Protection programme for human rights defenders

The Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative provides threatened human rights defenders with a safe place to recuperate, cope with trauma, and when possible, to network and further develop their professional skills. The initiative is named after the politician and lawyer Dr. Elisabeth Selbert (1896 – 1986). As one of four women to contribute to the German constitution, called the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany, she is also known as one of 'the Mothers of the Basic Law'. She vigorously campaigned for the principle of equality to be anchored within the constitution, thereby making an important contribution to the protection of human rights in Germany.

ifa cooperates with civil society actors to carry out the programme. The Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative organises temporary relocation with host organisations which integrate and accompany the human rights defender. The initiative is implemented by ifa with funds from the German Federal Foreign Office.

In 2023 as well as in 2024, the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate will provide EUR 100,000 for the human rights protection programme "Elisabeth Selbert Initiative".

Who can apply?

With the Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative (ESI), ifa supports activists who are committed to upholding human rights. The initiative provides temporary relocation grants for those who, due to their peaceful commitment to human rights, are threatened with physical and psychological violence, arrest, occupational disqualification, and even murder.

These include e.g. ethnic minority groups fighting for land rights, women defending themselves against discrimination and violence, LGBTIQ+ activists campaigning for their right to sexual identity, or journalists exposing cases of corruption. The Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative has no regional or thematic focus in the protection programme for human rights defenders nor is it oriented towards specific professional groups such as journalists or lawyers. For more information see document 'Eligibility criteria for temporary relocation'.

What does the funding include?

The Elisabeth-Selbert-Initiative has three programme lines and a Special Module:

  • PL1: Four to six-month relocation grants for human rights defenders at risk at host organisations in Germany. 
  • PL 2: Four to six-month relocation grants for human rights defenders at risk at safe places within their home countries or regions. 
  • PL 3: On-site assistance funds for temporary local measures that increase the protection of human rights defenders at risk. The funding is awarded by the German missions abroad. Start in 2022,  2nd half of the year.
  • PL 4: Special Module Afghanistan provides temporary support for human rights defenders from Afghanistan who have been granted admission under paragraph §22.2. of the Residence Act. Limited to 6 months.

What is covered by the ESI during the temporary relocation in Germany (PL1)?

  • Monthly funding for the human rights defenders as well as accompanying costs such as health insurance and travel expenses
  • Participation in an accompanying programme, e.g. language acquisition, further education, psychosocial support, networking, legal and security advice, advocacy training
  • The host organisation receives compensation for support and assistance expenses

What are the requirements for protection stays in Germany?

For human rights defenders:

  • The human rights defender is verifiably committed to human rights and is threatened by governmental and/or nongovernmental organisations because of his/her activities.
  • The human rights defender is still active in his/her country of origin or has only recently left the country to escape acute danger.
  • The human rights defender has the intention to return to his/her country of origin after the protection stay.
  • A host organisation is already available or can be found by the ESI team. Existing contacts between the human rights defender and the host organisation can accelerate the procedure.

For host organisations:

  • Has legal status (registered association, Ltd., Inc., etc.)
  • Active in a field relevant to the human rights defender
  • Willing to implement the temporary relocation in organisational and administrative terms
  • Sensitive to psychosocial and security aspects
  • Engages a person to coordinate the temporary relocation and be available for the human rights defender

Application Process

For human rights defenders with contact to a host organisation

  1. Either the human right defenders or the host organisations or both contact ESI by email.
  2. ESI will send the human rights defender forms to collect personal statements regarding their dangerous situation, and it will send an application form and finance plan to the host organisation.
  3. The human rights defender and host organisation fill out the documents and submit them to ESI.

For human rights defenders without contact to a host organisation

  1. The human rights defender contacts ESI by email.
  2. ESI will send the human rights defender forms to collect personal statements regarding their dangerous situation.
  3. The human rights defender fills out and submits the personal statements.
  4. ESI will look for a suitable host organisation and send it the application forms.
  5. The host organisation fills out and submits the application forms.

What application documents are required?

  1. Personal statements by the human rights defender
  2. Completed application form by the host organisation
  3. The host organisation's financial plan

What happens after applying?

The ESI project team reviews the application documents and the personal statement of the human rights defender, contacts the reference persons and, if necessary, asks the applicant and the host organisation for further information. If all requirements are met, the ESI team prepares a draft resolution and informs the committee.

Who makes the decision about the funding?

The decision about funding is made by an independent committee. It consists of four to six people proposed by the German Federal Foreign Office, ifa, the German Institute for Human Rights and the Forum Menschenrechte (FMR). If the committee chooses the applicant, a contract is concluded between the host organisation and ifa.

A note about digital security:

We recommend the use of encrypted emails such as Proton (https://protonmail.com/). We use the free messenger app Signal.



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D-10115 Berlin

Relocation requests

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