New report by UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor: Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders

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Photo by Dara Mac Dónaill/ Irish Times.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor has released a new 23-page report titled: Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders.

The report was prepared for the 46th session of the Human Rights Council that will take place from February 22-March 19.

Among the key points in her report:

(5) According to information gathered by OHCHR and supplemented by credible sources, at least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019. Since 2015, a total of 1,323 have been killed. Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders are the most targeted. Those collecting data agree that underreporting is a common problem and that killings are fuelled by widespread impunity.

(16) Human rights defenders working on some issues appear to be particularly vulnerable to attack. They include environmental human rights defenders, those protesting land grabs or those defending the rights of people, including indigenous peoples, by objecting to Governments that are imposing business projects on communities without free, prior and informed consent. One in two victims of killings recorded in 2019 by OHCHR had been working with communities around issues of land, environment, impacts of business activities, poverty and rights of indigenous peoples, Afrodescendants and other minorities.

(34) The Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights clearly establish that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and to address any adverse impact on rights arising from acts or omissions of their own or of their business relationships (principle 11), including the rights of human rights defenders. In order to meet their responsibility to respect human rights, they should carry out human rights due diligence. This should be an ongoing process, which includes assessments of actual and potential human rights impacts (principle 17) and involves meaningful consultation with potentially affected groups (principle 18 (b)). Where businesses identify that they have caused or contributed to adverse effects to human rights, they have a responsibility to actively engage in remediation, which does not displace the responsibility of States to ensure access to effective remedy for those affected (principle 22).

Her report also notes several examples of death threats against defenders, including:

(77) Many defenders experience multiple threats. Jani Silva is a woman and environmental human rights defender in Colombia. In January 2020, an unidentified person followed her home and to her workplace. In May 2020, it was revealed that she was among at least 130 people under illegal digital surveillance by army cyberintelligence. In July 2020, the organization Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz received information that an armed group was planning to kill Ms. Silva. Because of the threats, dating back to 2017, Ms. Silva has personal protection provided by the State, which includes a conventional vehicle and two security people. In addition, she has been assigned a mobile telephone and a bulletproof vest.

Jani is accompanied by the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission, which in turn has been accompanied by PBI-Colombia since 1994.

The report concludes with more than two pages of recommendations. Among those recommendations:

(108) Foreign embassies, in consultation with human rights defenders who receive threats, should publicly denounce the threats.

(109) Businesses and international financial institutions should: (a) Develop and publish human rights defender-specific policies, in consultation with human rights defenders, in order to better protect defenders; (b) Commit to mandatory human rights standards and environmental due diligence.

(113) Businesses and international financial institutions should: (a) Invest in additional capacity to strengthen support for human rights defenders; (b) Acknowledge that land and environmental defenders and those defending indigenous peoples’ rights are at specific risk.

The full report can be read here.

Please also see:

Mary Lawlor on her priorities as the Special Rapporteur for human rights defenders and the role of PBI (June 2020)

“Governments are not doing enough to protect human rights defenders”: Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur (October 2020)

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