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. 

Below are Overbrook’s 2014 grantees defending human rights defenders in Latin America.

Amazon Conservation Team

Linking Human Rights and Environmental Protection in Columbia: Designing a first contact contingency plan with isolated tribes in the Amazon - $17,500 (third payment of a three-year grant, jointly funded with the Environment Program)

The Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) works in partnership with indigenous peoples to conserve biodiversity and culture in South America, and is committed to building trusting relationships with indigenous and agrarian communities, enabling them to play a focal role in the protection of the Amazon. ACT proposes to safeguard the rights and livelihoods of isolated indigenous groups—tribes without contact with Western society—and biodiversity within the Puré River and Cahuinarí National Parks and adjacent indigenous reserves in the Colombian Amazon by developing contingency plans for uncontacted tribes in the very likely situation of eventual contact with national society. The contiguous project area—the Northwest Amazon Biocultural Conservation Corridor—comprises more than 22 million acres of uninterrupted rainforests between the Caquetá and Putumayo Rivers in Colombia, bordering Peru and Brazil.

American Jewish World Service

Promoting Human Rights for Marginalized Communities in Latin America - $50,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service (AJWS) works to realize human rights and end poverty in the global south. Through this project, American Jewish World Service will promote natural resource rights, sexual health and rights, and civil and political participation for marginalized communities in Latin America, particularly for human rights defenders, women and indigenous populations. To achieve this, AJWS provides grants and capacity building programs to community based groups. Overbrook’s support will enable AJWS’ grantees to improve their own security and protection against threats, have greater access to safety mechanisms, and experience increased visibility around their protection needs.


General Operating Support - $25,000 

The Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that aims to protect and promote human rights in the Americas through the effective use of the mechanisms of protection of the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAS) and international human rights law. CEJIL seeks to contribute to reducing the inequality and exclusion that prevails in the region in order to guarantee the right to equality and respect for human dignity. It also commits to the strengthening of democracies, in particular of the rule of law and of democratic oversight bodies, justice systems, civil society, human rights defenders, and other key social actors. CEJIL responds to grave human rights abuses related to the violation of the right to life, integrity, and security, committed or tolerated by different actors, and assists in obtaining justice. Finally, by increasing the effectiveness of the Inter-American System, CEJIL furthers equal access for all persons to its protection mechanisms, contributes to improvements in its operation, and advocates for the full implementation of its decisions.

Committee to Protect Journalists

General Operating Support - $20,000

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. CPJ was founded in 1981 by a group of U.S. journalists seeking to help foreign colleagues who faced violence and repression. Today, CPJ is widely recognized as a leader in the global movement for media freedom.  Overbrook’s grant will particularly support CPJ’s advocacy around freedom of expression and security support for journalists in the Americas.

Environmental Defender Law Center

General Operating Support - $25,000 (first 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.

Human Rights Watch

Combating Human Rights Violations in Mexico - $45,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

For more than 30 years, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has fought tenaciously to bring greater justice and security to people around the world. Human Rights Watch uses a proven methodology to achieve long-term, meaningful impact: meticulous research that provides irrefutable evidence of serious human rights abuse; widespread communication of its research findings in a variety of formats and languages; and, compelling advocacy targeting decision-makers who will bring about change. Human Rights Watch has documented grave human rights abuses in Mexico, including rape, torture, “disappearances,” and killings, committed by security forces, who are virtually never held accountable. After this research, the organization plans to press for systematic changes within Mexico that will address the chronic abuses and impunity that HRW has documented.

Front Line Defenders

Protecting Latin American Human Rights Defenders - $50,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

Front Line: The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders (HRDs), people who work non-violently for the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Front Line Defenders has assisted HRDs in over 151 countries through a personalized and flexible program of tangible support that includes elements of immediate, medium and long-term protection and capacity building. The core elements of the Front Line Defenders program include security grant support, training, advocacy, promotion of HRD networking and access to the mechanisms of the UN and other regional bodies. The intended outcome of this program is the protection of Latin American human rights defenders, which will result in an expansion in the space in which they can work to promote a open and just society throughout Latin America.

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.

International Service for Human Rights

Promoting a Safe and Enabling Environment for Human Rights Defenders in Meso- and Latin America: Consultation on a Model Law for Human Rights Defenders - $25,000

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) promotes and protects human rights by supporting human rights defenders and strengthening the United Nations and other human rights systems. Between 2014 and 2016, ISHR will work with civil society partners to develop a model national law for human rights defenders. Once developed, this law could be adapted and adopted to fit particular needs in any country around the world. A model law is expected to assist civil society organizations and countries to develop laws, policies and institutions to support the work of defenders and implement the ‘Declaration on Human Rights Defenders’ at the national level. Through a consultation with defenders from the region, ISHR will document gaps in and needs for protection in Latin America. The participation of Latin American civil society in developing this model law will help ensure that the law is useful for them as an advocacy tool.

Just Associates (JASS)

Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative$25,000

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

Protecting Human Rights Defenders in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia - $30,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

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 supports PBI's work in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Colombia.

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

General Operating Support - $40,000 (first 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 involves grantees in evaluating 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.


Promoting Human Rights in the Americas Through Video-for-Change - $45,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

WITNESS is a global nonprofit organization based in New York that promotes the use of video in support of human rights. For two decades, WITNESS has demonstrated that with the proper skills, tools, networks and platforms, human rights defenders throughout the world can harness the power of communications technologies to address violations and support their rights. Today, as ever-increasing numbers of activists and ordinary people throughout the world are turning to video-for-change, WITNESS seeks to ensure that those closest to home – in North America and Latin America – do so safely, ethically and effectively. WITNESS is well positioned to lead this effort given its two decades of expertise at the intersection of human rights, media and technology and its deep commitment to furthering human rights in the Americas.

Grantees by Year:  2017  |  2016  |  2015  |  2014