As part of the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), I am meeting online and in person with young HRDs from all over the world to hear about their experiences, and to listen to their advice about what more can be done to protect and enable their work.
I am hearing how young HRDs can face particular challenges around exclusion from adult-led human rights movements and international protection mechanisms, that their educational opportunities can be put at risk by their work, and how hostility from their families can make their advocacy particularly difficult.
This week I met some young HRDs online from India, who gave me worrying updates about the challenges they face, and how they are regularly targeted.
I knew something of their experiences from before, and have previously raised some of their cases, and of other HRDs in the country with the Indian government. This week the young HRDs told me of spending long weeks or months in prison for advocating peacefully for the rights of others. Some said their education had been interrupted, that they had been beaten, or threatened with sexual violence.
One woman told me “We spend a lot of days in court instead of instead of the library and class. These are the prime years of our lives.”
Others reported that when they tried to organise for labour rights, a combination of police and others working for companies attacked them.
Some of the Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) reported being targeted not just for what they do but because of their identity as women. They reported that attacks on WHRDs include smearing them on social media in a sexualised way, and threats of rape.
The defenders reported that their work was often subjected to criticism designed to undermine them and delegitimise their human rights work.
They told me that physical violence, both from the authorities and others who oppose their work, is a constant threat, and that there is little accountability for those who threaten or attack them.
I will continue to meet young HRDs, listen to their experiences and advice, and do what I can through my mandate to help support their work.