Latin America most dangerous place for human rights activists

Almost half of activists killed were linked to defence of indigenous people’s, says group

 Mary Lawlor, founder and director of Front Line Defenders: “Ireland and the EU must be as strong speaking up for human rights defenders in countries where they have political and strategic interests as they are when it comes to the usual suspects,” she said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mary Lawlor, founder and director of Front Line Defenders: “Ireland and the EU must be as strong speaking up for human rights defenders in countries where they have political and strategic interests as they are when it comes to the usual suspects,” she said. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Some 157 human rights activists were killed or died in detention in 25 countries last year, according to the advocacy group Front Line Defenders.

The organisation’s tally for the first 11 months of 2015 shows that more than half of those killings (88) took place in Latin America, with Colombia alone accounting for 54 deaths. Outside the Americas, the most dangerous place to be a human rights defender was the Philippines, where 31 targeted killings took place.

The figures are contained in Front Line’s annual report, published in Dublin today.

Front Line’s executive director, Mary Lawlor, said the environment for human rights defenders around the globe was increasingly restrictive but that international reaction remained weak.

“The Irish Government, other EU member states and those countries who believe in democracy, the rule of law and human rights must adopt an automatic policy of publicly condemning the killings of human rights defenders,” Ms Lawlor said.

EU record

BurundiBelarusEthiopiaChinaMexicoAzerbaijanIreland

The report shows that 45 per cent of the activists killed were linked to the defence of environmental, land and indigenous people’s rights. Other groups targeted included those working on corruption as well as journalists and others who used the media to denounce abuses.

Overall, killings of human rights workers were more frequent and more widely dispersed across the world in 2015 than in the previous year. The report found that, in Africa, arbitrary detention and judicial harassment were by far the most common tactic used to suppress those working for human rights. New laws and “greater government interference” gave human rights workers less space in which to work in Angola, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, the report found.

‘Mega

projects’ In Latin America, significant numbers of activists were linked to opposition to so-called

mega projects, especially those being run by mining companies. LGBT rights defenders accounted for 15 per cent of the killings recorded in the region.

Human rights activists in Asia continued to work in a hostile environment, with the report pointing to instances of surveillance, intimidation, arbitrary detention and torture.

“Judicial harassment intensified in Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, and was reported in Cambodia, China, India, Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam, ” it found. Physical assaults by authorities occurred in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Maldives, Nepal and Vietnam.

Front Line also pointed to problems facings NGOs in a number of countries in eastern Europe and central Asia as a result of increased state control of mainstream media and crackdowns on individual organisations. It said legal restrictions and “smear campaigns” were reported in both regions