Community leaders, lawyers, journalists and other human rights defenders across the world are facing unprecedented levels of persecution, intimidation and violence, warned Amnesty International today as it launched a new global campaign demanding an end to the onslaught of attacks against brave individuals standing up to injustice.

“What we are witnessing today is a full-frontal assault by governments, armed groups, corporations and others with power on the very right to defend human rights. Human rights defenders bear the brunt of this global attack,” said Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International.

“From President Putin to President Xi and President el-Sisi, leaders across every continent are increasingly dismantling the foundations needed for a free, just and equal society. By removing their right to protest, placing them under surveillance, and targeting them and their communities with harassment, threats and physical attacks, governments are choking off the oxygen supply to those standing up for our rights.”

In a new briefing, ‘Human rights defenders under threat – a shrinking space for civil society’, published today to accompany the new campaign, Amnesty International details the unprecedented dangers those defending human rights face. It has become an increasingly deadly pursuit: In 2016, 281 people were killed globally for defending human rights, up from 156 in 2015, according to evidence from the NGO Front Line Defenders.

“Authoritarian and populist leaders would have us believe they have our best interests at heart, but they don’t. It is in fact those who defend our human rights who are standing up for us – and they face persecution for daring to do so. Now in 2017, the plight of human rights defenders has reached crisis point because of the measures abusive states have taken,” said Salil Shetty.

Human Rights Defenders in India

Human rights defenders in India also face repressive laws, surveillance, threats and physical violence while carrying out their legitimate work. According to Front Line Defenders, six HRDs were killed in India in 2016. Activists using the Right to Information Act to expose human rights abuses, corruption and environmental issues have been routinely targeted across India. In Chhattisgarh, journalists such as Santosh Yadav have been arrested on fabricated charges, while lawyers from the Jagdalpur Legal Aid Group and human rights activists including Bela Bhatia and Soni Sori seeking justice for alleged abuses by security forces have been threatened by the police or faced harassment and violence from vigilante groups appearing to operate with the backing of the police. Varsha Dongre, a jail official who recently wrote about human rights abuses inside prisons, was suspended on disciplinary grounds. In Jammu and Kashmir, journalists have been targeted while covering protests, and Khurram Parvez, a prominent human rights defender barred from travelling to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016 and placed in arbitrary detention.

Authorities routinely use anti-terror laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, to target activists such as Jaison C Cooper and Thushar Sarathy in Kerala and criminalise their work. Other activists, such as Dalit folk singer S Sivadas in Tamil Nadu have faced charges of sedition simply for criticizing the government. The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act – which restricts organizations from receiving foreign funding – has been arbitrarily used to harass dissenting NGOs and activists such as Teesta Setalvad and Lawyers Collective, and violate their right to freedom of association.

“Human rights defenders in India often work in extremely dangerous conditions and continue to face threats to their life and safety from state and non-state actors. Authorities have failed to protect their constitutionally guaranteed rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Aakar Patel, Executive Director at Amnesty International India. “The Indian government speaks highly of its vibrant civil society abroad, but dismisses their work at home.”

Amnesty International launches new global campaign to “protect the brave”

In light of the unprecedented dangers human rights activists face, Amnesty International today launched a new campaign, ‘Brave’, calling on states to recognize the legitimate work of those working to stand up for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people, and to ensure their freedom and safety.

Amnesty International demands that countries implement what they committed to when the United Nations adopted the Declaration on human rights defenders in 1998. The Declaration calls on states to recognize the key role and contribution of those who defend human rights and to establish effective measures to protect them.

The global campaign will spotlight the cases of individuals facing imminent danger because of their human rights work, and lobby governments and put pressure on decision-makers to strengthen legal frameworks. Amnesty International will also continue to investigate attacks against activists, and work hand-in-hand with local communities and campaigners to mobilize people to take action.

“From Frederick Douglass through to Emily Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, B.R. Ambedkar and Nelson Mandela, history is replete with stories of ordinary people who refused to accept the status quo and stood for what is right,” said Salil Shetty.

“That spirit of bravery is still alive today. Whether it is the likes of Malala Yousafzai or Chelsea Manning, there are people here and now taking enormous risks for us.”

“Without their courage, our world is less fair, less just and less equal. That is why today we are calling on everyone – not just world leaders – to stand with human rights defenders and protect the brave.”

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Notes to editors

To read the briefing and find out more about the Brave campaign and the cases of individuals at risk, visit here.

Public Document

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