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Structure and Content
Whether acting individually or as part of an organised group, human rights defenders are often the target of reprisals and may themselves be subject to human rights violations, including gender-based violence. Their essential work is in many contexts systematically hampered by the powers that be. There is in this light an increasing understanding within the international community of the importance of safeguarding and facilitating human rights defenders at national, regional and international level. The EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and related policy instruments firmly reflect such a commitment. The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders has expressed concern about the situation of human rights defenders in all countries ranging from emerging to long-established democracies. The UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflicts and the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences have similarly drawn attention both to the root causes of the phenomena that fall within their mandates and to the gender dimension. Women who promote and protect universally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms face numerous gender based challenges.
The Venice School 2020 is devoted to strengthening the work of human rights defenders both generally and in relation to campaigns for gender equality, protection against all forms of gender-based violence, and safeguarding children’s rights. By taking into account the age and gender markers, the programme enhances the deep understanding of the participants and provides them with useful tools. The programme is divided into three separate streams covering: human rights defenders, gender equality, and rights of the child, all of which address the issue of human rights defenders from different perspectives. A core introduction to each of the main perspectives will be provided to all participants in plenary, and following this, specialised seminars will be organised in smaller groups in the respective subject areas.
The general Human Rights Defenders stream explores possibilities for reinforcing the work of human rights defenders through a targeted engagement with international, regional and national human rights mechanisms as well as civil society organisations operative in areas intersecting with the work of local human rights defenders. Additional modules will examine the use of digital media for documenting and raising awareness of human rights violations, the dynamics of engaging with traumatised victims and protecting frontline defenders against secondary traumatisation, as well as a variety of contemporary challenges in working with human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.
The second main stream is devoted to developing a comprehensive gender sensitive approach to the work of human rights defenders. By examining the ways masculinities, femininities and sexual orientation define and impact on the work and lives, public and private, of men and women human rights defenders, it offers an in-depth understanding of the dynamics at play in different contexts. Particular attention will be devoted to sexual and gender-based violence, and to imminent threats to human rights in conflict and post-conflict situations and situations of repressive governance. Specific workshops are designed sharpen participants understanding through case studies and skills developing activities, discussing a variety of empirical evidence on gender-based violence in different contexts.
The third thematic stream of the School explores possibilities for engaging children as human rights defenders, raising awareness of human rights for future generations, operationalising children’s right to participation in all matters concerning them, and generally strengthening the protection of the rights of the child. Specialised modules will review findings, recommendations and possible follow-up action to a recently completed UN Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty (conducted by the Global Campus Secretary General, Manfred Nowak).
A red thread running through the Venice School programme will be to highlight and work with the concrete experience of participants, who bring a rich legacy of engagement in complex human rights situations to bear on the programme.