By Abdul Bari Masoud
Bengaluru/New Delhi: Releasing its second global report on ‘Human Rights Defenders on Tuesday, the Amnesty International put India in the list of “deadliest” countries where rights’ activists are at serious risk. The report revealed that 3,500 human rights defenders (HRDs) have been killed worldwide since the UN Declaration on human rights defenders was adopted in 1998.
The 46-page report titled as “Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights” carried the picture of noted Indian journalist and activist Gauri Lankesh on its cover page who was allegedly killed by Hindutva radicals in September this year.
While stating that India among deadliest countries for defenders of rights related to land, environment, it stated that 281 HRDs killed globally in 2016—a significant increase from 156 defenders killed in 2015 and 136 in 2014. Quoting the Committee to Protect Journalists’ report, it said 48 journalists were killed worldwide in 2016.
In India, journalists, land rights activists, and those advocating the rights of ethnic and religious minorities, Dalits and Adivasis are among those at risk of attack.
“Human rights defenders, instead of being recognized and protected by the state, are portrayed as ‘criminals’, ‘foreign agents’, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘terrorists’, and painted as a threat to development or traditional values. Such labels are divisive, signal contempt for constitutional rights, and give a green light to further abuses,” said Asmita Basu, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India.
The report brings together stories from around the world to illustrate the rise in preventable attacks on HRDs and highlights a chilling pattern of impunity. Focusing cases from India include that of human rights defender and journalist Gauri Lankesh, who was fatally shot outside her home in Bengaluru in September 2017. Lankesh was a champion of the right to freedom of expression and an outspoken critic of hardline Hindu groups. She had previously been threatened for her activism.
Jailal Rathia, an Adivasi community leader in Chhattisgarh, challenged the irregular acquisition and grabbing of Adivasi land. He died in March 2017 as a result of what his family suspect was a deliberate poisoning. He had been threatened on several occasions and told by the local land mafia and the state police to withdraw the petitions he had filed.
In 2013, Dalit human rights defender Chandrakant Gaikwad from Maharashtra was shot and killed, allegedly by an individual against whom he had filed a complaint about committing crimes against Dalits. Gaikwad had supported victims of caste-based discrimination in accessing justice by helping them file and follow up on complaints with local authorities. He had been threatened repeatedly.
“In many cases, the deaths of defenders had been preceded by a string of threats, which authorities turned a blind eye to. Lives could have been saved if states had taken their human rights obligations seriously and acted on reports of threats and other abuses,”Asmita Basu said.
Many described how victims’ pleas for protection had been repeatedly ignored by the authorities and how the attackers had evaded justice, fueling a deadly cycle of impunity.
It said it is a matter of grave concern that people who promote and defend human rights across the globe continue to face an onslaught of harassment, intimidation, unjust prosecution and unlawful detention. The report includes testimonies from human rights defenders, as well as relatives and colleagues of human rights defenders who have been killed, in India, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mauritania, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and Syria.
The report focuses on the gravest of violations against human rights defenders: killings and enforced disappearances. The motives behind these attacks are multiple and layered. Some people are attacked because of their legitimate activities, for example, as they stand up to powerful actors violating human rights, share information and raise awareness, or confront discriminatory public opinion and social norms. Others are attacked both for what they do and who they are.
Amnesty calls upon all states to prioritize the recognition and protection of human rights defenders. Authorities must publicly support their work and acknowledge their contribution to the advancement of human rights. They must take all necessary measures to prevent further attacks on them, and bring to justice those responsible for attacks by effectively investigating and prosecuting killings and enforced disappearances.
The global watch body said it is crucial that governments should send a clear public message that human rights violations will not be tolerated.
The salient features of the report
3,500: The number of human rights defenders estimated to have been killed worldwide since the adoption of the Declaration on HRDs in 1998.
281: The number of defenders killed globally in 2016, according to Front Line Defenders. The trend is steadily worsening. The organization recorded 156 defenders killed in 2015 and 136 in 2014.
Americas: The deadliest region for human rights defenders in recent years. Over half of those killed in 2015 and more than three-quarters of those killed in 2016 were in the Americas region, according to Front Line Defenders.
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. A total of 59 cases were documented in 2016 by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
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.
49%: The percentage of human rights defenders killed in 2016 who were working on land, territory and environmental issues, according to Front Line Defenders.
14: The number of environmental and land rights defenders killed in Honduras in 2016, including renowned defender Berta Caceres, according to Global Witness.
Human rights defenders and sex work:
Undermined: Human rights defenders who are sex workers, or who defend the rights of sex workers, are poorly recognized or undermined as activists. They can face violence and discrimination as sex work is stigmatized and criminalized in most countries. They are attacked for who they are (for example, women, transgender people), the work they do as sex workers, as well as their activism.
48: Number of journalists killed worldwide in 2016 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
827: The number of journalists killed between2006 and 2015, according to UNESCO.
8%: The percentage of documented cases of killings of journalists which have been resolved, according to UNESCO.
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).
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.
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).