Over 300 human rights activists killed in 2017, says report

80% of killings occurred in four countries – Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines

There were 312 human rights defenders killed in 27 countries last year, according to a new report.

Two-thirds of those killed were activists working on issues of land, environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights, while 80 per cent of killings took place in just four countries – Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

Front Line Defenders, which aims to protect human rights activists at risk, published the report on Thursday. It said the number of killings remained “truly shocking”, while the “weak response of both national governments and the international community gives little hope that this will change in the short term”.

The report outlined that in 84 per cent of killings the defender had previously received a threat.


Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said “we know that those killings, in many cases were preventable”.

“When we analyse those killings, in 84 per cent, the defendant had previously received a threat, and that highlights if there had been effective action taken by the police or other authorities, there could have been something done to prevent that killing happening.

Protection measures

“We want them to investigate those threats, we want them to put in place protection measures for human rights defenders who are threatened.”

Mr Anderson added: “These are not random killings of people in crossfire.

“This is the targeted elimination of people who are working to defend the rights of the most vulnerable.

“Those 312 human rights defenders who we name in this report were killed in 27 countries. The true number is almost certainly higher. There were killings of human rights defenders that happened in the last days of 2017 who are not included in this report.”

Front Line Defenders said female human rights defenders in particular are increasingly reporting “hyper-sexualised smear campaigns and defamation” which aim to limit their activism by eroding local support networks.

Caitriona Rice, head of grants at the organisation, said it offers protection grants of up to €7,500 to human rights defenders who are at risk, along with temporary relocation grants.

“Some of the types of applications that we would see would be for physical protection measures for the homes or for the offices of human rights defenders who are facing attacks,” said Ms Rice.

“It could be CCTV cameras, intercom systems, metal bars for windows to try and prevent future break-ins and attacks on sensitive information that these offices are holding.”

There were 480 protection grants given in 2017, costing just over €1 million with most applications received from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Turkey, Kenya and Honduras.

Temporary relocation grant

Tasneem El Zaki (30), a human rights lawyer from Sudan, received a temporary relocation grant from Front Line Defenders last year. She previously spent three months in prison in the western region of Darfur for her human rights activities, and travelled to Dublin last August.

“They helped me to come here, got me a visa and safe accommodation. I have spent the last few months studying English in Dublin. I feel much better here and safe, but I need to go back to continue my work. I hope to go back but it may be difficult.”

Ms El Zaki plans to travel to a neighbouring country of Sudan next month to help teach refugees.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times