Human rights activists around the world continue to be vulnerable to attacks, harassment and intimidation, but India is among the deadliest countries for defenders of rights related to land and environment, according to a new Amnesty International report.
The report - "Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights" - carries testimonies from human rights activists and the relatives and colleagues of those who were killed in India, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, DR Congo, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Mauritania, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and Syria.
A common thread across the testimonies was how authorities repeatedly ignored the victims’ pleas for safety, letting the attackers evade justice.
Journalists, land rights activists and those advocating for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities such as Dalits and Adivasis face the highest risk of attack in India.
The Amnesty report highlights several cases from India in the past five years, including the killing of journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bengaluru in September and that of Jailal Rathia, an Adivasi community leader in Chhattisgarh who fought against encroachment of Adivasi land. Rathia’s family suspects he was poisoned in March.
The report also lists the 2013 murder of Dalit human rights defender Chandrakant Gaikwad from Maharashtra, who was shot and killed.
“In many cases, the deaths of defenders had been preceded by a string of threats, which authorities turned a blind eye to,” said Asmita Basu, programmes director at Amnesty International India. “Lives could have been saved if states had taken their human rights obligations seriously and acted on reports of threats and other abuses.”
Basu said the problem also lies in the labels given to human rights workers. “Instead of being recognised and protected by the state, they are portrayed as ‘criminals’, ‘foreign agents’, ‘anti-nationals’ and ‘terrorists’ and painted as a threat to development or traditional values,” he said.
The Americas were found to be the deadliest regions for human rights activists, the Amnesty report said. In Colombia, 51 human rights defenders were killed in the first half of 2017, the study said, quoting Colombian NGO Somos Defensores. In Brazil, 66 human rights defenders were killed in 2016, according to the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders.
In 2016, 281 human rights workers were killed globally, a jump from 156 in 2015 and 136 in 2014. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 48 journalists were killed worldwide in 2016. Since 1998, 3,500 human rights defenders were killed worldwide, Amnesty said.