BANGKOK, Thailand – From 24 to 26 February 2019, Manushya Foundation organized a Holistic Security Training for Human Rights Defenders from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand. The training aimed to build capacities of the human rights defenders, including through exchange of experiences, on security and protection measures, and ways to strengthen their well-being while carrying out activities to promote and defend human rights in their countries. The defenders were able to develop plans for specific cases of security risks and overall protection and well-being after the training as intended.
The three-day training greatly benefited from the precious contributions of the human rights defenders who shared about their areas and approaches of human rights activism, and the most challenging security issues faced by them and their communities in their respective countries and how they have been dealing with those challenges. In Asia, as well as all over the world, human rights defenders, particularly environmental, land and indigenous rights defenders, face numerous risks and threats that affect not only their physical, psychosocial and digital safety and well-being but also the people around them. For this reason, the training was implemented to introduce the defenders to holistic security principles and specific strategies and tools for security and well-being that they can utilise and incorporate into their works so as to enable them to undertake their important work while protecting themselves and the people around them. The training – first of its kind for Manushya – was crucial to support the empowerment of the defenders in their security and well-being and to consequently contribute in strengthening their work for defending the rights of their communities towards Manushya’s mission of building just and peaceful societies where human rights for all are respected, protected and fulfilled.
Throughout the training, the human rights defenders, together with the trainers and facilitators, could explore issues such as the concept and components of holistic security, the principles and approaches of various security aspects, the importance and ways of enhancing well-being, and international standards and mechanisms on the protection of human rights defenders. They were also able to plan for specific security risks and develop strategies for their overall protection and well-being. At the outset of the training, specific challenges faced by women human rights defenders were identified and discussed during a session as they are even more vulnerable to risks while carrying out human rights advocacy activities. The participants, particularly women, could point out the challenges that women defenders particularly face because of their gender and the need for safe environments in families, communities and work where they are challenging normalised patriarchal discourses, laws and traditions.
At the training, the participants analysed that it is essential for human rights defenders to define security for themselves and build mutual solidarity and support into their groups, organisations and movements. Therefore, security also includes being physically and emotionally healthy and sustaining themselves while continuing to do their work and carrying out the necessary analysis and planning. Moreover, the training contributed to enhance the defenders’ capacities to reflect, learn and take preventive measures to improve their security and protection, as well as their resilience and abilities to respond during times of “crisis”. They assessed their security situations and developed risk and vulnerability reduction strategies and tactics, with the support and advices of the trainers
The significance of giving attention to well-being in course of human rights activism was repeatedly examined during the training and addressed in several sessions. It emerged that the understanding of well-being is deeply personal and subjective, and it is influenced by the differing needs of the bodies and minds of human rights defenders, the challenges they faced and their beliefs, interests and relationships. Well-being is central to carrying out the works of defenders effectively as well as to their ability to think objectively, analyse and strategise, thus it is important to integrate elements of well-being into security considerations and overall works of defenders.
In overall, throughout the three days of group works and constructive discussions, the human rights defenders could not only familiarize with the distinctive security and protection concepts, and acquire valuable skills and tools as well as develop an organised approach to build strategies to maintain well-being and protect their spaces for activism, but they also had the opportunity to share their experiences and concerns with peer defenders from other countries and thus learn about different comparative contexts of the challenges faced by human rights defenders in Asia.
Manushya heartily thanks Backyard Politics, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders for the extremely helpful technical collaboration and assistance for the training as well as Environmental Defenders Fund and Lifeline for their generous support without which the training would not have been possible.
Access pictures of the event here