Human rights defenders continue to experience attacks, threats and repression during pandemic. The UK government must do more to support and protect them. Find out more in new report: On the Human Rights Frontline
PBI UK are proud to work in partnership with leading human rights organisations to collectively push for change. On 10 February 2021, jointly with Amnesty International and other peers, we launched a new report on the situation of at-risk human rights defenders around the world, and how the UK government can help. We call for the UK government to develop a new cross-departmental, gender-responsive human rights defenders strategy that prioritises support and protection for defenders
"With foreign office budgets cut to the bone, now more than ever the UK government needs to see human rights defenders as key workers fighting on the frontlines for free and open societies. The government should put a strategy to protect and partner with HRDs front and centre of its foreign policy, not just to honour the UK's long tradition of human rights, but to help support its efforts to promote the rule of law and freedom of the press. Working hand in hand is a win-win situation that we can no longer ignore” – PBI UK Director Susi Bascon
Human rights defenders in danger
The repression faced by human rights defenders has escalated sharply in recent years, with over 331 human rights defenders murdered for their work in 2020. These attacks are taking place against a backdrop of rising authoritarianism and the systematic undermining of international human rights mechanisms by governments around the world. Respect for the rule of law, for international rules, and for civil society is crumbling, and NGOs are finding it harder to function in country. The situation has only worsened under the pandemic, which is exacerbating existing human rights abuses and providing convenient opportunities to further restrict shrinking civic and political freedoms. Inevitably human rights defenders are finding themselves in ever increasing danger
Human rights defenders are agents of change who play a fundamental role in achieving sustainable progress on human rights for their communities. The escalating dangers and eroding protective measures they are facing are of incredible concern to us and our partners. Now is the time to act. The UK government has acknowledged the vital role that defenders play in realising rights, gender equality, access to justice, sustainable development and open societies. A strategy to guide their work is urgently required if they are to uphold their commitments to effectively support human rights defenders.
"Getting across the idea that human rights defenders are part of the solution, not the problem, is crucial.” - former UK Ambassador to Colombia John Dew
The case for a UK government strategy
Human rights defenders are facing an unprecedented surge in repression around the world. In total, 94% of activists interviewed for this report - including journalists, lawyers, women’s rights defenders and LGBTI+ activists – said they had experienced threats, harassment, abuse or death threats as a result of their work. Despite pledges from the UK government to stand up for defenders, only 6% of defenders said they had received support from the UK in the context of these threats.
We are calling on the UK government to prioritise work to support and protect human rights defenders at this time by developing a cross-governmental, gender-responsive and adequately-funded strategy. We are asking the government to recognise defenders as partners in the protection of human rights and work with them strategically to identify supportive and protective interventions..
A strategic approach to defending the defenders would improve the impact and value for money of foreign policy and development initiatives, particularly at this time when the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office’s budgets have been cut.
On the Human Rights Frontline was published by Amnesty International with the York Centre for Applied Human Rights, working with PBI UK, the Law Society of England & Wales, the Fund for Global Human Rights, Gender Action for Peace and Security, Together We Build It, Just Associates, Civicus, Frontline Defenders, Forum Asia, Kaleidoscope International Trust, and Bond.
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