Shelter City & government representatives from 20 cities meet in The Hague for ISCW 2019

From 7-9 October, the partners of the Shelter City network joined together in The Hague for the 2019 International Shelter City Workshop (ISCW). The three-day meeting brought together international and Dutch partners from 17 Shelter Cities, representatives of three potential Shelter Cities, and governmental representatives for a unique opportunity to work together and share their best practices and experiences to strengthen the network and initiative. The meeting highlighted the different Shelter City programmes around the world, and gave the opportunity for partners to brainstorm new ways to improve the support and protection of human rights defenders at risk. On the first day, each Shelter City introduced themselves, their experiences, and focus.

“This year we have invited representatives of Shelter City, because we want to focus on exchange of experiences that are already there. It is important to share those experiences, and hear from the cities. Their challenges and how to deal with them. When we started off with Shelter City seven years ago, we only had one human rights defender. We are still growing and building on what it is that human rights defenders need.” – Sebastiaan van der Zwaan, Director of Justice and Peace Netherlands and co-founder of the Shelter City initiative

The Shelter City network

The Shelter City initiative began seven years ago in The Hague, Netherlands. With support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and local municipalities, the Shelter City initiative was taken up in 12 cities across the Netherlands. Over the years, the programme has developed a multifaceted approach to the protection of human rights defenders, not only providing temporary relocation but also security and protection trainings and other needs of the human rights defender. Today, there are five international Shelter Cities in Tbilisi and Batumi, Georgia, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in Cotonou, Benin, and in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Representatives from Kathmandu in Nepal, York in the United Kingdom, and Padua and Trento in Italy were also present at the 2019 ISCW to learn from the experiences of Shelter Cities in the network. The network is looking to expand to more Shelter Cities to be able to assist more human rights defenders around the world and offer different capacities.

Photo: [Left] Shelter City representatives from Padua and Trento, Italy. [Right] Dutch Human Rights ambassador Bahia Tahzib-Lie at the ISCW reception at the municipality of The Hague.

The workshops

There are many logistics, planning and thought put into the coordination of Shelter Cities and this requires a lot of communication and efficiency from the partners and their organisations. During the workshops, the partners thought of ways to improve the sustainability of the programme by communicating and connecting with the other Shelter Cities. As a collective, the partners that were present came up with innovative ideas such as an alumni network, that would help the HRDs stay in contact and would allow the programme to follow up on them.

Day 1 of the ISCW 2019 allowed each Shelter City representative to share about their Shelter City, their experiences and best practices, and how the programme could be improved.

Photo: [Left] Tanya Lockwood and Luciana Peri, Shelter City San José, Costa Rica representatives. [Right] Svitlana Valko, coordinator and representative of Shelter City Tbilisi and Batumi in Georgia.

Day 2: Wellbeing of HRDs and Communications

The Day 2 workshop on wellbeing began with a presentation by Peace Brigades International who presented their guidelines created with its different field projects on the wellbeing of human rights defenders during short term relocation. The Guidelines drafted by PBI will be soon online and will allow HRDs to better take care of themselves during these periods and provide guidance and support to temporary relocation coordinators.

The workshop also included talks from external guests, such as IM Defensoras, who employ an integral and feminist approach to the protection and wellbeing of human rights defenders. The talk discussed about the importance of the wellbeing of human rights defenders with a focus on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs), and the different approaches to wellbeing.

During the workshop on wellbeing, Justice and Peace Netherlands presented the Barcelona Guidelines on the Wellbeing and Temporary Relocation of HRDs. The guidelines were the result of a research together with partners such as the University of York, and aimed at providing guidance to coordinators of Temporary International Relocation Initiatives (TIRIs) and wellbeing practitioners. The Barcelona Guidelines can be found here.

Following the wellbeing workshop, partners brainstormed ways to create a more well-known identity of the initiative and international network and communicate as a network. Partners also contributed to our core message and suggested ways they could work together.

Day 3: Guidelines and Data

On Day 3, the partners worked together to draft a minimum set of guidelines of a Shelter City in order to ensure that each Shelter City provides appropriate support to the human rights defenders the initiative relocates. In addition, the network will work more together on the use of data to enhance support for human rights defenders.

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