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"Lessons on Self-Protection Measures and Protection of Human Rights Defenders and Leaders"

For the Fund, it has been a priority to contribute to the protection of human rights defenders and social leaders to ensure the construction of an inclusive peace in which communities are free to participate in social, political, and economic processes. Thus, the Fund supported a first call in which 11 leading CSOs, along with 18 partner organizations, implemented community actions for the protection and self-protection of social leaders and human rights defenders.

Building on the lessons learned from this experience, a second call was opened, in which 18 leading CSOs, in partnership with 60 allies from various regions, developed strategies to strengthen collective and networked action, the adoption of prevention and self-protection measures, as well as the visibility, recognition, and destigmatization of human rights defenders, social leaders, community leaders, environmental activists, those involved in land restitution processes, PNIS participants, or people in the reintegration process. This enables them to demand concrete protection measures.

In both calls, more than 12,000 people participated, and they now recognize institutional protection and assistance procedures, as well as specific self-protection measures tailored to their respective contexts. This empowers them to work towards destigmatization, both in terms of their leadership roles and for those who have reintegrated into civilian life.

This document reflects the insights shared by the implementing organizations from the second call during the closing event. The analysis followed the following lines:

  1. Specific gaps, vulnerabilities, and impacts affecting women defenders, Afrodescendants, Indigenous, rural communities, and peace signatories were identified, along with the actions that organizations implemented to mitigate these impacts.

  2. Good practices and lessons learned were discussed.

  3. Recommendations were outlined for international cooperation, institutions, and other organizations.

Impacts and actions for women defenders and leaders


Actions taken by organizations

Lack of social, political, and institutional recognition of the work carried out by women leaders and defenders.

  • Security and self-protection plans that link political activities and include community support networks and organizational capacities. Implementation of territorial and national advocacy strategies that allow for organized and informed dialogue on specific needs.

Ineffective comprehensive protection route and measures lacking a gender perspective.

  • Feminist cartographies to identify risk factors and institutions. Conducting workshops to identify community self-protection and self-care mechanisms. Psychological-legal support route, assistance for accessing justice.

Stigmatization based on their role, combining factors such as age, territory, ethnic background, sexual orientation, among others.

  • Five civil society organizations in Antioquia received communication tools for advocacy that fostered protective environments, recognition of knowledge, demands, and initiatives of women leaders.

Psychological and emotional wear and tear resulting from GBV, and sexual violence: objectification of women's bodies by armed actors mainly.

  • Psycho-emotional support and the creation of safe spaces in the communities.

Digital divide and lack of connectivity.

  • Development of technical skills and abilities in information security with specific software (installed on mobile phones) and the delivery of mobile packages.

Lack of remuneration for the work done, which hinders the guarantee of dignified and stable conditions. Impoverishment in rural areas.

  • Strengthening women's businesses, complemented with knowledge of their rights to achieve economic autonomy. Advocacy and territorial positioning of agendas promoting women's economic empowerment. Administrative improvement for their civil society organizations (CSOs).

Impact and actions for Indigenous leaders


Actions taken by organizations

Fear of participating in decision-making spaces (violence or lack of recognition).

  • Invitation to various community leaders to gather as many people as possible.

  • Organizing "Mingas" (community work gatherings).

  • Initiating gatherings with harmonizations to establish a state of tranquility and trust.

Barriers to engaging with public institutions (lack of awareness and stigmatization).

  • Entities were brought to the territory to open relationship-building spaces and create bonds. Advocacy meetings with embassies and the national government in Bogotá, having previously coordinated issues and proposals with the community.

Lack of knowledge regarding procedures and pathways to demand rights protection.

  • Socialization with the communities about the collective security route.

  • Training for leaders on indigenous special jurisdiction.

Lack of accurate information about threats and attacks against indigenous communities.

  • Characterization of leaders at risk was conducted. Transfer of information collected in scattered areas to larger networks for consolidation, coordination, and archiving.

Lack of knowledge and stigmatization of their own protection and harmonization mechanisms.

  • Performing a characterization of the indigenous guard. Promoting dialogue and coordination with justice institutions for the creation of an inter-jurisdictional route and the regulation of harmonization centers with the indigenous guard as officials of these.

Lack of resources for the sustainability and strengthening of organizational processes and the individual support of leaders.

  • Provision of bonuses for leaders, traditional healers, and the indigenous guard for their roles. Provision of computers and tools that facilitate their work.

Barriers to the participation of indigenous women in leadership spaces

  • Women's exclusive spaces. Ensuring conditions for participation in workshops with their children. Building a women's network.

Impacts and actions of rural leaders


Actions taken by organizations

Stigmatization of the work of human rights defenders, particularly related to land access.

  • Emergency Funds. Legal Assistance. Strengthening of community guards. Humanitarian Shelters. Toolkits: with prevention/self-protection protocols, institutional route protocols, women's care route.

Lack of Information.

  • Observatories (analytical bulletins) Monitoring and follow-up - Early warnings with the Public Ministry Educational offerings: training in peaceful conflict resolution, communications topics such as ex-combatants, Community Action Boards (JAC), workshops for destigmatization.


  • Communication, for example, newspapers for signatories and the community. Coordination with the institutions.

Presence of the state, but only military, not as a guarantor of rights.

  • Advocacy

  • Organizational strengthening to be recognized as rights-holders

  • Regional and national dialogues

  • Participation forums

Affectations and Actions of Afrodescendant Leaders


Actions taken by organizations

Affectations to Physical Integrity and Human Rights (Homicides, Threats, Stigmatization, Accusations)

  • Own communication codes. Creation of community networks. Community communication strategies to prevent stigmatization and accusations. Strengthening of Cimarron Guards.

Gender-based violence due to non-normative sexual orientation and gender identity or because of being a black woman.

  • Routes and work plans with the communities.

Impact by armed groups (legal and illegal) State institutions/political groups

  • Facilitate information on access to institutional channels of assistance and national and regional political advocacy to bring institutions and communities closer together.

Family and community tensions due to a lack of information or understanding about the work of defenders.

  • Psychosocial work with knowledge transfer in self-care.


Best practices and lessons learned.

Psychosocial well-being: Having a constant presence of individuals who provide psychosocial support and simultaneously collect data on the impacts, as the Women's Violence Observatory of the ACIN Women's Network in the Northern Cauca resguardos does. This allows for addressing the psychosocial needs of defenders and simultaneously recording the issues

Integration of a gender perspective into protection and self-protection actions.

  • Creation of exclusive spaces for women, raising awareness within family units about care work, and involving women in non-traditional roles (e.g., indigenous guard).

  • LIMPAL provided defenders with a package of cybersecurity tools for their mobile phones, along with a protocol for the appropriate use of social media and digital self-protection.

Dissemination of initiatives through mass but community-oriented mechanisms. CREDHOS used door-to-door leafleting, broadcasts on community radio stations, and information sharing through village-level meetings.

Identification of contextual barriers that hinder project execution and implementation of actions to mitigate them. Diagnoses of institutional practices regarding specific issues (e.g., Feminist Mapping in local entities → Institutional training on addressing Gender-Based Violence), diagnoses of community capacities (e.g., Identification of limited digital literacy → Digital literacy workshops).

Creation of interactive platforms for monitoring alerts. The ANANSI Network, operating in Chocó, created a web platform through which defenders can report threat alerts and simultaneously monitor alerts published by other defenders by municipality. This platform operates in 14 municipalities in Chocó and one in Antioquia.

Simultaneous work on maintaining community memory and fostering new leadership. The Orlando Fals Borda Collective worked on strengthening memory through art to help individuals recognize the root conflicts of social leaders' struggles.

Creation of gender-focused indigenous guards. The IELCO organization supported the establishment of the indigenous guard of the Embera Eyabida indigenous community in the municipalities of Dabeiba and Frontiño in Antioquia. The women of the community created the Indigenous Women's Network of the Frontino and Dabeiba Guard, where they received training not only in community protection and self-protection concepts but also in gender-based violence prevention and gender equity promotion within the community.

Intergenerational knowledge exchange spaces. The Alliance for Peace organization identified that the digital divide among human rights defenders in Carepa, Antioquia, can be bridged through learning spaces facilitated by young community members (digital natives), who, in turn, receive knowledge about the issues in the region and the importance of defending the territory, nature, and dignified life.


Recommendations based on the challenges faced by organizations and their understanding of territorial dynamics:

  1. Recommendations on strategic communication and knowledge management actions that should be funded due to their effectiveness:

  • Include Regional Commercial Journalism: Involve regional commercial journalism in communication actions to prevent stigmatization.

  • Integrate Communication Strategies with Advocacy Plans: Unify communication strategies with the advocacy plans of organizations through the generation of maps of institutional actors and communication actors to create transformative changes.

  • Promote Communication to Prevent Stigmatization: Advocate for communication strategies that reclaim social leadership, explaining the work being done by leaders to make the public understand their actions.

  • Documentation of Processes for Credible Information: Document the processes to provide accurate information about actions taken against defenders. Standardize information through formats and systematic processes.

  • Highlight Collective Leadership: Emphasize collective leadership over individual leadership to avoid risking one individual and showcase community-driven processes of rights advocacy.

  • Promote the Creation of Community and Alternative Media Networks: Encourage the establishment of networks for community and alternative media to preserve memory, prevent stigmatization, and advocate for community processes.

  • Promote Cross-Territorial Information Sharing: Encourage information from different territories to identify common patterns and joint processes that can advance monitoring, for example.

  • Provide Technical and Technological Skills: Offer technical and technological capabilities to create communication products that reflect the reality and expectations of communities.

  • Promote the Creation of Internal Communication Networks: Encourage the development of internal communication networks within the community.

  • Support Community Learning with Communication Product Development: Promote community learning processes alongside the development of communication products.

  • Support Alternative and Community Media: Aid alternative and community media to become self-sustaining and self-sufficient communication sources for communities.

  • Promote Journalism Schools and Media Strategies within Social Organizations: Encourage the establishment of journalism schools and media strategies within social organizations to support the work of leaders.

  • Include Commercial Communication Actors: Collaborate with commercial communication actors, such as commercial channels and advertising agencies, to work collaboratively in communicating the realities of communities.

  • Promote the Creation of Observatories for Data Collection: Establish observatories to collect information on attacks, threats, leader mapping, and specific aspects, such as gender-based violence.

  • Develop Communication Plans Aligned with Organizational Risk Maps: Create communication plans in line with organizational risk maps.

  • Create Edu-Communication Pieces: Develop edu-communication materials to provide knowledge to communities, including technical support for leaders conducting pedagogical activities.

  • Utilize Alternative Communication and Digital Security Mechanisms: Encourage the use of alternative communication methods and digital security practices.

  • Training and Strengthening of Leaders in Digital Rights: Train and empower leaders in digital rights, promoting digital literacy as a self-protection mechanism.

  • Learning Duos with Youth (Digital Natives) and Leaders (Digital Migrants): Promote learning pairs with young individuals (digital natives) and leaders (digital migrants) to empower young people and facilitate intergenerational knowledge exchange.

  • For Cooperation: Develop Dialogue Spaces for Process Analysis: Establish dialogue spaces for the analysis of catalytic processes in the territory and finance processes rather than disjointed interventions to avoid the dilution of aid and the promotion of "fictional" alliances formed solely for resource acquisition.

  • For Cooperation: Publish Information about Participating Organizations in the Fund: Publish information about organizations participating in the fund to facilitate connections among them.

  • For Cooperation: Strengthen Communication Capacity: Ensure that all processes supported by cooperation are accompanied by parallel strengthening of communication capacity within organizations, recognizing the strategic importance of communication in social processes.

  • Collaborate with Journalists and Communicators: Form strong support networks with professionals working in regional and national media to better understand the media landscape and avenues for influence.

  • Promote Responsible Use of Social Media: Advocate for responsible social media use, providing training on identifying fake news and using applications without exposing data that may put defenders at risk.

2. Recommendations on the Types of Community and Network Actions That Should Be Funded Due to Their Effectiveness:

  • Facilitate projects that contribute to the economic sustainability of defenders and the community to eliminate their vulnerability. Include sustainability of ongoing processes and networks.

  • Continue recognized advocacy processes and political authorship (women leaders).

  • Territorial monitoring networks: community training, coordination with institutions, and qualified observatories for data collection and dissemination.

  • Support for self-protection mechanisms: e.g., safe houses, humanitarian spaces, shelters, comprehensive care centers (equipped, with qualified personnel for post-accompaniment), emergency funds.

  • Strengthen/acknowledge established processes: connectivity needs, support for local guards, such as equipment and training with a territorial/gender/ethnic focus, pedagogy on the Peace Agreement.

  • Strengthen peace initiatives, especially those involving children and adolescents. Let young people design methodologies to engage with their communities and the work of social leadership.

  • Promote knowledge management spaces within organizations, networks, and communities to facilitate knowledge exchange regarding what is happening in the territories, the demands that social leaders should make, and best practices for their protection and self-protection.

  • Promote destigmatization spaces, including community networks and peace signatories.

  • Promote actions that include harmonization spaces, Afro and Indigenous for healing, psychosocial and psychospiritual care, ancestral practices, guidance from elders, self-exercises, traditional medical practitioner recognition.

  • Include training for public officials, especially on inclusive project approaches, recognition of traditional authorities, and work on protection and institutional routes.

  • Actions for coordinating the information available in the territories with national institutional bases.

3. Recommendations for public policy to local and national public institutions:


  • Provide collective and individual security guarantees with a comprehensive framework that takes into account the specific conditions of territories and individuals.

  • Decentralize the institutional offering and territorialize the concept of human security.

  • Mainstream the gender perspective in early warnings from the Defensoría.

Prevention and protection

  • Define Territorial Guarantees Tables for Human Rights Defenders, with binding commitments, especially for local authorities.

  • Territorialization of the Program for Guarantees for Women Leaders and Defenders with allocated budget, including measures addressing educational, employment, and psychosocial support needs.

  • Strengthen monitoring of policy implementation in coordination instances with indigenous peoples.

  • Strengthen the consultation instances with the Commission for Coordination with Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples.

  • Support the self-protection mechanisms (indigenous, maroon, and rural guards).

  • Ensure participation guarantees for indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in the formulation, implementation, and monitoring of public policy.

  • Develop plans for the prevention of human rights violations with clear routes and a public prevention policy in the territory with allocated budget.

  • Promote progress in judicial investigations where human rights defenders have been victims to combat impunity.


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