days in-person in Geneva, sixteen dedicated human rights defenders participating in ISHR’s 2023 Human Rights Defender Advocacy Programme (HRDAP23) exchanged experiences, strengthened their skills, put them into practice, and built a network of allies in Geneva and across the globe.

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The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) launched in April 2023 its first version of HRDAP as a hybrid programme, mixing online learning with crucial face-to-face sessions. After 2 months of an intense virtual training, we welcomed from 14 to 24 June, sixteen committed human rights defenders in Geneva for practicing what they had learnt during the distance component of the programme.

The human rights defenders work on anti-racism issues, women’s rights, business and human rights, the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons and human rights defender protection, within countries with widely differing environments: Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, South Sudan, Lybia, Madagascar, The Bahamas, Angola, South Africa, Zambia, Palestine, Tunisia, Indonesia, Kenya (some countries are not mentioned to protect the identity of some defenders).

What did they do?

Through HRDAP, they deepened their knowledge and understanding of UN human rights mechanisms through interactive learning materials on the tailor-made HRDAP Platform. These included, among others, completing e-learning courses on the UN Human Rights Council, Special Procedures, the Universal Periodic Review and UN Treaty Bodies. The defenders also received up-to-date information on upcoming advocacy opportunities to engage with these mechanisms. During the in-person part of the programme, they consolidated their knowledge and skills to make strategic use of the international human rights system and directly engage in advocacy activities at the UN to effect change on the ground back home.

“The platform is super helpful (interactive, attractive, easy to navigate and incorporate texts with videos, infographics, etc.). In the meanwhile, I do not think it would need any further improvement.”
HRDAP23 Participant

All along, the activists expanded their understanding of the UN system, and networked with one another through peer check-in sessions and with human rights experts and advocates, Special Rapporteurs, Diplomats, Treaty Bodies Experts and members of Commissions of Inquiry. They received individual and group coaching sessions and developed advocacy strategies, using the interactive and participative methodology.

HRDAP23 coincided with the 53rd Session of the Human Rights Council. This meant that participants were able to build networks in Geneva and around the world, advocate with UN member States and UN staff, learn from each other’s wealth of experience, and even deliver statements and provide testimonies at the Human Rights Council itself.

What did they achieve?

Amongst their many achievements and activities, a number stand out:

  • Defenders from South Africa, Madagascar and Colombia participated in a unique side-event to deepen their experience and realities in light of the 25th anniversary of the Declaration on UN Human Rights Defenders.
  • Defenders engaged in dynamic and informal discussions during an evening with six UN Special Procedures: Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Special Rapporteur(s) on the situation of human rights defenders, freedom of assembly & association, climate change, working group on discrimination against women, and business and human rights.
  • The defender from Zambia shed light on the situation of defenders in his country and delivered a joint statement calling on Zambia to revise its legal instruments and adopt an adequate legal framework to ensure defenders can work in a safe environment without fear of reprisals.
  • In light of Pride Month, and through an energising video, LGBTIQ+ defenders told us more about their inspirations, their dreams and talked about the changes they contribute to in their countries. They also delivered a joint statement during the Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on SOGI.
  • During the programme, the media and defenders could learn more about the deteriorating situation in Angola, which has enacted an unfair law for defenders.
  • We recorded powerful stories from several countries here.
  • Defenders from South Sudan and other countries asked for justice and accountability for crimes committed in Libya. They put the spotlight on the global patterns of deaths and torture and other grave human rights violations at international borders for people on the move.

98% of the participants were either extremely satisfied or very satisfied with the programme. Watch one testimony below:

Camila Zuluaga is an international advocacy lawyer at the Colombian Commission of Jurists (CCJ). She spoke to ISHR about HRDAP23.

All the cohort completed the entire programme, and really appreciated the fact that it was hybrid, as it enabled them to continue their vital work on the ground.

"Thank you all for the love, encouragement, dedication and committed efforts that all the ISHR team has shown both during the online learning and the in-person experience. This is a life-changing opportunity”.
HRDAP23 Participant

The great sense of community, solidarity and commitment shown by the human rights defenders was inspiring to witness and ISHR looks forward to continuing this journey with the defenders. Finally, we warmly thank the donors of the programme and also everyone who contributed to our fundraising appeal last December: you made this project possible for the benefit of human rights defenders!


Want to apply for the next edition? Click here!

Defenders participating in HRDAP23. Photo: Ben Buckland.

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