New York—The Open Society Foundations announced today the formation of a new $330,000 fund to support human rights defenders in South Africa, who in recent years have faced a steady increase in harassment, intimidation, and violence. Over three years, the fund—known as The South African Human Rights Defenders Fund—will support advocates working on land, housing, and environmental rights, with a special emphasis on aiding women advocates who face threats and violence.
The Fund will provide support services to activists—including legal representation, emergency relocation services; and physical, psychosocial, and medical support.
“There is an enormous gap between the promise of protections guaranteed in South Africa’s constitution and the reality on the ground for many of South Africa’s frontline human rights activists,” said Bulelwa Ngewana, the executive director of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa. “Peaceful protesters who question the environmental, social, and economic costs associated with mining activity have increasingly faced serious harm and need better protections.”
Beginning with the 2016 murder of Sikhosiphi Radebe, a leading environmental activist killed for advocating against mining interests in the Eastern Cape, rights advocates have increasingly faced threats, violence, and damage to their property. At the same time, the perpetrators of these attacks are rarely brought to justice, according to research released recently by Human Rights Watch, Earth Justice, GroundWork, and the Center for Environmental Rights.
The Fund will be housed in the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, based in Johannesburg, and will be guided in its grant making and decisions by a panel of grass roots activists, environmental and human rights lawyers, and academics. It will prioritize support to women rights defenders working to promote the rights of adequate housing and shelter—as well as the right to a clean, safe, and healthy environment.
“A principal goal of this fund is to address challenges that community activists and women advocates face in South Africa, including threats to their families and sexual harassment,” said Emily Martinez, director of the Open Society Human Rights Initiative.
“In making this investment, we seek to help spur protection for these women who are at the heart of advocating for a safer, more equitable, more open society,” she added.