Emergency support

Attacks on women human rights defenders (WHRDs) can take a range of forms, such as death threats, physical aggression and criminalisation. This section provides some guidance on where to report such attacks, and organisations that will provide support in the case of emergencies.   

Some points to bear in mind:

  • To report threats and attacks, it is important to present factual, reliable information. It may be useful to use as a model the Guidelines for submitting complaints to the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Defenders, which gives a list of the information needed. This information can then be used for reporting the attack to national authorities, international NGOs and other bodies.
  • If it is possible/appropriate, the attack should be reported to the national authorities, to prevent accusations of not using procedures specially provided for defenders at the national level (if they exist), and to remind the authorities about their protection responsibilities under international law.
  • Rural human rights organisations might wish to seek the advice/support of larger organisations or ones based in the capital in their dealings with national authorities or international bodies based in the country.

Some suggestions of bodies to contact in an emergency:

  • National authorities (see above)
  • Funders of the organisation/HRD (human rights defender) under threat can be useful allies in time of emergency, particularly if they have international connections.
  • Diplomatic missions (embassies and consuls) based in your country, particularly of the European Union, Norway and Switzerland which have adopted guidelines committing them to supporting HRDs (see 'European Union' for more details).
  • Local United Nations field offices (see 'United Nations' for more details).
  • International non-governmental human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International (see below)
  • Regional and international human rights networks – see below and 'Networks'.
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which can issue precautionary (protection) measures for HRDs at serious and urgent risk (see 'IACHR' for more details).
  • UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, who can issue an urgent appeal letter to the state concerned. (see 'United Nations' for more details).


International Non-Governmental Human Rights Organisations

All the organisations below can issue urgent appeals on behalf of WHRDs in emergency situations, designed to protect them by mobilising networks of individuals and organisations to put pressure on governments and other actors.  In addition, some organisations provide some form of temporary relocation, whether within the WHRDs' country or in another, to help them escape from dangerous situations or continuous persecution. These programmes often supply financial support, transport, housing, psychological assistance and medical fees and visa help.

Front Line Defenders seeks to provide 24 hour support to human rights defenders at immediate risk. If there is a crisis Front Line can be contacted at any hour on the emergency hotline - http://www.frontlinedefenders.org/emergency. Front Line Defender's emergency support can include urgent communications with the national and international authorities, as well as temporary relocation of WHRDs, and assistance with medical or legal expenses.

Amnesty International – its International Secretariat has teams responsible for specific countries and regions, which should be contacted for urgent appeals etc. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Amnesty International has an emergency relief fund for a range of measures, such as flights and basic living expenses.  It also has a scheme which allows defenders at risk to live in Spain for up to a year. In both cases, the defenders are selected by the  International Secretariat.

Protection International can offer assistance to HRDs seeking solutions first and foremost in their country of origin or in the region. The support it can provide in emergency situations includes meeting urgent protection needs, advocacy on behalf of the HRD at risk, and security training. 

Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders created by FIDH (International Federation for Human Rights) in partnership with the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), provides emergency protection to human rights defenders in the field (urgent interventions, international missions, material assistance as well as medical assistance and psychosocial counselling). Its International Secretariat webpage ('Research and Operations' section) provides contact detaills for the Americas and the Human Rights Observatory staff.

FIDH is a federation of human rights organisations from around the world. Its members may be useful contacts.

OMCT (World Organisation against Torture) provides emergency support to victims of torture. The OMCT is contacted through member organisations of its SOS-Torture Network – see the list of members. OMCT offers urgent legalsocial or medical assistance to torture victims, as well as help to leave the country, if needed. See 'About Assistance to victims of torture activity' for more information.

RedSalud-DDHH (Network of Latin American and Caribbean Health Institutions Against Torture, Impunity and Other Human Rights Violations) has 18 rehabilitation centres in the region to care for people affected by torture, impunity and other human rights violations and their psychosocial impacts.


Regional and International Networks of Organisations

As well as these international human rights organisations, there will be other organisations at regional and international level which may potentially  offer support and solidarity, including mobilising pressure on governments (see 'Networks'). In particular:

International Land Coalition – its members at national level help human and land rights defenders to gain emergency support following violations and to obtain pro bono legal assistance.  

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), a network of groups and individuals, has a System of Solidarity (SOS) for ESCR-Net members and partners seeking urgent support to protect human rights defenders or avoid imminent human rights violations.  

Latin American Network of Women Defenders of Social and Environmental Rights (website in Spanish only) (Red Latinoamericana de Mujeres Defensoras de Derechos Sociales y Ambientales). Its purpose is to raise awareness of the impacts of mining upon women, publicise their struggles, and oppose mining. It undertakes actions to protect women at high risk because of their work in opposition to mining.

IM Defensoras (Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative) consists of more than 70 groups of women, including rural and indigenous women defending land rights and environmental justice.  It can issue urgent actions and provide other emergency support, including funding and accommodation at temporary shelters for WHRDs and their families.  IM-Defensoras operates through national networks. Page 23 of IM-Defensoras' publication Paving the Road for Freedom & Equality lists the coordinating organisations in each country.



As well as the organisations mentioned above, some of which offer financial support, see 'Emergency and Security Grants'.


Protection Line Denouncing The Attacks Towards Human Right Defenders At The National, Regional And International Level

Front Line Defenders The European Union: What it can do, Getting it to take action

AWID and the WHRD International Coalition Urgent Responses For Women Human Rights Defenders At Risk: Mapping And Preliminary Assessment