Network meeting in Belgrade 2016

In November 2016, representatives from 15 Human Rights Houses and from Human Rights House Foundation gathered in the Serbian capital Belgrade for the network meeting. This was hosted and co-organised by Human Rights House Belgrade and HRHF, and included external experts and donor representatives.

The Assembly was held over two days, with sessions under two themes: celebrating the work of the Human Rights Houses and looking to the future of the Houses and their work.

On the first day, to lay the foundations for further House-to-House cooperation, each House presented the situation in their country, their achievements, the challenges they face and the support they can provide to and require from other Houses.

Participants then celebrated the release of jailed human rights defenders in Azerbaijan, considering the work of the Houses and HRHF in campaigning for their release and exploring the wide variety of activities, projects, and programmes undertaken.

It was then the turn of partners and donors to take the floor, presenting their work and the opportunities for partnership and collaboration. This was followed by a session exploring how, in the context of growing restrictions on access to funding, international donors might adapt their granting methods, and in which HRHF introduced its initial research on the subject.

The second day began with a session exploring the threats and opportunities facing the Houses, and the ideas around adapting the Human Rights House concept to take into account and make the most of new realities.

Looking more externally, participants were then joined by outside experts in a discussion on illiberal democracies and the strategies that might be used to respond to them.

Participants then had the opportunity to look deeper into some of the issues raised during the Assembly: on how to respond to illiberal democracies; how Houses can reach wider audiences; the meaning of “political independence” for NGOs; and the challenge of each Human Rights House strengthening rather than undermining the visibility of member organisations.

HRHF is already working with the Houses to follow up on the main discussions at the Assembly. In 2017, this will include the launch of guidance for civil society on how to resist illiberal democracy and populism, as well as research with recommendations for donors and civil society on how to address growing restrictions on foreign funding.