Intimidation in Viet Nam
About this Violation
What is intimidation?
As a human rights defender, you might be threatened, intimidated or harassed by the government or police. A threat is when someone tells you that they intend to do something bad to you because of the work you are carrying out or plan to carry out. Threats are one of the most commonly used strategies to intimidate human rights defenders.
Another intimidating tactic is harassment. Any behaviour that aims to trouble, annoy or cause you emotional, mental and sometimes bodily suffering can qualify as harassment. Harassment can occur physically or online and can target people because of their race, gender or ethnicity.
It might also be the case that due to your work as a human rights defender, someone is discriminating against you due to your gender or racial and ethnic background.
However, the Vietnamese Constitution safeguards your right to life (Article 19) and your right to be free from harassment (Article 20) and foresees that in case of violation, you are entitled to remedy and reparation. The Constitution also provides for the non-discrimination of women and treats all citizens in the same terms, including the indigenous population.
- A policeman/military official has threatened to induce harm or kill you if you continue claiming your rights against a big corporate investment/infrastructure project.
- The police/military is passing all the time outside your house to intimidate you or often search you or your house without any obvious reason.
- An official from the ministry or another state agency has told you that if you don’t stop claiming your rights against a corporation, you and your family will have serious problems.
- A state agent implicitly told you that you could be killed if you continue claiming the rights of your community against a company.
- You are working for the public sector, and your supervisor has threatened that you might lose your job if you continue advocating for business respect for human rights.
- You are a journalist and the Ministry responsible for the Press has threatened that they will revoke your licence if you don’t stop writing about corporate human rights violations.
- You are working for a non-governmental organisation, and an officer from the Agency who granted the NGO’s licence is asking you to stop working.
- You are involved in the trade union at the factory where you work and you are a victim of intimidation because of that.
- A state official, instead of offering their services, is discriminating against you.
- You are a female factory employee and you are the victim of sexual harassment.
- You are harassed online because of your work.
- Someone from the state is expressing hostility towards you and other people of your racial or ethnic background.
Intimidation or harassment against you, or threats, might correspond to various offences under the Vietnamese Criminal Code. For example, Article 133 prohibits anyone, including a state official, from threatening to murder you and Article 166 punishes anyone who uses violence, the threat of violence or any other means to obstruct you from lodging complaints or denunciation or is abusing his/her authority to obstruct you.
Harassment is not clearly defined under the laws of Vietnam. However, Article 155 of the Criminal Code prohibits anyone from insulting you, either offline or through a computer network, telecommunications network, or electronic device. Lastly, Articles 141 and 143 foresee criminal sanctions for rape and sexual abuse.
Additionally, gender discrimination is prohibited under the Gender Equality Act 2006 and anyone who discriminates against women might incur disciplinary measures, administrative sanctions or criminal prosecution.
File a Complaint with the Police
Warning: Before taking any of the steps listed below, you can strategically assess the risks involved with taking certain actions and make sure that you prioritise your physical and psychological safety and security.
File a complaint with the police
Filing a criminal complaint against a state official
If the state official’s act falls under the offences enumerated above, then you can consider denouncing or reporting the necessary information to the police or the Procuracy. Along with reporting information, you can also request the institution of a criminal case against the perpetrator.
What can you expect?
The investigative authorities will verify your information and decide whether to institute criminal procedures. This will take place within 20 days or a maximum of two months from when you informed the authorities about the offence. If they have sufficient grounds that the alleged offender has committed the criminal act that you are accusing them of, they will summon them for interrogation and take statements from witnesses. Then, they will forward the case to the Procuracy to decide on the charges. Depending on the severity of the offence, the Procuracy will either drop the case or prosecute the accused, within 20 to 30 days. If prosecuted, the perpetrator will be tried by the first instance Court that will deliver its judgment, finding them guilty or innocent.
What is your role in the trial?
As a victim of crime, you are allowed to attend the trial, recommend punitive measures, including compensation, present evidence, defend your rights, file an appeal and request protective measures. You can also file a damage claim to seek compensation from the accused and you will be a “civil plaintiff.”
What if you are not satisfied with the outcome?
If you disagree with the findings of the court, you can file an appeal within 15 days from the day that the first instance court pronounced its judgment. You can, also, file for cassation procedure, to the Higher People’s Court if you think that (a) the court’s sentences and rulings do not correspond with the objective facts of the case; (b) there was a serious breach of legal proceedings for investigation, prosecution and adjudication; or (c) an error in the application of the law occurred.
How can you be compensated for the harm suffered?
As a victim of the crime, if you have suffered damage due to a criminal act, you can file a damage claim during the criminal trial and you will be a “civil plaintiff.” Usually, the offender will be responsible for paying you compensation. Depending on the particular damage in each case, as a victim of crime, you can request offenders to pay expenses for medical treatment, mental health care, loss of income and property, and others deemed relevant as prescribed by the law. However, the adjudication of your compensation might be separated from the criminal case and settled through the civil procedure, after the criminal issues are resolved.
The police are not allowed to reject your denunciation or information.
File a Complaint with the National Court
Warning: Before taking any of the steps listed below, you can strategically assess the risks involved with taking certain actions and make sure that you prioritise your physical and psychological safety and security.
File a complaint with the national court
Asking for compensation in civil courts
If you have suffered harm to your life, health, honour, dignity or reputation, due to the threats, intimidation, harassment, or unfair gender discrimination that you are receiving, you can file a civil lawsuit against the state official who committed those offences, asking for damages.
The legal basis of this lawsuit will be Article 584 of the Civil Code 2015 which foresees that “a person harming the life, health, honour, dignity, reputation, property, or other legal rights or interests of a person, must compensate for such damage unless otherwise prescribed in this Code or relevant laws.”
You will have to prove that:
- Damage has occurred;
- There was an act contrary to the law;
- There was a causal link between the damage and the act contrary to the law; and
- The perpetrator had the intention or was reckless in causing the damage.
What can you ask for?
You can ask the court to be compensated for:
- Reasonable costs for treating, nursing and rehabilitation health, and functional losses and impairment that you incurred.
- Loss of or reduction in your actual income.
- Reasonable costs and actual income losses of your caretakers during the period of treatment. If you lose your ability to work and you need a permanent caretaker, the damage shall also include reasonable costs for your care.
- Other damage as prescribed by law, including compensation for mental suffering.
Who can file the lawsuit?
You are a victim. You can also file a joint lawsuit along with other persons for disputes that arise out of the same legal relation. Note, however, that there are no Vietnamese laws on class action and class action lawsuits against government ministries are prohibited.
The Court where you will file your case depends on the location of the offence, the monetary value and the subject matter of your claim.
What if you are not satisfied/you do not agree with the judgment of the court?
If you are not satisfied with the judgment of the District Court of the first instance, you can submit an appeal to the Provincial Court within seven to 15 days from the date on which the judgment is read, depending on the case. You can, also, file for cassation procedure, to the Higher People’s Court if you think that (a) the court’s sentences and rulings do not correspond with objective facts of the case; (b) there was a serious breach of legal proceedings for investigation, prosecution and adjudication; or (c) an error in the application of the law occurred.
Report it to the National Human Rights Commission or the Ombudsman
Report it to the National Human Rights Commission
There is no National Human Rights Commission or Ombudsman in Vietnam.
Report it to the International Community
Report it to the International Community
International Human Rights Protection
Vietnam has ratified several international human rights treaties. Those treaties provide you with certain rights and the state with certain obligations. For every right that you have, the state has a corresponding obligation to respect and fulfil that right and to protect you against abuse of that right by third parties. This means providing the necessary tools so that you can enjoy that right.
Vietnam has ratified the following international human rights treaties:
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (OPAC)
- Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (OPSC)
- Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
In addition, the UN Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights apply to all states. The Guiding Principles implement the UN "Protect, Respect and Remedy" Framework, which rests on three pillars:
- that the state has a duty to protect against human rights abuses by third parties, including businesses, through appropriate policies, regulation, and adjudication;
- that corporations have a responsibility to respect human rights, which means to act with due diligence to avoid infringing on the rights of others and to address adverse impacts that occur; and
- that, the state, as part of its duty to protect against business-related human rights abuses, must take appropriate steps to ensure that when such abuses occur, those affected have access to effective remedy through judicial and non-judicial means.
Therefore, if your rights have been violated by a state agency or official, then the state will be responsible for this violation. If a corporation has committed an abuse against you, then the state will have responsibility for failing to protect you against that abuse. The state might also incur responsibility if it did not adequately investigate your case or did not provide you with an avenue to seek a remedy.
Depending on the right that has been violated, you might also have different options to engage the international community and seek redress.
If your rights as a woman, a child or a person with disabilities have been violated, the respective legal framework foresees complaints mechanisms or Committees where you can seek a remedy.
However, Vietnam has not thus far ratified any Optional Protocols which allow for individual communications to be made under the treaties and therefore no process will result in a concrete remedy for you. You should consider approaching the international community and making your case internationally. As will be analysed below, this can be useful in improving the human rights situation in your country.
UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures
The Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (‘Special Procedures’) are independent human rights experts (‘Rapporteurs’) and ‘Working Groups’ with mandates to report and advise on thematic human rights issues.
With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), special procedures can:
- Undertake country visits;
- Act on individual cases of reported violations and concerns of a broader nature by sending communications to states and others;
- Contribute to the development of international human rights standards; and
- Engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation.
In cases of business-related human rights abuses, you can draw the attention of your government and raise public awareness by submitting a complaint to the Special Procedures. You can submit a complaint to the Special Procedures if you have suffered abuse by the state or by a business. Where a business has caused harm, the state is also responsible for failing to protect you, investigate the harm, and/or provide remedies.
The UN has established various Special Procedures. In cases of attacks against human rights defenders that work on business and human rights issues, the most relevant are:
- Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
- Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises (also referred to as the “UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights”)
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change
- Special Rapporteur on the issue of human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment
- Working Group on Arbitrary Detention
- Special Rapporteur on the extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions
- Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
- Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association
- Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health
- Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples
- Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy
- Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
- Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
These are just a few of the Special Procedures. You can find a comprehensive list here.
In addition, in June 2022, the world’s first Special Rapporteur on environmental defenders was elected under the UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention). The function of this new Special Rapporteur is to take measures to protect any person experiencing or at imminent threat of penalisation, persecution, or harassment for seeking to exercise their rights under the Aarhus Convention. You can submit a complaint to the Special Rapporteur even if domestic remedies have not been exhausted and any information submitted will be kept confidential. The new Special Rapporteur has various tools for resolving complaints and protecting environmental defenders quickly, including:
- Issuing immediate protection measures;
- Using diplomatic channels;
- Issuing public statements; and
- Bringing the matter to the attention of human rights bodies and the government concerned.
Who can submit information?
Information submitted to the mandate-holders may be sent by a person or a group of persons who claim to be the victim(s) of human rights abuses. Non-governmental organisations (‘NGOs’) can also submit information, provided they have direct and reliable knowledge of the alleged abuse.
Under what conditions?
Your communication should fulfil the following conditions:
- Communications must not be exclusively based on mass media reports.
- The communication should contain a factual description of the alleged human rights abuses, especially any available information as to the date and place of the incidents, alleged perpetrators, suspected motives, and contextual information.
- The communication should be submitted based on credible and detailed information.
- Include full details of the sender’s identity, address, the name of each victim (or any other identifying information), or any community or organisation subject to the alleged abuse. In communications to governments, the mandate-holders normally preserve the confidentiality of their information source, except where the source requests that its identity be revealed.
- Indicate any steps you have already taken at the national, regional, or international level about the case. However, you do not need to have exhausted domestic remedies to have your allegation examined by Special Procedures.
How to submit information?
The application for all Special Procedures is the same. Upon receiving the information on your case, the UN will notify the relevant mandate-holders. Therefore, you do not have to choose the specific mandate holder for your case, but you must present your case so that all appropriate offices are notified.
Any communication addressed to Special Procedures mandate-holders must clearly indicate what the concern is in the subject heading of the message and be addressed to:
Special Procedures Division c/o OHCHR-UNOG
8-14 Avenue de la Paix 1211 Genève 10, Switzerland
Fax: +4122 917 90 06
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (for complaints and individual cases)
For any other information, email: email@example.com
You can find the link to the online submission here.
What should you expect?
It is left to the discretion of the mandate-holder to decide whether to act in a given situation. Usually, the Special Procedure will investigate the case and send a letter to the government regarding the abuse that you reported. The letter will ask for clarifications. Where necessary, the Rapporteurs may request that the concerned authorities take action to prevent or stop the abuse, investigate it, bring to justice those responsible and/or make sure that remedies are available to the victim(s) or their families. In these letters, the Rapporteurs may also inform the state of the applicable human rights provisions. In cases where the state is repeatedly failing to reply, the mandate holder might issue a press release. Upon receiving information on abuses, mandate-holders may carry out visits to countries to investigate the human rights situation on the ground.
Note that the Special Procedures Rapporteurs do not have the power or authority to enforce their views or recommendations.
Who can you reach out to for support?
To increase exposure and collaboration with the OHCHR, it is recommended that you build relationships with your local OHCHR office. Vietnam is covered by the OHCHR Regional Office for South-East Asia in Bangkok and the office often holds consultations with civil society.
6th Floor, United Nations Building
Rachadamnern Nok Avenue
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: +66 2 288 1235
Fax: +66 2 288 1039
If possible, it is also recommended to visit the OHCHR in Geneva or network with organisations that work directly with the OHCHR.
The Complaint Procedure of the Human Rights Council
What is the Procedure?
It is a confidential procedure that aims to address consistent patterns of gross and reliably attested human rights violations in all UN member states, irrespective of whether they have ratified any particular treaty. It is useful for drawing attention to serious underlying problems and calling on the UN to investigate human rights situations in different countries. However, it is not a procedure that will provide a tangible remedy in a particular case.
Who can submit a complaint?
The complaint must come from a person or a group of persons alleging a violation of their human rights and fundamental freedoms. In addition, NGOs are permitted to lodge a communication provided they have direct and reliable knowledge of the violations.
Under what conditions?
Your complaint will be admissible if the following conditions are met:
- It should include your name or the name of the organisation that is filing it. Its subject should be consistent with the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and international human rights law. Your application should not be politically motivated.
- Your complaint should give a complete description of the facts of the alleged violations, the rights that were violated as well as the perpetrator(s). It should not be based exclusively on mass media reports.
- You should attach to your complaint copies of all documents of relevance, especially administrative or judicial decisions on the complaints issued by national authorities. The language of the communication must not be abusive.
- Your complaint should not have already been dealt with by a Special Procedure, a treaty body, or any other UN or similar regional complaints procedures in the field of human rights.
- You should have first exhausted domestic remedies, (i.e., you should attempt to use the available national legal protections to seek accountability or reparation for the violation, appealing as necessary until the claim can be pursued no further at the national level), unless those remedies would be ineffective or unreasonably prolonged. You should demonstrate the steps you took to exhaust domestic remedies in your application.
Process for filing under that procedure?
You should send your complaint to:
Complaint Procedure Unit
Human Rights Council Branch
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office in Geneva
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to any country or regional office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
What should you expect?
After an initial screening is done, your complaint will be transmitted to the State concerned to obtain their views on the allegations of violations contained therein. You will be informed of the proceedings at the key stages and you might be asked to provide further information if necessary. The Human Rights Council will examine a report of your case confidentially (unless it decides otherwise) and may decide one of the following: to discontinue considering the situation when further consideration or action is not warranted; to keep the situation under review and request the State concerned to provide further information within a reasonable period; to keep the situation under review and appoint an independent and highly qualified expert to monitor the situation and report back to the Council; to discontinue reviewing the matter under the confidential complaint procedure to take up public consideration of it; to recommend to OHCHR to provide technical cooperation, capacity building assistance or advisory services to the State concerned. All material provided by individuals as well as the replies by the Governments remain confidential during and after the consideration by the Complaint Procedure.
International Labour Organization - Representations’ procedure
The International Labour Organization (‘ILO’) is a specialised agency of the United Nations, responsible for developing and overseeing international labour standards. It has adopted 189 Conventions. The most important of them are the eight fundamental Conventions, which cover a broad range of topics concerning work, employment, social security, social policy and related human rights. They are legally binding on the states that have ratified them.
Vietnam has ratified the following fundamental conventions:
- Forced Labour Convention (No. 29)
- Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention (No. 98)
- Equal Remuneration Convention (No. 100)
- Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105)
- Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention (No. 111)
- Minimum Age Convention (No. 138)
- Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (No. 182)
You can find the Conventions ratified by Vietnam here.
What protections does the ILO offer?
If any of your rights that are protected by an ILO Convention have been violated by your state, then you should consider approaching the ILO through the ‘Representations’ procedure.’
The procedure allows employers’ or workers’ organisations to make a representation against any Member State that has failed to respect the convention. You can also resort to that procedure if a private company is violating your rights and your state fails to protect you.
Who can file a complaint?
Individual victims are not permitted to file complaints before this Committee. Rather, you should inform a national or international organisation of workers (trade union) and they can file the complaint on your behalf.
The representation must:
- allege that a Member State has failed to adhere to a Convention which it has ratified;
- be communicated to the ILO in writing;
- come from an industrial association of employers or workers;
- make specific reference to Article 24 of the ILO Constitution;
- concern a Member State of the ILO;
- refer to a Convention to which the Member State in question is a party; and
- indicate in what respect it is alleged that that Member State has failed to secure the effective observance within its jurisdiction of that Convention.
Note that it is not necessary to exhaust all domestic remedies before applying for representation with the ILO. If a case is pending before a national court, this will be taken into consideration by the ad hoc Committee.
How to submit a representation?
All applications should be addressed to the Director General at the following address:
4 Route des Morillons
CH-1211 Genève 22
Or by email to: email@example.com.
Achieving justice and remedy for the abuses that you suffered as a human rights defender working on business-related human rights abuses can be a lengthy and difficult process. It may require a combination of patience and strategy, and you may have to call on different resources to achieve your goal. A comprehensive approach may include using legal remedies together with other kinds of complementary strategies such as strategic campaigning, shareholder accountability strategies, grassroots mobilisation, coalition building or gaining media attention.
It can be overwhelming to think about these considerations right after an abuse has taken place. Before thinking about the strategies, you want to use, try to make sure you are both physically and mentally safe and strong.
Remember that you are not alone in this situation and that there is a range of organisations that can help you and provide you with immediate support in case of an emergency or financial, legal and psychological difficulties. See Resource Hub.
Building a Strategic Campaign
The first thing you may want to consider is building a strategic campaign. A strategic campaign aims to exert pressure on the different strategic relationships of a business or state actor. To develop a strategic campaign, you should carefully analyse your situation and decide which actions will have the most positive impact on your case.
For example, you will have to decide whether you want to deal with your case publicly or privately, loudly or quietly, in a manner that takes into account the political and other sensitivities that exist in your country. The purpose of the strategic campaign is for you to get a clear picture of the situation, the direction you want to take your case and the concrete actions you can attempt to take to achieve this result.
This whole process will be demanding on your resources and your mental and physical health so do not hesitate to reach out and ask for help from organisations that are used to dealing with similar cases! There is no shame in doing so and they can provide you with valuable expertise. See Resource Hub.
To build a strategic campaign you and your collaborators can follow these five steps:
1 - Identify your objectives and overall goal: You can do this by asking yourself questions such as What do I want to happen? What do I hope to achieve?
Your overall goal will be the long-term and general outcome that you want to achieve. To reach this goal you will need to identify smaller steps and specific milestones that need to take place, these will be your objectives.
! When deciding on your objectives, make sure that they are SMART:
- Specific - well-detailed, well-defined and action-oriented;
- Measurable - meaning that you can quantify and have an indicator of progress;
- Achievable - meaning that they can be realistically accomplished in the proposed time frame and with the resources you possess;
- Relevant - meaning that they are relevant to your overall goal and work;
- Time-Bound - meaning that you have set a clear deadline.
2 - Take the time to do a policy analysis and identify your audience: You can identify the policies and regulations that need to change, the key actions and stakeholders who can influence decisions and understand the overall political context that will influence your overall goal. You will further need to identify the stakeholders that can help you achieve your objectives. For example, who are the decision-makers involved in the issue? What are the power dynamics at play? You should understand why and how each audience you approach can play a role in reaching your goal or can hinder it. Do not forget, when considering actors that could hinder your goal, to be as specific as possible and write down all details you can find on them including their names and functions.
! Note that if some corporate actors can hinder your goal, other business representatives might help you achieve it! Businesses do not all have the same policies and attitudes when it comes to respecting human rights and the environment. By interacting with business representatives and industry groups you might find valuable allies that can provide you with support in a variety of ways including testifying on your behalf, paying for bail and fines, or speaking up on your behalf.
3 - Identify your strengths, weaknesses and your message: It will be helpful for you to reflect on your internal strengths - skills, knowledge, resources, past experience - and weaknesses - missing networks, capacity for lobbying, contacts in the media or funding. Once you have identified these, you can search for opportunities that exist around you and will enable you to tackle your weaknesses and achieve your objectives. You should further consider the threats that could prevent you from achieving your objectives by asking yourself, who are your opponents? Is there a negative political climate around your objective? Identifying them early will enable you to minimise the damage and safety risks they can present.
Once you have reflected on your strengths and weaknesses, you will need to identify what your audience needs to hear and present your message in a persuasive and appealing way. At their core, your messages should be the same, however, depending on the audience you will target, you will need to adapt the way they are framed. Most of the time, advocacy messages have two major components: (1) a calling for what is right and (2) a calling for the audience’s self-interest. You can find different methods to develop advocacy messages by using the keywords “advocacy message” and “effective” on google.
4 - Identify your tactics and activities: Depending on your situation and objectives, you will have to use different strategies and tactics to reach your goal. To choose the appropriate tactics for you to use, you can develop a ‘results chain’. The chain will start with your overall goal and outline the small steps you will need to take to get there. In your chain, you can describe the assumptions you are making about the impact of the activities you plan on doing. This will help you reflect on your logic and might show you missing activities. It will further help you understand the kind of resources, be it financial or volunteers, that you will need to put your campaign into action. There are various organisations that you can reach out to for financial support. See Resource Hub.
A few examples of activities include one-to-one meetings with high-level representatives, the organisation of workshops and conferences, the drafting of a letter to international civil servants, a mass participation event engaging members of the community, and social media posts or petitions.
5 - Monitor and Evaluate: Finally, you want to make sure that you are keeping track of the efforts you are putting into your campaign to ensure that they are working. You will also want to organise meetings to monitor the campaign and make sure it is going in the direction you want.
Grassroots mobilisation is about bringing together individuals - in your district, region, or community - to influence a specific outcome. It is one of the key elements in successful campaign strategies. Grassroots mobilisation can be highly effective, as we have seen with the #SaveAru movement because it uses collective action at a local level to influence outcomes at the national level. When every member of the community is participating in ways that they can, and are equally responsible and invested in the cause, the movement is truly powered by a collective leadership. The costs of the movement are further distributed between all members of the community and thereby become more affordable.
To build grassroots mobilisation, you and your collaborators can follow five simple steps:
1- Identify the cause you want to address and make a plan of action;
2- Find supporters and volunteers to join your campaign;
3- Reach out and partner with local organisations and community leaders;
4- Implement your plan of action; and
5- Regularly evaluate your progress.
! Do not forget that, when it comes to mobilising members of a community, listening and understanding are more important than influencing and persuading. Having several short conversations will be more efficient than a one-off long speech to a general audience!
To get started, you should identify the cause you want to address.
(1). The problem that you want to tackle most probably has a root cause. For example, it can be the lack of respect for human rights and the environment by a company which operates in proximity to your village and has threatened you; the absence of legislation by the government to protect people defending the environment; or the inefficiency of local government officials to implement a law, among other potential root causes. You need to identify the root cause you want to tackle so that you can clearly define the actions and steps you want to take to resolve the issue. Defining the outcome, you are looking to achieve will also be crucial to give your movement a clear direction.
Once you have identified the cause you want to address, you can start creating awareness about your campaign and get interest from individuals in the community.
(2). Communication will play a key role here and you can use different approaches such as door-to-door canvassing, face-to-face conversations, emails, phone calls or social media to reach as many community members as possible. Having a campaign website or a Facebook page can be a useful tool to speed up this process and will make you gain important visibility online! It will further constitute a good opportunity to start building the next step by building a list of potential partner organisations.
Using your website and the networks of members from the community you can approach like-minded local organisations and community leaders. See Resource Hub.
(3). To reach out to them you could offer to give a short presentation about your campaign during their events or simply provide your help during their rallies to get to know like-minded people and talk about your campaign. Usually, civil society organisations have dealt with or assisted defenders in similar contexts in the past. They can share their valuable experience with you, guide you on what to do, explain the law and your rights, guide you on where to find support and identify pro bono lawyers that can help you plead your case or provide support in building an advocacy campaign.
! You should not ignore community leaders! Community leaders can be valuable allies that you can collaborate with to convey important messages about your campaign. If a community leader endorses the changes and propositions you raise, they will be more likely to be accepted and followed by the community and your movement will gain traction. Examples of community leaders that can help you are religious leaders, local political office holders or village figureheads.
Once you have built a solid basis of supporters you can start implementing your plan of action.
(4). You can take a variety of actions as part of your plan including rallies, outdoor events, in-house groups, training sessions, organising for a group of volunteers to exchange with the local representative or staging a demonstration. No matter the activity that you choose to conduct, the key to success will be having successful communication. You can keep your supporters up to date on actions conducted through SMS, WhatsApp, and encrypted apps such as Telegram and/or post your announcements for events on your campaign website and Facebook page. Do not forget to communicate with your organisers and volunteer team to make sure everyone has the same information including the date, time, and place of the events.
During your campaign, you can organise regular meetings with your supporters to evaluate the success of your actions.
(5). This will enable you to reflect on what went well and what did not and give you avenues for improving your upcoming events. At the end of the campaign, it will also enable you to see if you have reached your objectives.
Reaching out to other organisations and talking about your case will allow you to build coalitions. A coalition is a temporary alliance of individuals, groups or organisations that want to achieve a common goal. Forming a coalition with other organisations that have similar values, interests, and goals as your own will allow you to combine your resources and thereby have more impact than if you acted alone. It can be of great help to shift the balance of power and increase the impact of each of your organisation's efforts. Actions taken by the coalition can be focused towards bringing attention to your and other human rights defender cases in the media, requesting for a motion filed by lawyers to be considered or requesting the international community to act.
To successfully build a coalition you need to take a series of steps.
- Before anything else, you should define what your main goal is. Your main goal will be at the centre of the initiative and organisations that you are going to approach are going to ask about it regularly. Ideally, you want to be able to present your goal in a manner that is easy to understand and appears attainable. To do so, you can present it through bullet points illustrating the key ideas and goals and condense it into one sentence.
- Then you should identify your key stakeholders, leaders, and players. You should be strategic when choosing the organisations to enrol in your coalitions, recognising compatible interests between you, your organisation and other groups or organisations. Stakeholders may include local civil society organisations, international non-governmental organisations and national or international trade unions.
- Once you have identified who you want to be a part of your coalition, you can start approaching and trying to mobilise them. You may need to demonstrate to the organisations that your goals are similar and compatible. You can also show them how working together will have a positive impact on everyone’s ability to reach their objectives and that the benefits of building a coalition will outweigh the costs.
- While attempting to mobilise partner organisations, you must keep in mind that building a coalition can be a long process and that your short-term goals might transform into longer-term battles. Keep committed to your objectives, with a little flexibility, so you can take advantage of new and innovative opportunities to reach your goals. Also, take into account that the level of commitment of your partner organisations will differ, and although it is perfectly normal, you should hold tight to the organisations that are in it for the long haul. To do so you can see them as a steering committee for your coalition and regularly require their input.
- Once you have gathered all members of your coalition, you can host an event to bring all of them together and connect with one another, collaboratively discuss your goals, and show them the actions you had in mind. Adding value to your event can help attract participants. For example, you could invite a guest speaker, provide training, or build the event around a known human rights celebration.
- As you will move forward with your coalition, keep in mind to follow up with your members. Regularly thanking them for their input and recognising their efforts will keep everyone motivated and encourage initiatives. You can achieve that by using email newsletters, posts on social media or SMS channels and face-to-face meetings.
Bring media attention to your case
Another complementary strategy for your case may be to gain visibility and attention by getting media coverage. Before deciding if you want to use this strategy, you should ask yourself whether you want your case to be publicly known and talked about or if you would rather go about, it quietly. Gaining media coverage can play a pivotal role in presenting your case, promoting it in public debate and positively shaping public opinion in your favour. However, this may expose you to further retaliation, as companies may use strategic lawsuits against public participation (please see Section on SLAPPs) to try to silence you. For example, the company could bring a defamation suit against you, the journalist who interviewed you and/or the organisation that published the article. Importantly, you must be careful that the journalist does not reveal your current location so as not to compromise your safety.
To attract media coverage, your story should be prepared in such a way as to catch the attention of readers. You can do this by highlighting why your organisation exists, how important your work is to society and by providing details about the abuse that you have suffered. If you can, try to link your story to an issue that is currently talked about in the public space as this will be more likely to interest the media. Finally, if you can show how your story affects other people and has an impact on wider society, this will increase interest of newspapers.
Once your story is ready, you can use social media to promote it by publishing blog posts, Instagram stories, Facebook posts and/or tweets. This will enable you to gain public attention and establish your cause before getting traditional media interested in what you have to say.
If you want the attention of mainstream media, you can collaborate with other national and international organisations to contact reporters. You can reach journalists by email, through their social networks (such as LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter) or partner organisations. You will have a better chance of getting your interview request accepted if you choose journalists who are used to covering the same kind of story as yours.
! Be aware that journalists can receive a lot of requests so keep your emails short and to the point!
If you don't get a response to your first contact request, you can follow up by tweeting the reporter or trying to contact them by phone. Don't get discouraged as getting media attention can be a long process during which you may end up sending your story to twenty journalists before one response.
When a journalist becomes interested in your story, they will most likely want to talk to you in person. To make sure you are well prepared for the interview, keep in mind three key points you want to make and practice answering questions with a colleague.
Once the interview is over, do not forget to thank the journalist for his or her time. Following the publication of the article, you can forward it to regional or national newspapers thereby gaining exposure and/or circulating it among your partner organisations.
Bring attention to your case to other businesses and industry groups
Although business-related human rights abuses find corporate actors at the heart of the human rights abuses, you should not forget that businesses and industry groups do not all have the same policies, attitudes, and views when it comes to respecting human rights and the environment.
You might want to look for allies in the private sector by reaching out to business representatives and industry groups and explaining the issues you are facing. Private actors might become valuable allies who can provide you with support in a variety of ways including by testifying on your behalf, paying for bail and fines, or speaking up on your behalf.
Bring attention to your case at the international level
Equally important is to make your case known at the international level.
National and international non-governmental organisations are allies in your strategic campaign and have a fundamental role to play in channelling information to relevant institutions abroad. One of their main tasks is to submit so-called shadow reports to international bodies or during the Universal Periodic Review Process. Those reports analyse how and if the government is realising human rights at the national level and provide the necessary background information to international organisations. In turn, if the shadow reports reveal information on serious and systematic violations of the rights protected by the conventions in the country concerned, international institutions can initiate inquiries or visits to the territory of a State Party. By making your case known to NGOs and INGOs, it can be included in their shadow report. Although this will not give you a tangible remedy, you will have added your brick to the wall of human rights in your country.
You can also bring international attention to your case through the various organisations worldwide that work to protect human rights defenders - including Frontline Defenders, Protect Defenders and Peace Brigades International. You can register your case with one of them, and they will identify the best ways to support you internationally. Be aware that they may publish something on their website or link you with other victims or experts worldwide. If your case is widely known, the offenders might hesitate to retaliate against you in the future. Many organisations work on business and human rights issues that can share legal resources with you, both domestically and internationally. Most importantly, both kinds of organisations can direct you on where to find funding and donors to continue your legal case and to propose other resources necessary for your work as a human rights defender.
Bring attention to your case in the political spheres
You can also contact political figures to draw attention to your case. For example, you can ask a foreign diplomat - by contacting the foreign ministry of the country in question or the embassy - to listen to your story, to come to your trial or simply to have a photo taken with you. This will show your abuser that your case is being taken seriously at the international level and may make them think carefully about retaliatory actions in the future.
If you are uncomfortable with contacting diplomats of foreign countries, you can contact international civil servants instead. International civil servants are not linked to a specific country but rather to an organisation. To contact them, you can look up the offices of OHCHR, UNDP or the ILO in your country. These organisations often organise informal events such as consultations and webinars during which you can have the opportunity to raise your concerns and build a support network.