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Safeguard Defenders is a Pan-Asian Human Rights NGO that seeks to protect and promote human rights, the rule of law and local civil society operating in the most hostile environments. It works through direct actions to support and strengthen front-line rights defenders and civil society. It also provides tailored support to strengthen their capacity to affect change and protect basic rights in local environments.

We also undertake discretionary, shorter-term projects as need and opportunity arise, most of which are not made public. 

We build their capacity

Safeguard Defenders draws on extensive experience to provide capacity development and grants for local civil society organizations. We support the idea that local NGOs and rights defenders know best about their local environments. We offer grants to local partners and assist them in managing projects in a safe, sustainable and impactful way, while building their capacity to seek support from larger foundations so that they can eventually operate independently. Full training and funding support is intended to allow small NGOs to develop into forces for change.


We raise the issues facing them

Safeguard Defenders undertakes issue-based advocacy to raise global attention to new developments in persecution in unfree societies and how these are impacting rights defenders. Our first publication in late 2017, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, was also the first book ever released on China’s legalization of enforced disappearance via Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL). The following year, we published the first exposé on China’s use of Forced TV Confessions. Trial By Media revealed how Chinese state TV collaborates with the police in producing these coerced broadcasts. Safeguard Defenders also provides information and reports to international mechanisms. 

 

We intervene to protect them

In time-sensitive cases of persecution of a rights defender, Safeguard Defenders provides legal aid, financial aid and undertakes advocacy on behalf of the victim, to ensure their right to a fair trial and protection against abuse. Besides direct and local support, we utilize bi- and multilateral instruments to pressure the persecuting body to respect local laws and international commitments in the treatment of the rights defender. The aims are always the same: to counter the persecution, limit the impact on the defender and ensure that they can continue to be a force for change.


We increase their protection

Prior to the founding of Safeguard Defenders, we worked with local partner Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders) on a project that focused on IT security for journalists and activists. From that work, Safeguard Defenders launched a series of manuals under the name Practical Digital Protection or PDP. The manual, so far available in localized versions in Chinese, Vietnamese and Turkish, as well as English, offer an alternative to the many other IT-security guides. Designed for self-study, they were developed with the aim of helping a large group of beneficiaries, focusing on behavior rather than technical aspects, and offering battle-tested solutions that work inside hostile environments.

training and investigations

A major focus for Safeguard Defenders is developing and holding trainings for the wider legal community on issues such as the rule of law and freedom of information. We do this both directly, and most often in partnership with local civil society organizations (CSOs). 

The trainings are targeted at the wider legal community, including rights defense lawyers, ‘barefoot’ or unlicensed lawyers and local legal activists. These are the most important source of grassroots and frontline legal support, especially in China. Safeguard Defenders works on long-term training programs as well as briefer sessions lasting a day or two on a wide variety of topics including on the use of freedom of information legislation, how to deal with the common practice of detention centres denying lawyers access to their clients and how to ensure that evidence collected under torture is thrown out of court. 

We work with local partners -- individuals and groups -- to develop teacher-led and self-study training materials. These often involve working with CSOs and other rights defenders to investigate new developments in human rights abuse or the legal strangling of civil rights and space. 

For safety reasons, we do not generally publish these online.  The focus is on producing learning materials for, by, and with local rights defenders. A number of courses also cover non-legal areas, such as dealing with mental health issues after torture or prolonged interrogation. This can ensure that the persecution does not have its intended effect, that is to stop them working as rights defenders.

 

capacity building and grants

Civil society organizations (CSOs) across the world are facing growing threats from governments that are seeking to shut them down using legal and administrative barriers, criminalizing foreign funding or imposing unrealistic registration or reporting requirements.

Safeguard Defenders is pushing back against this erosion of rights and freedoms by teaming up with local NGOs, media and lawyers to conduct trainings and provide small grants to build civil society capacity.

As well as providing funding, we mentor local partners and partner CSOs on managing projects full-cycle and offer face-to-face and online trainings in everything from project plan development, budget management, bookkeeping, planning end-of-project reporting to grant cycle management. Safety during field work is also a focus of our trainings as well as practical digital security.

Safeguard Defenders' capacity development and funding is aimed at helping CSOs grow and professionalise, assisting them in setting up secure and efficient project management and, by the time our collaboration ends, empowering them to secure long-term support from elsewhere. 

Our target CSOs are those involved in promoting the rule of law and those, including media, working on issues related to freedom of information and expression. Asia is among the most world's most repressive regions in terms of freedom of speech and has one of the worst records in persecuting journalists. Safeguard Defenders is committed to improving the capacity of media, strengthening the freedom of speech and supporting press freedom.

Grantmaking is both discretionary and on a rolling basis, but occasionally also through public calls. Check news for information on these. We fund a range of projects from small individual activities to full CSO operations support.

 

urgent actions

Safeguard Defenders' urgent action program provides rapid assistance to human rights defenders who are being persecuted. Safeguard Defenders also support strategic litigation with possible public interest outcomes. 

Direct interventions (urgent actions) are focused on ensuring the defender has access to effective legal representation of their choosing and may also offer additional support, for example, assistance to the defender in detention or prison or facilitating a family visit (authorities often intentionally hold the rights defender at a location prohibitively distant from the family home). The program may also help with physical or mental health support following their release. The key aim of all urgent actions, apart from the humanitarian aspect, is to counter the persecution and ensure rights defenders are able to continue their work promoting the rule of law once they are freed. 

Safeguard Defenders work with local partners in target countries in carrying out urgent actions and coordinate with international and national human rights organizations. In some cases, we use international and bilateral mechanisms for advocacy purposes on behalf of the persecuted rights defender. To request urgent action assistance, first, contact us to request a copy of the template form (Urgent Action request form) to fill out. Upon having filled out the form it can be sent to us, with “Urgent Action” written in the email subject line to ensure a response within 48 hours. Requests can be handled in English, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese. See Contact for more information. 

We are currently accepting urgent action requests from the countries shaded blue on the map. 

If you are instead seeking assistance for public interest litigation or legal procedures, contact us and request the form for Public Interest Case Support, and once filled out, send it to Safeguard Defenders with "PIL" or "Public Interest Litigation" in the email subject line, to avoid delays. Requests can be handled in English, Chinese, French, and Vietnamese. Public Interest Case Support stands available for the same countries as urgent actions

 

To make our response to urgent actions faster and more effective, Safeguard Defenders maintain a database on at-risk defenders. If you are a rights defender at risk, we encourage you to contact us. We collect key data on each individual including background, chosen power of attorney, images and self-recorded videos, along with instructions on how to act should the defender disappear, be detained, arrested or otherwise persecuted and held incommunicado. 

advocacy and research

Safeguard Defenders undertakes issue-based advocacy based on research to complement its advocacy for individual defenders at risk.

Our research may be published into reports, books and other materials aimed to attract the global media's attention to new trends, situations and persecuted individuals. We also promote bi- and multilateral dialogues with authoritarian governments on rights issues or individual cases, nominate rights defenders for awards and use UN mechanisms to promote human rights in target countries.

While our research areas are wide-ranging, check our the section for news of our latest projects, we currently maintain three long-term areas of research:

'Barefoot' lawyers, China’s frontline legal defenders.  These unlicensed lawyers work with administrative law to launch public interest litigation and to file lawsuits against state organs for illegal behavior. We track the ever-deteriorating work environment via interviews with barefoot lawyers. 

Enforced Disappearances. Using surveys, interviews and media sources we are documenting China's two main systems for enforced disappearances -- Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL) and Liuzhi under the new National Supervision Commission. We maintain a detailed database on RSDL cases, which is not made public. 

Forced TV Confessions. Since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, dozens of rights defenders have been paraded on state television (including global channels CGTN and CCTV4), coerced into confessing, before trial and sometimes before even formal arrest. We track instances of forced confessions, interview victims, and maintain a database of cases, which is published on news.

For access to research data, contact the organization. Access is given on a case by case basis.

 

 

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