All over the world, women, men and human rights defenders of other genders act peacefully to protect universally recognised rights and fundamental freedoms, to promote equality, the rule of law, development and justice, for all of us.
In many countries, however, their legitimate and crucial work has become increasingly dangerous, with the number of defenders being harassed, attacked, intimidated, imprisoned, tortured and even killed rising every year, while those responsible are rarely brought to justice.
Human rights defenders are especially targeted in contexts of conflict or crisis, as well as when protecting migrants and refugees’ rights, land and environmental rights, in the context of the development of extractive industries, and in the name of national security and the fight against terrorism.
Smear campaigns and stigmatisation remain commonly used to delegitimize humanrights defenders and undermine their work, portraying them as "enemies", "foreign agents", "criminals", "traitors" or even "terrorists".
Restrictive environments are also on the rise, where human rights defenders and organisations are working within legal and administrative frameworks that inhibit the rights to freedom of association (including the right to access funding), expression and peaceful assembly. States often resort to anti-terrorism and national security laws to restrict rights and silence all critical voices. These laws can be used to arbitrarily detain defenders, restrict their freedom of movement, harass them judicially and administratively, and cut off their organisations' sources of funding, with the aim of weakening or hindering their capacity for action. Furthermore, surveillance, including online surveillance, and the use of personal data are frequently used for repression purposes.
In such contexts, the Observatory regularly publishes urgent alerts aimed at documenting situations of harassment and mobilising influential actors, as well as reports outlining the working context of defenders, individual cases of repression, as well as recommendations that are used for advocacy purposes. Overall, the Observatory is active in over 60 countries every year, on all the continents.
To find out more about the situation of defenders in a particular country, please click on the country section.