By Holly Jonas (ICCA Consortium Global Coordinator).
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced most countries around the world into some form of lockdown or physical distancing measures. As detailed by Front Line Defenders, human rights defenders are facing even more risks and threats to their work and safety than ever before. Governments are using COVID-19 as a pretext to introduce mass digital surveillance and authoritarian measures to extend their powers and clamp down on civic space, roll back environmental regulations and human rights protections and mandate logging, mining and other destructive industries to continue in Indigenous peoples’ territories. Judicial harassment is taking a sinister turn as peaceful human rights defenders face trumped-up charges (such as farmers’ rights activists Pranab Doley and Soneshwar Narah in India) and are kept in custody in dangerous overcrowded conditions, even though scores of low-level offenders are being released due to the risks of COVID-19 infection, and bail hearings and trials are suspended or taking place behind closed doors.
These and other measures have an even greater impact on Indigenous peoples and local communities as they risk their lives to defend their territories of life. Leaders and activists who previously had at least some government-mandated protection are left exposed as security teams are scaled back or withdrawn. Civil society organisations, journalists and lawyers struggle to connect with and support communities in remote areas with limited telecommunications access. Indigenous peoples and communities without secure tenure over their territories have little legal standing to stop industrial activities that continue in the name of ‘saving the economy’. Murders of Indigenous leaders defending their territories – such as Arbildo Meléndez Grandes on 12 April 2020 in Peru – tragically go largely unnoticed in the fracas of the 24-hour news cycle and public fixation on the pandemic.
In addition to this report on impacts of COVID-19 on human rights defenders, Front Line Defenders has compiled an extensive list of ideas and tips for physical, emotional and digital protection of human rights defenders who are working from home. It is also available in Arabic, French, Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese and Farsi.
Featured image: Illustration of protestors wearing facemasks © via Front Line Defenders.