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International retreat held to develop ways to support human rights defenders with wellbeing

Posted on 14 August 2019

Over forty mental health professionals, coordinators of temporary international relocation initiatives, researchers and other human rights advocates from around the world gathered in Barcelona in June to share approaches to supporting human rights defenders with their wellbeing.

Participants at the wellbeing workshop in Barcelona, June 2019

The event, organised by CAHR with support from Justice and Peace Netherlands, provided the opportunity for participants to network, learn about and experience a range of therapeutic interventions, and discuss and feedback on wellbeing support Guidelines being produced by CAHR.

The three-day event had a truly international feel, with all sessions delivered simultaneously in English and Spanish, and with attendees from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the MENA region. Researchers and practitioners from across the world shared their research and experiences of supporting human rights defenders, highlighting many consistencies, but also important differences in terms of understanding and supporting the wellbeing of defenders.

Participants had the chance to experience a range of different therapies used by mental health professionals in different contexts. The term 'mental health professional' is broadly defined within the project, and includes anyone trained in supporting others with their wellbeing. As well as psychologists and psychiatrists, this means dance therapists, arts therapists, reiki instructors, yoga teachers and so on. Participants therefore gained hands-on experience of techniques including body mapping, Laban dance, tapping, theatre of the oppressed, peer-to-peer interventions, and more.

A core objective of the Retreat was to discuss and feedback on Guidelines for coordinators of temporary international relocation initiatives and mental health professionals to support defenders with their wellbeing. The Guidelines are based on the findings from interviews with over 80 coordinators, mental health professionals, and human rights defenders on relocation initiatives. It is hoped they will be flexible enough to be used and adapted as needed across a range of cultural contexts, but robust enough to ensure that appropriate and effective support is provided to defenders. Once completed, the Guidelines will be made public and available in multiple languages.