Newsletter. Human rights defenders and torture

Newsletter No. 5 December 2019 Human rights defenders and torture

19.12 2019

Overview of content:

Human rights defenders and torture
Video tutorials
New video tutorial with Nora Sveaas
Download the HHRI GBV manual
The woman butterfly animation


Dear friends and colleagues,

Whether you call yourself a solidarity worker, an activist, an advocate, a human rights campaigner or refer to yourself by your profession, you may fall under the OHCHR definition of a human rights defender. This term is used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote and/or to protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified above all by what they do, through a description of their actions and of some of the contexts within which they work. The actions taken by human rights defenders must be peaceful in order to comply with the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Defending human rights is often challenging and at times dangerous. Reprisals are frequently experienced by human rights defenders. Many receive life threats for themselves, their families or their colleagues. Moreover, women human rights defenders are frequent targets of gender-based violence, including rape. State authorities are often common perpetrators of violations against human rights defenders, despite the fact that they should undertake the primary responsibility of assuring their protection.

Torture is very far from eradicated, and human rights defenders who are fighting torture are also exposed to danger and violations. As we see in Syria, in Iraq, in Belarus and other places the legal framework and judicial practice supposed to protect people’s rights may be turned against them, and lead to violations rather than protection.  And in many countries, we see today that the law is used by those in power to hold back, control and suppress human rights defenders, even expose them to severe threat and danger, as in the case too many places in the world. With legal tools the scope of operation of human rights defenders are restricted and there is a constant failure to offer protection and possibilities to act in defense of basic human rights.

The result has too often been large-scale detentions, in some cases in non-authorized or secret detention facilities, where those arrested run the risk of being subjected to torture, beatings, death threats, harassment and defamation, even executions. And we are talking about targeted detentions as well as the arbitrary arrests, where no legal safeguards exist. The severity and scale of reprisals committed against human rights defenders has been one of the primary motivations behind the adoption of the Declaration on human rights defenders and the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders.

For further information on torture and Human rights defenders HHRI have thematic pages on the subject. In order to strengthen the awareness of the serious challenges and dangers faced by human rights defender, we have provided information that represents valuable resources and professional

New video tutorials based on the GBV training manual.

Welcome to our tutorial videos based on the training manual Mental Health and Gender-Based Violence, Helping survivors of sexual violence in conflict.  If you are working with or assisting survivors of gender-based violence or involved in the training of helpers working directly with survivors, this is the right place for you.

These video tutorials seek to reach people around the world and have been developed to be used in situations where helpers have limited or no access to specialised health services, and where humanitarian workers must deal with severe human loss, sorrow and distress in the midst of insecurity, conflict and war.input in relation to the protection of human rights defenders from torture and other severe human rights violations.


Welcome to the first tutorial

This is a short introduction to the manual. This part gives you a general idea of the intention for making the manual, where to download it, how it is out lined and how to read it. Page 1-6 in the manual.

Why the human rights based approach?
Understanding the experiences of participants and survivors in terms of rights and their violation may be creative and bring insights, and can give survivors and their helpers valuable tools. Awareness of human rights, and their great importance for everyone, can be a valuable resource when working with people whose rights have been brutally disrespected. Human rights values may assist us both to understand the suffering we encounter and find ways to respond to it in a respectful and helpful way.

The Butterfly Woman Story
This is the story of the Butterfly Woman, a metaphorical narrative that is based on women’s encounter of gender-based violence in armed conflicts. After being violated by soldiers, her life is turned into chaos. By the support of the good helper she learns ways to cope in order regain dignity. The story is created from the testimonies of the survivors in various parts of the world.

The metaphor of the Butterfly woman was developed by Judith van der Weele and Annika With. It is described in Butterfly Woman: Handbook for women who live difficult lives (Oslo: Sommerfuglkvinnes forlag), a handbook they use in their training. The metaphor is included in this manual with the authors’ permission.

All manuals can be downloaded from the MHHRI website

There are three different manuals, which respectively address working with women, with boys and men, and with children who have experienced sexual violence.

The manuals are translated into several languages. The page numbers in each manual remain the same across languages. This allows survivors and helpers to work from copies in their preferred language and read the same content on the same pages. It also makes it easier to teach participants when participants and trainers work in more than one language. The manuals include a toolbox. Survivors can use it individually to regulate their own emotions through grounding exercises or in collaboration with a helper. Helpers can also use grounding exercises to take care of themselves as helpers.

We appreciate feedback and comments 

Welcome to our new subscribers, we hope you will find our content useful. The Mental Health and Human Rights Info Newsletter is a newsletter with the aim to provide insight on a certain subject across the scope of our work; human rights violations in war and conflict areas and mental health. Our intention is to deliver a newsletter as a short “lecture” where you can find relevant information regarding a specific subject from a mental health perspective. You will receive our newsletter 5 times a year.

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Sincerely yours,
Take care – and we are wishing you all the best.

Sincerely yours,

Mental Health and Human Rights Info