Come clean about persecution of human rights defenders, UN expert tells governments

GENEVA (14 October 2021) – Governments around the world must stop jailing people for peacefully standing up for human rights, a practice that is widespread but too often denied, a UN expert said today.

“Around the globe, human rights defenders have been sentenced, or are at risk of being sentenced, to at least ten years in jail for peacefully advocating for the rights of others,” Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, told the General Assembly today. “But States are in denial that they are targeting human rights defenders in this way, claiming instead that the defenders are criminals, and sometimes terrorists.”

From 1 January 2020 to 30 June 2021, Mary Lawlor and her predecessor sent 28 official complaints to 22 Member States on the long-term detention of 148 human rights defenders. However, many more human rights defenders could be languishing in jails, their cases undocumented, she said.

Many are held in harsh conditions, suffer from ill health, and are deprived of adequate medical attention, Mary Lawlor said in presenting her latest reportStates in denial: the long-term detention of human rights defenders, which includes recommendations for ending imprisonment of human rights defenders. Some are also denied regular access to their families. Some are at risk of being sentenced to death, and some have died in jail while serving long sentences. 

“Unless States face the reality that defenders are being put in prison for long terms, and unless immediate action is taken to release those in detention, and to stop others being sentenced, more human rights defenders will be condemned to long years in prison,” Mary Lawlor said.

Among those jailed for their human rights work are labour leaders, lawyers and journalists, the report says. Others are targeted for peacefully advocating democratic reform, for exposing deficiencies in governance, or for peacefully defending human rights that States have pledged to safeguard. Some have even been jailed in reprisal for cooperating with UN bodies, she added.

“Targeting human rights defenders with long jail terms destroys lives, families and communities,” said Mary Lawlor. “States should end this unjustifiable and indefensible practice immediately and forever.”


Read the report:

English العربية


Submit Information

Submit confidential information on a HRD at risk

Communications and Press Releases

How do communications and press releases work?

Contact Mary

Reuest a meeting with Mary or her team