The human rights condition around the Mediterranean basin have for many years given rise to grave concern as attacks to human rights principles have been vastly documented by human rights organisations working in the region.

Most of the Maghreb and Mashrek countries have been governed by authoritarian regimes whose first considerations were internal and external security. Although a progress in democratization was observed in some of those countries in the 1980s, civil society remained weak and human rights’ violations were still largely observed across the region. Human rights defenders (HRDs) in the region have been working under extremely difficult and dangerous conditions, and have been commonly subjected to restrictions of all kinds.

In this context, the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) mandated a feasibility study on the establishment of a Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in the Mediterranean region in May 2002. The study provided a needs assessment for a human right foundation devoted to flexible and strategic small-scale funding in the South Mediterranean region, and made some recommendations concerning the appropriate constituency and mode of functioning for such an agency.

This led to the establishment of the Euro-Mediterranean Foundation of Support to Human Rights Defenders (EMHRF) in December 2004. The Foundation’s primary aims encompass providing tangible financial assistance to human rights defenders - especially those who are working in remote areas and facing difficulties in receiving mainstream donors’ support - in order to allow them to promote, support, protect and monitor the observance of human rights in the South-Mediterranean region.

The Foundation progressively developed cooperation with like-minded funding organizations, thus reinforcing its approach towards human rights defenders in the Southern-Mediterranean.

In 2011, the context of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa largely changed. The revolutions provided human rights defenders with new opportunities, but also produced new forms of constraints, thereby reaffirming the highly needed and relevant work of the Foundation. In some countries of the region, elections brought to power new relatively-participatory regimes, thus instigating a new constitutional era. However, human rights violations continue to persist on multiple levels. In some other countries, old authoritarian regimes, known for being human rights abusers, remain in power, either by avoiding or enduring large scale popular protests. Finally in such country as Syria, the initial uprising was dragged into a protracted violent conflict further affecting an already dire human rights situation.

In order to better understand the shifting societal dynamics at play in the countries of the region, the Foundation organized a series of seminars. As early as of April 2011, the EMHRF set up a seminar about “Democratic Change in the Arab Region: State Policy and the Dynamics of Civil Society” thus providing a space for reflection between key academics, civil society actors, donors and government representatives working in the region. The ensuing report provided a strong base upon which to build policies and strategies to promote and protect democracy and human rights in the direct aftermath of the “Arab uprisings”.

The EMHRF organized a reflection day in May 2013 analysing the latest developments in the countries of the region in order to shape adequate response tools to the changing needs of the human rights defenders on the ground.On this occasion, three prominent researchers presented their contributions, analysing the historical, legal, and socio-political dimensions of the changes induced in the region since 2011.