Human rights defenders

Entrenched inequality; ongoing racial, ethnic and gender discrimination; increasing levels of violence; and weak judicial systems exist in many places across Latin America.  However, a vibrant civil society is pushing back against these human rights abuses and working to hold governments, criminal groups and corporations accountable. A result of this activism is that many human rights defenders and their families face retaliation by those state and non-state actors that they challenge, in the form of harassment, detention, interrogation, imprisonment, torture and even death. 

Overbrook funds varying approaches to defending human rights defenders at risk in Latin America. These strategies for supporting human rights activists and their families/communities on the ground range from physically extracting activists who find themselves in dangerous situations, to organizing campaigns calling international attention to activists under attack, to providing them with training on how to operate safely on the internet and maintain secure and private communications with their fellow activists.  Others are using networked models of support and solidarity across movements and geographies, offering legal support or re-granting to strengthen civil society responses to ongoing threats. Given the Foundation's overall programmatic priorities, Overbrook is particularly committed to supporting organizations working in Mesoamerica, and those groups engaging and supporting women human rights defenders, LGBT defenders, journalists and environmental defenders through this portfolio.

Below are the Foundation's 2015 grantees defending human rights defenders in Latin America.

American Jewish World Service

Promoting Human Rights for Marginalized People in Mesoamerica, with a Special Focus on Human Rights Defenders - $50,000 (first payment of a three-year grant)

AJWS will provide support to grassroots organizations and larger strategic allies working in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico to promote the rights of marginalized people in AJWS’s three grantmaking issue areas: civil and political rights, natural resource rights, and sexual health and rights. A critical aspect of this support is promoting the protection and security of human rights defenders. By ensuring their safety and security, AJWS’s grantees will be better able to build communities’ awareness of their rights, document human rights abuses, conduct advocacy campaigns, take legal action, build movements, reduce stigma and discrimination, and increase leadership skills to advance agendas and movements.


General Operating Support - $40,000 (first payment of a two-year grant)

Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working to advance human rights in the Americas. CEJIL strives to improve the realities of individuals and groups of people – particularly vulnerable groups – throughout the Americas. It does this by selecting human rights issues endemic to the region and then working tirelessly to improve them through legal defense, advocacy, capacity building, and press and media work. These issues include gender violence, threats to freedom of expression, lack of respect for the rights of indigenous communities, modern-day slavery, statelessness, torture, forced disappearance, and violence against human rights defenders, among others.  This grant will help CEJIL work toward its vision by supporting its organizational objectives, with an emphasis on protecting and empowering human rights defenders and strengthening the Inter-American Human Rights System.

Committee to Protect Journalists

Press Freedom in the Americas - $25,000

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) promotes press freedom worldwide and defends the right of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal. CPJ ensures the free flow of news and commentary by taking action wherever journalists are censored, attacked, imprisoned, or killed for their work. Founded in 1981, CPJ has grown to become a leading voice in the global movement for free expression. Support from Overbrook will enable CPJ to uphold press freedom in the Americas at a crucial moment.

Environmental Defender Law Center

General Operating Support - $25,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

The Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) works to protect the human rights of individuals and communities in developing countries who are fighting against harm to their environment. EDLC’s primary role is brokering: identifying cases of people who are suffering human rights abuses while protecting the environment and their way of life, and enlisting lawyers from premier firms to work on their behalf. EDLC and the law firms defend these environmental defenders from unfounded criminal charges and civil suits; argue for the enforcement of international human rights norms to local courts and human rights bodies; bring precedent-setting claims against multinational corporations; and help communities stop unwanted resource development projects.


Front Line Defenders

Protection of Latin American Human Rights Defenders - $50,000 (first payment of a three-year grant)

Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of providing protection to human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk.  The organization addresses the needs directly identified by human rights defenders through the provision of rapid and practical support, capacity building, and the promotion of strengthened international and regional mechanisms for their protection. The objective of this project is to enhance the safety of human rights defenders in Latin America who are at risk because of their human rights work.

Indian Law Resource Center

Protecting Maya Q’eqchi’ Land and Resource Rights in Guatemala - $35,000

The Indian Law Resource Center is a legal advocacy organization working to promote and defend the human rights of indigenous peoples in the Americas. The Center provides assistance without charge to Indian nations and other indigenous communities that are working to protect their lands, environments, cultures and ways of life; combat racism and oppression; achieve sustainable economic development and genuine self-government; and, realize their human rights. The Center is serving as legal counsel to a Maya Q’eqchi’ community and assisting other Q’eqchi’ communities in El Estor, Guatemala, that are fighting to secure legal title to their lands and resources, and stop a nickel mine from expanding onto their ancestral lands. The Center has taken this case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The task at hand is to deliver sound and compelling legal arguments to convince the Commission that the human rights violations against the Center’s clients merit strong and immediate corrective actions by the Guatemalan government. It also seeks to secure and monitor measures of protection for members of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community at risk.

Just Associates

Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative $40,000

The Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IMD) was launched in 2010 in response to growing violence against women who defend rights in the Mesoamerican countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. By bringing a gender analysis to the violent contexts they confront, and developing the political and empowering nature of self-care, the IMD —managed by a coordinating team of Consorcio para el Diálogo Parlamentario y la Equidad-Oaxaca, AWID, UDEFEGUA, La Colectiva Feminista, Central American Women’s Fund, the National Women Defenders Network in Honduras, and JASS (Just Associates)—seeks to strengthen and protect women and their movements, and underline how human rights and gender equality are fundamental to any movement for peace and social justice. The IMD generates data and analysis to raise awareness about the risks and gendered violence faced by women human rights defenders and has developed a range of strategies to reduce risks to promote holistic protection. This holistic protection includes building national networks and regional linkages for self-defense and rapid response, and training and self-care programs.  

Peace Brigades International

Providing Protective Accompaniment Support to Human Rights Defenders in Latin America - $40,000

Peace Brigades International (PBI) uses its international presence and global networks to protect, support and enable the work of human rights defenders and local activists for peaceful social change.  PBI’s signature approach is international protective accompaniment but support is also provided through capacity building, policy advocacy, and other creative approaches. International protective accompaniment is an integrated accompaniment strategy that uses the direct presence of international volunteers on the ground combined with a range of associated networking, communications and advocacy tools applied at the local, national, regional and global levels. Overbrook's grant will be used for PBI's work in Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala.

Urgent Action Fund of Latin America for Women’s Human Rights

General Operating Support - $40,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

The Urgent Action Fund of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (FAU-AL) is a feminist, non-profit organization that promotes and defends the Human Rights of the diversity of women. It mobilizes resources in support of women’s organizations and human rights activists through Rapid Response Grants (RRG) when they require time-urgent access to small grants to take advantage of unanticipated opportunities or confront unexpected threats. The organization also collaborates with grantees to evaluate its Rapid Response Grant Making and engages them in conversations related to the Sustainability of Women’s Human Rights Activism. FAU-AL and participating grantees will continue to investigate and implement best practices for defending women’s human rights in the context of threats from “shadow powers” (i.e. non-state actors) and the defense of women’s rights to territory, land, and food sovereignty in areas of intensive resource extraction.


General Operating Support - Latin America - $71,000 (first payment of a twenty-nine month grant)

For two decades, WITNESS has empowered human rights defenders to use video to expose the truth and catalyze human rights change. Today, as an ever-increasing number and diversity of people in Latin America turn to video, technology, and storytelling as tools for civic participation and change, WITNESS sees a powerful opportunity to ensure that millions of people can use video safely, ethically, and effectively.  Its allies include human rights NGOs with decades of experience, newly organized movements of video activists, lawyers, grassroots community organizers, and ordinary citizens joining human rights campaigns for the first time. 

Grantees by Year:  2015  |  2014  |  2013