Protection was initially not a main strategic direction of neither HRHF nor Human Rights Houses. Our protection work started as a response to the threats faced by human rights defenders, to protect and support them and their organisations within the network of Human Rights Houses.
Work done by HRHF and the Houses is aimed at supplementing the activities of other organisations that focus mainly on protection and relocation. While avoiding duplication, our protection efforts are first and foremost aimed at filling the gaps and protecting our own members and close partners. Our unique strength is the ability to react and take action immediately, in a matter of hours, and offer flexible support. This is possible due to: the institutional presence of the network of Human Rights Houses across Europe; a large pool of in-country expertise; close connections and a network of people who know and trust one another; and solidarity and pre-existing cooperation among the Houses.
HRHF continued to react promptly to requests for emergency support from human rights defenders and journalists within the network and supported 15 cases in 2018.
Trial observations are instrumental in our protection work. By observing court proceedings we are able to document violations, raise awareness of politically motivated cases, and show solidarity with targeted human rights defenders and organisations. Since the arrest of Anar Mammadli on 16 December 2013, who was among the first arrested in a crackdown on civil society, HRHF has organised trial monitoring of up to 80 hearings of leading civil society figures arrested in Azerbaijan. During these hearings, we have witnessed flagrant violations of the rights relating to fair trial, equality of arms between the parties, and the neutrality of the judiciary. In 2018, representatives of Human Rights House Tbilisi attended all four hearings in the case against prominent Azerbaijani photojournalist, blogger and human rights defender Mehman Huseynov.
Independent human rights awards are one of the tools in our protection work. Recognition in the area of human rights can serve as a protection measure for threatened human rights defenders and organisations. Receiving an award raises the international profile of the winners and increases their protection at home. In 2018, HRHF nominated eight human rights defenders for 10 awards. One of the nominees, HRHF’s partner Azerbaijani human rights defender Shahla Ismayil, won the global Bob Hepple Equality Award, which she received in London in October.
Top photo: Representatives of Human Rights Houses call for the release of Mehman Huseynov in December 2018. Photo: HRHF.