The Psychosocial Approach, Applied to the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

8 December 2021

Protection International aims to enable and protect the free exercise of the right to defend human rights. To achieve this, we promote a comprehensive approach to the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs). Our approach is multifaceted, interdisciplinary and ever-evolving. There are a few core elements that constitute the foundation for our interventions at the local, regional and international levels:

Right to defend human rights: We promote a rights-based approach to the protection of HRDs, seeing them as subjects of rights, rather than objects of protection. Read more about it in our publication “The Right to Defend Human Rights, From a Critical Approach”.

Collective protection: We promote collective strategies that strengthen the group and allow for more sustainable protection practices that go beyond individual security measures.

Protection networks: We promote the strengthening of internal and external solidarity networks among HRD groups and communities so that they are better positioned to confront threats and attacks.
Psychosocial approach: We understand that care and protection are indivisible. This means that protection strategies should address the individual and collective emotional impacts that HRDs experience as part of their struggles and processes, as well as integrate strategies for individual and collective well-being as a part of protection.

Explaining the Core Elements of Our Approach

Human rights defenders (HRDs) carry out their activities in difficult contexts, in which the sensation of risk or threat, and the fear or stress that this can generate, make it inevitable that HRDs are emotionally impacted at the individual and/org collective level. Therefore, when we work with HRDs we must guarantee individual and collective psychosocial care. This means, among other things, incorporating the principle of Do No Harm to our work and having the ability to identify symptoms of personal and group distress.

In “The Psychosocial Approach, Applied to the Protection of Human Rights Defenders”, we briefly explain what we understand by the psychosocial approach, what implications it has for protection work with human rights defenders, and what are the main elements to take into account for the effective application of this approach.

What do we understand by the term ‘psychosocial approach’?

We understand the psychosocial approach to be a lens through which we pay attention to the impact of the social and political context on the emotional well-being of people. This approach seeks to identify the emotional impacts both individually and collectively, and strengthen the coping mechanisms that people and groups can activate when confronted with fear, stress and traumatic experiences.

Some key messages from this publication:

Care and protection are indivisible: This means that protection strategies must acknowledge the individual and collective emotional impacts that HRDs experience as part of their struggles and processes, as well as integrate strategies that contribute to individual and collective well-being as part of protection.
Emotions can impact safety: In order for protection plans to be implemented, it is important to recognise the impact of emotions on safety. Practitioners should work on both cohesion and collective responsibility, taking into account both individual and group needs.

Take a non-individualistic approach: We conceive the psychosocial approach as a lens through which to identify, analyse and address the different impacts of socio-political violence, which is rooted in the larger environment in which an HRD or community is situated. This means more than just adopting an individualistic approach, based solely on personal well-being and self-care.

Strengthen coping strategies specific to HRDs: We should recognise and enhance the resources of individuals and groups. It is important that we focus on repair and autonomy, rather than illness or revictimization.

There are no standard formulas: Each organisation requires its own type of support, with its own rhythms and objectives, which will be designed based on a detailed analysis of their needs. There are no pre-established formulas or pre-set recipes for how this work should be done.

Thanks to the Gulf Centre for Human Rights for providing the Arabic translation.