MAPA - Dealing with threat and risk on a psychosocial level within Human Rights Organisations

How do people working in Human Rights organisations (HRO) that operate in contexts of violence deal with the impact that permanent threat has on them? What options do organisations have to ensure both the physical integrity and the psychological well-being of their staff, and to be able to continue their work also in critical situations?

The project "Strengthening Human Rights organisations for conflict transformation: psychosocial support for increasing their resilience in violent contexts", or in short: MAPA (Manejo Psicosocial de Amenaza/Dealing with threat on a psychosocial level) focuses on an exchange between HRO from three countries. This exchange aims to stimulate organisations to integrate an adequate management of psychosocial impacts of threat into their organisational routines and ways of thinking. The objective is to enhance the ability of HRO to continue their work in spite of consistent risks and threats.

In three different workshops, 18 participants from Colombia, Honduras and Mexico discuss their experiences with integrating a psychosocial approach into their organisation's way of handling threat. The insights gained through this process will be shared during two workshops in Berlin with German donor organisations where the potential role of donors in supporting the integral management of threat within partner organisations will be discussed.


June - December 2016

Conflict Setting

The work of Human Rights Organisations is an important contribution to conflict transformation, as they denounce the structural conditions that cause socio-political violence and in many cases maintain conflicts.

The situation of Human Rights Organisations and -Defenders (HRO/HRD) in many countries with elevated levels of violence is highly volatile. In countries like Colombia, Mexico and Honduras, the challenges that HRO are facing on a structural level become particularly evident. Besides the politically motivated violence, the security situation especially in Mexico and Honduras, but also in Colombia, is strongly shaped by armed social violence. Due to organised crime and the presence of criminal gangs or paramilitary groups, homicide rates, Human Rights violations and general levels of insecurity in these countries are often higher than they were during times of war. Peacebuilding efforts are further complicated by this form of violence.

The signing of a peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC will - should the referendum on October 2nd on the results of the peace negotiations turn out positive - be an important step in putting an end to the armed conflict that has lasted over 50 years. Nevertheless, it is to be expected that the situation for Human Rights organisations and -defenders will remain difficult. The scale of social violence perpetrated by powerful drug cartels or criminal gangs, and the Human Rights violations associated with it will remain despite the peace agreement. Due to the power vacuum that the demobilisation of the FARC will entail, the power of those groups is in fact rather likely to increase.

In Mexico and Honduras, an elevated level of social violence is joined by a relatively weak legal system. Increasingly, Human Rights organisations denounce the involvement of political actors with organised crime and the often violent enforcement of economic interests relating to so-called mega projects.

Goals and Approach

The departure point of this project is that HRD and their organisations become more resilient against attacks if they possess the necessary awareness and attitudes, complemented by the capacities and institutional set-ups to confront such challenges efficiently.

The psychosocial approach of this project is based on the idea that violence, or the threat of committing violence, has an impact on different system levels (individual, family, community, society). Initiatives aiming to strengthen the resilience of HRO should hence not only concentrate on supporting individual employees, but should also address the team- and organisational level and include the dimension of family and society in their approach.

This project works on two levels. The first level encompasses the sensitisation of representatives from nine HRO coming from three focus countries with regard to the psychosocial impact of threat. Through direct exchange, they develop plans for integrating the psychosocial approach into their organisations. Experiences regarding the implementation and adjustment of the plans are part of the joint learning process.
The second level centres on an exchange with and among donor organisations that is focused on the topic of psychosocial challenges in the context of threat. This provides space for identifying and discussing possibilities of more targeted support for local partners on the basis of the experiences of the participating HRO. Central element will be a discussion of different options regarding the integration of the psychosocial approach into the support strategies of donors.

The project is carried out in cooperation with Aluna, a Mexican organisation specialised in the psychosocial support of HRO.

The process is financed by the zivik programme of the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen).

The kick-off workshop, in which 18 participants of three organisations each from Colombia, Honduras and Mexico participated, was held in August 2016 in Mexico City. The participants reflected on their threat scenarios, exchanged strategies for handling them, and further elaborated a process plan for their organisations in order to integrate psychosocial aspects of dealing with threat into the routines and way of thinking of their organisations. In the following months two additional workshops with the HRO will take place in Colombia and Honduras and two workshops with donor organisations will be held in Berlin.

Project arquitecture

  • Los Planes de Desarrollo Territorial. 2016. Bogota, Colombia: GIZ - Programa de Apoyo a la Construcción de la Paz en Colombia (ProPaz) / como consult / Berghof Foundation. como un instrumento de construcción de paz. PDF >
  • Antonia Montanus, Nele Rathke, Barbara Unger: Organisations under pressure but powering on - the psychosocial approach within integrated management of threat. 2016. A model for human rights organisations and donor organisations. PDF >
  • Antonia Montanus, Nele Rathke, Barbara Unger: Organizaciones amenazadas, pero fuertes - Un enfoque psicosocial en el manejo integral de amenazas. 2016. Un modelo para organizaciones de DDHH y organizaciones donantes. PDF >