Temporary Relocations – A Last Resort for Human Rights Defenders Under Extreme Pressure
We know for a fact that democracy is declining in many parts of the world. We also know that the rise of authoritarianism puts human rights defenders at increased risk. Harassment by national security services, unlawful detentions and prosecutions, and violence and death threats are not uncommon consequences for those who put their own security aside to defend the rights of others. Sometimes, when a situation has escalated, the only option for them is to temporarily relocate to a safe place where they can gather strength to continue their work.
Through our Emergency Fund, we provide assistance to human rights defenders in immediate danger. The support we provide can, for example, cover legal fees after arrests, aid those that seek international protection or increase security with measures such as assault alarms, security training, psychosocial support, or increased office security. One of the most common types of support in recent years, however, has been temporary relocations of human rights defenders and their families.
“A temporary relocation is a form of relocation that allows human rights defenders to leave their home country or city for a short period of time in order to avoid high risks and threats that they are facing due to their human rights work”, says Zinaida Muradova, Protection Officer at Civil Rights Defenders.
“The primary goal of this is to quickly de-escalate a situation and move a human rights defender out of immediate danger until it is safe for them to resume their work.”– Zinaida Muradova, Protection Officer at Civil Rights Defenders
Working in a society that is permeated by homophobia on many levels, Bekim Asani has been threatened and targeted both mentally and physically. In 2020, he was brutally attacked close to his office and ended up in the hospital. Soon after, he temporarily relocated to a safe place.
“After a few months, I am calmer, and I feel safer. I feel empowered. And now, I have continued my activism. I have continued to fight for LGBT rights,” said Bekim Asani. “I am so thankful that we have a shoulder that we can rely on when our lives and the lives of our close ones are in danger”.
The reasons why a human rights defender could need to relocate are many and can depend on what type of work the defender is involved in. In most cases, however, the reasons are long-term harassment and intimidation by security agencies and authorities as well as severe psychological pressure.
“For LGBTI+ activists, relocations are often related to physical attacks and pressure from local communities, while for journalists it is common that the reasons are fear of arrests or criminal prosecution. A common factor though is that most human rights defenders turn to temporary relocation as a last resort when all other measures have been exhausted. Even so, this is one of the most requested types of support which says a lot about the situation for many defenders today,” said Zinaida Muradova.
Living in a world where the number of authoritarian states has exceeded the number of democratic states can seem both overwhelming and gloomy. But simply accepting this as a fact and sitting back is, for many, not an option. Not for us and not for our global network of partner organisations. Returning to what we know for a fact is also that 98% of the human rights defenders who seek help through the Emergency Fund continue their work after receiving support. As cornerstones in upholding a strong civil society, they are the ones who can drive change towards a more democratic future.