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Briefing

15 Jun 2021

SLAPPed but not silenced: Defending human rights in the face of legal risks

Asina Loyiko

When human rights defenders are afraid to question reports about wrongdoing and deficits they observe, it affects the entire society. Strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) have exactly that effect: they can impose sometimes significant fines and criminal sanctions, and thus intimidate human rights defenders and stop them from shedding light on critical issues. It is our shared responsibility to prevent SLAPPs from undermining everyone’s right to know.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

Between January 2015 - May 2021, we recorded more than 3,100 attacks worldwide against community leaders, farmers, workers, unions, journalists, civil society groups and other defenders who have raised the alarm about irresponsible business practices. More than 40% of these attacks were forms of judicial harassment; strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) are one of these tactics.

This first-ever global analysis of lawsuits which bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs brought or initiated by business actors reveals this tactic is used in every region of the world to intimidate people into silence.

Key findings:

  • The Resource Centre identified 355 cases that cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs brought or initiated by business actors since 2015 against individuals and groups related to their defence of human rights and/or the environment
  • The highest number of SLAPPs took place in Latin America (39%), followed by Asia and the Pacific (25%), Europe & Central Asia (18%), Africa (8.5%), and North America (9%). Nearly three-quarters (73%) of cases were brought in countries in the Global South.
  • 63% of cases involved criminal charges.
  • Most individuals and groups facing SLAPPs (65% of cases) raised concerns about projects in four sectors: mining (108), agriculture and livestock (76), logging and lumber (29), and palm oil (20).

We invited 45 companies to respond to this report and our database of cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs. Read their responses here.

SLAPPs database

Explore our database of cases that bear the hallmarks of SLAPPs


Videos

We asked human rights defenders, civil society organisations, lawyers and politicians about their experiences of SLAPPs and recommendations for strategies to resist their use.

Watch the full collection

Hear more perspectives from human rights defenders, civil society, government and legal professions