Image Credit: Mathias Wasik
Human rights defenders have been threatened and silenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, a report by the University of York and Amnesty International UK says, calling for the UK government to provide more support.
Research by the University’s Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) and Amnesty International UK shows that during the COVID-19 pandemic, 94 per cent of human rights defenders interviewed reported face threats, death threats, abuse, and harassment.
It is reported that only 6 per cent of these activists, including lawyers, journalists, women’s rights defenders, and LGBTQ+ activists, received support from the UK government.
Researchers interviewed 82 human rights defenders from seven countries about their experiences with UK government support:
- 40% had contacted the UK government embassy as part of their work in the last two years, where as 70% had contacted other embassies
- 75% could not recall a time in which their resident country’s UK embassy had spoken out in support of specific at-risk human rights defenders
- 31% had been in contacted by their UK embassy seeking to further its knowledge about the struggles for human rights
The report highlights the increased threats to LGBTQ+ rights during the pandemic, as poor job security has driven many to return to unsafe and unaccepting hometowns in order to live with family. Particularly in countries such as Russia and the Philippines, this has placed LGBTQ+ activists at a higher risk of abuse. LGBTQ+ activists have also reported an increase in discrimination towards LGBTQ+ groups due to their being blamed for the pandemic.
Dr Piergiuseppe Parisi, a research associate at the Human Rights Defender Hub at CAHR and direct contributor to the report, said: “Human rights defenders are active agents of positive change. The UK should make sure that they are recognised as such, that they have the means to carry on with their crucial work and that they have access to rapid response protection mechanisms when they are in danger.”
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said: “The UK government has pledged to stand up for human rights defenders around the world. We now need to see words turned into action. The UK’s voice has power. It’s time to use it and to be a world leader.”
The report has been published by Amnesty International UK and the Center for Applied Human Rights, in collaboration with the Law Society of England and Wales, Peace Brigades International UK, Bond and other NGOs.