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[Press Release] FORUM-ASIA Report: Human rights defenders in Asia prevail amidst worsening trends of violations and human rights implications of COVID-19

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For immediate release
30 June 2021, Bangkok

FORUM-ASIA Report: Human rights defenders in Asia prevail amidst worsening trends of violations and human rights implications of COVID-19

  • Regional trend illustrates how Asia is an increasingly dangerous place for those who work in defense of human rights, with 1,073 cases recorded across 21 countries.
  • At least 3,046 people including individual human rights defenders, their families, non-governmental organisations and communities were affected by violations perpetrated against them.
  • The report also notes human rights defenders making progress in Mongolia, Thailand and across Asia to send a message of strength from the ground.


The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) today launched Defending in Numbers – A message of Strength from the Ground, a hard-hitting report synthesising 1,073 cases of violations against those working in defense of human rights in Asia documented between 2019 and 2020.

The report reveals Asia as an increasingly dangerous place for people, organisations and communities who work in defense of human rights, with both long-standing and unprecedented challenges emerging in the past two years particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘We recorded violations across 21 countries in Asia. Out of the total violations, 71 cases of killings of defenders were recorded in 10 countries. The highest number of killings were recorded in the Philippines with 27 cases, followed by 13 cases in India and 12 in Pakistan. Overall, States remained the primary perpetrators of harassment and attacks against defenders, despite being the primary duty bearers to protect them,’ FORUM-ASIA Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said.


Defenders playing a leading role in calling for democratic reforms were affected in 253 cases, making them some of the most targeted groups.

Women human rights defenders, who were commonly targeted not only for their work but for their identity as women, followed closely with 242 cases recorded. As many as 205 cases were documented against land and environmental rights, as well as community-based defenders.

In the face of COVID-19, media workers were disproportionately targeted for their reportage on the pandemic.

In line with the trend identified in the past years, judicial harassment was the most common violation committed with 535 cases, accounting for nearly half of the total violations documented. Judicial harassment includes criminal charges, civil lawsuits or administrative proceedings against human rights defenders discharging their protected work of advocating for human rights change.

This was followed by arrest and detention, many of which were conducted arbitrarily, with 422 cases. Intimidation and threats were also among the top violations, with 306 cases recorded.

Further reflecting the extremely hostile environment defenders work in, physical violence was recorded in 268 cases, 71 of which resulted in the killing of defenders.


In addition to identifying and analysing regional patterns of violations against defenders and the situation they face, the report highlights case studies that demonstrate the important work defenders do and the immense risks such work carries.

Defending in Numbers sends a message of strength from the ground, demonstrating how some progress has been made in the region despite the increasingly dangerous environment that defenders operate in. Peoples’ growing determination to realise justice and democracy for all is spilling across national boundaries. Human rights defenders’ relentless determination and innovative methods of mobilising in both online and offline spaces send us a clear message of hope and courage from the ground,’ Shamini said.

Mongolia became the first country in the region to enact a national law for the protection of human rights defenders in April 2021. While the law is not perfect, it is a crucial first step.[1] In Thailand, the Court of Appeals delivered a landmark decision to accept the first transboundary class action suit filed under Thai law by representatives of over 700 Cambodian farming families against a Thai sugar company.[2]

‘We must amplify defenders’ message of strength and call on various stakeholders ‒ governments, the UN, corporations ‒ to take meaningful action towards making Asia a safer place for people to stand up for rights safely and free from reprisals,’ added Shamini.

Defending In Numbers – A message of Strength from the Ground is FORUM-ASIA’s fourth biennial report on the situation of human rights defenders in Asia. The report is an analysis of data collected by FORUM-ASIA and its members. The results of the documentation and monitoring are available on a publicly available database on the Asian Human Rights Defenders portal. For an interactive executive summary of the report, please click here.

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For a PDF version of this press release, please click here.

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[2] Phol31Jul20