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Shelter City

At Justice and Peace, we believe that the most effective way to promote universal human rights globally is through the support and protection of local and grassroots human rights defenders. Through Shelter City, and together with 17 Dutch and international cities, we offer human rights defenders at risk a three-month temporary stay in one of the Shelter Cities, so that they can continue their work safely and effectively in the long term. The current Shelter Cities are: Den Haag , Middelburg, Nijmegen, Maastricht, Utrecht, Amsterdam , Tilburg, Groningen, Zwolle, Haarlem, Deventer, and Rotterdam along with San José (Costa Rica), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Cotonou (Benin), and Tbilisi and Batumi (Georgia).

Visit the Shelter City website

Who are human rights defenders?

A human rights defender (HRD) is a person who, individually or with others, acts to promote or protect human rights non-violently. Whether they are journalists, lawyers, LGBTI activists, women’s rights activists, environmental defenders, or artists – they stand up for the rights and freedoms of people in their communities.

In some countries, they are considered foreign agents, dissidents, or threats to the state. Because of their vital work defending human rights, they are often subject to mass surveillance, harassment, violence and at times even death threats.

Learn more about the work of the HRDs

In the beginning of 2017 Kiruba stayed three months in Nijmegen as part of the Shelter City programme. Kiruba fights the cruelties of the Indian caste system.

“I have gained new energy and am now better prepared. The Shelter City programme has shown me that it is better to be silent for a while, than to have to keep silent forever.”

– Lottie, Nicaraguan indigenous rights defender

Irwin fights for the rights of LGBTI and sex workers and social development in Burundi, both at local and regional level. In 2009, the government in Burundi criminalized homosexuality. Article 567 of the Criminal Code makes it possible to convict people who break the law to two years in prison. Since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his controversial third term in April 2015, the security situation in Burundi has deteriorated and political violence and human rights violations have been the order of the day.

Providing Support and Protection for Human Rights Defenders

If a human rights defender is at risk, they are eligible to apply for a three-month temporary stay with the Shelter City initiative. The programme provides human rights defenders the ability to a take a break for a short period, expand their network with organisations in the Netherlands and in Europe, strengthen their capacities and skills in areas such as digital, organisational and physical security through the Resilience Initiative, and access psychological well-being sessions.

Who can apply for the Shelter City initiative?

The Shelter City programme is open for applications twice a year, in May and November.

In order to be elegible for the Shelter City Programme, the HRDs should meet the following conditions:

  1. They implement a non-violent approach in their work;
  2. They are threatened or otherwise under pressure due to their work;
  3. They should be able to be relocated for a period of maximum 3 months. Limited spots are available for people who are not able to stay for the full 3 months;
  4. They are willing and able to return to their country of origin after 3 months;
  5. They are willing to speak publicly about their experience or about human rights in their country to the extent that their security situation allows;
  6. They have a conversational level* of English (limited spots are available for French or Spanish speaking HRDs);
  7. They are willing and able to come to The Netherlands without accompaniment of family members;
  8. They have a valid passport (with no less than six months of validity) or be willing to carry out the procedures for its issuance. Justice and Peace covers the costs of issuing a passport and / or visa (if applicable);
  9. They are not subjected to any measure or judicial prohibition of leaving the country;
  10. They are willing to begin their stay in The Netherlands during the mentioned time in the call for applications.

*By conversational English we mean that participants’ level of English allows them to actively participate in a training, speak about their work, communicate with the host city, etc.

Note that additional factors will be taken into consideration in the final round of selection, such as the added value of a stay in The Netherlands as well as gender, geographic, and thematic balance. Please note that we can only accept HRDs currently residing in a third country under exceptional circumstances.


The calls for applications will be published on this website. To keep up-to-date follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


“As a Mayor, I am proud that Utrecht is one of the eleven Shelter Cities. Three years ago, my City’s parliament took the initiative to join the Shelter City network. The Shelter City guests are all extremely dedicated professionals. […] Their stories must be heard. Because freedom is so precious.”

– Jan van Zanen, Mayor of Utrecht, during the Shelter City Bike Challenge 2018

Human rights defenders are not alone in their struggle. The space for human rights defenders may be shrinking, but the movement to protect them is growing!