RARE - Comunications

“We all have the power to change narratives.”

In June 2021, RARE participants gathered in Berlin to continue working on a joint advocacy strategy. This time the focus was on rejuvenating the human rights narrative. This need became evident in exchanges among the group and was similar to what had been identified as the main roadblock to effective strategic planning: civil society organisations tend to speak out and become visible when human rights breaches are happening and human rights are already under attack.

“Human rights defenders are rarely popular at the time when they are actually carrying out their activities. They might become popular with hindsight.”

András Léderer,
Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary

“If you analyse all the conversations happening on social media with the word 'civil society', the dominant narrative is 'civil society versus government'.”

Thomas Coombes,
Human rights strategist,communication expert
Founder, Hope-based communications

While this watchdog function is a crucial and valuable part of human rights work, there are other key moments that demand for human rights defenders' contribution and visibility. As communications trainer Thomas Coombes put it: "[...] we are forgetting to complete our story with really important things, which are: the vision of the changes we want to see and the values that drive us!"

An important finding of the exchange was that human rights defenders, the proactive part of their work and especially the importance and benefits of this work to the whole of society, demand more attention and coverage. Recognition of their value by democratic society is crucial for increasing their leverage, gaining support and building constituency.

Credits: Polina Georgescu

Under the lead of Andrea Römmele, Professor of Communication in Politics and Civil Society at the Hertie School, RARE participants identified other moments that are of strategic relevance for communication, especially when advocacting towards political institutions and policymakers. They discussed how to best align advocacy strategies with critical phases in the policy cycle that create opportunities for external input and influencing. Working on various case studies, participants adapted an analytical perspective on power structures and processes within political institutions that are relevant to the success of their advocacy efforts.

Thomas Coombes introduced the group to the techniques of hope-based communication. Coombes highlighted the importance of vision-centred frames and value-based messaging for societal change and encouraged participants to strategically integrate these in their organisations' future advocacy campaigns. 

Reframing human rights advocacy

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In this video, RARE participants and experts explain how human rights defenders can and should change narratives around human rights issues to get their message across and raise awareness for the importance of their work.