A total of 304 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, according to a new report published by Frontline Defenders.
In addition to this, other common violations of activists included detention, judicial harassment, questioning, smear campaigns, and verbal abuse. It also found that women were more likely to be physically attacked or threatened than their male counterparts.
According to the report, 2019 was a year of public uprisings on every continent, demanding changes to the way in which people are governed. Human rights defenders played a vital role in this as their work included mobilising, monitoring, organising and also documenting human rights violations. The report also found that while the causes of street protests differed from country to country, the cause was often the same.
Deep economic inequality, rampant corruption, and a lack of civil and political rights saw millions take to the streets throughout the year.
Also noted was the prevalence of national security forces using acts of violence and excessive force against protesters, even if contexts where there was no threat;
“Small groups of people in these demonstrations engaged in vandalism, brawls with police, use of hard objects and Molotov cocktails to respond to police violence and other aggressive tactics, excessive and indiscriminate use of force against protesters and even ordinary bystanders has been the hallmark response by the authorities in many countries, often followed by denial and dismissal of calls for independent investigations.”
Other common tactics used to attack human rights defenders and members of civil society included “online smear campaigns, trolling, and defamation” used to “intimidate, shame, or harass” those with opposing voices.
In Europe and Central Asia, legal action was the most common method of harassing activists, followed by smear campaigns/threats/verbal abuse, raids, detention, and lastly physical attack.
The majority of murders took place in the America’s including Columbia, Brazil, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. Columbia saw over 100 deaths over the last 12 months, followed by 43 in the Philippines.
Honduras in South America saw a four-fold increase in 2018’s figures, but Mexico and Guatemala saw a decrease.
It was found that 85% of those that were killed had previously been threatened either individually or as a part of the group that they were involved with. Some 75% had been actually physically attacked, prior to their murder.
Around 14 of the deaths were women, and some 40% of the overall total were involved in defending the rights of indigenous people, or environmental issues.