Advocacy statements

The killing of human rights defenders

  • Date / 2017
  • Location / Bangladesh
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 2: Annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


International Humanist and Ethical Union

UN Human Rights Council, 35th Session (6th June – 30 June 2017)

General Debate with the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Item 2)

Speaker: Elizabeth O’Casey


Mr High Commissioner,

The promotion and protection of human rights has often depended on the courage of a few to stand up against intolerance and repression.

It is tragic therefore to witness the killing with impunity of people who have defended human rights in the face of radical Islamic forces and governments’ placation of them.

A recent example is the murder of Yameen Rasheed – a human rights defender and critic of radical Islam – who came to this Council and spoke about the grave human rights situation in the Maldives and its slide into conservative Islamism.

Following Raheed’s murder, President Yameen said the Maldives would not allow anyone to mock Islam.

His case if not unique. Rasheed’s journalist friend, Ahmed Rilwanremains missing after being abducted in 2014, and Ismail Rasheed, a writer and human rights campaigner, barely survived his throat being slit near his home in 2012.

In other countries too, we have seen those seeking to criticise radical Islam and their governments’ lack of adequate response to it being killed with impunity; as we know, Bangladesh witnessed many free-thinkers being macheted to death for highlighting the absurdity and monstrousness of Islamic fundamentalism.

In Pakistan, this year, we saw the disappearance of secular human rights activists who criticised fundamentalist Islam, religious hypocrisy and the military establishment.

In all cases there has been a lack of adequate police investigation. Indeed, on the contrary, there have been attributions of blasphemy and blame against the victims.

Mr High Commissioner, these people had the courage to speak out against extremism, intolerance and human rights violations whilst their governments remained silent, concerned by votes and retention of power. The very least we should do is insist on justice for them and to protect the right to free expression for all those brave and dignified enough to speak out, as they did.

Suggested academic reference

'The killing of human rights defenders', Humanists International

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