Deadly but preventable attacks: Killings and enforced disappearances of those who defend human rights

States need to prevent attacks, killings and enforced disappearances of human rights defenders.

Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights, highlights the growing risks faced by human rights defenders – people from all walks of life who work to promote and defend human rights.

The report includes testimonies from friends, relatives and colleagues of human rights defenders, including environmentalists, LGBTIQ and women’s rights activists, journalists and lawyers, who have been killed or disappeared.

Many described how victims’ pleas for protection had been repeatedly ignored by the authorities and how the attackers had evaded justice, fuelling a deadly cycle of impunity.

“We spoke to families of killed and forcibly disappeared human rights defenders all over the world, and kept hearing the same thing: these people knew their lives were at risk,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Head of Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Defenders Programme.

“Their deaths or disappearances had been preceded by a string of previous attacks, which authorities turned a blind eye to or even encouraged. If states had taken their human rights obligations seriously and acted diligently on reports of threats and other abuses, lives could have been saved.”

Human rights defenders killed and disappeared

Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental and Indigenous activist who was shot dead in 2016 after years of threats and attacks.

Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBTIQ activist who was hacked to death in Bangladesh, along with his colleague, in 2016. Over 18 months later, justice is yet to take place.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, founder of a human rights organization in Burundi, who was shot in the face and neck in 2015. Months later, while he was recovering abroad, his son and son-in-law were killed.

The “Douma 4”, four Syrian activists who were abducted from their office by armed men in December 2013 and have not been seen since.

Women human rights defenders

Double discrimination:

“When they threaten me, they say that they will kill me, but before they kill me they will rape me. They don’t say that to my male colleagues. These threats are very specific to Indigenous women. There is also a very strong racism against us. They refer to us as those rebel Indian women that have nothing to do, and they consider us less human.” Aura Lolita Chávez, an Indigenous woman human rights defender from Guatemala (interviewed by AWID).

Pace of attacks increasing

When the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, the international community committed to protecting them and recognising their crucial work. But championing human rights continues to be highly dangerous work, with thousands of human rights defenders killed or forcibly disappeared by state and non-state actors in the two decades since.

3,500: The number of human rights defenders estimated to have been killed worldwide since the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs in 1998. The HRD Memorial commemorates and celebrates the lives of human rights defenders unjustly killed for their human rights work.

51: The number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia in the first half of 2017, according to Colombian NGO Somos Defensores. The trend is steadily worsening.

66: The number of human rights defenders killed in Brazil in 2016, according to the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders. The trend is steadily worsening. A total of 58 defenders were killed between January and August 2017, mostly Indigenous people, rural landless workers, and others working on issues related to the land, territory and the environment.

14: The number of environmental and land rights defenders killed in Honduras in 2016, including renowned defender Berta Caceres, according to Global Witness.
827: The number of journalists killed between 2006 and 2015, according to UNESCO.
Law professionals:

41: Number of lawyers from the Philippines killed between 2001 and 2014, according to Day of the Endangered Lawyer Report 2015.

117: Number of law professionals killed between 2010 and 2016 in Honduras, according to The Honduras National Human Rights Commissioner.

2,343: The number of trans- and gender-diverse people in 69 countries killed from 2008 and 2016, according to Transgender Europe’s (TGEU) Trans Murder Monitoring Project.

Trade unionists:
2,863: The number of trade unionists and union members killed in Colombia from 1986-2011, according to the National Trade Union School.

84: The number of labour rights defenders killed in Guatemala between 2007 and 2016 according to the Network of Labour Rights Defenders of Guatemala (Red de Defensores de Derechos Laborales de Guatemala).

“The brutal attacks documented in this report are the logical end point of a disturbing trend, where instead of standing up for human rights defenders many world leaders are putting them at increased risk through smear campaigns, the misuse of the criminal justice system or by falsely portraying them as opposed to national interests, effectively signalling contempt for the human rights of us all,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

“To reverse this dangerous narrative, states need to publicly recognise the key role that human rights defenders play. We owe it to all those who have bravely defended our human rights at the cost of their lives to protect those who are continuing to advance their vital work.”

We call on leaders, academics, activists, public representatives and the general public to sign this global pledge to protect, defend and recognise human rights defenders

Take action to call for justice for human rights defenders

Speak out for women’s rights defender Azza Soliman

Stand with the brave: keep Rodrigo Mundaca and water defenders safe

Support the brave: Stand with Sakris

Release Tep Vanny and allow her the freedom to stand up for her community

Bangladesh: Justice for Xulhaz Mannan, killed for defending human rights

Russia: Effectively and impartially investigate the murder of Natalia Estemirova