Deepening inequality; racial, ethnic and gender discrimination; increasing violence; and the expansion of land concessions and extractive projects is seen in many places across Mesoamerica. However, a vibrant civil society is pushing back against human rights abuses and working to hold governments, organized crime and corporations accountable. In response to their human rights advocacy, many human rights defenders and their families face retaliation from powerful state and non-state actors. This can take the form of harassment, criminalization, defamation, detention, torture, sexual or gender-based violence, and even death. Overbrook, therefore, looks to support organizations that seek to expand the space for activists to continue engaging in their important work safely and effectively.

Overbrook funds a variety of approaches to supporting human rights defenders at risk in Central America and Mexico, as the Foundation recognizes that responses must be holistic and layered to be effective. Providing both emergency and preventative responses, grantees have employed strategies that include: policy and legal advocacy efforts; peer-to-peer network building; physical accompaniment; trainings on risk analyses and security planning; self-care and wellbeing; digital and physical security measures; and emergency grants for threatened activists.  Given the heightened threats facing these defenders because of their identities and their activism, Overbrook is committed to those groups engaging and supporting rural, women, LGBT and indigenous human rights defenders, environmentalists and journalists at risk in the region.

Below are the Foundation's 2016 grantees supporting human rights defenders at risk in Mesoamerica.

American Jewish World Service

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

AJWS provides 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 are 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.

Center for Justice and International Law

General Operating Support - $40,000 (second 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 supports CEJIL’s 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 (first payment of a two-year grant)

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 The Overbrook Foundation enables CPJ to confront urgent press freedom challenges across the Americas.

Disability Rights International

Women’s Rights Advocacy Initiative: Mexico and Guatemala - $50,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

Disability Rights International (DRI) is the leading international advocacy organization dedicated to the human rights of people with disabilities. DRI has worked in more than thirty countries in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, the Americas, and Asia. DRI documents abuses, trains activists and collaborates with advocacy groups working to bring about sustainable reforms in their own countries.  The Women’s Rights Advocacy Initiative builds the capacity of women with disabilities to advocate for their own rights. DRI will focus on the concerns of women and girls in Mexico and Guatemala, sensitizing authorities to the violence, trafficking, and denial of reproductive rights within orphanages and psychiatric facilities.

Environmental Defender Law Center

General Operating Support - $30,000 (first payment of a three-year grant)

The Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC) works to protect the human rights of people 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 their 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 domestic and multinational corporations for past and threatened harms; and help communities stop unwanted resource development projects. EDLC also funds litigation costs by making grants to help bring cases against corporations and governments harming human rights and the environment; and advises and provides other resources to environmental defenders.  

Front Line USA Foundation

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

Front Line Defenders was founded 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 (first payment of a two-year grant)

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 providing legal counsel and assistance to Maya Q’eqchi’ communities in Guatemala that are fighting to secure legal recognition of their land and resource rights. The Center is helping the communities bring international attention and pressure to bear on Guatemala to stop human rights abuses and improve national legal and policy frameworks to recognize indigenous peoples’ collective rights.

Just Associates

Mesoamerican WHRD Initiative, Honduran WHRD Network, and Just Associates in Honduras - $40,000 (first payment of a two-year grant)

The Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IMD) was launched in 2010 in response to growing violence against women who defend rights (WHRDs) 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 the 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. 

Peace Brigades International

Providing Protective Accompaniment Support to Human Rights Defenders in Latin America - $50,000

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. PBI only comes in when responding to invitations from local human rights organizations and communities, such as indigenous communities, environmental organizations, lawyers, LGBTI activists, journalists, women’s organizations, trade unions and relatives of people who have been forcibly disappeared. 


General Operating Support - $25,000

The Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders (UDEFEGUA) is an organization that has provided individual and collective capacity-building services to human rights defenders in Guatemala and other Central American countries since 2000. UDEFEGUA’s mission is to support and empower human rights defenders in the management of their own security. UDEFEGUA performs numerous functions to help protect these human rights defenders, including: verification of assaults or incidents of harassment against human rights defenders, legal support, security advice, emergency support for high risk defenders, and specialized support for women human rights defenders and the establishment of networks for their protection.

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

Integral Approach to Supporting WHRDs: Rapid Response Grantmaking, Training, Networking and Advocacy - $50,000 (first payment of a three-year grant)

The Urgent Action Fund of Latin America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean (UAF-LA) is a feminist, non-profit organization that promotes and defends the Human Rights of women. UAF-LA invests in increasing the capacity of activists and movements and their resilience through integral protection, alliance building and collective learning opportunities. This work permits them to persevere under threat and to seize upon quickly unfolding moments of opportunity to change law, policy and public opinion. Four strategies are used to build these capacities: 1) rapid response grantmaking; 2) integrated security and self-care trainings; 3) convenings and other network-building opportunities, and 4) advocacy for women human rights defenders.


General Operating Support - Latin America - $50,000 (second 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 to promote their advocacy efforts.  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. 

Women’s Link Worldwide

General Operating Support - $20,000 (second payment of a two-year grant)

Founded in 2001, Women’s Link worldwide is an international human rights non-profit organization working to ensure that gender equality is a reality around the world. Women’s Link Worldwide advances the rights of women and girls through the development and strategic implementation of human rights law. Women’s Link works on issues such as sexual and reproductive rights, international gender crimes, and human trafficking, with a particular focus on how multiple forms of inequality and discrimination block women and girls from accessing their human rights.

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