Report Finds Human Rights Defenders Face Increasing SuppressionBy Lisa Bryant
19 June 2008
A new international report is warning that human rights defenders around the world are facing increasing efforts to stifle their actions. That includes in China, where authorities are clamping down on dissent before the Olympics. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

A report by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders paints a mixed picture of the fight for fundamental freedom around the world. It says that while the number of human rights defenders is growing - such as lawyers, judges or woman's rights activists - so are government efforts to curb their actions.

The report, which looks at human rights abuses in 100 countries around the world, was jointly authored by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture in Geneva. Antoine Bernard is executive director of the Paris rights federation.

"In particular, what we are very worried about is the development of law as a tool for arbitrariness," he said. "That is quite paradoxical. Law is supposed to be the guarantee for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Law is being overturned in countries like Syria, Russia, China on the basis of violations of freedom of expression and in the field of human rights."

Zeng Jinyan , wife of human rights activist Hu Jia weeps as she speaks to reporters outside courthouse in Beijing, 03 Apr 2008 According to the report, the atmosphere in China is becoming increasingly hostile to human rights and those defending them before the Beijing Olympics. It cites four people who were arrested after protesting the games, including Hu Jia, who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in April.

Bernard cites other areas, including Darfur, the Central African Republic and Chad, where those investigating human rights abuses during conflict are increasingly under threat. Women's rights activists are also under attack in a number of countries, as are lawyers and other justice officials in places like Iran, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Bernard says attacks against human rights defenders have stepped up since the 2001 terrorist strikes on the United States.

"The consequences outside the U.S. of such laws as the Patriot Act are tremendous," he added. "We know that in the Arab world, some regimes use them as kind of green lights for arbitrary detention or violations of right to habeas corpus."

The human rights groups are urging the world community to do more to protect those defending human rights in 2008, which marks the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

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