At Justice and Peace, we believe that the most effective way to promote universal human rights globally is through the support and protection of local and grassroots human rights defenders. Through the Shelter City initiative, and together with 14 Dutch and international cities, we offer human rights defenders at risk a three-month temporary stay in one of the Shelter Cities, so that they can continue their work safely and effectively in the long term. The current Shelter Cities are: Den Haag , Middelburg, Nijmegen, Maastricht, Utrecht, Amsterdam , Tilburg, Groningen, Zwolle, Haarlem and Deventer, along with San José (Costa Rica), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and Tbilisi (Georgia).Visit the Shelter City website
Who are human rights defenders?
A human rights defender (HRD) is a person who, individually or with others, acts to promote or protect human rights non-violently. Whether they are journalists, lawyers, LGBTI activists, women’s rights activists, environmental defenders, or artists – they stand up for the rights and freedoms of people in their communities.
In some countries, they are considered foreign agents, dissidents, or threats to the state. Because of their vital work defending human rights, they are often subject to mass surveillance, harassment, violence and at times even death threats.
Providing Support and Protection for Human Rights Defenders
If a human rights defender is at risk, they are eligible to apply for a three-month temporary stay with the Shelter City initiative. The programme provides human rights defenders the ability to a take a break for a short period, expand their network with organisations in the Netherlands and in Europe, strengthen their capacities and skills in areas such as digital, organisational and physical security through the Resilience Initiative, and access psychological well-being sessions.
Photograph by Daniella van Bergen
Who can apply for the Shelter City initiative?
The Shelter City programme is open for applications twice a year, in May and November.
Applicants should meet the following criteria:
- The HRD should implement a non-violent approach in his/her work;
- They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work.;
- They should be able to be relocated for a period of maximum 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
- They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
- They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows.
- They can speak basic English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
- They are willing and able to come to the Netherlands without accompaniment.
“As a Mayor, I am proud that Utrecht is one of the eleven Shelter Cities. Three years ago, my City’s parliament took the initiative to join the Shelter City network. The Shelter City guests are all extremely dedicated professionals. […] Their stories must be heard. Because freedom is so precious.”
– Jan van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht, during the Shelter City Bike Challenge 2018
Human rights defenders are not alone in their struggle. The space for human rights defenders may be shrinking, but the movement to protect them is growing!