Half of Belgium's human rights groups suffer harassment, survey shows

More than half of Belgian human rights organisations face external pressure or intimidation, according to early findings from a study by the Federal Institute for Human Rights (FIRM/IFDH). As a result, one in seven organisations has adjusted its messaging. 

The institute launched a campaign on Tuesday morning in central Brussels featuring organisations such as Amnesty International, Unia and CNCD-11.11.11. They are also aiming to make politicians aware of the need to tackle the problem and calling on them to be cautious about speaking in a responsible way about human rights issues.

"Even in Belgium, it's not straightforward. We have to keep emphasising that defending human rights is also a human right"

“Politicians need to know that every little reaction has a snowball effect,” said FIRM/IFDH director Martien Schotsmans. “This then leads to very negative campaigns in the media, withdrawal of funding and more. Standing up for human rights is a risky business in many parts of the world. Even in Belgium, it's not straightforward. We have to keep emphasising that defending human rights is also a human right.”

The survey, which is continuing and will be published in full in the spring, has already revealed some notable results. 55 per cent of the 150-plus organisations surveyed said they had experienced harassment or aggression between 2020 and 2022, including unfounded lawsuits or threats of legal action. Additionally, one in five has been hit at least once by a targeted cyberattack.

“Protecting human rights is not only a responsibility of governments. There is an important role for human rights defenders,” Schotsmans said. “They ensure that everyone’s rights are respected in our society. But they often experience opposition or even threats, even in Belgium.”


A demonstration outside the Federal Institute for Human Rights in Brussels Belgium © BELGA PHOTO TIMON RAMBOER

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