A New Peer-Coaching Program for Martin Ennals Human Rights Defenders

March 31, 2021

Since 1992, the Martin Ennals Foundation has supported more than 60 outstanding Defenders in 34 countries. In 2020, the Foundation launched the Defenders Network, a Network aiming at offering sustainable and long-lasting support to Human Rights Defenders, that goes beyond the Martin Ennals Award. This critical mass of defenders allows to leverage synergies between the Martin Ennals community of human rights defenders. As part of this new network and in collaboration with the coaching company Leaders Today, the Foundation developed the Martin Ennals peer-coaching program.

Collaboration proves paramount for resilience

Human rights defenders often commit themselves beyond considerations such as workload, financial security or even their own safety. According to a recent survey carried out by the Foundation among former Martin Ennals Award winners, 37% of respondents have been threatened or harassed because of their work. With a quarter of the respondents forced to leave their home country, it doesn’t come as a surprise that insecurity and fatigue are common denominators to most of them. How can they carry on their mission under such circumstances? “The aim of the peer-coaching program is to strengthen the resilience of human rights defenders by providing them with a concrete opportunity for self-care and professional growth with their peers in a guided and systematic way”, explains Martin Ennals Program Officer Cristina Rendón.

This was also Nay Vanda’s main reason to attend the program. Executive Director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC) and Martin Ennals Finalist 2017, he was one of the first participants to register to the Martin Ennals peer-coaching program: “Working as a human rights defender requires incredible courage and dedication. Therefore, support and protection from the international community is crucial. I firmly believe that we will achieve more through collaboration and that we are stronger together. By attending this program, I hope to gain new skills and knowledge as well as learn from the other participants from all over the world.”

Lifelong learning for human rights defenders

A first cohort of 11 defenders from nearly all geographic regions where Martin Ennals Defenders are active have signed up for this program designed in French, Arabic, Spanish and English. The defenders will be supported by professional mentor coaches “who will assist them in their practice of peer coaching and in the achievement of their personal goals”, explains Saba Imru-Mathieu from Leaders Today. From March to December 2021, participants to the online program will attend monthly peer-coaching meetings as well as four sessions with their mentor coaches.

Professional support to human rights defenders is needed more than ever, believes Saba Imru-Mathieu: “At great personal sacrifice human rights defenders remind us what it means to be a humane and just society. If it were not for their vigorous and vocal defense of human rights, who knows where we might be today.” 

“We are very excited to embark on this journey and are extremely grateful to the Swiss  Department of Foreign Affairs, the Norwegian Human Rights Fund and Bread for the World, the funding partners who have made this effort possible. Their support and openness to go beyond primary needs in terms of protection and promotion of human rights were pivotal in enabling this program”, adds Cristina Rendón.

Officially launched on 31 March 2021, this first edition of the Martin Ennals peer-coaching program will last until December 2021.