If the European Union (EU) wants to remain a global champion of high democratic standards and human rights protection, it must also take action ' at home' within the union itself to protect and fortify defenders of the civic space in countries formerly considered safe havens for human rights work. The situation for human rights defenders (HRDs) in a number of EU countries is becoming increasingly tenuous.
A shrinking civic space has many repercussions for organisations defending human rights. This practice encompasses harassment through propaganda media or social media, statements by politicians, investigations or even legislation targeting the work or resources of HRDs. These actions are meant to: intimidate HRDs, stigmatise them, weaken their credibility, turn their supporters and clients away, demoralise and burn out their staff, strong-arm them into shifting their organisational focus to a reactive mode, and force them to direct their resources towards fighting for their survival and away from initiatives that foster cooperation with their counterparts within and beyond their national setting.
An understanding must take root that sees an attack on one civic organisation operating in one jurisdiction as a threat against all others too. National human rights NGOs need to broaden their portfolio and become active advocates vis à vis the governments and parliaments of other European countries as well as multilateral organisations. At the heart of this programme is an idea to create an embryonic 'civic intervention force' operating not only with a heightened understanding of cross-border spill-over effects but also of mobilising support throughout the entire European space to buttress resilience. Participating HRDs will function as multipliers, equipping their organisations with the skills, resources, and the European network needed to counteract increasingly challenging national operating contexts. This initiative will bring solidarity and cooperation into practice by equipping NGOs with tools of resilience and growth.
In cooperation with its partners, the NHC and the HHC, the Hertie School is offering a long-term capacity- and alliance-building programme to 25 leading representatives of human rights defender NGOs based and operating in one of the following EU member states: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
Running over a period of two years, this programme will strengthen the effectiveness of their work and will foster close cooperation within the group, supporting them in their efforts to become valiant and strategic policy advocates and leaders.
Over the course of the nine camps in different European cities and coordinated pre-/post camp activities, participating human rights defenders (HRDs) will see their analytical, strategic, advocacy, communication, and leadership skills strengthened.
Moreover, the programme offers them a platform for networking, learning from one another and for collaboration on collective European projects. It will enhance their organisations’ visibility in the international public sphere and at official (media-covered) occasions and open up opportunities for joint advocacy campaigns and lobbying. In addition to the completion of nine capacity-building camps (for thematic-focus camps see the section below), participating HRDs will develop a joint strategic action plan throughout the duration of the project.
Camps and related advocacy events will take place in: Berlin, The Hague, Budapest, Warsaw, Vienna, Brussels and Cres.
Fighting for human rights in an environment of a shrinking civic space
For more information on the partners behind this initiative, watch this video documenting the work of the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and its co-chair Márta Pardavi, who was nominated as Civil Rights Defender of the Year in 2019 and will be the course convener.
Camps (Oct.2020 - June 2022)
The thematic focus and time frame of each of the nine capacity-building camps will be:
Budapest, 2 days, October/November 2020
This camp will serve to set the stage for the two-year-long programme and the joint advocacy strategy. It will allow all key programme stakeholders to meet, evaluate specific course needs and map potential actors and networks. Most importantly, the planning camp will be used to outline the joint strategic plan of action. Already in this first camp, participating organisations will begin to identify potential areas for collaborative advocacy. This will include mapping two-to-three years of potential activities and identifying key European capitals where they should be focused.
Berlin, 3 days, January 2021
Strategy and thought processes accompanying its formation are often neglected in the day-to-day operations of many HRD organisations. This camp provides participating HRDs with the time and practical guidance needed to effectively hone their strategic thinking skills and their organisations' action strategies. Participants will work together to co-design collaborative strategies for strengthening their inter-organisational solidarity and overall impact. Practical perspectives will be conveyed through high-level meetings with, for example, the German Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid and the German Chancellery.
Berlin, 4 days, March 2021
The work of HRDs often ultimately relies on communication, outreach and how effectively their organisation can engage with its constituents. In this camp, participants will look at how to refine and deliver their messages. They will start by examining their political contexts, the drivers of populism and how to more effectively explain their work. This will include fundamentals like public speaking, counter messaging, how to persuade new individuals and often-unfriendly actors to join their cause, as well as more advanced topics such as how an organisation can use new digital tools and social media to build and engage a constituency.
The camp will also pay attention to the links between human rights, rule of law and democracy, the foundation on which the EU has been built. As part of this camp, the programme envisions a public event and panel discussions with leading external experts hosted by the Hertie School’s Centre for Fundamental Rights.
The Hague, 4 days, June 2021
Many HRD organisations have a solid knowledge of the traditional tenets or foundations of human rights but they may not be as comfortable with applying those to new challenges, which include digital or environmental challenges, evolving human rights theory and practices, changing social contexts and new ways of civic participation (among others). The four-day camp in The Hague will change that. Participating HRDs will be exposed to 'human rights 2.0' through an examination of evolving human rights standards in the age of digital technologies, establishing digital practices and defenses, and using online tools and investigation skills to continually monitor state surveillance systems deployed in response to the pandemic. A first focus will be on innovative thinking, where we will examine evolving human rights standards in the age of digital technologies. A second focus of the camp will be to familiarise participants with subsidiary tools and instruments that the Council of Europe offers (e.g.. ECtHR, European Committee of Social Rights). Moreover, participants will be able to meet with leading Dutch civic actors and think tanks.
Warsaw, 4 days, September 2021
Strengthening the internal leadership of the participants' organisations is essential for their long-term survival and success. Camp V will focus on how participants can use personal leadership to protect and strengthen their organisations from within during times of change and crisis, but also how to inspire others to take similar action. Taking place in Warsaw, the programme will also include two days at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting with side events and meetings with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and its Human Rights and Democratisation Departments.
Brussels, 3 days, November 2021
Camp VI will focus on equipping participants with the deep networking skills they need to develop long-lasting connections that they can use to protect and empower their organisations, including by developing sustainable relationships with funders. Participants will see how to maximise the value of their network and will discuss how to balance various moral, ethical and strategic dilemmas in their activism.
This will be complemented by a variety of pre-arranged meetings with NGO network members and NGO stakeholders located in Brussels. Envisioned visits include organisations such as: The Open Society European Policy Institute, European Policy Center - Connecting Europe Programme, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Brussels, as well as various EU member state representations and EU institutions, including visits to MEPs.
Berlin, 3 days, February 2022
Building on skills acquired in previous camps, participants will explore how to strengthen existing organisational advocacy techniques and strategies. They will share their experiences and improve their understanding of key elements of a successful advocacy campaign, including how to define or frame an issue, crafting a multi-channel messaging strategy, how to effectively present the problem or policy idea for different audiences, as well as writing for and persuading readers.
The will also look at how to bring international attention to their cause and build international support coalitions. Taking place in Berlin, the programme will also include fireside chats and visits to Berlin-based advocacy organisations. Envisioned visits include the Hertie School's Centre for Fundamental Rights, Verfassungsblog, Human Rights Watch Berlin Headquarters, Democracy Reporting International, the European Stability Initiative, Liberties, Open Society Foundations, the Berlin-based re:constitution fellows, Robert Bosch fellows, and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights.
Vienna, 2 days, April 2022
Beyond the purely educational components, this camp is designed to be action-oriented, allowing participants to collaborate directly and apply the skills taught in the first three-quarters of the project. Camp VIII will review progress on the joint strategic action plan and develop plans for joint advocacy activities, through which participant organisations can collaborate and apply their learnings.
Networking opportunities are also envisioned in the programme, with visits to various Vienna-based organisations such as the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, supportive OSCE Delegations and Institutions (OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media) and various members of the Steering Group of the OSCE Democracy Defender Initiative.
Finally, this camp will offer participants one-on-one short consultations with a digital security expert in cooperation with Front Line Defenders.
Cres, 2 days, June 2022
To close, Camp IX focuses on how participants can further professionalise their organisations and strengthen organisational cultures that foster self-care. Given the broader pressures that HRDs and human rights workers face in many countries, focusing on how organisations can prevent burn-out and attract and retain employees is essential.
The final camp will also look at ways in which participants can use relevant advanced management tools and guide their organisations through periods of change. Finally, participants will be able to reflect on the broader achievements of their two year-long programme and can use the opportunity to further advance their collaborative inter-organisational advocacy project.
Who is this programme for?
The programme is intended for professionals whose work and interests are directly related to the protection of human rights in the EU and especially in one of the following countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Applicants must be representatives of an HRD organisation who are in a senior/(potential) leadership postion and therefore qualify as future multipliers.
The aim of this programme is to support leading HRD organisations operating in vulnerable European contexts and with potential for growth in and impact on their national settings. Applicants should come from organisations with an existing track record of high-quality work in fundamental rights and rule of law issues with potential for cross-European advocacy. Applicants should have the capacity and commitment to participate in all programme activities and develop a long-term cooperation with fellow European civic organisations.
Please apply via our online application module: https://application.hertie-school.org/.
If you do not have an account there yet, please register first and then choose "Recharging Advocacy for Rights in Europe" in the drop-down menu "study programme".
The closing date for applications is 20 August 2020 (23:59 CEST).
When registering, please select “Recharging Advocacy for Rights in Europe” under study programme and upload the following:
- Your CV in PDF format
- A letter of motivation (in PDF format, max. one page) in which you outline why you are the ideal multiplier within your organisation and how your organisation fits the criteria outlined above
- For scholarship applicants only: A short explanation in the designated field why partial funding for hotel and accomodation cannot be provided by your employer
Programme costs and scholarships
Due to limited funding, participants should be ready to cover part of their travel and hotel costs. All other costs will be covered by the project.
A number of scholarships will be available for selected participants whose participation would otherwise not be possible. If this applies to your situation, please use the respective field in the application module to briefly explain why your employer cannot provide funding to cover part of your travel and accomodation costs.