Estonian Human Rights’ Centre in 2022 – Annual Report

The year 2022 started strategically, with activities that had already been planned. The aim of the Centre was (and is) to move towards an open society where human rights are essential and guaranteed by the state, and every person knows that their rights and the rights of others deserve to be protected. The year showed us how important the democratic social order, respect for human rights and the international community’s role in ensuring them are.

In February, we confirmed our annual action plan and goals for the year. At the end of the month, however, they had to be put on hold because Russia started a full-scale war against Ukraine. From March to May, we focused on advising and assisting refugees arriving from Ukraine. We involved eight volunteers and coordinated our work with the UN Refugee Agency as well as other partners. Since the summer, we expanded our cooperation with the Estonian Refugee Council to ensure the well-being of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia. Throughout the rest of the year, in cooperation with the Ukrainian refugee communities, we organised more than a hundred events in different parts of Estonia, we kept an eye on the refugees’ living conditions, identified their social and legal concerns and looked for solutions.

There were a lot of internal changes that took place in the Centre during the past year. We moved to a larger office space and said goodbye and a big thank you to our colleagues, who, for years, contributed their time to ensure that the human rights of every person were protected in Estonia. Refugee lawyer Markus, communications manager Mirjam and diversity and inclusion manager Liina moved on to new challenges. They were replaced by new colleagues who want to improve the protection of human rights in Estonia. In March, Marleen, a community engagement coordinator, joined us. At the beginning of the year, she worked with human rights representatives, but at the end of the year, Marleen was working with the Ukrainian community in Estonia. In June, Diana, our Ukrainian community coordinator and, Elisabeth, our social media expert joined the Centre, while in August-September, Ukrainian community engagement coordinators Oleksandra and Yulia, refugee lawyer Kertu, and diversity and inclusion manager Helen joined. At the end of the year, we found the long-awaited communications manager, Ave.

The year was difficult, but we were able to quickly readjust our priorities, get used to the increased workload, expand the team and – most importantly – face new challenges and help those in need.

In autumn, with the council, we got to think more broadly about the Centre’s strategy and goals and analyse what has been done. Towards the end of the year, we started putting together a communication strategy. In December – on the Human Rights Centre’s 13th birthday – the council extended the Centre’s mandate by three years so that we can successfully implement our 2024 strategy.

The Centre could not do its job without our supporters. Volunteers, human rights ambassadors, and all donors – our impact is much greater because of you! Thank you for being with us through it all! We appreciate it!

Year 2022 in numbers

We were actively working with 18 projects, eight of which were international and ten domestic. Thanks to the operational support financed by the Active Citizens Foundation operated by the Open Estonia Foundation, we were able to expand and strengthen the Centre’s general activities as well as communication and strategic action.

12 full-time employees participated in our work during the year. Last year, a total of 16 people were contractually involved in the Centre’s activities. In addition, we had 50 experts (about 35 of whom are members of the Ukrainian community) who contributed to our work based on one-time agency contracts. We included three new human rights ambassadors. 20 people were ready to contribute as volunteers to the creation of Estonia that respects the human rights of every person. In addition, 149 people came t help us with different projects about Ukraine in the spring.

Last year’s biggest project was helping Ukrainian refugees with advice and community empowerment. With the United Nations Refugee Agency’s support and in cooperation with the Estonian Refugee Council, we organised 122 events for the Ukrainian community, 25 of which were carried out by the community members themselves. In total, more than 3000 Ukrainian refugees participated in these events. To understand the systematic problems refugees face and how to solve them, we interviewed more than 400 refugees and mapped their living conditions across Estonia.

The work we did with refugees also increased in the field of legal aid: in 2022, we advised 20 times more people than in previous years on average. In total, we advised more than 2000 people during the year and worked with 18 strategic refugee cases.

Throughout the year, we also counselled victims of discrimination, a total of 104 times. The main topics were harassment, discrimination in the workplace and issues related to the Cohabitation Act. Thanks to donors, we continued work with five strategic equal treatment and human rights protection cases. We work so that everyone could report harassment, that freedom of expression stays protected and that all families could share a common surname.

We organised 12 studies for the research network of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the largest of which were related to the human rights charter, the European Arrest Regulation and the situation of Ukrainian refugees in Estonia. In addition, in cooperation with international partners, we monitored the spread of hatred in mass media and published a study on it. At conferences and youth seminars, we looked for ways to stop the spread of hatred. Together with our partners, we also published a website that teaches how to communicate without hostility. We also updated the Equal Treatment Handbook, published a survey on eurosceptisism and added new interesting materials to the Human Rights Guide.

During the past year, two diversity agreement joining events took place. In the spring, a record number of organisations (24 in total) joined the agreement, and in autumn another six joined. The network now includes 178 employers who are united by their interest in a work culture that respects differences and success achieved with the support of innovative ideas and diverse experiences. Together with the organizations that are part of the network, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Diversity Agreement. 49 organisations received the diversity label, and more than 400 people participated in sectoral training/seminars and other events.

We opened European Diversity Month in Estonia on May 3rd with a street photography exhibition about intergenerational diversity. We also organised a panel discussion, where we talked with well-known Estonian employers about topics related to different generations and the work environment. More than 30 companies celebrated Diversity Day with us.

In opinion articles published during the year, we drew attention to the situation of refugees in Ukraine, the general human rights situation in Estonia and the importance of data protection. We also organised a video campaign raising awareness of the importance of data protection, the clips from the campaign have reached over 285,000 viewers.

We created a platform for donors and surveyed our donors to get to know our supporters better. In the past year, 395 people and organisations donated to the Human Rights Centre. With the collected donations we were able to cover the costs of legal aid for strategic cases and the unexpected costs associated with the increase in the administrative burden. It is thanks to the donations that we can keep a financial buffer so that the Centre could keep working during all the critical times and can quickly react to the changes that are taking place in our society.

Since you are here...

It is important to protect everyone’s human rights, because it helps to keep stability and peace in the society. There are many challenges for protection of human rights in Estonia: intolerance has really come out of the closet. Bad things happen when good people are too passive, but together we can make a change.

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