"Activists in some countries pay a high price for their commitment," the Paris-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders said in a report issued Monday (March 11) that detailed persecution of a wide range of civil groups -- some of them faith-based or with religious-based support -- in Africa, Asia, Europe, Middle East and Latin America.
In addition to human rights activists, others persecuted include journalists, trade unionists and activists in the women's, gay-rights and environmental movements. The report details some 400 cases of persecution in more than 80 countries.
In one of the more egregious examples of persecution against human rights defenders, the report cited the case of Colombia, where at least 10 nongovernmental activists and 150 trade unionists were killed in 2001.
While much of what is detailed in the report occurred before Sept. 11, the Observatory said it was necessary to raise concerns about governments -- and allied groups, such as paramilitary organizations -- cracking down on human rights and activist groups in the name of fighting terrorism.
What the report called a "new international context" has further aggravated the suspicion and mistrust that (human rights) defenders confront. 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 critical voices."
"But the events of Sept. 11," the report said, "gave states (governments) a free rein to go ahead in that process. In every region of the world, the terrorist threat that emanates from various contexts is being used by the regimes in power to perpetuate serious human rights violations so as to strengthen their own power bases."
Specifically alarming, the Observatory said, are new laws or emergency measures being taken under the auspices of protection of "`national security.'"
As just one example, the report said the terrorist attacks in the United States had led to new prominence for the military in Latin America. There, in countries such as Guatemala, the military had once been pre-eminent, but had kept a lower profile in the 1990s following peace initiatives that had the support of churches and a wide range of civil groups.
But now, post-Sept. 11, the report said, the Guatemala military finds itself with a higher profile. The December 2001 appointment of Gen. Arevalo Lacs as Guatemala's interior minister, for example, was made even though the 1996 peace accord in Guatemala said that position could be held only by a civilian. Lacs' appointment was accompanied, the report said, by "increased marginalization of the representatives of the human rights movement."