Covid-19: How a global crisis has affected human rights defenders

Paris-Geneva, September 22, 2022 - As governments around the world have taken extraordinary measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, some have misused them to undermine human rights work and fundamental freedoms. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders - a partnership between the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) - documents and analyses in a new report the numerous impacts of those measures on human rights defenders and their essential work.

The Covid-19 pandemic has caused broad consequences for civil society organisations and human rights defenders across the world. In this global report, the Observatory highlights several trends of repression that targeted human rights defenders over the past two years. The report documents and analyses instrumentalisation of Covid-19 by some governments to suppress non-violent human rights activism and reinforce surveillance measures.

Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH, expressed her concern that “Despite warnings given by international bodies and international organisations such as FIDH and the OMCT, we note that the crisis has weakened the power to act of civil society organisations and defenders of fundamental rights in many places.

Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT, added: “Far from supporting civil society as actors who help those most in need, some States have leveraged the pandemic to further suffocate critical voices and challenge the right to defend rights. Civic space must be fully restored and human rights defenders protected from any abuse and restrictions on their essential work”.

Exceptional situations of reduced movement (lockdowns, quarantines and travel bans), and access restriction to public spaces have given rise to authoritarian abuses in several places, directly targeting human rights defenders, dissidents, independent journalists and defenders of the land and the environment. Many were arrested and harassed in court for criticising their government’s response to Covid-19. Many trials of arbitrarily detained human rights defenders were postponed indefinitely, despite their health conditions and the high risk of contracting the virus in detention. Furthermore, violence against human rights defenders has increased due to a lack or pausing of protection measures.

Far from being limited in time, some measures passed under the guise of the pandemic at local levels could have long-term effects on the activity of human rights defenders. Through this report, the Observatory alerts the international community and states on the need to strengthen protection measures for defenders, and preserve their capacity to act in times of crisis.

For a snapshot of the report findings and recommendations, check out our dedicated webpage: https://observatoryfordefender...

The full report is also available at the following links in English, Spanish and French and on the Observatory mini-site of the report.

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