Mediterranean: Publication of 2009 annual report of EMHRF


The year 2009 has highlighted the recurring situations confronting defenders in the southern and eastern Mediterranean. These situations are closely linked to the nature of their activities but they are also related to broad political trends at the national and international levels. It is in this context that the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders (EMHRF) increased its responsibilities and provided assistance to 36 defenders in 2009.

These trends, together with the positions adopted by the EMHRF, can be grouped around the following lines.

2.1. Crackdown on dissidents, deprivation of freedom and ill treatment: Several human rights defenders in the region have been subjected to deprivation of their freedom in recent years, a situation that is often compounded by ill treatment and administrative dismissal, among other things. As a consequence, not only do many defenders face serious health problems but their families find themselves in very precarious situations. The Foundation has provided support to these defenders to enable them to receive proper medical treatment and make it possible for their families to cope with basic survival needs.

2.2. Increased physical and psychological harassment: The pressures to which defenders are subjected increasingly include physical harassment (body searches, attacks against defenders and against their personal and professional belongings, etc.) and psychological measures (direct and indirect death threats, pressures on the families of detainees to dismiss their lawyers and condemn international solidarity, etc.). In most cases, a modest amount to purchase equipment or to meet other vital needs can make a substantial difference in terms of the determination of defenders to pursue their activities.

2.3. Instrumentalisation of the Judiciary: The pressures exerted against defenders also include a freeze on, or lack of, legal recognition of human rights-related activities in the region. Human rights groups and organisations have sought tangible financial support, provided in secure and flexible conditions, to help them redesign their strategies and pursue activities needed to strengthen, advance and defend human rights and democratisation in the region.

2.4. Especially vulnerable groups: Policies aimed at closing European borders and the continuing conflicts between Israel and Palestine and in Iraq have had heavy repercussions on migrants and refugees in many countries of the region. Given the scope of the problem, there have been many attempts to establish organisations devoted to protecting the rights of migrants and asylum seekers in the South, while existing groups have had to increase their activities substantially. At the same time, the number of organisations and groups working on issues of individual rights (such as LGBTQ) in the region has also risen. In some countries of the region, both the legislation and the practices affecting these persons are explicitly discriminatory. Organisations and defenders who attempt to challenge these laws and practices and their negative impact on individual rights seldom receive legal recognition or face numerous obstacles in carrying out their activities openly and effectively. Accordingly, the Foundation has paid particular attention to groups that could be considered especially vulnerable and has responded by providing support to strengthen the activities of the region’s civil society in this area of focus.

2.5. Operating difficulties of independent NGOs: The region’s associations have very uneven levels of operations and access to financial resources. Several independent NGOs lack the qualified human resources and physical resources they need to pursue their activities in effective manner and ensure their long-term viability. In many countries of the region where conditions are difficult, access to outside funding is very limited. There are many small organisations that would like to put their activities on a more professional footing but lack the qualifications and support needed to prepare funding applications meeting the criteria set by major donors. Thus the provision of small grants to strengthen human resources and operating capacities was needed, especially since these expenses are seldom taken into consideration by major international institutions.