In the line of fire: Increased legal protection needed as attacks against business & human rights defenders mount in 2020
2020 was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the significant harm to health and livelihoods it has caused across the globe. Instead of serving as a rallying cry to better protect those worst affected, the economic fallout of the global health crisis was cited by many countries and companies as a reason to weaken environmental and social regulation and increase extractive projects. This resulted in even more attacks on communities and human rights defenders (HRDs).
Key findings during 2020:
- 604 attacks on defenders working on business-related human rights issues, up from 572 attacks in 2019.
- At least 1/3 of all attacks stemmed from lack of meaningful participation, access to information and consultation, or the failure to secure free, prior and informed consent of local and indigenous communities.
- In more than half of all cases, defenders experienced judicial harassment (including criminalisation based on trumped up charges and arbitrary detentions).
- 114 attacks were recorded against women human rights defenders.
- Most attacks continued to be concentrated in Latin America, with 194 attacks, followed by Asia & Pacific with 173 attacks and Eastern Europe & Russia with 129 attacks.
- Cases rose in Russia (70 cases), Belarus (38 cases), Indonesia (25 cases) and Uganda (36 cases).
- In at least 80 cases, COVID-19 was the key factor.
Our annual briefing on the situation of HRDs, demonstrates an increase in attacks against HRDs during 2020 demands a legal solution. The global community has an unprecedented opportunity to rebuild in a way that prioritises environmental protection, human rights, and long-term sustainability, including the safety of the very people devising and championing rights-respecting solutions. Mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence in the EU is a key opportunity to ensure that European companies respect human rights and prevent attacks on HRDs throughout their operations, supply chains, and investments.
Explore the 2020 patterns and trends, visualizing the data and pointing to root causes of attacks and violence against human rights defenders.
Read companies' responses to allegations on attacks against human rights defenders in 2020
An increase in attacks against human rights defenders during 2020 demands a legal solution, said the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre as it released its annual briefing In the line of fire.
Explore our database of attacks against HRDs and interviews highlighting powerful victories and stories of defenders, defending rights and their communities against abuses by business and other actors.
*December 2021 -- The executive summary of a previous version of this document incorrectly stated 138 attacks were recorded for the mining sector and 147 for the agribusiness sector. These figures have now been updated to reflect the accurate number of attacks recorded for these sectors, as per the infographic on p.2 of the original document : 140 (mining) and 137 (agribusiness).*