Sunday 4 December 2016

Human rights activists 'face new heights of violence'

Published 06/01/2016 | 02:30

Mary Lawlor, executive director of Front Line Defenders. Photo: Tom Burke.
Mary Lawlor, executive director of Front Line Defenders. Photo: Tom Burke.

The level of violence against human rights defenders across the world has reached "new heights", with at least 157 activists killed last year.

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Extreme forms of violence are also being used more frequently, and in more countries, according to a new report.

There is also a call for the Irish authorities to speak out. And judicial harassment has become "normalised" in many parts of the world, according to human rights body Front Line Defenders.

In its latest annual report, the organisation reveals 157 activists were killed or died in detention in 25 countries, during the first 11 months of 2015. More than half of these murders - a total of 88 - took place in Latin America.

Colombia alone accounted for 54 killings. Outside the Americas, one of the starkest figures was the targeted killings of 31 activists in the Philippines.

Overall, 45pc of the killings were linked to defence of environmental, land, and indigenous peoples' rights.

Mary Lawlor, the organisation's Executive Director, said the most worrying issue for the organisation remains "extreme violence".

She accused sections of the international community of paying lip service to the problem. Words must be supported with practical solutions, she said.

She also stressed Ireland must adopt an "automatic policy" of publicly condemning such killings.

"The EU is quite happy to raise the situation in Burundi or Belarus, but when it comes to Ethiopia, China, Mexico, or Azerbaijan, it's a different story," she said. "Ireland and the EU must be as strong, speaking up for human rights defenders in countries where they have political and strategic interests."

Irish Independent

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