From bad to worse: Human rights defenders face growing threats in 2017

In the past year, the situation of democracy and human rights around the world continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate. Political and civil space is increasingly shrinking in numerous countries, and economic, social and cultural development often is uneven and does not include vulnerable groups.The international community must step up its efforts to provide protection to human rights defenders at risk write ProtectDefenders.EU.

In a growing number of countries, the pressure on human rights defenders has continuously increased, and the international community has failed to bring stability and peace to regions of conflict, in sharp contrast with the efforts undertaken in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Human rights defenders, including women and LGBTI defenders, are grassroots champions of change, and crucial pivotal actors in the drive to tackle the crises faced by the international community. In order to address the root causes of crises such as the spread of conflict - which result in forced displacement and refugee movements - radicalisation and environmental breakdown, we must provide support to those who are active on the ground fighting for positive change and inclusive development.

Human rights defenders across the world often put their lives and well-being on the line to push for democratic governance, sustainable development, gender equality and poverty reduction. According alerts issued by four international human rights organizations, in 2017, more than 650 defenders have faced severe attacks and threats, and at least 400 have been subject to judicial harassment. Democracy and human rights are only possible when courageous individuals and communities are willing to stand up for them. This is what makes defenders a central keystone to development, peace-building, democratisation, and resilience. 

Authoritarian and repressive regimes around the world, have become better organised, more sophisticated, and more effective at impeding the work of human rights defenders through surveillance, defamation, restrictive legislation including on access to funding, intimidation, and harassment, as well as arrests, disappearances, torture and murder. Multinational corporations and private interests are also often implicated in repression and violation of human rights for economic gain.

Working together with defenders and international human rights organisations, the European Union and its Member States must pursue even more vigorously a progressive agenda for protection of human rights defense in the context of development and make support for independent civil society and human rights defenders a key strategic priority.

A fundamental change is needed from states, companies and all actors involved to recognize human rights defenders not as threats, but as vital assets and key partners in development. The international community, the European Union, and its Member States must meet this challenge as a matter of priority, and step up their efforts to provide protection to human rights defenders at risk.

This article first appeared on ProtectDefenders.EU.

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ProtectDefenders.eu is the European Union Human Rights Defenders mechanism, established to protect defenders at high risk and facing the most difficult situations worldwide. Led by a Consortium of 12 NGOs active in the field of Human Rights.