The Shelter City initiative seven years on

This September, the international Shelter City network will receive its 200th guest, an incredible achievement since the beginning of Shelter City less than seven years ago in The Hague, Netherlands. This support is a combined effort to support and protect human rights defenders from a diverse network of Shelter City partners from all around the world, including the Shelter Cities in the Netherlands, Georgia, Costa Rica, Tanzania, and Benin. The initiative is a collaboration with municipalities, embassies, government institutions, local organisations, colleges and universities, and people on the local level. 

The Shelter City network will continue to expand to support more human rights defenders from all corners of the globe in an effort to reclaim civic spaces through the creation of new Shelter Cities.

Supporting HRDs worldwide

Human rights are often overlooked and not respected in many parts of the world. They are a cause worth fighting for and fortunately, there are brave individuals that make it their mission to bring awareness on human rights violations. These human rights defenders are vital for the protection and promotion of human rights in their communities, and yet, defending human rights is an incredibly difficult job in many different contexts.

“Whenever I travel through the region I meet human rights defenders. I know the value of their work. I know the risks they take, the violence the threats the stigmatisation, and the imprisonments. We need to support them. Therefore we established Shelter City Costa Rica. I am proud we are making this contribution”

– Peter Derek Hof, the Dutch Ambassador to Costa Rica

Often putting their own life at risk, many human rights defenders are harassed, threatened, shut out and separated from their families. For this reason, Shelter City began in 2012 to provide temporary relocation for human rights defenders at risk to get rest, re-energise, re-strategise, and build their capacities to continue their world safely and effectively.

Shelter City is proud to announce that this year the number of HRDs supported with temporary relocation and training by the Shelter City initiative has reached 200 people worldwide, in collaboration with our partners from Benin, Daar El Salam in Tanzania, Tbilisi and Batumi in Georgia, and San Jose in Costa Rica. In the Netherlands, the number of HRDs temporarily relocated has reached 100 people this year, with Shelter Cities all over the country in The Hague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Nijmegen, Zwolle, Maastricht, Utrecht, Deventer, Haarlem, Groningen, Middelburg, and Tilburg. These partners have shown time and time again their resilience and commitment to the programme. Read more about the initiative here.

The guests of Shelter City

Each guest received and supported by Shelter City has their own incredible and moving story. Shelter City tailors the programme to fit the needs of each participant, whether it is rest and respite, expanding their network, receiving psychological care or security trainings to better equip themselves. These are the experiences of three former Shelter City guests:

Najib from Uganda, an LGBTI activist and defender…

“Meeting people, learning from people, exchanging with activists from all over the world – it re-energised me.

I felt empowered and stopped stigmatising myself.  When I returned, I started approaching different people and organisations to create allies, such as with organisations working on HIV/AIDS, which now provide us services and a safe space for workshops. I also gave a digital security training to my colleagues to better protect our data and ourselves online. Now I am more open about being LGBT and advocating for LGBT rights.” Read more about Najib here.

Kiruba from India, a Dalit women’s rights activist…

“After participating in the Shelter City programme, I continue to do the same human rights work, but now I take a different approach. Before, I was disconnected from the international framework and international human rights standards. Now I am sharing my documentation with the UN and other organisations. I am clear about relating local laws and practices to international conventions. I feel I have a leadership role now, to raise awareness about international human rights standards. I started my own organisation training HRDs and lawyers and litigating cases pro bono.

During Shelter City, I was treated with respect and dignity for the first time ever in my life.  I learned what real human rights are, human rights as a lifestyle. I gained knowledge and power and am now passing it on.” Read more about Kiruba here.

Lucia from Mexico, working on enforced disappearances…

“When I applied to the Shelter City programme, I was working constantly, exhausted.  I was ‘under fire’ from government officials trying to bring me down. The authorities blocked my Twitter account and prevented the press from covering our activities in the field among other very unreasonable, unpleasant examples of their treatment to me as a victim and human rights defender. I wanted to participate in Shelter City in order to disconnect, to get rest, but also to get the word out about what’s happening here in Mexico – we need help from outside. While I was in The Netherlands, I went to many places, like Leiden University, talked to people.  I was satisfied with that – I put my time to good use.  I met people who are important to our struggle.” Read more about Lucia here.

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