September 8, 2022
Impact Story: Sustaining our work for the long-term
This impact story is part of a 5-part series of stories from the 2022 Shelter City Impact Study by DBMresearch (Danielle de Winter). This story belongs to a lawyer who represents LGBTIQ+ rights activists. Before participating in Shelter City, they shared that they felt their human rights work was less strategic and less digitally protected.
“I am a human rights lawyer working for an organization that focuses on protecting and advocating human rights of marginalized communities, primarily the LGBTIQ+ communities. I head the Legal Aid Services Division of the organization, representing LGBTIQ+ clients in courts of law, with strategic litigation and actively advocating for their rights online and offline.
Where I come from, our cause is deemed illegal by the government. Same-sex relations have been criminalized in my country, and recent legislations have further stripped away rights of the LGBTIQ+ community. The death penalty has been debated in some legislations and life imprisonment has been imposed for engaging in “homosexual activity” (i.e. carnal knowledge against the order of nature). In these conditions, my organization is facing a daily battle, in a context where we find the government increasingly restricting the activities of civil society and human rights defenders. It creates an extremely challenging and often dangerous situation for us human rights defenders. We have seen friends and colleagues being incarcerated, which under the threat of these new legislations is extremely serious.
“Because of my stay with Shelter City, my organization now approaches these situations differently.”
Only recently, our government has also revised a law in the country that requires our organization to get additional registrations to be allowed to pursue our work. These changes have been very controversial, and we view them as specifically aimed at bringing down the work of organizations such as ours. Under these administrative changes, our organization was put under the limelight of the authorities. They requested us to show up to a meeting to defend the new application for the registration of our organization. As we are actively advocating for the rights of now criminalized communities, we were not well received. During the meeting we were faced with many members of the authorities who presented us with screen shots of our social media accounts, demanded explanations for our recent activities, and asked who we were affiliated with. Five months later, a decision has not been taken despite the same law providing that a rejection shall be communicated within three months. This type of harassment puts myself and my colleagues under extreme pressure and even threatens our personal safety.
Before my participation in Shelter City, we faced these threats less strategically, with higher risk to our personal safety. We were less protected digitally, meaning our emails and online communication were not password protected or secured. When authorities would visit our offices, which they did at numerous occasions, they had access to all of our information and details, also those of our clients. We also were less aware how to prepare for or react to such threats from the authorities. Because of my stay with Shelter City, my organization now approaches these situations differently. For every incident, we come together as a team and reflect on the incident in order to come up with strategies on how to handle it. We analyse the situation and assess the threat level. In this particular case we realize it could go either way, where our organization might be seen as illegal, or we can proceed under a watchful eye. For both scenarios we are planning ahead and seeking alliances in support of our cause. Strategically analysing our situation in this way gives us the confidence to move forward with our cause, despite the uncertainties we face.”
Authorities would frequently visit and threaten their organization, exposing both their own data and the data of their clients. However, they recall that after relocating to Shelter City and addressing the problems with a more systematic approach, their team began to plan ahead their activity with more confidence and support for one another.