New Report Says 300 Human Rights Defenders Killed in 28 Countries in 2023

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Alan Glasgow, Executive Director,
Front Line Defenders

Front Line Defenders has launched its Global Analysis report on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk around the world. Titled “The Front-Line Defenders Global Analysis 2023/24,” the report documents the killings of at least 300 human rights defenders (HRDs) in an attempt to silence their peaceful, vital human rights work and suffocate communities standing up for their rights thus highlighting the risks and threats faced by HRDs worldwide.

The year 2023, Human Rights Defender Memorial (HRDM) data reveals a frightening reality; it shows that 79% of these killings occurred in the Americas, with Colombia leading the infamous ranking, followed by Mexico, Brazil, and Honduras. Asia accounted for 8% of the killings, while Africa, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Europe and Central Asia (ECA) accounted for 5%, 4.3%, and 3.7% respectively.

The HRDM acknowledged that the actual number of HRDs killed in 2023 could be higher, saying factors such as the dismantlement of local human rights groups, death threats, mass surveillance, foreign funding restrictions, and armed conflicts hampered the documentation of these cases, particularly in Asia, Africa, and MENA regions.

Among the 300 defenders killed, 49 identified as women, including trans women, and 14 were members of the LGBTIQ+ community who defended its rights. Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders were the most targeted group, with a total of 92 killings registered in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, and the Philippines. Additionally, 64 people defending environmental and land rights were killed in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, India, Mexico, Peru, and the Philippines.

The report also highlights the brutal methods used against HRDs: 11 defenders died as a result of torture and ill-treatment while seven died under suspicious circumstances, including alleged suicides. In the context of armed conflicts, 19 HRDs were directly targeted and killed by the military. State or non-state actors, including paramilitary and criminal groups, were responsible for the shooting deaths of 199 HRDs.

The HRDM’s report was compiled with the help of numerous human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Global Witness, and others. Despite the enormous difficulties in documenting these human rights violations in conflict zones, these organizations verified the direct targeting and killing of HRDs, ensuring that the sacrifices of these brave individuals were not forgotten.

The data not only highlights the dangerous conditions faced by HRDs worldwide but also calls for urgent international action to address these issues, protect HRDs, and hold perpetrators accountable. The courage and resilience of these defenders continue to inspire hope and underscore the critical need for continued support and protection of human rights activists globally.

As the world progresses, the protection of human rights defenders remains a critical issue. The HRDM’s 2023 report is a sobering call to action for all who believe in justice and human dignity, emphasizing that the fight for human rights is far from over and that the safety of those on the front lines must be a priority for the global community.

To download and read the full report, please click Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2023/24.