FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Kate Fried, EarthRights International
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.
Groups who signed the letter include:
African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
Alliance of Baptists
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
DefendDefenders (East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)
Ecumenical Advocacy Network on the Philippines
FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Front Line Defenders
Green Advocates International (Liberia)
Human Rights First
Inclusive Development International
Indigenous Peoples Rights International
International Accountability Project
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
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
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 on Organizing, Development, Education, and Research (PODER) – Latin American NGO
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)
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