Rights Advocates Top Targets in 2009

The increasing ability of human rights defenders and organizations to effectively push for protections resulted in a concerted campaign by abusive governments in 2009 to attack the rights movement, Human Rights Watch says in its 2010 annual report.

“Today, activists are capable of exposing abuses most anywhere in the world, shining an intense spotlight of shame on those responsible, rallying concerned governments and institutions to use their influence on behalf of victims, and in severe cases, persuading international prosecutors to bring abusers to justice,” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth wrote in the report’s introduction.

But although such attacks could be considered a “perverse tribute,” the danger remains very real. “Under various pretexts, abusive governments are attacking the very foundations of the human rights movement,” Roth warned.

Journalists, lawyers, rights group researchers, advocates and institutions are among those bearing the brunt of the campaign. Tactics range from Internet censorship and legislative assaults, to criminal charges and contract murder. The list of countries where rights defenders are under attack is lengthy, and includes Russia, Israel, Libya, Eritrea, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Kenya, Burundi, Colombia and Nicaragua.

2010 has gotten off to a similarly tumultuous start for rights activists around the world. In Vietnam, a court in Ho Chi Minh City sentenced a lawyer and three pro-democracy activists to jail terms ranging from 5 to 16 years for advocating a multiparty democracy and disseminating “information to distort reality and make people disbelieve the Party and state leadership.”

Internet freedoms also became front-page news earlier this month, when Google challenged Chinese authorities’ censorship guidelines after an attack on its infrastructure. Google said the cyber-attack was an attempt to access the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights defenders.