Front Line Defenders: 281 human rights defenders murdered in 2016
More than 1000 human rights defenders were killed, harassed, detained, or subjected to smear campaigns and other violations in 2016, Front Line Defenders reported today at the launch of its annual report in Dublin. The Annual Report on Human Rights Defenders at Risk in 2016 documents hundreds of physical, legal, and social attacks on activists around the world in 2016.
According to the report, 282 human rights defenders were murdered in 25 countries, 49 percent of whom were defending land, indigenous and environmental rights. Front Line Defenders found that in the vast majority of cases, killings were preceded by warnings, death threats and intimidation which, when reported to police, were routinely ignored. The report highlights the devastating effects of activist murders on communities and social movements; according to Front Line Defenders research in Bangladesh, refusal by police to investigate death threats and protect human rights defenders led to increased self-censorship, a breakdown in activist networks, and more than two dozen human rights defenders fleeing the country.
“This report honours the hundreds of defenders killed in 2016,” said Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson. “We mourn their loss and celebrate their lives and achievements. Each and every peaceful HRD killed is an outrage. The scale of the killings in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines is a bloody indictment of the governments concerned; it demands an urgent and systematic response.”
In addition to killings, over half of the cases reported by Front Line Defenders in 2016 concerned criminalisation, a tactic which the organisation calls “the first choice of governments to silence defenders and to dissuade others.” Arbitrary detention was widespread and ranged from a few hours in Nicaragua, to prevent HRDs from attending protests, to years-long house arrests in China.
The Annual Report highlights the case of journalist Dawit Isaak, who has been held incommunicado for over 15 years in Eritrea. In May 2016, former Front Line Defenders Protection Coordinator Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja completed his fifth year of a life sentence in Bahrain, handed down in 2011 following decades of human rights work.
In Europe, human rights defenders and organisations assisting refugees were harassed in Hungary, Poland, Greece and Turkey as a result of increasing anti-immigrant sentiments and xenophobia. France and Turkey reacted to terrorist attacks by restricting civil liberties, with France extending its state of emergency, cracking down on the right of peaceful assembly and banning several HRDs from demonstrating.
“This year proved that Western Europe is not immune from serious human rights setbacks,” said Andrea Rocca, Head of Protection at Front Line Defenders. “In October, UK Prime Minister Theresa May criticised ‘activist left-wing human rights lawyers’ trying to hold British soldiers responsible for murder in conflict zones. This type of stigmatisation of human rights defenders, and smear campaigns that place them in physical danger, are tactics employed around the world. Such comments feed an insidious narrative which questions the universal nature of human rights, and puts the burden on activists to defend the legitimacy of their peaceful, critical work.”