The Basque Programme for the Temporary Protection of Human Rights Defenders celebrates its 10th anniversary

8 November 2021

In Bilbao, on 27 October, an event was held to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Basque Programme for the Temporary Protection of Human Rights Defenders, which is a Basque Government initiative. The programme is carried out through the Directorate of Human Rights, Victims and Diversity, with the support of eLankidetza-Basque Agency for Development Cooperation, and is managed by CEAR-Euskadi [Refugee Aid Commission in the Basque Country].

The Basque Programme is one of the eights programmes for temporary protection of human rights defenders that some autonomous administrations and city councils carry through together with social organisations.

The goal of the programme is to protect human rights defenders whose life or physical integrity is threatened by the activity they carry out in their country of origin in defence of life and social justice, by hosting them in the Basque Country for a period of six months. Their stay in the Basque Country allows them to rest and take care of themselves, with the aim of gaining physical and emotional strength.

During this time, they develop a political agenda with different public institutions and social organisations, with the aim of widening and reinforcing their international support networks. In practice, these networks act as a protective umbrella contributing towards their return in greater conditions of safety and the continuation of their work in defence of human rights.

Over the last ten years, 30 people have been received (9 men, 18 women and 3 minors who were in their charge). Their countries of origin were Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and the Western Sahara. During this time, 11 Basque organisations have gone on to form what we call the support network. They undertake presenting the programme to them, accompanying them during their stay and monitoring their situations when they return.

Voices of defence

Three people from Colombia who had gone through the programme took part in the event: Danelly Estupiñán, of the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) [Black Communities Process]; Deyanira Soscué, of the Cabildo Indígena Cerro Tijeras [Cerro Tijeras Indigenous Council]; and Fabián Torres, of the Congreso de los Pueblos [People’s Congress] and Colectivo Maloka [Maloka Collective]. They all highlighted the programme as, “an international solidarity tool which reinforces the resistance of people of African descent, indigenous people and peasants, as well as urban sectors.” They also underlined the importance of temporary refuge as a strategy to take care of life and highlighted that the focus of the programme includes “respect for cultural identity” of all peoples going through the same situation, “because it is a loudspeaker for our fights.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, also attended the celebration event. In her speech, Lawlor highlighted the importance of having this type of temporary relocation programme because, often, “the national protection mechanisms are inadequate for the emergency situations faced by defenders; in addition, many lack a gender approach and are not adapted to the situations experienced by LGTBIQ+ people, who are attacked for challenging cisheteronormative power structures.”

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