Increasing the security & protection of human rights defenders in Central America
In June 2019, San José, Costa Rica marked its first year as part of the Shelter City network to protect human rights defenders at risk. The capital city of San José officially joined the network in 2018 with support from local organisations and the Embassy of the Netherlands to Costa Rica, and has since then assisted 15 human rights defenders from the Central American region.
Since its establishment, Shelter City Costa Rica has contributed greatly to the protection of human rights defenders in the region. To date, Shelter City Costa Rica has temporarily relocated 15 human rights defenders and 13 dependents from Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The profiles of the guests include those defending human rights such as access to justice, indigenous rights, women’s rights, LGBTI rights, environmental and land rights, digital rights, and freedom to information and press.
A much needed development
The official signing of Shelter City Costa Rica took place on 5 February 2018, with the attendance of the Dutch Ambassador to Costa Rica, Peter Derrek Hof, Vice President of the Republic of Costa Rica, Ana Helena Chacón, and Costa Rican Minister of Foreign Affairs, Manuel González Sanz.
The signing marked an incredibly important step towards the protection of human rights defenders in the Central America, a region particularly dangerous for those defending human rights and the environment in recent years.
Offering a safe haven in shrinking spaces
Although temporary relocation is often considered a last resort, there are huge benefits in providing a safe space and a chance for rest and respite, including the possibility to access services. Shelter City Costa Rica focuses particular attention on the wellbeing of its guest, and provides access to training, recreational spaces, and health care. During their stay, human rights defenders can also receive capacity building training in digital, physical, and psychological security and legal skills.
“In Shelter City, one can get out a bit of the stressful and threatening routine that we are living, think things through, what we are doing wrong, what we are doing well, what can be improved, and as a young person if I have some capabilities that I want to strengthen there is that possibility too.” – Nicaraguan human rights defender and Shelter City Costa Rica guest
Shelter City Costa Rica also offers those with dependents to be relocated as well. Since its establishment, Shelter City Costa Rica has offered assistance to 13 dependents of the human rights defenders relocated to Shelter City.
Assisting human rights defenders around the world
Shelter City Costa Rica, based in the capital city of San José, marks one of 17 Shelter Cities worldwide. The Shelter City initiative was founded in 2012 by Hague-based human rights organisation, Justice and Peace Netherlands, with each Shelter City supported via a collaboration between local organisations, municipalities, universities, embassies, and government institutions. Today, Shelter City is active in 12 cities in the Netherlands, two cities in Georgia including Tbilisi and Batumi, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, and will soon start in Benin. Processes to take up the initiative have began in Italy.