According to the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, there were a total of 604 fatal attacks on human rights defenders (HRD) globally in 2020, up from 572 in 2019. More than half of defenders experienced judicial harassment, including arbitrary detentions and trumped-up charges. When a human rights defender is detained by a repressive regime or otherwise in danger, it can be nearly impossible to alert the outside world that they are in peril. Natalia Project, an initiative from the Swedish NGO Civil Rights Defenders (CRD), is changing that. The Natalia Project is community-based risk management solution that uses a GPS-based device to provide global geo-location wherever needed, giving human rights defenders the ability to send an alert if they are in danger. Tele2 is proud to partner with Civil Rights Defenders, providing secure reliable connectivity for the project.
Natalia Project, founded in 2013, is named in honor of Natalia Estemirova, a human rights defender who was abducted by government entities in Chechnya in 2009, ultimately losing her life. In the wake of this event, Estemirova’s collagues expressed the need to find a way to help human rights defenders inform others when they were in at-risk situations. CRD responded to that need.
“Human rights defenders are often among the first line of people who get into severe security threat situations,” says Asheque Haque, Responsible for Natalia Project at Civil Rights Defenders. “Sadly, we see this situation occurring again and again in multiple countries where there are authoritarian regimes. In order to increase the safety and security of HRDs, we created the world’s first security alarm device designed specifically for human rights defenders.”
How it works
Currently, more than 170 human rights defenders working in hotspots across the globe are enrolled in Natalia Project. While the model is scalable, CRD does not make an open call to HRDs, because enrolling in the project is a commitment.
“It’s not just sending a device and they’re good to go,” says Asheque Haque. “It’s a lot of work from the HRD’s perspective and the model needs a support structure around that person, so a lot of things have to happen to make it work. We vet the HRD, using a vigorous verification process: the HRD must have a long track record and people have to know their work within human rights. We also assess the level of risk the HRD is facing – we want to make sure that everything is set up correctly and that we actually will be able to assist them.”
Natalia Project’s security alarm devices are connected with GPS and have a proactive security element: CRD assesses the level of risk an HRD is facing, and once they are accepted into the project, they go through training to understand risk assessment matrixes, such as their lifestyle, after which they make improvements and create a trusted community, which CRD calls ‘shields’.
“HRDs should have at least four ‘shields’, who could be colleagues, friends, or even family members,” explains Asheque Haque. “The key here is that shields are the first line of defense if the HRD is at risk – they are notified via the connected device and are the first to respond. There are of course other solutions and services to inform people when something is happening, but there isn’t any mechanism of doing an actual physical response, so having these ‘shields’ in place is key. With the Natalia Project, when an alarm is triggered by an HRD, the shield can see their location via the connected device and can physically go and mitigate the situation. The ability to act in this way can mean the difference between life and death.”