Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2017
As human rights defenders around the world put their lives on the line to challenge dictators, destructive multi-national corporations, religious conservatives, and oppressive regimes, there pervades a well-resourced and coordinated strategy of defamation, criminalisation and violence deployed to intimidate, marginalise and silence peaceful, powerful activists. The human cost has been high. More than 300 human rights defenders were murdered in 2017. Yet, in spite of this violence, there are more HRDs, working on more issues, in more countries, than ever before.
More than 300 Activists Murdered in 2017: Front Line Defenders Launches Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders At Risk
Dedicated to the more than 300 human rights defenders murdered this year, the Front Line Defenders Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders At Risk opens with two pages listing the names of the deceased. Launched today in Dublin, the report details the physical attacks, threats, judicial harassment, and smear campaigns used by state, non-state, and corporate actors to hinder the work of peaceful human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world.
In 2017, 312 defenders in 27 countries were killed for their peaceful work, according to data collected by Front Line Defenders. More than two-thirds of these, 67% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights, nearly always in the context of mega projects, extractive industry and big business.
Of the cases tracked, only 12% of all murder cases resulted in the arrest of suspects. Impunity for acts of violence against HRDs continues to enable an environment of frequent killings, said the organisation, as does a chronic lack of protection for HRDs at risk. Of the cases for which data on threats was collected, 84% of murdered defenders received at least one targeted death threat prior to their killing.
“Around the world, defenders continue to tell us that police and government officials refuse to respond to requests for protection following death threats to activists,” said Executive Director Anderson, speaking at the lauch of the report in Dublin. “Killings almost always occur following a series or pattern of threats, indicating that if preventive action were taken by police, and threats against defenders were taken seriously by authorities, HRD killings could be drastically reduced.”
“Killings almost always occur following a series or pattern of threats, indicating that if preventive action were taken by police, and threats against defenders were taken seriously by authorities, HRD killings could be drastically reduced.” - Executive Director Andrew Anderson
In addition to the high rate of murders in 2017, criminalisation remained the most common strategy used to hinder the critical work of HRDs. In 2017, thousands of activists were detained on fabricated charges, subjected to lengthy, expensive and unfair legal processes or sentenced to long prison terms. In a number of countries, authorities accused HRDs of “waging war against the state” and “secession,” charges which carry the death penalty. In the Middle East and North Africa, HRDs faced charges relating to terrorism, state security and espionage. In Vietnam, the government staged a systematic campaign against bloggers, academics and citizen journalists in 2017, with activists arrested, charged, labeled “enemies of the state” and given jail terms of up to ten years and addiiton time under house arrest.
The report also highlights that international pressure on governments who target HRDs is critical. Six HRDs in Sudan were detained and put on trial for “conspiracy to conduct espionage and intelligence activities in favour of foreign embassies” and “waging war against the state.” Three of them were detained for almost a year; two were tortured. Following an extensive campaign of domestic and international pressure, however, all six received a presidential pardon in August.
In many cases reported by Front Line Defenders, both judicial harassment and physical attacks were preceded by defamation and smear campaigns at the local level. Women human rights defenders around the world are increasingly reporting hyper-sexualized smear campaigns and defamation, which aim to limit their activism by eroding local support networks.
In response, according to Executive Direction Andrew Anderson, Front Line Defenders is working to promote HRD security with a range of protection programming. In addition to risk management and digital protection trainings, advocacy at the national, international, and EU level, emergency relocation, and nearly 500 protection grants provided to activists at risk in 2017, Front Line Defenders also works with HRDs to devise visibility campaigns to counteract the defamation and smear campaigns that put them at risk.
For more information or to speak with Front Line Defenders, please contact:
+353 85 863 3655