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12 Jul 2021

A Crucial Gap: The Limits to Official Data on Attacks Against Defenders and Why It's Concerning

ALLIED Data Working Group

Joint briefing produced by ALLIED Data Working Group (DWG) - International Land Coalition, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, Front Line Defenders, ANGOC, CINEP, Green Advocates, Indigenous Peoples Rights International, IWGIA, ISHR, Natural Justice, Tecnicas Rudas & other members of the DWG

Of the 162 countries that have submitted voluntary national reviews (VNRs) of their implementation of the 2030 Agenda since 2015, only 3 – fewer than 2% – indicated that at least one HRD had been killed or attacked. 7 countries reported zero cases and 94% of countries did not report at all.

The killing of a human rights defender (HRD) represents a direct attack on civic space and an assault on the fundamental freedoms that underpin a sustainable, inclusive and peaceful society. It strikes at the heart of Agenda 2030 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, and more specifically target 16.10, which aims to protect fundamental freedoms. Indicator 16.10.1, which records killings and attacks on HRDs, including journalists and trade unionists, is the primary indicator of global enjoyment of these fundamental freedoms in the SDG framework. Official data on killings, however, remain extremely limited, while even less data is available on the physical and death threats that often precede lethal attacks. While the responsibility for protecting HRDs clearly lies with the state, few countries are monitoring the situation adequately, if at all. Through a review of data on indicator 16.10.1 available in the Global SDG Indicators Database and an assessment of the 195 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) submitted since 2015 to the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), A Crucial Gap documents the state of reporting of attacks on HRDs, specifically those working on environmental, indigenous peoples’ and land rights, and examines potential pathways towards building a better dataset that could inform better, evidence-based policies and protection mechanisms.

Key findings:

  1. The UN reports only regionally aggregated data on the killing and enforced disappearance of HRDs, disaggregated by sex; no country-level data or information about sources are available.
  2. The overwhelming majority of cases reported under SDG 16.10.1 come from civil society data collectors and not from state-led reporting or human rights mechanisms. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) internally validates civil society data, “officialising” it in the process.
  3. It is impossible to identify land, environmental and indigenous human rights defenders in 16.10.1 data, which are not disaggregated to show specific groups, affiliations or professions, despite indications that these groups represent half of all cases.
  4. Of the 162 countries that have submitted VNRs since 2015, only three – fewer than 2% – indicated that at least one HRD had been killed or attacked. Seven countries reported zero cases and 94% of countries did not report at all.