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Human Rights Commissioner Kofler on the launch of the Federal Foreign Office’s Elisabeth Selbert Initiative

19.06.2020 - Press release

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued the following statement today (19 June) to mark the new Elisabeth Selbert Initiative launched by the Federal Foreign Office: 

In far too many countries, anyone who defends human rights often lives dangerously. Those who call for compliance with duties of protection and responsibility often even put their own lives at risk. 

In more and more countries, the scope of non-governmental organisations and human rights defenders is being curtailed. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat of these so-called “shrinking spaces” has been exacerbated.

Especially now, we do not want to abandon human rights defenders. We have therefore launched a new programme which will enable us to grant temporary protection and refuge in individual cases. With the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative we want to support human rights defenders in acute danger. The aim is, if necessary, to provide them with temporary respite in a guest organisation either in the region where they live or in Germany. 

We are looking forward to developing this initiative in cooperation with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen), which is implementing the programme on behalf of the Federal Foreign Office, and with German civil society. 

Let us seize this opportunity to work together to protect international human rights.

Background information:

Human rights defenders are pioneers in this field. They strive to ensure that states undertake and respect human rights obligations. All individuals, groups and institutions that promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms are human rights defenders. 

Worldwide, the scope of civil society and human rights defenders is being increasingly restricted. Restrictions on activity often stem from government accusations of instability and upheaval ostensibly controlled from abroad, but also economic interests, for example in the context of the raw materials sector, with regard to land or workers’ rights. 

To tackle this problem and protect human rights defenders, the Federal Foreign Office, in cooperation with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) is establishing a protection programme for human rights defenders at risk abroad: the Elisabeth Selbert Initiative (ESI), named after the lawyer, women’s rights activist and human rights defender. The new initiative creates opportunities for temporary safe residence for endangered human rights defenders in their region or in Germany and is also implemented by ifa. Beneficiaries thus have the chance to continue working effectively within their field of activity. The aim is to maintain their prospects for continuing individual engagement in their home country and improve them in the longer term. The scope for civil society activity is thereby strengthened on the ground.

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