In 2015, Front Line Defenders and Verso Books piloted the first nonfiction graphic novel depicting the lives and work of women human rights defenders at risk in northern Mexico. This highly successful project focused primarily on the work of attorney & human rights defender (HRD) Lucha Castro and her unyielding defense the rights of women and indigenous communities in northern Mexico. Upon publication, La Lucha received mainstream media coverage, established new platforms for the public promotion of the work of women HRDs, and served as a compelling advocacy tool among key local and international decision-makers.
Building on the success of La Lucha, Front Line Defenders commits to the publication of two graphic novels over the next fifteen months. The first will focus on the issue of environmental justice in Cambodia, Mongolia, Peru, Turkey, and Zambia. The second will focus on the often-extreme challenges confronting LGBTI human rights defenders in India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, and Paraguay. Front Line Defenders will work with partners at local and international levels as well as with the profiled HRDs to increase their Visibility, Respect and Legitimacy as individuals and crucial agents of social change.
The graphic novel is a means of engaging new audiences to understand and appreciate not only the crucial work of HRDs in promoting the rights of others - but also the daunting challenges they willfully face every day. The HRDs written testimony will be given enhanced meaning by virtue of compelling and immediately accessible graphic art that engages the reader in a way that the written word alone cannot.
Front Line Defenders will conduct research to identify specific cases and subjects to be profiled in each graphic novel, and will hire and travel with the graphic artists to each country where HRDs are profiled to document and research the individual stories of courage.
Each book will be published in English, Spanish, and French as well as the local language of each profiled country. Upon publication, each graphic novel will be distributed locally and internationally in high schools, universities, and bookstores (Random House, Amazon, others). Front Line Defenders will also prepare multimedia material for use on an accompanying digital platform that will include detailed background information about individual HRD cases and the context of their struggles.
The organization will also use each graphic novel to implement a coordinated advocacy and outreach strategy and will host public events with profiled HRDs to promote their work and struggles, including engagement with local and state governments and intergovernmental agencies.
STEP 1. Research and Selection of Cases, Logistics
Time: Q4 2015
- Research possible cases for storytelling by consulting with experts in the international environmental and LGBT rights movements;
- Communicate with potential partners for dissemination of the books;
- Engage HRDs who will be focus of the stories;
- Recruit artists.
Deliverable: Selection of cases and logistics planning for Step 2; agreements with artists for work
STEP 2: Country Visits and Documentation
Time: Q4 2015 Q1 2016
- Visit five countries for each book (10 total), for a minimum of one week each, with artists to document the work and stories of the HRDs;
- Conduct initial planning with HRDs for strategies of dissemination in their communities.
Deliverable: All documentation completed and artwork initiated; initial planning strategy in place for public outreach once books are completed
STEP 3: Artistic Production
Time: Q1 2016 Q3 2016
- Artists render and write stories of the HRDs;
- Translate and edit video material;
- Research and develop readers/educators guides.
Deliverable: first draft of each book; mapping of interactivity for digital platform; publisher starts review of books
STEP 4: Final Editing and Publication
Time: Q4 2016 Q1 2017
- Layout and prepare final books;
- Translate into multiple languages;
- Establish agreements for foreign publishing/distribution;
- Prepare interactive digital version;
- Publish readers/educators guides.
Deliverable: final books in multiple languages; readers/educators guides published and put online
STEP 5: Advocacy and Public Engagement
Time: Q2 2017 Q4 2017
- Host public events;
- Conduct media outreach;
- Approach educators about using the books;
- Engage in advocacy with HRDs in their countries;
- Disseminate books to partners for use in advocacy.
Deliverable: public events, reviews and articles, advocacy meeting with officials.
As agents of social change, human rights defenders (HRDs) are on the frontline of the struggle for justice and respect for human rights throughout the world. Yet HRDs face a variety of risks in conducting their legitimate human rights work; from harassment and stigmatization, to threats, assaults, and, in the worst cases, targeted killing. While physical measures of protection can and often do help, HRDs are safest when they have a combination of international and local support. In order for many human rights defenders to bring about lasting change within their communities, they need help through the realization of increased awareness of, and active support for, their work at local and international levels.
Two groups of human rights defenders that are particularly vulnerable are environmental rights defenders and LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex) rights defenders. In recent years, repressive campaigns to stop their work have been aggressively pursued in many countries, and as a result HRDs have been relentlessly persecuted, defamed, disappeared, and killed. Already marginalized from the mainstream centers of power, these two communities often lack resources and the ability to creatively engage wider national and international audiences to win support and enhance their protection.
Greater visibility, recognition and legitimacy to HRDs creates opportunities for their enhanced security and sets a stronger foundation upon which they can pursue their critical work in advancing rights and justice. This requires outreach to international audiences whose collective voice can shine a spotlight on the work and struggle of HRDs. It also requires engagement with local communities that, if encouraged to action, can have a dramatic impact on the security and capacity of HRDs.
Graphic novel storytelling is a dynamic medium that can connect human rights defenders with these audiences. The graphic novel medium provides a unique forum to educate the public, far beyond those typically engaged with the promotion of human rights, about specific HRD cases as well as their crucial role in the advancement of open societies worldwide.
Front Line Defenders seeks funding partners to support the research and artistic phases of the project, as well implementing partners in media, foreign publishing, and educational institution outreach at the dissemination/outreach stage.
Front Line Defenders offers to the CGI community its extensive experience in the provision of rapid and practical protection of human rights defenders of which this visibility project is a central component. Front Line Defenders believes strongly that sustainable development cannot occur without the respect for human rights at local levels. The graphic novel project described in this commitment is designed to raise domestic and international awareness for the crucial role of HRDs. This is, in itself, a method of protection for those seeking to bring about legitimate social change in their communities.
Beyond its core competency of protecting and improving the capacity of HRDs, Front Line offers its knowledge in best practice, financial resources, media support, experience in publishing and promotion, a network of like-minded organizations ready to help promote the books, an established audience as a result of the first book, and digital platform infrastructure into which these next books will be released.