On Thursday, 24 November, President Michael D Higgins of Ireland inaugurated the first global memorial to human rights defenders murdered worldwide.
The Human Rights Defenders Memorial (HRD Memorial) celebrates the lives and achievements of inspirational people like Berta Caceres in Honduras, Floribert Chebeya in DRC and Natalya Estemirova in Chechnya, who have been killed because they worked peacefully for the rights of others. It documents the horrific scale of this phenomenon, with hundreds killed each year, as well as the almost total failure to bring those responsible to justice. The aim is to gather all those who have been killed since the adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. Since that day, when the international community agreed to make protection for rights defenders a key priority, an estimated 3500 have been murdered.
A coalition of 20 national and international human rights organisations jointly coordinate the project, initiated by Front Line Defenders in Dublin. Contributors include rights groups from Colombia, Honduras and the Philippines, three of the deadliest countries in the world for human rights defenders.
Inaugurating the HRD Memorial in Dublin, President Michael D Higgins of Ireland said, “It is important to hold States to account, to hold those who wield power to account. This a matter of life and death, the erosion of dignity, and the imposition of grief on families and communities. Yet, the power of these HRDs lives on in all those who are inspired by their example across the globe. We need to name them, not allow their lives to be lost in statistics. As we speak, more names are being added. We cannot afford to be indifferent. The launch of this memorial will dislodge indifference. It will provide a tool to track investigations and advance the struggle for justice for human rights defenders who have been killed."
Front Line Defenders has reported an increase both in the number of killings and the number of countries in which they take place in the past three years, with more than 200 defenders killed so far this year.
The HRD Memorial will become an international reference point in the struggle against impunity, cataloging the thousands of murders which have gone unpunished.
“This is not random violence. This is the calculated elimination of those who speak out to defend the rights of the most vulnerable. Autocrats and powerful economic interests think that if they kill an activist, they kill a movement. The goal of the HRD Memorial is to prove them wrong. It sends a message that the human rights community is stronger that any one person. It will not be deterred, and its leaders will not be forgotten,” said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.
The project includes an online database featuring the profiles of courageous defenders killed for their work. It celebrates their achievements in the struggle for human rights and stands in solidarity with their friends, families and colleagues.
For Dimitris Christopoulos, FIDH President, “this memorial is not only a tribute to all the Human Rights Defenders in the world, it is also a way to recall to those responsible of their murders that we will never abandon our fight to see them convicted”.