COVID-19: How the global crisis has affected human rights defenders

Julien Mage

Paris-Geneva, 22 September 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 report is also available in French, and Spanish.

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.

"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."

Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH

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."

Gerald Staberock, Secretary General of the OMCT

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.

The report is available in French, English and Spanish.

Read the report in English:

The findings and recommendations and the full report are also available at the following links:
- on the Observatory mini-site;
- on OMCT’s website.

For further information, please contact:
- FIDH: Maxime Duriez (+33 6 48 05 91 57 | mduriez@fidh.org) / Raphaël Lopoukhine (+33 6 72 28 42 94 | rlopoukhine@fidh.org)
- OMCT: Iolanda Jaquemet: +41 79 539 41 06 | ij@omct.org | @iolandajaquemet

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