"Activists in some countries pay a high price for their commitment,"the Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenderssaid in a report issued Monday (March 11) that detailed persecution of awide range of civil groups -- some of them faith-based or withreligious-based support -- in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East andLatin America.
In addition to human rights activists, others persecuted includejournalists, trade unionists and activists in the women's, gay-rightsand environmental movements. The report details some 400 cases ofpersecution in more than 80 countries.
In one of the more egregious examples of persecution against humanrights defenders, the report cited the case of Colombia, where at least10 nongovernmental activists and 150 trade unionists were killed in2001.
While much of what is detailed in the report occurred before Sept.11, the Observatory said it was necessary to raise concerns aboutgovernments -- and allied groups, such as paramilitary organizations --cracking down on human rights and activist groups in the name offighting terrorism.
What the report called a "new international context" has furtheraggravated the suspicion and mistrust that (human rights) defendersconfront. They find themselves on the front line more than ever before."Even before Sept. 11," the report said, governments had been"instituting powerful strategies to silence dissenting or criticalvoices."
"But the events of Sept. 11," the report said, "gave states(governments) a free rein to go ahead in that process. In every regionof the world, the terrorist threat that emanates from various contextsis being used by the regimes in power to perpetuate serious human rightsviolations so as to strengthen their own power bases."
Specifically alarming, the Observatory said, are new laws oremergency measures being taken under the auspices of protection of"`national security.'"
As just one example, the report said the terrorist attacks in theUnited States had led to new prominence for the military in LatinAmerica. There, in countries such as Guatemala, the military had oncebeen pre-eminent, but had kept a lower profile in the 1990s followingpeace initiatives that had the support of churches and a wide range ofcivil groups.
But now, post-Sept. 11, the report said, the Guatemala militaryfinds itself with a higher profile. The December 2001 appointment ofGen. Arevalo Lacs as Guatemala's interior minister, for example, wasmade even though the 1996 peace accord in Guatemala said that positioncould be held only by a civilian. Lacs' appointment was accompanied, thereport said, by "increased marginalization of the representatives of thehuman rights movement."