What is Collective Protection?

Collective protection is a set of strategies, measures and actions that aim to protect a collective actor; an organisation, a community, a group, that are at risk due to their work defending human rights. A collective protection focus goes beyond granting individual security measures to leaders or individual members of a group or community. Collective protection is often integrated in community actions to defend their territories, lands and resources against external state, business and illegal actors.

Collective protection is deeply linked to the strengthening of the social fabric of the group or community, increasing their visibility and workspace, and the development of their capacities to defend their rights as a group, understanding that they are not only individual subjects of protection but also agents of their protection. A collective protection approach should aim at increasing the resilience of the community and increasing the collective workspace. Collective protection includes a set of social practices (at different levels: organisational, cultural, community, economic, etc.) that collective subjects develop to face a context of threats.

Future initiatives aimed at effectively protecting land and environment defenders need to be based on the strengthening of our defenders and communities to protect ourselves, including through:

  • building upon approaches we are already working on (such as community early warning networks and collective protection mechanisms, such as community protocols) 
  • building new community-based protection systems, and consolidating our alliances and networks, locally, regionally and internationally, and carrying out community-based ground-truthing to inform and denounce illegal practices and violations of our rights. 

The first step is to share among ourselves all we have learnt so far about effective collective protection.

The Zero Tolerance Initiative (ZTI), a global coalition led by indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent and local community representatives and supportive NGOs, working collectively to address the root causes of killings and violence against human rights defenders linked to global supply chains, has carried out research and learning into community-led strategies for violence prevention and protection. The first step was to gain an understanding of what resources are already available on this topic and how suitable they are for our communities, based on our own criteria.

A comprehensive review of resources for human rights defenders on community-led strategies for prevention and protections against retaliation was carried out to compile this database.

Photo credit: Chris Stowers | A member of WAHLI, the Indonesian Friend's of the Earth affiliate, stands on a stump of a forest tree to get a better view of the recent destruction

An easy to use, accessible and open space for exchange of best practices, training, and resources on collective protection. A library, fully accessible on low-bandwidth connections, backed up with support from the ZTI coalition, for all indigenous peoples, afro-descendent and local communities to use and provide contributions.

Communities who map and better monitor our territories – which is one of many purposes of this microsite – can strengthen community evidence gathering capacity, contribute to reduced deforestation, and increased security for community members. Also, evidence gathering, supported by the resources found on the microsite, can contribute to effective strategies towards preventing negative human rights impacts, and achieving access to justice and redress for communities, through better due diligence, advocacy and strategic litigation.

Our communities strengthened through easily accessible resources will be in a better position to defend our lands, forests, livelihoods and rights.

To better understand what strategies and resources exist and are needed for community-led prevention and auto-protection against violence and retaliation, the ZTI conducted user insight. This involved organizing interviews with six community and civil society organisations, each of which provides technical, legal, financial, educational, and coordination support to the communities and human rights defenders they work with or represent. They ranged from regional and national organisations with members from various countries and/or regions, with indigenous peoples’ national alliances/networks and local organisations, to regional grassroots representing indigenous groups, to leaders of indigenous territorial governments, all representing the collective authority and autonomy of indigenous people. We call these Civil Society Organisation, Alliance or Government (CSOAG) partners.

“We are technical advisors to the community, as well as part of it”
Chepkitale Indigenous People Development Project (CIPDP), Kenya 

Defining community-led strategies
Although in some cases interviews were conducted with CSOAG staff members, responses indicated a significant overlap between their identities and objectives, and community-level identities and commitments. In most instances, activism, monitoring, and communication strategies were shared responsibilities between the CSOAG and community members. Consequently, boundaries between these two entities were often undefined. Furthermore, these interviews highlight strategies that CSOAGs are using (or require more support with) in order for them to better meet community-level needs. This draws more attention towards structured or organisational strategies that CSOAGs can take as agents or representatives of their communities. The term “community-led” in our research therefore encompasses formal organisational structures and procedures as well as informal community systems, as perceived by CSOAG staff.

Results & Research
Results from the interviews were categorized based on themes in responses, with a distinction between 1) protection and prevention strategies that have worked in the past for CSOAGs and communities (ie. “what works”), and 2) strategies that CSOAGs are seeking more support with (ie. “what is needed”). Each theme then included one or more strategy examples for context, and if relevant, the resource element(s) for that strategy. Keeping this classification in mind, ZTI then gathered over 100 existing resources (audio / visual, digital tools, guides & manuals, info-graphics, organisational capacity and training resources, templates, videos and webinars).  The resources were classified and categorized, based on the criteria drawn from the interviews: these are the resources that you can access through the micro-site. 

The most significant finding from the interviews is resources themselves are far from enough.  There is a need for more and better participation from communities in the monitoring process, as monitoring, communication and radio, and patrol activities are seen as the most immediate ways for both CSOAGs and community members to contribute to protection and prevention strategies against violence and retaliation. It is worth noting the need for hardware support beyond basic resources or software – that is, monitoring equipment and instruments, along with relevant training. Respondents also indicated the desire for parallel training with resources/guides, as opposed to simple stand-alone resources. This is why the ZTI will work to provide webinars and trainings regarding collective protection and on how to navigate existing resources.

Design of the micro-site
The micro-site is visually simple on purpose, so that it can be fully accessible in low-bandwidth geographical areas. ZTI conducted follow-up interviews with potential users in the early stages of the website design, and the designers adapted it, based on the feedback received. If you have any feedback or wish for your resource to be integrated, please get in touch through the ‘Contact’ form.