Human Rights Defenders at Risk (with Adam Shapiro of Front Line Defenders)

In this episode, we are joined by Adam Shapiro of the organization Front Line Defenders to discuss the situation of human rights defenders at risk. We ask “What kind of challenges do human rights defenders face?” ‘What kinds of tactics are used to suppress their human rights activities?” And finally, “What can we do to help them?”

Welcome back to Talking Human Rights. In this episode, we are joined by Adam Shapiro of Front Line Defenders, an organization devoted to the protection of human rights defenders all over the world.

We invited Adam to the show for a few reasons. We wanted to learn more about the organization in general, having heard of the incredible work it performs on behalf of hundreds of human rights defenders who find themselves targeted by state, corporate, and other interests as a result of the work they do. Among the services Front Line Defenders provides to human rights defenders are: emergency protection grants to help pay for legal services, and for medical bills when a human rights defender is physically attacked; help with security including technology security; temporary relocation services; and advocating for human rights defenders publicly and in numerous forums including the United Nations where Front Line Defenders holds a consultative status.

We also wanted to invite Adam here to get his take on what is happening to Palestinian activist Issa Amro, (pictured above, blindfolded and under arrest by the Israeli military), whose case Front Line Defenders is tracking and whose life and work as a non-violent activist — along with the ongoing campaign of harassment, threats, arrests, and detentions he faces, because of his work — has been the focus of Talking Human Rights’ recent four-part series Palestinian Gandhi on Trial. We wanted to ask, “How common are the tactics that we have seen used against Issa?” “Has the international campaign to free Issa been effective?” and “What is the end-game of the authorities who seem to be holding him perpetually on trial?”

And finally, we wanted to put all of this into the wider context, to talk about human rights defenders more broadly. We ask, “What kinds of issues do human rights defenders face when doing their work?” “What regional patterns do we see in the treatment of human rights defenders?” and “What can we do to effectively stand by them?” 



If you want to go deeper into the issues faced by human rights defenders, we suggest starting with the following:

Listen to: Front Line Defenders’ podcast, Rights on the Line, featuring human rights defenders talking about their work and struggles. 

Read: Front Line Defenders new comics zine, Cypher, accessible on the Front Line Defenders website and on Instagram @cypher_comics. 

Read: The graphic novel La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico, edited by Adam Shapiro and published by Front Line Defenders/Verso.

Check out: The Front Line Defenders website, which you can search for human rights defenders by region, and by issue area. You can use this platform to get updates on a human rights defender’s situation, and to send them a message of solidarity. If you know a human rights defender who is being harassed, abused, threatened, smeared, or targeted in another way, you can contact the organization using an encrypted channel.

In this Episode...

Heather Roberson Gaston

Talking Human Rights host and creator Heather Roberson Gaston is a writer, adviser, and educator in the field of human rights. She holds an undergraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of California at Berkeley; a Master’s in Human Rights from Columbia University; and a Certificate in the Advanced Study of Central and Eastern Europe from the Harriman Institute, also at Columbia University.

Heather co-authored Macedonia: What Does it Take to Stop a War? a graphic novel based on an early solo research trip to the Balkans as an undergraduate. She is now working on a narrative work exploring the many lives and deaths of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement, for which she spent the better part of a year living and working in Israel and the West Bank.

Adam Shapiro

Adam Shapiro serves as Head of Communications & Visibility for Front Line Defenders, responsible for campaigning for human rights defenders around the world, and working to increase the visibility of and respect for HRDs.

Adam has led numerous innovative efforts to use storytelling and new media to bring forward the work and struggles of HRDs to global and local audiences. These include the development of a nonfiction graphic novel series featuring HRDs, including La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico; a podcast featuring HRDs called Rights on the Line; and a new digital comics ‘zine called Cypher.

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