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Defending the Defenders

17 March 2014

The Human Rights Council (HRC) has been heavy with panels about human rights defenders this week, showing that there is an increasing need to discuss the protection of people who risk their lives for human rights.

Killings and Disappearances in Mexico

On Tuesday we attended a side-event on creating and enabling a safe environment for human rights defenders.

At the panel, Mexican human rights defender, Daniel Joloy, gave insightful comments on their situation.

The Mexican government passed a law in 2012 on investigating human rights violations, establishing an advisory committee formed by civil society members who also drafted the text. This law was the result of UPR recommendations, proving that the system can work if enough organisations are stubborn and determined enough to push states.

However, the Mexican government has no willingness to implement the law and impunity remains almost absolute. Further, it continues to attribute responsibility of violations against human rights defenders solely on organised crime.

When the government announced the war on drugs, a militarisation of public security started, with the presence of armed forces in the streets, which lead to people being killed and disappeared. Armed forces have also requested criminal gangs to do the dirty work for them.

To learn more about the rights of human rights defenders in Mexico, keep in touch, and if you are around Geneva attend the side event WILPF is co-sponsoring on this topic.

Visibility is Key

When a state refuses to deal with impunity, it is our job as civil society members to recognise the importance of human rights defenders’ work and give them as much visibility as possible.

Visibility is part of their protection. For example, many human rights defenders face reprisals when trying to interact with bodies such as the HRC. What the HRC can do in these situations is meet with human rights defenders publicly, issue press releases, gather documentation and proof of violations from NGOs and present this to the state in question and the international community.

Finally, specifically in Mexico, the media needs to be involved and brought on our side, since for now it continues to criminalise human rights defenders and contribute to their stigmatisation.

WILPF will be talking about this very soon

WILPF and other organisations will be holding a side event on human rights defenders in Mexico from a woman’s perspective on 19 March. We will discuss similar issues of stigmatisation, but also feminicide, an outrageous crime which proves that in Mexico, being a human rights defender as well as a woman, has now become extremely dangerous.

Stay tuned for an account on the event!

Sign up to our newsletter Update from the Human Rights Council to know more about these issues and our involvement!

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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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