#RealityCheck 4: Providing Support to Human Rights Defenders in Mexico

17 June 2020   ·   Stefania Grasso

Stefania Grasso, Advocacy Officer at “Aluna,” explains how COVID-19 impacts the provision of psychosocial support to human rights defenders in Mexico. As the pandemic particularly threatens marginalized communities and people fighting for their rights, external actors should ensure financial stability for civil society organizations and continue monitoring human rights.

1. What does your work on crisis prevention and peacebuilding normally look like? What kind of project were you working on before Corona

Aluna Psychosocial Accompaniment (Aluna) is a Mexican NGO, which provides psychosocial support to human rights defenders at risk, such as defenders of land and territory, indigenous peoples’ rights, migrants, victims of gender-based violence, relatives of disappeared people, and journalists. According to Front Line Defenders’ 2019 Report, Mexico is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for human rights defenders: among others, they are the objects of attacks such as murder, torture, forced displacement, enforced disappearance, smear, and hate campaigns. The socio-political violence they face has a profound impact not only on their personal lives, but also within their organizations, in their families and in their communities. At Aluna, we identify four areas impacted by violence: human rights defenders’ security and protection, psychological well-being, their internal relationships and dynamics, and their political projects. Aluna’s overall goal is to support human rights defenders in fortifying their capacities in order to continue their efforts towards positive social transformation and the search for a dignified life.

Aluna has three main areas of work:

  • Psychosocial support for human rights defenders. We provide both emergency support and, on a long term basis, support for NGOs to help strengthening their organization in the abovementioned areas impacted by violence.
  • Training on psychosocial support for professionals who want to integrate the psychosocial perspective in their work.
  • Finally, we have an advocacy team whose goal is raising awareness on the situation of human rights defenders within different stakeholders such as donor agencies, embassies, local and international NGOs. Also, we aim at positioning the psychosocial approach as a valuable tool for civil society organizations to strengthen themselves and better cope with the impacts of violence. Our awareness raising efforts include promoting exchange among NGOs across Mexico, Latin America, and in the Global South; carrying out research on the impacts of socio-political violence on human rights defenders and their response mechanisms; producing video and written material; engaging in social media; and actively participating in civil society networks.

2. How has Corona influenced your work? What challenges and new opportunities are you currently facing?

Mexico has been facing a context of deteriorating political violence following the implementation of so-called “war on drug-trafficking” starting in 2006, which caused widespread human rights violations. The pandemic has worsened this situation by exacerbating social inequalities: marginalized communities such as migrants, people experiencing homelessness, women victims of gender-based violence, indigenous communities, and low income people, among others, are hit the hardest by the pandemic for their lack of access to proper healthcare, water and for not being able to properly perform social distancing (they generate income on a daily basis). The same applies for most human rights defenders: apart from the risk of being attacked for the work they do, they often also do not have the conditions to protect themselves from getting infected while carrying out their job. 

As a consequence, the pandemic had a deep impact on Aluna. Firstly, we were faced with the challenge to analyze the way the pandemic is impacting human rights defenders, and rethink and diversify the tools we use to support them. Furthermore, social distancing measures forced us to move our face-to-face support work to online platforms which has posed difficulties per se as not everyone has access to internet connection and/or to digital equipment. Moreover, we are increasingly worried about the threats to security posed by online platforms, not only concerning the possibility of extracting sensible information from participants’ devices, but also because a number of online meetings have been infiltrated by perpetrators. Finally, our work load has increased due to the high number of human rights defenders seeking psychosocial support to deal with the impacts of the pandemic. 

One of the opportunities we identified is that since the beginning of the pandemic, the interest in mental health increased. We had the opportunity to facilitate workshops and to participate in many online debates providing a psychosocial overview of how the pandemic has impacted mental health and what can be done to overcome its impacts. It is a great opportunity to advocate for the importance of mental health from a broad perspective. Also, to respond to this, we have created an ad hoc section on our website to share information, analyses, and tools to better respond to the pandemic.

One of the biggest challenges we face is keeping human rights violations and socio-political violence on the public and on the government’s agendas, right at a time when all the attention is focused on the pandemic.

3. What kind of external support do you think is needed now? What can external actors like Germany do in your view?

In these difficult times, civil society organizations such as Aluna are facing a lot of uncertainty not only on how to carry out our work in safe working conditions but also about the future: the upcoming recession will pose many challenges for the financial sustainability of our projects. It is important to be able to keep on counting on financial support not only for our projects but also for our workers.

Finally, it is vital that the international community keeps monitoring the human rights situation in Mexico and expresses concern about the dire situation human rights defenders and journalists are facing. We welcome the willingness of external actors like Germany to keep engaging in conversations with the civil society to get a more comprehensive glance of what is going on in the country, to legitimize their work and give visibility to it.

Aluna is a partner organization of the Civil Peace Service.

Zivilgesellschaft English Menschenrechte COVID-19

Stefania Grasso

Stefania Grasso is an Advocacy Officer at the Mexican NGO Aluna Acompañamiento Psicosocial. The organization aims at providing psychosocial support to human rights defenders and journalists at risk.