Amnesty launches first global emergency appeal to counter growing anti-human rights agenda worldwide

Human rights defenders and NGOs, including Amnesty International itself, are targeted as authorities around the globe steal from the same playbook to silence criticism

Amnesty International has today launched its first ever global emergency fundraising appeal, calling on supporters to help fight a growing backlash against journalists, lawyers, activists and human rights organizations around the world working to defend and promote human rights.

The organization highlighted recent state and state-sponsored attacks on its own staff and offices as illustrative of the increasing audacity of governments who are hostile to human rights. In 2020 for example, Amnesty International’s India office was forced to halt its work when the authorities froze its bank accounts following a series of raids and a high-profile smear campaign; and Amnesty International Nigeria continues to face threats of violence for its human rights work. This follows the imprisonment of prominent members of Amnesty International Turkey under spurious “terrorism” charges in 2017.

There is nothing new about being stigmatized and attacked for calling out human rights violations and speaking out against the abuse of power. But the sheer scale of the current assault is new and gravely concerning. Amnesty International stands shoulder-to-shoulder with a community of NGOs and human rights defenders around the world, many of whom are facing severe risks without adequate protection and often with little visibility.
Julie Verhaar, Acting Secretary General of Amnesty International

“For Amnesty, our ability to withstand these attacks and continue our vital and independent work to protect human rights – including supporting human rights defenders at risk – depends upon support and voluntary donations from individuals all around the world who share our same vision for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all. We launch this campaign in the hope that we can mobilize more support.

“An outspoken anti-human rights agenda among leaders has continued to grow around the world – especially among so-called strongman leaders who peddle toxicity, division and fear. Meanwhile, these leaders show how brittle they really are through their increasingly brazen and deadly attacks against those who dare to speak up against their abuse of power.”

The aim of the appeal is to help individuals like journalists, lawyers, and activists, as well as those working with NGOs, who work to defend human rights, to continue their vital work to expose these grave abuses without fear of retribution. Donations to Amnesty’s global emergency appeal will help us campaign on behalf of those who have suffered human rights violations but also provide timely support for those under attack.  This includes funding urgent relocation for those in danger and legal aid to support those fighting malicious prosecutions arising from their legitimate work. It also covers medical costs for individuals who have been tortured and ill-treated.

Human rights under threat

As Amnesty investigations have shown, leaders around the world are unapologetically stealing from the same playbook to silence their critics and trample on human rights. These tactics include intrusive surveillance, judicial harassment by misusing ill-defined laws, raids and intimidation by state security forces, and using abusive legislation.

In 2020, Philippines' President Duterte signed the Anti-Terrorism Act into law granting the government broad and unchecked powers to brand activists and critics as terrorists and prosecute them.

Similarly, Brazil’s President Bolsonaro has put an aggressive anti-human rights rhetoric into practice through administrative and legislative measures with numerous attempts to curtail the activities of civil society organizations. Since taking power in 2019, threats and attacks against human rights defenders have increased alarmingly.

In the final days of 2020, Turkey’s parliament rushed through a new legislation, ostensibly to prevent the proliferation of the financing of weapons of mass destruction but in reality with huge implications on the work of civil society organizations and their abilities to fundraise.

Many countries around the world have used the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to adopt new restrictive laws. In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has amended the country’s Criminal Code, introducing new provisions that threaten journalists and others with prison sentences of up to five years for “spreading false information” about COVID-19.

In the USA, President Trump presided over an administration that targeted migrant human rights defenders with legal harassment, violently suppressed freedom of peaceful assembly, and disengaged from international human rights institutions, including by forfeiting its membership on the UN Human Rights Council. 

Attacks against Amnesty International, its staff and board representatives

Amnesty staff and offices have also come under attack from authorities in recent years. The government of India froze Amnesty International India’s bank accounts in September 2020, forcing the office to let go of its staff and bringing its human rights work in India to a grinding halt. Last week, Amnesty launched a digital campaign calling on the Indian government to unfreeze those accounts. Amnesty International Nigeria has been victim of a continued smear campaign, including threats of violence against staff in response to the organization’s calls for greater transparency around the Lekki Toll Gate shooting in October 2020. In 2017, the then director and chair of Amnesty International Turkey were imprisoned under spurious and false terrorism charges; together with two other human rights defenders, Idil Eser and Taner Kılıç were convicted in July 2020 at the end of unfair trial, despite the state’s own evidence demonstrating their innocence. All for simply reporting and campaigning against human rights violations.  

“In addition to the global backlash against human rights, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on new and complex challenges to those of us campaigning for human rights. Many states around the world have targeted human rights defenders and other critical voices who have spoken up against their handling of the public health crisis. As a result, in many parts of the world authorities have used COVID-19 related measures and other existing legislation to silence those who defend human rights. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented solutions. We must come together to face up to this enormous task of holding leaders to account around the world. Simply put we need to mobilise greater support and resources so that our human rights work can meet the scale of the challenge today,” said Julie Verhaar. 

To donate and for more information about the appeal, please visit here.