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Staying Safe

How can I stay safe and be protected while defending my rights?

Safety and wellbeing, including when it comes to mental health, are utmost priorities when advocating for your rights, as reflected in Top Tip #9 in the previous question.

Without intending to discourage you from taking action for human rights, it is important to remember that advocating for human rights can be dangerous, particularly where there is strong opposition to the change you want to achieve.

Familiarize yourself with the context in which you are working. To what extent are those who defend human rights, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and human rights organizations, able to freely carry out their work? Some organizations monitor the civic space, i.e. the openness and freedom for civil society actors across the globe to operate without fear or reprisals; one example is the CIVICUS monitor, a tool that provides up-to-date data on the state of civil society and civic freedoms in 196 countries, available in English, French and Spanish.

Human rights defenders often work together to pool knowledge and resources, offer support, recognition, personal security and solidarity through Protection Networks (PNs) that bring together different civil society actors at the local, national, regional and international levels. Protection Networks are vital, particularly in contexts where formal protection mechanisms are weak, unreliable or even hostile towards human rights defenders. Do some research to identify protection networks you may be able to link up with. PNs may not always be highly visible, so
you could start by reaching out to organizations that work to promote human rights in your local or national context, or even at the regional or international level.

In depth…

Before starting your advocacy, it is very important to:

  1. Ensure you are not putting yourself at risk of harm, including for your mental health: to the extent possible, ensure that the course of action you choose to follow does not place you at harm. Consider whether there may be any backlash and from which actors, and inform yourself of what steps are available and where you can turn to in case of danger, such as a Protection Network. Think about your own boundaries and make sure to respect them, including when it comes to your mental health. Whenever you think the risks outweigh the purposes of your advocacy, feel free to step away and ensure your personal security first. Do not be shy to ask for assistance.
  2. Assess whether you are facing an immediate threat or danger: if you are facing an immediate threat or danger, reach out to a competent authority or trusted individual, network or organization with a view to ensuring your safety. This may range from law enforcement authorities, to individuals or networks dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders, or even the United Nations.

Make sure you are aware of any online protection tools for digital security and equip yourself with other protection tools whenever possible. Learn about risk assessment and mitigation strategies.

Where can I learn more?

  • You can read more about the UN’s work to improve civic space at the country level and strengthen protection practices at the UN Human Rights website.
  • To learn more about protection and tools or resources that may be available, consult Protection International (available in English, French and Spanish) or Frontline Defenders (in English). Frontline Defenders provides an Emergency Contact form for Human Rights Defenders, to facilitate contact with someone who speaks Arabic, English, French, Russian or Spanish that help determine how best to support you in an urgent situation.
  • To learn more about the various barriers and threats that young people face in civic space as well as key aspects of protecting youth in civic space, have a look at: If I Disappear: Global Report on Protecting Young People in Civic Space (available in English).

Standing Up When Vulnerable

How can young people in vulnerable situations, including situations of conflict, violence and insecurity, advocate for their rights?