Human rights defenders face severe risks including killing in Asia, says FORUM-ASIA

During the launch of the latest report by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), it is found that human rights defenders in Asia are at high risks.

“In Asia, we are witnessing more and more human rights defenders being subjected to increasingly severe forms of violations, particularly killing, simply for defending human rights,” said Sejin Kim, Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA.

The report titled “Defending In Numbers: Resistance in the Face of Repression” exposes 688 cases of human rights violations affecting 4,854 people across 18 different countries in Asia, and analyses current and emerging trends of violations against human rights defenders, including journalists, civil society organisations, advocates and their family members, throughout 2017-2018.

The findings of the report provide an important reminder of the dangerous situation these defenders continue to face in the region, and the much-needed work that remains to be done in order to ensure their protection.

Besides that, the report also reveals that “violations have become more extreme, and the safe space in which human rights defenders can work have increasingly shrunk”. State and non-state actors openly threatened these defenders, something which played a key role in creating a dangerous climate for them.

In fact, according to the report, there were 164 cases where physical violence was used against human rights defenders, and 61 of these cases resulted in death. The majority of these cases occurred in the Philippines (48 per cent) and India (25 per cent). Concerningly, most of the perpetrators of these killings remain unknown, a reality which perpetuates impunity in the region.

Apart from that, judicial harassment is another form of violations that is perpetrated on them. In the period under review, a staggering 327 cases of judicial harassment were recorded across 17 countries which include the (arbitrary) arrest and detention of human rights defenders; the misuse of the law and the passage of repressive laws aimed at criminalising human rights defenders; and the denial of a fair trial.

Although most of these cases were perpetrated by state actors, non-state actors such as corporations also increasingly adopted the same strategies, as for example with the use of Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAAP), to harass human rights defenders.

Although threats and harassment endanger all defenders, but certain groups are particularly targeted like prodemocracy defenders, who are vocal critics of state repression; and land and environmental rights defenders, who are targeted by state and non-state actors competing to access natural resources and/or implement mega-development projects.

Women human rights defenders, who challenge gender norms and power structures, also ranked high among the most affected groups. Gender-based violence, including online attacks and harassment, were common tactics used against women human rights defenders.

Looking at these trends and analysis, FORUM-ASIA makes several recommendations like calling on States to improve how they fulfil their obligations under international human rights treaties and standards, particularly the United Nations (UN) Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Additionally, it calls on UN agencies, and national and transnational corporations to take action for the protection of human rights defenders in the region.

As Sejin stresses, “It is crucial that all stakeholders play their role in protecting defenders who are bravely paving the path towards the realisation of human rights.”

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