Frontline Defenders' Global Analysis 2022

Anna Triponel

April 14, 2023
Our key takeaway: At least 401 human rights defenders were killed in 2022, across 26 countries. However, death is not the only or the main threat that defenders face. Threats reported against defenders include arrest and detention (19.5%); legal action (14.2%), physical assault (12.8%), death threats (10.9%) and surveillance (9.6%). Who are the most vulnerable? Those defending environmental, land and indigenous people’s rights, who accounted for 48% of deaths and 11% of the total threats reported on. Other defenders and spaces to watch out for include those defending freedom of expression and the right to protest, women rights, access to justice, rights in the context of conflict and crisis and rights in the digital space. What can companies do? Monitor countries in their sourcing markets and operations based on the main threats by region, as well as the kinds of defenders that are most vulnerable in those spaces.

Frontline Defenders published its annual report Global analysis 2022 (April 2023) on the risks to human rights defenders around the globe:

  • The main threats against human rights defenders: criminalisation, physical attacks, death threats, and surveillance. The most prevalent threats against defenders, as they were reported to Frontline Defenders in 2022, were arrest and detention (19.5%); legal action (14.2%), physical assault (12.8%), death threats (10.9%) and surveillance (9.6%). Five countries – Colombia, Ukraine, Mexico, Brazil and Honduras – accounted for over 80% of deaths of defenders, and death threats were the most prevalent kinds of attacks against defenders in Asia and the Americas. In Africa, the most prevalent threat was arrest and detention and in Europe and Central Asia and in Middle East and North Africa the most prevalent threat was legal action. Understood more broadly, the data shows that criminalisation (in the form of arrest, detention or legal action) is the most common and likely threat, encompassing around 34% of impacts. The prevalence of this kind of attack is associated with the “widespread and arbitrary use of counter-terrorism laws to detain and prosecute HRDs” and with the crackdowns in democracy, including through surveillance.
  • The most vulnerable defenders: those defending environmental, land and indigenous people’s rights. The report classifies defenders into different categories depending on the rights they defend and the actions taken. Some categories include: environmental, land, and indigenous people’s rights; freedom of expression; freedom of assembly and protect; labour and association rights: women’s rights, prisoners’ rights, impunity and injustice; documentation of violations in conflict; and LGBTIQ+ rights. Among these, defenders working on land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights were the most frequently targeted sector. Arrest, detention, and legal action against environmental, land and indigenous rights defenders are “the most prominent forms of violations, followed by physical attacks and death threats.” In fact, this group accounts for almost half (48%) of the total killings and about 11% of the total attacks. “In the face of expanding extractive, agro-industrial and tourism projects, defenders and their communities were subjected to armed attacks, forced evictions and displacement, destruction of property, stigmatisation, surveillance, criminalisation, enforced disappearances and killings,” the report explains. They are also being persecuted in the form of Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which were frequently used against them according to the report.
  • Other defenders and spaces to watch out for: freedom of expression and protest, women rights, access to justice, rights in the context of conflict and crisis and the digital space. In number of attacks, environmental, land and indigenous defenders are followed by those defending freedom of expression (10%), protest movement/ freedom of assembly (9%), women’s rights (7%), and those protesting against impunity and access to justice (6%). Among the defenders targeted, some groups have been particularly vulnerable during 2022, including, for instance, (i) journalists and defenders documenting and exposing corruption and human rights violations in contexts of repression; (ii) women in crisis situations across countries like Myanmar, Iran, Afghanistan and Sudan, who have been “disproportionally targeted by arrest and detention, legal actions and death threats”; (iii) trans women, trans men and non-binary defenders of LGBTIQ+ rights; (iv) and defenders in contexts of conflict like Afghanistan, Belarus, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Colombia, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Russia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The report specifically highlights defenders in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, where at least 50 killings of human rights defenders by Russian forces have been documented. And also describes how the digital space has risen as an arena for attacks and repression, “including through a range of cybercrime legislation, collusion with social media companies, digital surveillance and internet shutdowns.” New cybercrime legislation that is used to justify surveillance and the restriction of channels of information and dissent has been passed in countries like Cambodia, Libya, Myanmar, Sudan, Thailand, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE); and new surveillance and the use of high-tech spyware technology was uncovered in El Salvador, Jordan, Mexico and Thailand.

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