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Programme of the cluster on Human Rights Defenders

Human rights defenders play an essential role in the realisation of rights. Not only do they fight for human rights in situations of oppression and abuse; they also act as monitors, drawing attention of the international community to otherwise neglected violations and threats; they assist victims in claiming their rights; and they contribute to holding those in power accountable.

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. 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 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 present summer school cluster has 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 Front Line and/or other major civil society organisations working in this area. Secondly, the cluster explores possibilities for reinforcing the work of human rights defenders through a targeted engagement with international, regional and national human rights mechanisms and operations. Particular attention will be devoted to contexts of imminent threat of human rights violations, notably conflict and post-conflict situations and situations of repressive governance. A final course component will address the involvement of civil society and human rights defenders in transitional justice processes.

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.

It should be noted, finally, that the cluster on human rights defenders overlaps thematically with other summer school clusters, notably the cluster on gender issues. The organisers will seek to facilitate interaction between the respective participant groups as well as possible cross-listing of specific course components.

Programme of Cluster B: Technical Progress and Human Rights

Cluster Responsibles

George UlrichProf. George Ulrich

Prof. George Ulrich,is the Programme Director of the European Master in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA).

He served as EIUC Secretary General from 2003 to 2009 and as Academic Coordinator / Programme Director of E.MA from 2001-2004. Dr Ulrich is thus intimately familiar with the Venice-based inter-university centre and Master’s programme and is excited to re-join the E.MA and EIUC family.

From 1999-2001 he was Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights. He obtained his Ph.D. as well as an M.A. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, Canada, and holds the degree of Cand. Mag. in Social Anthropology and History of Ideas from Aarhus University, Denmark.

Among George Ulrich’s current research interests are issues related to the history and philosophy of human rights, human rights diplomacy, human rights and development cooperation, health and human rights, international medical ethics, and ethics for human rights professionals.



Lamya Haji BasharLamya Haji Bashar

Lamya Haji Bashar is a survivor of sexual enslavement by Islamic State (IS) and has become a spokesperson for women afflicted by IS's campaign of sexual violence. She is a public advocate for the Yazidi community in Iraq, a religious minority that has been the subject of a genocidal campaign by IS militants.

On 3 August 2014, IS slaughtered all the males in the village of Kocho, Haji Bashar's hometown in Sinjar/Iraq. Following the massacre, women and children were enslaved. Haji Bashar was also exploited as a sex slave along with her six sisters. She was sold five times among the militants and was forced to make bombs and suicide vests in Mosul after IS militants executed her brothers and father.

Haji Bashar tried to flee several times before finally escaping in April with the help of her family, who paid local smugglers. On her way over the Kurdish border, and while racing towards Iraq's government-controlled territory with IS militants in pursuit, a landmine exploded, killing two of her acquaintances and leaving her injured and almost blind. Luckily she managed to escape and was eventually sent for medical treatment in Germany, where she was reunited with her surviving siblings. Since her recovery Haji Bashar has been active in raising awareness about the plight of the Yazidi community and continues to help women and children who were victims of IS enslavement and atrocities. 

In December 2016, the European Parliament awarded the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Lamya Haji Bashar together with Nadia Murad Basee Taha in recognition of their bravery and courage in the fight against IS atrocities.


Tommaso Mignani Tommaso Mignani

Tommaso has currently almost seven years work experience in managing and coordinating grants-related processes, including in conflict affected countries. He worked for EU institutions and international NGOs in Nepal, Brussels and Colombia and he is knowledgeable of disaster preparedness, humanitarian assistance, rights of indigenous people and gender equality issues. Through his work at ProtectDefenders.eu he is in constant dialogue with Human Rights Defenders and human rights organisations, with a worldwide focus.



Manfred NowakManfred Nowak

Manfred Nowak, Professor of International Law and Human Rights - University of Vienna, and Co-Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann institute of Human Rights (BIM), is the Secretary General at EIUC. Prof. Nowak has also been Head of the interdisciplinary research centre Human Rights at the University of Vienna since 2014, vice chair of the Management Board of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna and Scientific Director of the Vienna Master of Arts in Human Rights, University of Vienna, since 2012.

Manfred Nowak was United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture from 2004 to 2010. From 2000 to 2007 Prof. Manfred Nowak was the EMA Chairperson - EMA was awarded the 2006 UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education (Honourable Mention).


Javier Roura BlancoJavier Roura Blanco

Communication and Reporting Officer at the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism - ProtectDefenders.eu

Javier has nearly seven years experience in communication and advocacy on human rights, transitional justice and international development projects, also in post-conflict areas and developing countries. He worked for international organisations, public institutions and NGOs at the international level in Morocco, Bosnia, Croatia, Spain and Belgium, and is experienced in institutional and digital communication, public advocacy and campaigning and project management and monitoring. At ProtectDefenders.eu, he coordinates and implements the communication and advocacy actions of the EU Human Rights Defenders mechanism.


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