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Structure and Content
Whether acting individually or as part of an organised group, human rights defenders are often the target of reprisals and may themselves be subject to human rights violations, including gender-based violence. Their essential work, moreover, is in many contexts systematically hampered by the powers that be. There is in this light an increasing understanding within the international community of the importance of safeguarding and facilitating human rights defenders at national, regional and international level. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders expressed concern on the situation of Human Rights Defenders in all countries ranging from emerging to long-established democracies. The emphasis however, is on countries where internal armed conflict or severe unrest exists and where legal and institutional protections and guarantees are not fully assured or do not exist.
The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the United Nations on 9 December 1998 marked a historic achievement in the struggle toward better protection of those at risk for carrying out legitimate human rights activities. It is the first UN instrument that recognises the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, as well as their need for better protection. Following the adoption of the UN Declaration, a number of initiatives were taken at the international and regional level, such as the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights on human rights defenders, the Human Rights Defenders Unit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and the European Union Guidelines on human rights defenders. However, despite such achievements much still remains to be done.
The School on Human Rights Defenders presents a twofold focus. Firstly, it reviews a cross-section of instruments, policies and coordination mechanisms that have been devised to protect and facilitate the work of human rights defenders. This will be done with the involvement of Protect Defenders and Front Line and/or other major civil society organisations working in this area. Secondly, the School explores possibilities for reinforcing the work of human rights defenders through a targeted engagement with international, regional and national human rights mechanisms as well as civil society organisations operative in areas intersecting with the work of local human rights defenders. Particular attention will be devoted to contexts of imminent threat to human rights, notably conflict and post-conflict situations and situations of repressive governance, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.
The School also addresses key challenges by applying a comprehensive approach through a gender sensitive analysis. By examining the ways masculinities and femininities define and impact on the work and lives, public and private, of men and women Human Rights Defenders, it offers an in depth understanding of the dynamics at play in different contexts. Specific workshops are designed sharpen participants understanding through case studies and skills developing activities, discussing a variety of empirical evidence, namely on gender-based violence in different contexts, business and human rights, economic, social and cultural rights with a focus on health and last but not least, freedom of expression.
A red thread running through the programme will be to highlight and work with the concrete experience of participants, who bring a rich legacy of engagement in complex human rights situations to bear on the programme.