Article by PBI-Canada

Front Line Defenders has released its Global Analysis 2020 report. It notes: “At least 331 HRDs were killed for carrying out their peaceful human rights work in 2020; as more cases continue to be verified, it is expected that this number will ultimately increase.”

That number is up from 304 defenders killed in 2019, the 321 in 2018, 312 in 2017, and 156 in 2016 (putting the five-year total at a grim 1,424 defenders killed).

Among some of the key points raised in the 2020 report:

Indigenous land defenders

“69% of those killed worked on land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights. 26% [were] working specifically on Indigenous peoples’ rights.”

By country

The report documents that human rights defenders were killed in 25 countries including Colombia (177 – an increase of 71 from the previous year), Honduras (20), Mexico (19), Guatemala (15), Nicaragua (2), Indonesia (2) and Nepal (1).

“Colombia alone accounted for 177 or 53% of the murders.”

“2020 witnessed another rise in the level of violence directed against HRDs in Colombia, particularly those participating in the implementation of the peace process and engaging in voluntary drug crop substitution initiatives or those opposing the extraction of natural resources.”

“In Honduras, attacks against environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders and communities, mainly by state forces, surged last year.”

The lockdown: greater risk, less protection

“The killing of HRDs continued unabated and, in some countries, murderers took advantage of lockdowns to target defenders whose security strategies would have previously involved frequent changes in location.”

“The killings of HRDs in Colombia did not stop during periods of lockdown, with at least 14 killings recorded on March, 13 in April, and 15 in May, a testament to the common refrain from HRDs during the year that ‘perpetrators do not self-isolate’. At the same time, the number of defenders receiving protection from the National Protection Unit was reduced.”

“In Mexico, the Federal Congress approved the dissolution of several federal trust funds, including the main source of income to the Protection Mechanism for Human Rights Defenders and Journalists, leaving more than 1,300 beneficiaries of protection measures in a state of uncertainty.”

Due diligence, Guiding Principles

“The defenders working on land, indigenous peoples’ and environmental rights being killed while opposing business related human rights abuses once again highlights the urgent need for legislation on mandatory human rights due diligence for business enterprises to be implemented.”

“The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make it clear that companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and yet the many cases of reprisals against defenders linked to business enterprises and their activities highlight that binding obligations on business to undertake human rights due diligence are crucial.”

Escazu Agreement

“It was the work and struggle of HRDs that led to the groundbreaking Escazu Agreement in Latin America, which will enter into force in April.”

“By recognizing in the law the role of public participation in addressing environmental challenges – and recognizing the importance of HRDs in this context – the Treaty emphasizes the interlinkages between protection of the environment and human rights and that one cannot be achieved without the other.”

“That being said, many of the countries where it is most dangerous to be a HRD in the region, including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru, have yet to ratify the treaty.”


“With COP 26 scheduled for November 2021, states have the opportunity to integrate land, indigenous peoples, and environmental defenders into their climate change mitigation strategies as they commit to reductions in greenhouse gases under the ratchet mechanism.”

“There is, however, the risk that progress in tackling the causes of climate change will lead to a greater backlash against defenders who are highlighting these issues.”

The full 62-page report can be read here.

Peace Brigades International-USA thanks Front Line Defenders for this report.