February 2021

HRD Memorial 2020 – overview

On 11 February 2021, Front Line Defenders launched its Global Analysis 2020 report on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world, detailing the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gendered attacks faced by HRDs, especially women and gender non-conforming human rights defenders.

The work of the HRD Memorial project was profiled in the report, including the names of the 331 HRDs who were killed in 25 different countries for carrying out their peaceful human rights work in 2020. of these 331 HRDs, 26% were working specifically on the rights of indigenous peoples, despite indigenous peoples only making up approximately 6% of the world’s population. The most at risk group were defenders working on land, environmental or indigenous peoples rights, who account for 69% of the HRDs killed.

Killings took place in 25 countries in 2020:

Afghanistan – 17 HRDs

Bolivia – 1 HRD

Brazil – 16 HRDs

Canada – 1 HRD

Chile – 4 HRDs

China – 1 HRD

Colombia – 177 HRDs*

Costa Rica – 1 HRD

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – 1 HRD

Guatemala – 15 HRDs

Honduras – 20 HRDs

India – 6 HRDs

Indonesia – 2 HRDs

Iraq – 8 HRDs

Libya – 1 HRD

Mexico – 19 HRDs

Nepal – 1 HRD

Nicaragua – 2 HRDs

Pakistan – 1 HRD

Peru – 8 HRDs

Philippines (the) – 25 HRDs

South Africa – 1 HRD

Sweden – 1 HRD

Syria – 1 HRD

Thailand – 1 HRD

* Additional cases from the last quarter in Colombia are still in the process of verification.

Why are so many HRDs killed in Colombia?

Following the signing of the peace agreement (November 2016) and the demobilization of the FARC and in the absence of any, or at best limited, state presence or apparatus, new and existing armed groups assumed control of territories once controlled by the disbanded groups. Since 2017, these warring factions have competed to control the territories in pursuit of their illicit economic and trafficking activities. HRDs have been left exposed by the failure of the Colombian government to implement crucial elements of the peace agreement. Political leaders have stigmatised defenders who highlight the situation while in some cases the authorities gave withdrawn protection measures from leaders at risk. It has been left to HRDs to push for the implementation of crucial elements of the peace accords and to promote crop substitution programmes to their communities. These defenders, alongside those defending land, environment and indigenous peoples’ rights, are routinely targeted by defenders. Last year saw the added dimension of these armed groups violently imposing quarantines, mobility restrictions and forcing communities to comply as a means to better exert their control and limit the abilities of those opposing their illicit activities. The State’s response was to increase the military’s presence in these territories, which has been counter-productive and ultimately has increased the levels of violence and risk for communities and HRDs. Military personnel have also been denounced for their disproportionate use of force against civilians and HRDs.

Sirley Yesenia Muñoz Murillo from Programa Somos Defensores, Colombia comments at the Global Analysis 2020 report launch press conference.

Note on defenders killed in Canada, Pakistan and Sweden

2020 saw the shooting dead of one Baloch rights defender, Shaheena Shaheen*, in Pakistan, and the death in suspicious circumstances of 2 more Baloch rights defenders, Sajid Hussain and Karima Baloch. Both Hussain and Baloch were living in exile in Sweden and Canada respectively, after receiving threats to their lives in Pakistan as a result of their activism. Sajid, who had been living in Sweden since 2017, disappeared on 2 March and his body was found on 23 April in the Fyris river, north of Uppsala, Sweden. Similarly, Baloch disappeared in Toronto, Canada, on 20 December and her body was found on 21 December in a body of water off Toronto Island. While authorities in both Sweden and Canada have ruled that these deaths were accidental, the families and the human rights community in Balochistan are calling for more thorough investigations into these two drownings. *Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead in her home in Balochistan by her husband of five months, who reportedly wanted her to stop her activism and disapproved of the public profile her work brought her.

Human Rights Defenders – Profile pages

Over the course of the coming weeks and months an individual profile page for each of the HRDs killed in 2020 will be added to the HRD Memorial website.

This is a space dedicated to their memory. To remember and celebrate their human rights work.

If you would like to write one of these HRD Memorial profiles, please contact the HRD Memorial Project Coordinator, Michelle Foley michelle@frontlinedefenders.org



Inauguration of HRD Memorial monument in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, Ireland

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson inaugurate a Memorial monument in Iveagh Gardens to commemorate the lives of human rights defenders who have been killed because of their peaceful work.

On Wednesday, 09 December 2020, International Human Rights Defenders Day, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson inaugurated the Human Rights Defender Memorial monument, dedicated to those who have been killed because of their peaceful work defending the rights of others.

The Memorial provides a physical space in the heart of Dublin city to recognise the important work of human rights defenders around the world, and pay tribute to the many brave and inspirational human rights defenders who have been silenced.

Designed by Grafton Architects, the monument is an Ogham garden, comprised of five standing stones, etched with ancient Irish Ogham script, each representing a native Irish tree. The space is enclosed by a crafted metal screen, on which are plaques, bearing the words of those who gave their life for their causes, and a bench encourages passers-by to sit and think about these brave individuals, who stood their ground.

The plaques include the following words spoken by environmental and indigenous peoples rights defender Bety Cariño at a gathering of human rights defenders in Dublin Castle in February 2010. Two months later she was shot dead during a peaceful solidarity procession in Northern Oaxaca, Mexico.

Today we want to live another history: we are rebelling and we are saying enough is enough. Today and here, we want to say that they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them, because despite their threats, despite their slander, despite their harassment, we continue to walk towards a sun which we think shines strongly”.

At the launch in Iveagh Gardens, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: The Irish government is proud of its partnership with Front Line Defenders in supporting and promoting the work of human rights defenders. This memorial will represent a place where Irish people, and those who visit our shores, can come and pay tribute to human rights defenders worldwide who have lost their lives in the peaceful pursuit of human rights and equality for all.”

Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, Andrew Anderson spoke about the legacies of the defenders: “It is important to remember the peaceful defenders of human rights that the killers have tried to erase, but also to celebrate their lives and achievements. Natalya Estemirova, Floribert Chebeya and Bertha Caceres were murdered because they made a difference, and they continue to inspire a new generation of human rights defenders.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor stated: Between 2015 and 2019 the UN documented the killing of 1323 human rights defenders in 64 countries. It is shocking and unacceptable that human rights defenders have been killed in almost a third of all member States of the United Nations.”

Özlem Dalkiran, a human rights defender from Turkey attended the unveiling and spoke about her colleague and friend Hrant Dink, a human rights defender and journalist who was shot outside the offices of the newspaper where he worked in 2007: By killing Hrant, they couldn’t kill his dreams. On the contrary they helped the seed he sowed to grow much faster.”

The Memorial monument in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens is the physical form of the HRD Memorial project. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the launch in December 2020 was limited in scale. An international launch is planned for Spring 2021 which will include the voices of the HRD Memorial network partners.