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Italy’s support for OSCE activities in protecting human rights defenders

Human rights defenders are people who, either individually or with others, act in order to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) supports OSCE participating States in fulfilling their human dimension commitments, including those related to the protection of human rights defenders, and it works with civil society organisations to strengthen their capacity to promote human rights and monitor human rights abuses and violations.

In 2014, following a broad consultation process, ODIHR published the Guidelines on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. The guidelines do not set new standards or create special rights but seek to help participating States in protecting those who act in favour of human rights, by promoting OSCE commitments and international human rights instruments.

Italy supported the translation of the Guidelines into Italian, with the aim of disseminating them further and making them better known. Italy also actively took part in the first assessment cycle on the implementation of the Guidelines launched by ODIHR in 2018 with the objective of examining the situation of human rights defenders in the OSCE area and which also included the Czech Republic, Georgia, Mongolia, and Montenegro. The second assessment cycle is ongoing and has so far involved the following countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Malta, and Romania.

Italy financially supports the work of ODIHR in favour of civil society organisations active in the promotion and protection of human rights, including human rights defenders in exile.

Among the various initiatives promoted in this area, the website FreedomLab is a repository of training materials, online courses and digital tools on various aspects of the work of human rights defenders and civil society organisations. Such material aims at improving the monitoring of abuses and violations, protecting the (digital) security of human rights defenders, and supporting the organisation of activities upholding human rights.

The website also offers an online training course on the skills and techniques required to interview people who have witnessed or survived abuses and violations of human rights, while respecting the needs of both interviewers and interviewees (trauma-informed interviewing). The training course was developed by ODIHR in response to the needs of civil society organisations monitoring violations committed during Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

ODIHR is also currently developing an educational game – called Starlight Stadium – aimed at teaching human rights defenders about the human rights monitoring methodology. Through an interactive and involving storyboard, players can learn about the roles and responsibilities of human rights defenders in their monitoring work.