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1. A Support, Protection and Response Mechanism for Defending and Protecting Frontline Grassroots Environmental, Land and Human Rights Defenders across West Africa plus Equatorial Guinea.

Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), especially Frontline Grassroots Environmental and Human Rights Defenders, are on the frontlines of the struggle to ensure that the principles and rights laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and subsequent human rights conventions are upheld around the world. Human Rights Defenders, specifically Frontline Grassroot Defenders in West Africa, face challenging and threatening situations that make the work they do in line with those conventions very difficult. Given the enormous barriers and risks they face in their work there is an urgent need to understand better who these Frontline Grassroot Defenders are, what strategies they use to keep themselves safe, identify where the gaps are, and then expand on existing approaches and provide these defenders with both the tools and strategies that are easy to use, effective, accessible and sustainable.

The MRU CSO Platform – working with one of its partners, Green Advocates, the current host of the Secretariat of the Platform and with support from the Open Society Foundation – has launched a baseline assessment to document and monitor conditions, circumstances and situation of Frontline Grassroots Environmental, Land and Human Rights Defender across West Africa specifically targeting front line defenders working on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) issues. The Comprehensive Baseline Assessment was designed to learn from the experiences, knowledge, lessons learned, skills, expertise and practices of Frontline Grass roots Defenders Across the West African region.

The primary targets of the Baseline assessments are Frontline Grass Roots Defenders Across West Africa who are on the frontlines of activism, including investigative reporters, bloggers, activists, community leaders, whistle blowers, Indigenous people’s organizations, local community-based organizations, CSO actors, pro poor entrepreneurs and trade unionists.

The Comprehensive Baseline Assessment will result into the following:

a. Overall baseline report-The comprehensive regional baseline assessment will draw from the experiences, knowledge, lessons learned, skills, expertise and practices of HRDs in the West African region. The baseline assessment will highlight who they are, what challenges they face, and provide an overview of promising practices used by Frontline grass roots defenders to meet the challenges they face.

b. Policy recommendations directed mainly at West African countries, the ECOWAS Commission, governments and other actors, specifically non-state actors including multinational corporations across West Africa plus Equatorial Guinea addressing the situations of reprisals, criminalization and stigmatizations as well as on how to better support defenders in the region.

c. A community based human rights protection protocol which would include essentially a number of suggested strategies that can be used by community activists in their own contexts that range from high level strategic litigation to frontline community protection ideas that have been used successfully at the local level, national and regional levels. Overall, these approaches are for use by defenders in the region to collaborate and develop strategic actions and campaigns to help them address challenges they face in their work and seize opportunities and protective mechanisms as they do their work. These include strategies such as highlighting capacity building participant driven peer teaching, peer learning and experience sharing strategically focused on supporting community-based protection, physical security, digital security, psychosocial health and well-being as well as share tactics to address threats of legal harassment or intimidation, as well as present country level specific case studies.

d. A strategic funding plan that will take into account the policy recommendations and community-based protection protocol to come up with a series of sustainable and realistic approaches to help sustain defenders from the short, medium and long terms or the long terms.

e. A Frontline Grassroots Defenders Observatory and Rapid Response Secured Communication Platform. The Observatory and secured communication platform will:

  • Train and provide capacity building materials focused on community-based protection, physical security, digital security, psychosocial health and well-being
  • Risk-free way for defenders to share tactics to address threats of legal harassment or intimidation.

f. A monitoring and evaluation feedback mechanism. The main aim is to establish a continuous feedback mechanism that will be tested as new evaluation and feedback tools and result in data collected to feed into evidence for understanding the relevance, effectiveness and impact of the protocols and approaches used to protect defenders making the protocol and the funding strategies living documents that reflect the continuous learning and help the defenders reflect on their work.

The Baseline assessment report and the other tools carved out of the report would be the subject of a virtual validation conference which would enable and also create an opportunity for networking, solidarity actions, experience sharing among grassroot defenders, provide training, capacity building and other support, including security protection, psychosocial, and cyber and data security to advance the work of defenders in the region

2. Addressing under reporting, developing profiles and creating visibility about frontline grass roots defenders and their work across the region.

For too long, grassroot defenders on the frontline raising their voices for land and environmental rights and against the excesses of government development programs and multinational investment companies are forgotten and unknown. They endure all manner of violations perpetrated by the state and corporate giants, but get little or no attention in the media for their advocacy. They remained faceless, ignored and nameless, while suffering attacks and reprisals on a daily basis. We work to reverse that narrative by elevating their works and stories on the national and international stages. They deserve some visibility and protection.

3. Cross Regional Solidarity to address Corporate and Governmental Accountability linked to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the region and human rights and environmental implications.

Since coming together in 2012 under the umbrella of the MRU CSO Platform, communities have sent a clear message to governments in the sub-region that they can no longer outsource their responsibilities to protect the rights of their citizens and the environment. The group has been taking collective actions in brining much needed justice, accountability and relief to the suffering masses affected by multinational corporations who have been grabbing their lands and destroying their habitats and livelihoods with impunity.

The fight for justice for the neglected and abused peoples has gained traction. From the ECOWAS Court of Justice, to a Dutch Appeals Court in The Hague, to UK Supreme Court, to the Italian grievance mechanism, OECD National Contact Point, to the Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO), the independent watchdog and accountability mechanism for the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank Group as well as local courts, law suits and complaints have been filed left, right and center. Rulings have been handed down in favor of communities left destitute by the large-scale mining, forestry and agricultural activities of foreign companies.

4. Annual organization of the People’s Summit

The People’s Forum is an annual gathering of affected communities, grassroot environmental and land rights defenders, support organizations, environmental and human rights lawyers from member countries to share experiences and lessons learned. The Form is also designed to train, mobilize solidarity actions and campaigns on corporate accountability issues and community resistance in the framework of the law.