New online memorial honours human rights defenders

States must be held to account for killing of rights activists, says President Higgins

President Michael D Higgins with  international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

President Michael D Higgins with international activists and NGO representatives in Dublin at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial. Photograph: Conor McCabe

 

President Michael D Higgins has said it is important to remember the names of murdered human rights defenders across the world and to “hold those who wield power to account”.

The President was speaking at the launch of a memorial in Dublin on Thursday to honour human rights defenders who have been killed.

He said the online memorial would be a tool to track investigations and advance the struggle for justice for human rights defenders.

“This a matter of life and death, the erosion of dignity, and the imposition of grief on families and communities,” he said.

“Yet, the power of these human rights defenders lives on in all those who are inspired by their example across the globe. We need to name them, not allow their lives to be lost in statistics.”

The Human Rights Defenders Memorial (HRD Memorial) has been set up by Dublin-based Front Line Defenders as an online international and interactive database.

It will detail all the human rights defenders who have been murdered around the world since 1998.

The Front Line Defenders organisation has estimated 3,500 have been murdered since then.

Deadliest countries

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President Higgins said it was important to hold States to account.

“As we speak, more names are being added. We cannot afford to be indifferent. The launch of this memorial will dislodge indifference,” he said.

A coalition of 20 national and international human rights organisations jointly coordinated the project.

Contributors included human rights groups from Colombia, Honduras and the Philippines, which Front Line Defenders said are ranked among three of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders.

The organisation said other countries included among the worst in terms of killing and physical attacks against human rights defenders included North Korea, China, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe.

Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, said the memorial sent a message the human rights community was stronger than any one person.

“It will not be deterred, and its leaders will not be forgotten,” he said.

“This is not random violence. This is the calculated elimination of those who speak out to defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Autocrats and powerful economic interests think that if they kill an activist, they kill a movement. The goal of the HRD Memorial is to prove them wrong.”