Hivos International

About Human Rights Defenders in West Asia

Hivos has several ways to support human rights defenders, mostly in partnership or close cooperation with local NGOs, regional networks and like-minded international NGOs. Besides financial support to local civil society organisations, our support includes capacity building, joint strategising, networking and helping to create national human rights defenders networks and platforms. We also facilitate access to international human rights mechanisms and provide emergency response when human rights defenders fall victim to human rights violations or are at risk of persecution. Emergency response includes concerted support actions, lobby/advocacy, legal aid and helping defenders at risk take a temporary sabbatical in a safe environment, used for professional development.

In this context, Hivos has fruitful partnerships with the University Assistance Fund (UAF) and Scholars At Risk (SAR), Front Line Defenders, the Gulf Centre for Human Rights, and many other international NGOs working in the field of human rights and freedom of expression.

A concrete example is Mazen Darwish in Syria, the founder and director of the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM) and a well-known human rights defender. Mr Darwish and some of his colleagues have been detained since February 2012. One of them died in custody and others have been convicted and released. Hivos co-initiated the establishment of an international network to coordinate actions in relation to the detained SCM members, which was later widened to a larger group of persecuted human rights defenders and (citizen) journalists in Syria. Unfortunately, Mazen Darwish is still behind bars.

Because digital safety is a major concern for human rights defenders throughout the MENA region, including access to the internet and satellite without censorship or surveillance, digital security training is an essential part of the capacity building to human rights defenders. At the same time, Hivos is addressing the issue formally with Internet Governance in the MENA region – a key focal area of our Expression & Engagement programme.

Hivos has successfully supported a number of West Asian human rights defenders in times of dire need, but we cannot highlight their stories here for security reasons. Other successes include the various training programmes we provide to human rights defenders, as well as the establishment of an international network to coordinate actions in relation to persecuted human rights defenders and (citizen) journalists in Syria.