Countries must find the political will to prevent the killings of human rights defenders, hundreds of whom are murdered every year, a UN independent expert said on Friday in calling for greater protection for these activists.
Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, was presenting her latest report to the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva.
“It is shocking that between 2015 and 2019, at least 1,323 defenders were killed in 64 countries”, she said. “The pattern of killings is widespread, with human rights defenders having been killed in almost one third of UN Member States since 2015.”
Murders signalled in advance
There are 193 countries in the UN family, and her report, entitled Final warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders, reveals that at least 281 activists, 38 of them women, were murdered across 35 countries in 2019.
The study also details how many of the victims received death threats before they were killed.
Ms. Lawlor warned that unless radical action is taken, the murders will continue.
“Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds and hundreds of human rights defenders”, she said. “Many have shown me death threats made against them, often in public. Many are attacked with gendered threats and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do.”
The report further identifies impunity as a key driver for more killings. Authorities are failing in their obligations to prevent these murders, Ms. Lawlor stated.
“UN Member States repeatedly fail to properly prosecute perpetrators”, she said. “Impunity persists, and the murders continue.”
Her report recommends that States should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights defenders make towards building just societies, based on the rule of law.
Although some have established protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, activists often complain that these are under-resourced, according to the report.
Role of rapporteurs
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts, like Ms. Lawlor, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to report and advise on specific country situations or thematic issues.
They are neither UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization.