In countries where communities are subject to human right violations, violent conflicts, intimidation or repression, human rights defenders could be the last frontier for resistance and change. Our work has the potential to bring about the long-term development of democratic civil society and ultimately peace. This often places us at risk, making us victims and targets for ill-treatment in detention, threats, abductions, negative coverage by state-controlled media or online surveillance, enforced disappearance or assassination, and other insidious kinds of attack, including public stigmatisation, defamation or criminal proceedings on trumped up charges.Human rights defenders are also exposed to gender-specific threats and violence, as well as prejudice and exclusion.
By documenting human rights violations, by speaking on behalf of victims and seeking remedies for them, by providing legal, psychological, medical or other support, we defenders do what is needed to promote and protect human rights.
AU Watch exists to support and protect these courageous people who stand up for the rights and dignity of their communities. Our work provides better protection from reprisals and helps deter human rights violations and widen the political space in which defenders can continue their legitimate work without fear.
These are some of the things we do:
• Advocate for change in the way governments, businesses and societies relate to human rights, including by promoting equality and understanding for the need for each of us to respect the rights and freedoms of others.We engage with domestic and international human rights mechanisms, raise awareness among decision-makers, and influence policies. We strengthen international standards to reinforce the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly nationally, as well as the right to be a human rights defender. Through our advocacy, we empower NGOs and defenders and increase their visibility.
• We develop work methods that allow us to jointly advocate for change, and build coalitions strong enough for regional and international action and national implementation.Advocating jointly sends a message of increased strength. Through advocacy, human rights defenders also gain access to regional and nationaldecision-makers.
• We promote solidarity. Immediate actions to support human rights defenders and organisations when their rights are violated have a positive effect, whether immediately or in the long-term. We draw attention to the plight of HRDs wherever the human rights are being violated.
• We work to ensure defenders have the freedoms needed to carry out human rights work. Through our media work we promote the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, and the right to be a human rights defender.
We provide these defenders with a comprehensive range of tools and support, including access to high quality research and analysis, tailored training and capacity building services, legal advice and strategic litigation assistance, and advocacy and networking support.
• The African Human Rights System (AHRS) is increasingly being used by HRDs to ensure accountability for human rights violations and to create and maintain pressure for human rights change. We work to strengthen human rights laws and systems to increase legal recognition and protection. We work with the AHRS to ensure that both the AU and its Members respect the systems and mechanisms they have set up to prevent reprisals and ensure accountability where they occur.
• We raise awareness about the work and plight of HRDs. We providing objective, accurate information is vital to ensuring the effectiveness of the work of HRDs. We share information with the AU, Member States, regional and international organisations, and the general public in order to raise awareness about the situation facing HRDs and the actions necessary to provide support and protection to them.
• We provide training and capacity building, especially where local organisations cannot meet such needs. In this way we aim to support human rights defenders develop their capacity to carry out their work effectively and in relative safety. Much of our training focuses on supporting human rights defenders to improve their security. We share our risk analysis tools, provide practical help and advice tailored to defenders’ specific needs, and support them to develop their long-term security policy and emergency response strategies.
• We litigate.
Holding those in power accountable
We hold both the AU and its Members and those in power accountable, and demands accountability when people’s civil or political rights are violated. We evaluate AU instruments, national laws and proposed legislation, as well as how authorities implement these. We litigate when human rights are violated by engaging in cases in front of regional and national bodies.