Global Analysis 2018
Global Analysis 2018 details the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gendered attacks faced by HRDs and women human rights defenders (WHRDs). December 2018 marked the 20th Anniversary of the HRD Declaration and the 70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but HRDs around the world continue to face lethal threats from state, non-state, and corporate actors in their peaceful struggles for rights.
In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record – according to data collected by Front Line Defenders. More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects.
Front Line Defenders reports that the murders of HRDs were not isolated events, but were preceded by judicial harassment, threats and physical attacks. At least 49% of those killed had previously received a specific death threat, and in an additional 43% of killings there had been general threats made to HRDs in the area. In the vast majority of cases, HRDs did not receive the necessary protection and support from state authorities from the time they reported threats to the time they were murdered.
Human rights norms are being challenged all over the world. It is more important than ever that governments who value human rights lend vocal, practical and financial support to the work of these peaceful activists who are fighting against a tide of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, misogyny and environmental degradation.
- Ed O'Donovan, Head of Protection
According to the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018, in addition to the threats experienced by male colleagues, WHRDs face gendered and sexualized attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements. Such violations include removal from public or high-ranking positions in NGOs, trade unions, and political societies; smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarized violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children. In Saudi Arabia, authorities arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured WHRDs who led the successful campaign for the abolition of the driving ban in 2018. Despite these attacks and the ongoing threats to stay silent, WHRDs in Saudi Arabia, as well as their family members, have publicly reported and condemned the abuses and are receiving unprecedented national, regional, and international visibility for their activism.
In addition to physical attacks and torture, the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 highlights the continuing trend towards restrictive legislation aimed at stifling the powerful work of HRDs and WHRDs, including:
- A Digital Security Act in Bangladesh carrying a 14-year sentence for using digital media to “cause damage to the state”;
- Retrospective legislation in Xinjiang province, China, legalising the use of “re-education” camps for the minority Uyghur population, including HRDs;
- Anti-terror legislation in Nicaragua widening the definition of terrorism to include those accused of damaging property, leading to dozens of arrests of protesters now facing terrorism charges and 20 years in prison.
Front Line Defenders Digital Protection Team responded to a high number of reports from Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela in 2018. According to the Global Analysis, authorities around the world frequently used phone and email surveillance to target LGBTI+ defenders, WHRDs and environmental activists in particular. The report notes that in Tanzania, Pakistan, Russia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and many countries in MENA, governments claimed that HRDs were threatening “national security” as an excuse for censoring and blocking NGO websites.
Despite the severe and sometimes life-threatening risks faced by HRDs and WHRDs, Global Analysis 2018 highlights a number of major success achieved by HRDs and WHRDs in 2018, including:
The critical and leading role played by HRDs in securing The Escazu Agreement, now signed by 24 states in Latin America and the Caribbean, which stipulates a participatory approach to environmental projects and the mitigation of conflicts;
The monumental vote for reproductive rights in Ireland, secured through the extensive, decades-long campaigning of Irish WHRDs in the face of defamation, smear campaigns, and threats;
The Coalition of Women Leaders for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who successfully campaigned for a province-wide decree in Equateur protecting women’s land and forest rights.
In response to attacks against HRDs in 2018, Front Line Defenders is working with HRDs to promote their 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, Front Line Defenders provided nearly 550 protection grants to activists at risk in 2018. Front Line Defenders also works with HRDs to devise visibility campaigns to counteract the defamation and smear campaigns that put them at risk.