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[Press Release] Human rights defenders across Asia suffer numerous violations

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For immediate release

22 June 2023

Human rights defenders across Asia suffer numerous violations

FORUM-ASIA launches a new report highlighting the many forms of injustice and harassment endured by human rights defenders working in Asia.

  • In 2021 and 2022, as many as 1,636 violations were committed against human rights defenders across 22 monitored Asian countries.
  • The highest number of violations were logged in Myanmar, followed by Thailand and India.
  • Pro-democracy defenders were the most targeted group, followed by women human rights defenders.
  • Judicial harassment was the most reported violation, with 1,033 documented cases.
  • This was followed by physical violence, with 516 recorded cases, including 84 cases of targeted killings. Media workers were the most affected by this kind of violation.
  • Incidents of intimidation and threats were also persistent, with 316 recorded cases.


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka—At least 4,450 human rights defenders–including their families, organisations, and communities–were affected by violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors across 22 monitored Asian countries in 2021 and 2022.

Such findings are based on ‘Defending in Numbers: Rising Together Against All Odds,’ a biennial publication by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), which identifies the patterns of harassment experienced by defenders in Asia.

The publication analyses evidence captured by FORUM-ASIA’s Asian HRD Portal, a database for documenting violations against defenders in the region. It also provides recommendations for governments, UN agencies, and corporations on how to better support defenders.

In recent years, the promotion of human rights in Asia has encountered significant hurdles as long-standing issues were compounded by new challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as drastic political changes and turmoil that shook the region. This has created a hostile environment for those engaged in human rights work. Nevertheless, defenders have boldly persisted in their pursuit of justice and equality.

‘In 2021 and 2022, human rights defenders adapted to unprecedented contexts and confirmed their role as key agents in the advancement of human rights in the region. It is lamentable that 25 years since the unanimous adoption of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, this report that chronicles the continuing rights violations of defenders in Asia, will be launched,’ said Mary Aileen D. Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.


Violations against defenders

Any person who protects and promotes human rights through peaceful means is a defender, such as pro-democracy defenders; women human rights defenders; media workers; SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) rights defenders; land, indigenous, environmental, and community-based defenders; student and youth defenders; non-governmental organisations; minority rights defenders; and artists.

Defenders put their own lives–as well as their families–at risk as they protect fundamental freedoms; document human rights violations; and investigate and expose wrongdoings.

At least half of the harassment against Asian defenders was related to judicial harassment. This included arbitrary arrest and detention, the denial of a free trial, and charges or judicial actions which intimidate, interfere, or undermine the rights and activities of defenders.

Physical violence was the second most reported violation, followed by intimidation and threats. Other widely documented cases included administrative harassment, restrictions of movement, vilification, and abduction.


Call to action

FORUM-ASIA has been raising the alarm on the abuse faced by defenders working across Asia. In the period under review, pro-democracy defenders were the most targeted group, followed by women human rights defenders.

We have consistently demanded for the protection of all defenders, recognizing their crucial role in advancing human rights and strengthening civic space. In Myanmar, for example, defenders–including teachers and students–have joined the Civil Disobedience Movement to counter the attempted coup. In Afghanistan, women human rights defenders have been leading protests against the Taliban’s severe restrictions. And in Sri Lanka, youth defenders and activists have non-violently demanded the resignation of the nation’s top leaders over their mismanagement of the economy.

‘It is of paramount importance to recognize the role of human rights defenders and support them. In this regard, a noteworthy case is that of Khurram Parvez–a leading defender from Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir and Chairperson of the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) – now arbitrarily detained due to his peaceful work. He was listed among the 100 most influential persons of the year 2022 by Time Magazine. Khurram has been held in pretrial detention since November 2021. In early 2023, he became a Martin Ennals Award laureate,’ said Bacalso.

FORUM-ASIA urges governments to uphold their international obligations–particularly under the UN Declaration on HRDs–to support and protect defenders, enabling them to freely and safely do their work and advocacies without fear, intimidation, and harassment.

We also call for the immediate release and dropping of charges against all detained defenders.


The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development, and solidarity actions. It has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, and a consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.

For media inquiries, kindly contact [email protected]. Download the full report here.