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Contact: Kate Fried, EarthRights International
(202) 257.0057

February 9, 2021, Washington, D.C.– Today, EarthRights International and 80 human rights, environmental, democracy, anti-corruption, and media freedom organizations sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, urging the Biden Administration to elevate the protection of human rights defenders as a U.S. foreign policy priority and commit to playing a global leadership role on the issue. 

“President Biden’s foreign policy should center on supporting people on the frontlines to speak out, without fear of retaliation, on issues such as the climate crisis, racial injustice, and the retreat of democracy,” said Keith Slack, Director of Strategic Impact for EarthRights. “The U.S. government has a clear interest in protecting the rights of people who speak truth to power.”

According to a July 2020 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, attacks against human rights defenders worldwide are still all-too-prevalent. From 2015 to 2019, the UN tracked at least 1,940 killings and 106 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists, and trade unionists across 81 countries. In 2019 alone, 357 killings and 30 enforced disappearances were observed in 47 countries. The report’s data indicates that globally, 12 percent of those killed were women. Among the human rights defenders killed were LGBTIAQ+ persons, Indigenous people and minorities, and persons with disabilities.

Countless human rights defenders have faced other forms of attacks and harassment, such as illegal surveillance, criminalization, and smear campaigns. These attacks often have a broad chilling effect on civil society and media organizations, deterring others from speaking out.

The letter lays out a series of recommendations for strengthening protections for human rights defenders globally, including: 

  • Developing robust, public-facing operational guidelines that help embassies establish open, clear, secure, and sustained lines of communication with human rights defenders under threat.
  • Re-engaging with the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, and other international and regional human rights bodies.
  • Strengthening coordination across U.S. government agencies and with allied governments.
  • Consistently tracking and reporting on patterns of reprisals against human rights defenders. 
  • Playing a global leadership role in addressing attacks against human rights defenders, including by convening and coordinating with other countries’ diplomatic communities. 
  • Promoting responsible conduct among businesses with respect to human rights defenders. 

Read the letter here. 

Groups who signed the letter include: 

Access Now

Accountability Counsel

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies


Alliance of Baptists

Amazon Watch

American Jewish World Service

Amnesty International USA


Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)

Balay Alternative Legal Advocates for Development in Mindanaw, Inc (BALAOD Mindanaw)

Bank Information Center

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Center for Civil Liberties

Center for Human Rights and Environment

Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)

China-Latin America Sustainable-Investments Initiative

Church World Service


Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

Committee to Protect Journalists

COMPPART Foundation for Justice and Peacebuilding Nigeria

Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd, U.S. Provinces

Crude Accountability

DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

EarthRights International

Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines

Equitable Cambodia

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders


Freedom House

Freedom Now

Front Line Defenders

Gender Action

Global Witness

Green Advocates International (Liberia)


Human Rights First

Inclusive Development International

Indigenous Peoples Rights International

International Accountability Project

International Rivers

International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)

Jamaa Resource Initiatives Kenya

Japan NGO Action Network for Civic Space

Just Associates (JASS)

Kaisa Ka (Unity of Women for Freedom)


Latin America Working Group

Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

National Advocacy Center of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd

Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala – NISGUA

Network Movement for Justice and Development

Odhikar – Bangladesh

OECD Watch

Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union Azerbaijan

OMCT (World Organisation Against Torture), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Open Briefing

OT Watch

Oxfam America

Peace Brigades International – USA (PBI-USA)

Phenix Center for Economic and Informatics Studies

Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)

Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights)

Project HEARD

Project on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) – Latin American NGO

Protection International

Rivers without Boundaries Coalition Mongolia

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Justice Team

Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS)

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network


Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)

Transparency International

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Urgent Action Fund for Women’s Human Rights

Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)

Witness Radio – Uganda