Amid news of attacks against human rights activists and journalists almost day to day basis, a recent report says Asia continues to be a dangerous hub for Human Rights Defenders (HRDs).
The biennial report “Defending in Numbers” from the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development documented as many as 688 cases of violations and abuses affecting about 4,854 people from human rights organisations, local communities and media outlets across 18 countries in the continent between 2017 and 2018.
“Across Asia, HRDs are threatened, harassed, persecuted, and at times killed for promoting and protecting human rights. Many of their rights inscribed in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders are continuously violated, even as 2018 marked the 20th year anniversary of its adoption,” said Michel Forst, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of human rights.
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As per the report, the most common violation during this period was judicial harassment with 327 cases, closely followed by the (arbitrary) arrest and detention with 249 cases. Violence (164 cases); intimidation and threats (148 cases); and denial of a fair trial (61 cases) were also recurring violations. “Often times the two went hand in hand, and reinforced each other to hinder HRDs from conducting their work by forcing them to divert time, energy and resources into legal battles, or in more dire cases, spend time in prison,” says the report.
Nine countries including India, Bangladesh, the Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam have seen cases where a HRD was killed as a result of their human rights work. A total of 61 such cases were recorded in the time frame. Other common violations that HRDs were subjected to include: administrative harassment (39 cases); travel restrictions (36 cases); death threats (30 cases); and abduction (30 cases).
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Among these HRDs, pro-democracy defenders, and land and environmental activists were the most targeted group. Reflecting the increasingly repressive context in Asia, pro-democracy defenders were victims in 210 out of the 688 cases recorded, that consists 30% of the total cases. Land and environmental defenders, a key target for both state and non-state actors who compete to access natural resources and implement mega development projects, were the second most affected group of HRDs. According to FORUM-ASIA’s data, they are marked as victims in 135 out of 688 cases. This is almost 20% of the total sum.
Like in the past years, State or state actors are the number one perpetrators of harassment and abuse of HRDs. As per the data in the report, state actors, such as the Police, the Judiciary, and Armed Forces, were complicit in 520 of the 688 cases recorded. This is around 75% of the total cases. Non-state actors, which includes, but is not limited to, national and multinational companies, Development Finance Institutions (DFI), armed groups and extremist groups, were recorded as perpetrators in 66 cases. It was common for these non-state actors to work in collusion with the State in perpetrating abuses. In 55 of the cases, the perpetrator was unknown.
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