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By defenders, for defenders, benefitting all of us

The most dangerous region to defend human rights and the environment is Latin America.

During the initial phase of the Covid pandemic, when individual defenders were especially isolated, the number murdered in Colombia alone skyrocketed to 310. Even when the rhythms of life returned to something closer to normal in 2021, 171 human rights leaders were murdered in Colombia. While Colombia tops the list, Mexico and Guatemala are not far behind.

Rarely, if ever, are the perpetrators held to account. Impunity reins in large part because, as a group, defenders are maligned and criminalized by the repressive governments they challenge, circumstances that compel them to hide and render them invisible outside of their small circles of trusted allies.

These individuals defend some of the most precious and threatened aspects of life. Who will defend them?

What is VIVX?

Beginning in 2016, a handful of Colombian defenders and media makers convened by Skylight SolidariLabs united in their commitment to human rights decided to create a virtual network in which supporters of human rights could virtually accompany, champion, and make visible the work of defenders—protecting defenders and at the same time shifting public narratives.

Over the next five years, as the idea attracted defenders and media makers stretching from Peru to Mexico, the original idea morphed to focus more on mutual support: a network by defenders for defenders. Understanding the concept of protection in a broader and more holistic way to include resources and access to self-care practices, legal advice, digital security, and secure spaces for mutual support.

The VIVX app

With support from Skylight, input from defenders and a team of Latin American creative programmers at 3Pixels Media, the VIVX app was born. A mobile app developed and designed in workshops with defenders provides the connective tissue and tools for the VIVX network, featuring:

  • Toolbox: includes access to pro-bono legal services, pro-bono psychological support, digital security guidance, provided by volunteer professionals in those fields, and key contacts for organizations that serve as resources and support for defenders.
  • Alert button: the alert button is programmed by each defender to include his/her circle of trust, people who will already know what to do when they receive the alert pre-programmed by the defender.
  • Defenders News Digest: a curated feed of news relevant to the struggles of the defenders.
  • Secure archive in the cloud: through the app each defender can create private folders in Google Cloud where photos, videos and documents will be automatically uploaded from their mobile phones. This will keep the content that could be used as evidence in a secure space in case their phones are destroyed or hacked. These private folders can be shared with others at the discretion of each defender.
  • Short film profiles gallery: the stories of each defender and their communities told in short film profiles created in collaboration with filmmakers from the Skylight SolidariLabs network, illuminating their causes, their motivations, why they risk their lives for a verdant, equitable and sustainable future. We are producing film profiles with defenders in Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico.
  • Messaging system: VIVX’s messaging system is based on the open source MatterMost platform, with end-to-end encryption and available only to members of the VIVX network. Its functions allow, in addition to direct or group messaging, the creation of thematic channels, such as water protection or anti-mining struggles, that can serve as transnational discussion forums for sharing experiences and strategies amongst defenders and allies. The messaging system is end-to-end encrypted and a key element for mutual support among network members.
  • VPN Access: through a partnership with the Internet Freedom program of Tunnelbear, a secure Virtual Private Network service, VIVX provides free VPN accounts to its members, to protect them by enabling them to hide their location and data when using the app in their activism.
Opening Civic Space for Defenders

One of the most recent developments initiated by defenders in the VIVX network has been the launch of dynamic knowledge sharing spaces to strengthen the transnational links of the network, on specific struggles such as resistance to toxic mining, land defense, forced disappearances, defenders in exile, and racial and gender equity.

We have begun a series of hybrid thematic meetings, that is, face-to-face combined with virtual.  The first was held in Oaxaca, Mexico, on August 10, 2022, on the theme of water protection in resistance to mining companies.  A delegation of defenders from Guatemala came to Oaxaca and met face-to-face with the delegation from Mexico and were accompanied virtually by defenders from Colombia.

Another meeting will be in Medellin in October 2022 on the issue of forced disappearances, with defenders from the VIVX network working in collaboration with members of Comuna 13, an organization of family members of the disappeared.  Defenders from Mexico and Guatemala will participate virtually with their counterparts in Colombia.

Communicating VIVX to the World

Put on pause to attend to more pressing needs, the original vision of shifting public narratives is the next frontier. The next iteration of VIVX will have a public facing external communications strategy designed to cultivate a media ecosystem that will promote a positive perspective on the role of defenders as the frontline protectors of our world, and why society needs to protect them for the benefit of all.

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