Understanding Human Rights Defender’s Risk Perception and State Power

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The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of state power on human rights defender’s risk perception. The study is designed as a case study, where I did research on two groups of human rights defender with a specific interest in human rights and oil in Uganda: independent journalist and NGO-researcher. Research was conducted over approximately three months in Uganda between April 2013 and June 2013. Through a qualitative research, I analyzed the notions, perceptions and experiences of sixteen human rights defenders and three defender trainers. Additionally, I sketched the historical background of the stakeholders involved in the oil issue in Uganda to sharpen the vision on the present (Lawrence, 1984). By doing this, it became possible to understand certain behavior, decisions and motives of the actors. The results of the study indicate that state power always has to be taken into account when assessing the risk of a human rights defender, as it has been shown that state power plays a large role on the risk interpretation. Defender’s risk is interpreted to be a ‘physical issue’, more it is a psychological, financial, performance or social issue. This can be declared from the fact that more explicit forms of state power, e.g. an action to put defenders into prison, are most explicit and visible to the defender; whereas more implicit role of power is not. This study presents evidence that other dimensions of state power play a role on the defender’s risk perception, under which system power – power that is deeply embedded in the acceptance of the role, structure and culture of the defender. It appears that power not necessarily needs to be put into action by the state, to be present. Defenders imposed power on themselves, e.g. out of fear to get arrested they did not report about the president or his family. They set themselves norms by expecting coercive behavior from the state as a consequence of their behavior. This shows the implicit role power plays in the risk perception of a defender. Last, to give more nuance to the core argument the analyses shows the influence of three intervening factors: individual characteristics, workplace and type of organization. In the end, this study concludes that state power has to be taken into account when assessing defenders risk. State power plays a role that it can be exerted by the state (explicit role) or imposed by the defender him or herself (implicit role).
Faculteit der Managementwetenschappen