Human rights activists facing "unprecedented levels" of persecution

Amnesty International has launched a new global campaign to highlight the dangers faced by human rights workers

Human rights activists facing "unprecedented levels" of persecution

Image: Ivan Sekretarev / AP/Press Association Images

Amnesty International has warned that activists around the world are increasingly facing “persecution, intimidation and violence” as they attempt to protect the human rights and freedoms of others.

The organisation has today launched a new global campaign demanding an end to what it calls the “onslaught of attacks against brave individuals standing up to injustice.”

According to a new Amnesty study, launched this morning, 281 people were killed around the world for defending human rights in 2016.

The figure marks a large rise on the 156 people who were killed in 2015.

The study also found that in 2016:

  • At least 22 countries saw people killed for peacefully standing up for human rights.
  • Human rights defenders in 63 countries faced smear campaigns.
  • Human rights defenders were arrested or detained in 68 countries.
  • Human rights defenders were threatened or attacked in 94 countries.

Mass surveillance

Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland warned that those who seek to defend human rights are now facing a “full-frontal assault” from governments, armed groups, corporations and other powerful groups.

“Human rights defenders bear the brunt of this global attack,” he said. “Leaders across every continent are increasingly dismantling the foundations needed for a free, just and equal society.”

“By removing their right to protest, placing them under surveillance, and targeting them and their communities with harassment, threats and physical attacks, governments are choking off the oxygen supply to those standing up for our rights.”

According to the Amnesty briefing, the combination of “mass surveillance, new technology, the misuse of laws and crackdowns on peaceful protests” has left human rights activists facing “unprecedented levels of danger.”

It cites the “rampant use of new technologies” and online surveillance to threaten and silence activists.


In an effort to highlight the increased dangers faced by human rights workers Amnesty has launched a new global campaign, entitled Brave, which is calling on states to ensure the freedom and safety of those “standing up for the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.”

The organisation has called for all countries to abide by the 1998 UN Declaration on Human rights Defenders – which recognises the key role played by those who defend human rights and obliges signatory governments to establish effective measures to protect them.

Mr O’Gormon said history is “replete with stories of ordinary people who refused to accept the status quo and stood for what is right.”

“Without their courage, our world is less fair, less just and less equal,” he said. “That is why today we are calling on everyone – not just world leaders – to stand with human rights defenders and protect the brave.”

You can learn more about Amnesty's 'Brave' campaign here.