University support for human rights defenders
Published on 7 October 2022
Campaigners from Kenya, Indonesia and Afghanistan are undertaking a Fellowship at the University of Dundee designed to support those at risk for their work in protecting human rights around the world.
Riska Carolina, from Indonesia, and Junia*, from Kenya, will spend up to six months at Dundee as part of the Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship initiative, combining study and research with the chance to build relationships and share expertise with human rights and equality organisations.
Alongside staff from Dundee, the pair travelled to Edinburgh this week to meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Christina McKelvie MSP, Minister for Older People and Equalities, Neil Gray MSP, Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development, and Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders.
Mohammad Hussain Nussrat, from Afghanistan, will come to Dundee in January to take part in the Fellowship, a partnership between the Scottish Government and the University of Dundee, supported by the campaign groups Front Line Defenders and Amnesty International.
Riska’s work over the past nine years has focused on Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR). She has worked at the oldest human rights research and advocacy institution in Indonesia in addition to founding her own organisation.
Riska hopes the Fellowship will be the impetus for advocacy related to the protection of vulnerable groups, particularly through the establishment of a comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Law in Indonesia.
She said, “Human rights defenders are important because if one human rights defender is in danger, all of society is in danger.
“My experience working with community paralegals has taught me that the more evidence of state mistreatment of human rights defenders, the stronger evidence-based advocacy will be, the more virtuous our society will be. What human rights defenders are fighting for is solely for the common good. When criticism from society is exchanged for intimidation, discrimination and violence by the authorities, this is when a human rights defender is needed.”
Junia is a human rights defender who trained in the prevention of and response to gender-based violence. He passionately believes that people's rights must be protected and respected for communities to advance and develop.
Junia founded a grassroots rights and justice organisation advocating against the human rights abuses – including gender and age discrimination, marginalisation of the youth and police violence – that are rampant in his community. By participating in the Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship, he hopes to expand his knowledge and skills to strengthen his activism at home.
He said, “Human rights defenders are important right now because of their wellbeing and their safety is more and more under threat.
“Human rights defenders are the people on the frontline defending the helpless - those who cannot speak and stand for themselves because of their vulnerable situation and lack of capacity to know about advocacy.
“Scotland is important for relocation because the people are good, they do not discriminate. For the protection of human rights defenders this is really the best place to ensure their safety.”
Kurt Mills, Professor of International Relations and Human Rights at the University and Director of the Fellowship, said, “The Fellowship is a true partnership between academia, the Scottish Government, and civil society, and we are grateful for the strong and consistent support the Scottish Government, and in particular Minister McKelvie, has provided to the Fellowship, as well as the support provided by our key civil society partners, the Scotland office of Amnesty International and Front Line Defenders.
“We are very pleased to host our current fellows and look forward to learning from them in the coming months. We are also honoured to welcome Mary Lawlor to Scotland to hear about the work of the Fellowship and to talk with our Fellows and other human rights defenders in Scotland and beyond.”
The 2022-2023 Fellowship will bring together the three defenders online and in-person for 3-6 months. Riska and Junia will undertake the in-person component first before switching to a virtual curriculum, while Nussrat’s Fellowship will take place in the opposite order. They are among 27 new and continuing Humanitarian Scholars at Dundee.
Ms McKelvie, programme sponsor, said, “We are committed to protecting, respecting and fulfilling the human rights of everyone in Scotland and around the world.
“The Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship provides a place of safety for participants to carry out research, develop their skills and build their networks. The work of Human Rights Defenders is vital, and often undertaken at great personal risk. We’re proud to work with the University of Dundee and our partners to host the Fellows and support their incredibly important work.”
* Name changed to protect the Fellow against any possible reprisals in his home country
The Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship was established in 2018 to support those at risk for their work in protecting human rights around the world and is designed to offer Fellows:
- rest and respite from daily dangers and threats inherent in their work
- an opportunity for study, training, and research to support their human rights work
- the opportunity to network with civil society organisations, government officials in both Edinburgh and London, and other relevant individuals
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