PBI-Netherlands and the respite offered by the Shelter City Network for human rights defenders
The Shelter City Network is a grouping of 11 cities in The Netherlands that recognize the dangers and stress experienced by human rights defenders.
Human rights defenders (HRDs) include those who work to defend land, water, Indigenous, LGBTQI+ and human rights around the world.
According to a report by Dublin-based Front Line Defenders, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed in 2018 because of their activism.
As a result, those who do this work can experience intense psychological pressures.
As noted on the Shelter City Network website, “Shelter Cities offer temporary shelter, training and safety to international human rights defenders such as journalists, community leaders, lawyers, artists and academics who fight against human rights violations in their home countries.”
It adds, “The Shelter City network offers these human rights defenders the opportunity to catch their breath for a short period. As a result, they can temporarily escape a threatening situation and continue their work after a stay with new energy, network and ideas.”
This shelter can also be provided, for example, during an election or lawsuit when the pressure and danger is significantly increased.
The Shelter City Network website further explains, “In every Shelter City the municipality, local organizations (such as a university, NGO or social organization) and Justice and Peace Netherlands [a non-profit organization based in The Hague] provide the housing and the program for the human rights defender.”
When the human rights defender is in a Shelter City, they also work with these allies to organize meetings and workshops.
Peace Brigades International (PBI) Nederland supports the Shelter City in Utrecht, a city with a population of about 345,000 people, and is responsible for the daily operation of the project.
They partner with the City of Utrecht, Utrecht University, and UAF (the Foundation for Refugee Students) in this effort.
Last year, the Amsterdam-based Down to Earth journal reported (in Dutch) that Lottie Marie Cunningham Wren stayed in Utrecht through this program.
Cunningham is committed to Indigenous struggles, land rights and fighting against deforestation in Nicaragua.
That article notes, “In the area where Cunningham worked with the indigenous Miskito communities, more and more newcomers were entering the forest. They were looking for valuable wood, gold and especially new land for cattle breeding.”
Over the past six years, more than 50 human rights defenders have gained a respite through the Shelter City Network.
But the demand for this service is greater than its capacity.
As Down to Earth notes, “The number of applications at Shelter City far exceeds the supply.” Recently, there were 140 applications for just 10 spaces.