What is an Early Warning System (EWS) for HRDs?

What is an Early Warning System (EWS) for HRDs?

An ‘Early Warning System’ (EWS) is an apparatus put in place to monitor, detect, and predict situations where HRDs may be vulnerable or at risk.

An EWS can alert the NHRI of potential future violations when threats are identified so the NHRI can take action to prevent or respond to those threats.  Since an EWS functions chiefly by analysing data and predetermined indicators, it can detect patterns, potential protection crises, factors that motivate attacks, as well as periods and areas of greatest vulnerability.

Developing an EWS is a key national action (4) of the APF Regional Action Plan for Human Rights Defenders (RAP).

Importance of an EWS

HRDs have stressed the importance of preventive rather than reactive measures.

With prior information and constant monitoring, it is possible to detect threats at an earlier stage and act promptly with the intention of preventing, rather than responding to, attacks and violations. Beyond preventing specific attacks, an EWS may track attacks on HRDs and analyse patterns.

The resulting information can be used to guide human-rights oriented public policy, it can also change the culture of civilian security, from one of responsiveness and improvisation, to a culture of prevention.

NHRIs can also bring this information to the attention of the international community.

“It is essential that an EWS responds to the national context and the specific risks HRDs face, which means that the system itself will vary greatly from one country to another. Any EWS seeking to prevent violations against HRDs, should be staffed with qualified personnel trained on risks faced by HRDs, and who understand the context in which they work, and who have an understanding of the adequate methods of addressing those risks.”
International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

There are three main categories for the functions of an EWS

  1. Monitoring

The monitoring phase is intended to detect potential risks, and includes obtaining data from the ground, from the context in which HRDs carry out their activities. The data obtained is analysed and registered according to a predetermined set of indicators and subsequently analysed and reported so that actions can be taken

  1. Analysing information (risk assessment)

Practical guidance on the monitoring and analysing phases are elaborated in National Action 5 on Monitoring violations, specifically on subsection III “Collect disaggregated data on violations from HRDs networks and other community sources”

  1. Alerting

Once data is collected, risks identified and analysed, the EWS should alert relevant stakeholders, chiefly those who can protect the HRDs at risk. This may include national, regional and international authorities. If deemed appropriate, the alert may be made public.

And don’t forget the follow-up!

Once actions have been taken to minimise the identified risk, it is important that the EWS follows up to verify if measures taken were actually effective. If agreements were reached between different parties, it is necessary to verify that these have been complied with. If the risk hasn’t completely subsided, the EWS could coordinate with competent authorities what new actions should be taken, or take new actions on its own.

Other aspects of an EWS

Reporting on violations

NHRIs can report on violations of HRDs, referring to specific cases or to the general context, to bring attention to their situation. Reports can serve advocacy or litigation campaigns at national, regional and international levels, and can include recommendations to authorities, aimed at achieving structural change.


EWS can play a role in coordinating intervention by various entities to protect HRDs. For example, in cases of land conflicts, NHRIs can play a role in obtaining protection for affected communities, alerting national and international stakeholders of potential human rights violations, and contacting translators and culturally-sensitive mediators to facilitate communication and defuse tensions. Cooperation with security forces and justice operators (investigators, prosecutors) can also be valuable.

Independent investigations and access to justice

Some NHRIs also carry out independent investigations of violations suffered by HRDs and support victims in taking legal action. If appropriate, results from independent investigations can be shared with competent authorities in charge of prosecution.

Emergency grants

Financial assistance can be essential for HRDs to evade risk. Grants can be provided to support HRDs to cover essential expenses, such as secure communication, humanitarian assistance, medical, legal, travel, relocation, equipment replacement, transportation, monitoring, administrative, advocacy campaigns’, training activities or capacity strengthening.

Responses of rapid response teams

Elaborated further below, teams specifically designed to provide an urgent and immediate protection can help minimise risk.

Protection measures

Protection measures are usually granted by a protection mechanism that can be housed within an NHRI. NHRIs may also support HRDs in requesting protection measures from other authorities (such as regional human rights bodies). While these measures vary, some common measures include: protective accompaniment, regular contact and visits with HRDs, trial monitoring, urgent appeals, public statements, emergency grants, and relocation initiatives.

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