77% of those killed were defending environmental/indigenous rights.

A new report from Irish human rights organisation Front Line Defenders has revealed that more peaceful activists were killed in 2018 than in any other year since records began.

The organisation said they recorded the murders of 321 human rights defenders across 27 countries last year – an increase of nine people from 312 in 2017.

South America saw the highest increase in violence, with murders in Columbia and Mexico combined accounting for over half of the total killings worldwide. In Guatemala, killings have increased by 136% since 2017.

The organisation also warned the threat of violence is increasing in countries where progression is sought, due to the defending of LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights and migrant rights.

Front Line Defenders was founded in Dublin in 2001 with the specific aim of protecting human rights defenders at risk (HRDs), people who work, non-violently, for any or all of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). They provide rapid and practical support to human rights defenders at risk.

They believe that the situation of restrictive laws around the world regarding human rights groups is worsening, with a spike in laws targeting freedom of expression, peaceful activism and NGO funding.

According to Front Line Defenders' research, almost half (49%) of those killed in 2018 had previously received a direct threat before their death.

What's more, 12% of those killed were women, and 77% of those killed were defending environmental/indigenous rights.

The report also details specific information about the threats faced by female human rights activists. The group warns that women face “gendered and sexualized attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements.”

It said the attacks include sexual assault, rape, militarised violence, smear campaigns and the harassment and targeting of children.

Speaking ahead of the launch, the organisation’s head of protection, Ed O’Donovan said human rights norms are “being challenged all over the world.”  

“It is more important than ever that governments that value human rights lend vocal, practical and financial support to the work of these peaceful activists who are fighting against a tide of xenophobia, racism, homophobia, misogyny and environmental degradation,” he said.

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