Just recovery in peril: Human Rights Defenders face increasing risk during COVID-19
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) have continued unabated. In fact, many defenders have faced greater risks as some governments have misused the situation to further curtail civil rights to participate in public decision-making, and deploy state forces to repress legitimate, peaceful protests and obstruct access to justice. The pandemic has exacerbated inequalities and highlighted the need for a just recovery where business respects human rights and the crucial role that defenders play. We need their voices at this time, yet in too many countries they are being silenced through threats, intimidation, violence and killings, related to most business sectors. There were almost 20 more attacks during this period than on average for the last 5 years during the same period. This represents a 7.5% increase and points to opportunistic repression perpetrated by business, governments and other actors. Defenders play an essential role in creating a more sustainable future for all by flagging risks in company operations and supply chains. They put themselves and their communities at risk by speaking up against business-related harms on people and the environment, and proposing more rights-respecting alternatives to unsustainable business practices. Therefore, prevention of attacks on defenders is crucial for the prevention of business-related human rights abuses now and as we prepare for a post-pandemic, fairer future.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor endorsed the report saying: "Human rights defenders play an essential role in creating a more sustainable future for all by flagging risks in company operations and supply chains. They and their communities face risk by speaking up against business-related harms on people and the environment and proposing more rights-respecting alternatives to unsustainable business practices. It is extremely concerning to see that far from being recognised as essential actors during a time of global crisis, instead, attacks against them have in fact increased during COVID-19."
“It’s essential to shine a light on the abuse happening and work together to amplify the voices of defenders, including communities, calling out the problems and identifying solutions for a just and inclusive post-pandemic recovery. Prevention of attacks on them is crucial for the prevention of business-related human rights abuse if we are serious about fairer future. As this briefing demonstrates, businesses can and should listen to and address the concerns of human rights defenders, commit to having zero-tolerance to violence against them in their supply chains, and speak up to protect defenders when they are attacked.”