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What are the main violations committed against human rights defenders?

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What are the main violations committed against human rights defenders?

Indeed, as part of their activities for promotion and protection of human rights and because they exercise these activities, human rights defenders are exposed to different violations of their rights. These violations may be committed by States as well as by non-state actors such as armed groups, religious fundamentalist groups or even companies.


Personal attacks


Human rights defenders can be subject to harassment. For example, they are put under surveillance and bugged, their telephone line can be cut off, their identity documents may be confiscated, and funding of organisations in which they work can be blocked. These acts of harassment can target the human rights defenders themselves as well as anyone who supports them, like lawyers who can be at risk of disbarment if they are involved in a case concerning human rights defenders.


Human rights defenders may also be victims of defamation, stigmatisation and slanderous allegations against their integrity and their morality in order to discredit their activities. For example, defenders will be discredited on social networks where their credibility, legitimacy and respectability will be attacked. They are described as, among other things, terrorists, rebels or actors for opposition political parties who have not at heart human rights but the overthrow of the government in power.


Human rights defenders are also object of prosecution and conviction on various charges such as bribery and public disturbance. These motives are generally used as political means to hinder the work of defenders. These condemnations often occur when human rights defenders are conducting their activities of promotion and protection for human rights. For example, while they are involved in a peaceful demonstration, while they denounce or report human rights violation or while they are participating in a peaceful meeting of human rights defenders on a specific subject such as women’s rights.

When they are arrested, it often leads to sham legal procedures during which disproportionate sentences are decided including long terms of imprisonment or forcible commitment to psychiatric institutions. 


Arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders are also common and most often conducted without arrest warrants and judicial guarantees, and in the absence of any official charge. That means that in most of the cases, when they are arrested, human rights defenders have no access to a lawyer and a judge does not review their case.


Sometimes, death threats are used as a means of threatening and intimidating human rights defenders to stop them from work. The death treats can directly target human rights defenders themselves as well as it can target their family.


These threats can be put into action and human rights defenders are murdered as a direct response to their human rights work. They are abducted, found dead or even not found at all. Some defenders could also be injured during assassination attempts. Human rights defenders are sometimes kidnapped, beaten, deprived from food or even tortured during their captivity. Indeed, their persecutors may use violence to force them to confess or in reprisal after the denunciation of a human rights violation. 


Attacks against their organisations and environment


Policies, legislation and procedures describing as security measures are sometimes applied in such a way as to restrict the work of human rights defenders and sometimes target the defenders themselves. Under the pretext of security, some defenders have been banned from leaving their homes or towns and police have summoned them to justify their activities. In a consequence of this, defenders have been prosecuted and even sometimes condemned to wrongful sentences. 


In the same way, laws curtailing the exercise of their freedoms, such as the freedom of opinion, of association and of movement, have been promulgated and applied so as to harass human rights defenders and hinder their activities.


Also, human rights defenders can face the will of some States to restrict the environment in which they operate. For example, organisations are closed without a justified motive, defenders are banned from travelling to find a violation or from going to a conference, and all administrative procedures related to the exercise of their activities are hindered or impossible.

Finally, some acts are focused on human rights defender’s place or means of work. For example, the homes or offices of human rights defenders are degraded, burglarised, closed or subjected to unauthorized searches.


In order to deal with the many reprisals and threats suffered daily by defenders, the Declaration on human rights defenders has been adopted and the mandate of the special Rapporteur has been established.


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