Activism under Threat

Death threats. Physical attacks. Arbitrary arrest. The work of human rights defenders has never been without risk. In order to change the status quo, human rights defenders are challenging deeply ingrained discrimination, efforts to rob communities of their land and livelihoods, and powerful actors with deep pockets.

Security of the activists and organizations we support has been a priority since our inception. (Read more about our emergency funding here). But as frontline activism has gained more visibility—and achieved impact globally—the threats have multiplied. Governments, and in some cases private corporations, have moved increasingly to target the very existence of organizations who would hold them to account.

The tactics governments employ include attempts to discredit organizations through smear campaigns and trumped-up criminal charges, legal and bureaucratic restrictions aimed at silencing human rights organizations, and laws that stifle freedom of association and assembly and clamp down on dissent. Since 2012, more than 50 countries have instituted policies or laws that threaten to suffocate human rights groups. In attempt to starve human rights groups of resources, governments have enacted regulations restricting access to foreign funding. As these governments know well, very little funding is available to human rights groups in their home countries; thus, support from international donors is the only way they can pay their staff and keep their lights on.

The Fund is deeply committed to helping frontline activists hold the line against restrictions and attain new protections for human rights defenders globally. Our activities include:

  • Grant-making dedicated to challenging laws that restrict human rights groups and other social justice organizations
  • Supporting human rights defenders subject to defamation, arrest, violence and harassment
  • Facilitating security training for frontline activists and linking grantees with international, regional, and national experts that can coordinate prevention and responses to security threats
  • Supporting advocacy before international bodies and mechanisms
  • Sharing our expertise and experience with other human rights donors

Fund grantee Pierre Claver, one of the most well-respected human rights activists in Burundi, was arrested and jailed in May 2014 for allegedly endangering state security after he spoke on a radio program about allegations that young Burundian men were secretly receiving weapons and being sent for military training in the neighboring country of Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Another grantee, Anuradha Talwar of JSK in India, was arrested alongside other prominent women’s rights activist after protesting a rape.