LGBT Forum - Day Three - Salzburg Global Fellows Meet with International Security Experts




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May 21, 2014
by Sudeshan Reddy and Klaus Mueller
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LGBT Forum - Day Three - Salzburg Global Fellows Meet with International Security Experts

Third and final day of Berlin event looks at the security measures that exist and that are still needed to protect LGBT human rights defenders Fadi Saleh (center) from Syria, with Tamara Adrian, Venezuelan human rights lawyer

The Global LGBT Forum met on its third and final day to discuss the urgent security needs of LGBT* human rights defenders with three experts.

Stefan Lanziger, Desk Officer at the Human Rights Division, German Federal Foreign Office, emphasized that support for human rights defenders is a long-established element of the European Union’s and Germany’s foreign policy. In his view, German embassies have an important role to play in putting into practice the proactive policies that the Foreign Office expects embassies to adopt to support human rights defenders. 

He outlined some measures embassies could take, such as: 

  • Organizing regular meetings with human rights defenders to discuss topics such as the local human rights situation;
  • Providing visible recognition for human rights defenders and their work; this can be done through appropriate use of the media, including the internet, visits or public events;
  • Where appropriate, visiting human rights defenders in custody or under house arrest and attending their trials as observers.

However, he also pointed out that there are internal obstacles that complicate the effective implementation of such protection tools, such as:

  • The size of the embassies and their staff: Many embassies are small and the person in charge for human rights probably has many other topics in his portfolio, therefore, human rights issues might not always be the top priority for the person in charge;
  • The turnover of staff: Diplomats usually only stay three to four years in their host country, so when human rights defenders try to contact a certain diplomat, he or she might be busy with packing or unpacking or might already have left the country while a successor has not arrived yet;
  • The perception of staff availability: Embassies usually are well protected high-security buildings. This might give the wrong impression that the diplomats working there are not interested to get in contact with the civil society of their host country.

Lanzinger gave three concrete recommendations to human rights defenders:

  • Be persistent: Get in touch with embassies. Don’t wait for them to get in touch with you.
  • Be smart: Carefully study the EU guidelines on human rights defenders and – if necessary – remind European embassies to act in accordance with the guidelines
  • Be realistic: What is desirable is not always feasible – at least not immediately.

Andrea Rocca of Frontline Defenders shared copies of his organization’s security manual for human rights defenders at risk, used for training activists at risk on how to safeguard themselves and their work through cautious measures at home and offices, protection of witnesses and survivors, reactions in regard to arrest and abduction, and computer and phone security.

Fadi Saleh from Syria, represented Tactical Tech and spoke of the security threats and protections. Tactical Tech produced Security In-A-Box in collaboration with Frontline Defenders in 2009 and it is today the leading resource for digital security training for activists. It receives more than 100,000 online visitors per month and Tactical Tech directly trains on average 1000 journalists and activists per year in digital security tools and techniques.

Saleh outlined that different countries and regions have varying problems and contexts. There was the need to adapt the general Security In-A-Box guide and contextualize it to reflect and suit the needs of the specific communities. So far, there is the example of the online-security guide for LGBT people and activists in Arabic-speaking countries.  

The discussions that followed illustrated, as with the conversation the day before at the Dutch embassy, that human rights defenders take a great number of risks, and that the international community so far has not developed sufficient tools to react quickly, due to visa restrictions and lack of funding. Participants of the Global LGBT Forum also shared, that despite closely following security recommendations, risks cannot be avoided as situations change quickly. 

The Salzburg Global Fellows in Berlin, with the support and partnership of the German Federal Foreign Office, are taking part in the high-level program Creating Long-Term Global Networks to Sustain LGBT Human Rights Organizations and will be conducting meetings with the German Foreign Office, representatives of foreign embassies, human rights groups, and other select partners. For meeting summaries and Tweets, please see the session page: and the Twitter hashtag #SGSlgbt

* Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender. We are using this term as it is widely recognized in many parts of the world, but we would not wish it to be read as in any way exclusive of other cultures, terms or groups.