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An open letter to all our friends and supporters at Christmas

by Chris Abbott

Snow scene

Dear friends and supporters,

As the Christmas break draws near, I wanted to write and thank you for all your hard work and encouragement this year and take the opportunity to reflect on 2017 and look ahead to 2018.

The fallout from the Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election continued to shape politics in Europe and the United States over 2017. Tensions over the South China Sea, North Korea’s nuclear programme and Russia and the West have driven the geopolitical agenda. Civilians continued to bear the brunt of conflict in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Nigeria, Mali, Afghanistan, Myanmar and elsewhere. And governments around the world continued the onslaught on human rights and civil liberties that has characterised recent years. 

As always, in the midst of this chaos were the brave individuals and organisations trying to make a difference. Indeed, civil society achieved significant victories in 2017. For example, 122 UN member states adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in July, and Syria became the final state to sign the Paris climate change agreement in November. Sadly, though, too many humanitarians and activists have paid the ultimate price this year. We know of 170 environmental defenders, 111 aid workers, 78 human rights defenders, 75 healthcare workers, 41 journalists and media workers and 9 education workers who were killed in violence over the last 12 months. The true numbers of civil society actors killed this year protecting others will likely be much higher.

This is what has driven the Open Briefing team over the last year. We have supported at-risk organisations and activists around the world with innovative safety, security and intelligence services. We have worked with human rights defenders, privacy campaigners, development workers, war crimes investigators, conservationists, local NGOs and others with limited capacities and resources. We have helped them achieve social and environmental change by ensuring their physical and cyber security or through enhancing their campaigns with intelligence and research support. We trained a total of 81 human rights defenders this year, worked with 14 at-risk organisations, supported projects in 18 different countries and produced 41 publications.

We launched several new services for NGOs and other social change agents over the last 12 months. The most significant development was the addition of cyber security audits and training to the catalogue of ways in which we help organisations around the world. In an expansion of our security risk management work, we ran our first hostile environment and first aid training (HEFAT) courses over the summer, with all the students achieving a Level 3 Award in Personal Security in Hostile Environments. We also delivered a series of free NGO security risk management workshops to groups working on human rights, privacy, conflict prevention, LGBT rights, protecting civilians in conflict and corruption. And we continued the research and policy work that spurred us into existence in the first place, with weekly briefings on under-reported political and security developments around the world and monthly briefings on the deadly Boko Haram insurgency in north-eastern Nigeria.

At the start of next year, we will be launching various mental health and psychosocial support services, including staff wellbeing and family liaison policy development and training in psychological first aid and peer support. It has long been a goal of Open Briefing to enhance psychological safety as well as physical safety, and we are delighted that we will shortly be able to support those individuals at risk of trauma during their work protecting others. Another key aim for next year is to expand the support we can provide to environmental defenders, who are being killed in shocking numbers in South America and Southeast Asia in particular.

The Open Briefing team has expanded considerably during 2017 in order to meet the increasing demand for our assistance. Michel Gonzalez Brun, Liam Chivers, Nick Hanson-James, Paul Owens and Dan Williamson have joined our security risk management team; Karen Abbs is our new mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) consultant; Tim Newcomb has joined our team of researchers; and Chris Cushing and Neil Elliot have joined our board of advisers. We have also forged new collaborations with Security First and BSecure, while continuing to value our existing partnerships with Bradburys Global Risk, Survival Wisdom and In Safe Hands.

Attracting sufficient core funding continues to be a challenge. The smaller funders are often overcommitted and many of the large funders are not responsive to the needs and capabilities of smaller organisations like Open Briefing. Fortunately, this year we have continued to benefit from the moral and financial support of Oak Foundation, the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation and the Philamonic Trust as well as those individuals who kindly gave monthly donations in support of our work. Oak Foundation has also supported our work by subsidising assignments for some of their grantees in an original and highly-successful initiative by their international human rights programme. Nonetheless, securing significant additional funding will have to be a top priority for us in the first half of 2018. However, we will ensure that our fundraising efforts do not detract from our work to provide support to at-risk organisations and individuals when they need it.

To all our colleagues, partners, funders, supporters and clients, thank you. None of this is possible without your ongoing support.

I hope you all have a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year!

Best wishes,

Chris

Chris Abbott
Founder and executive director, Open Briefing