CHRISTIAN Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has launched a new campaign to raise awareness of human-rights defenders in South and Central Asia.
The campaign, Defend the Defender, was introduced at an event at the European Parliament in Brussels last week, alongside a report, Radicalism and Red Tape: The growing restrictions on advocacy for religious freedom in South Asia and Central Asia, which examines the challenges faced by human-rights defenders (HRDs) in six Asian countries.
The report includes recommendations for the six countries — India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, and Kyrgyzstan — and the international community, to better protect those who seek to defend human rights.
CSW called on the countries to legislate specifically to protect human-rights defenders, and to “strengthen the constitutional provisions for freedom of expression and freedom of thought and association”.
The report concludes that activists in South and Central Asia who promote freedom of religious belief are increasingly being held back by radical violence and government restrictions. “Unless these countries urgently establish a framework to protect HRDs, in line with international law, there will be a downward spiral of human rights and democracy.”
The launch was hosted by Peter van Dalen MEP, who co-chairs the Parliamentary Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance. Speakers included activists from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kyrgyzstan, who have faced challenges in their work advocating for human rights.
The group also addressed an event on the fringes of the UN Human Rights Council, co-hosted by CSW, on Wednesday.
At the European Parliament event, Nehemiah Christie, a Christian religious leader from Tamil Nadu state, in southern India, said that advocates for religious freedom in India had faced “smear campaigns which present us as ‘enemies of the State’ and ‘anti-nationals’.” He said that this meant “the job of a human-rights defender is not an easy one”.
Supriti Dhar, an activist from Bangladesh who founded the first online platform for women, said that “because I am a woman and an activist, I have been threatened many times. I have been threatened through Facebook, and in person, and twice my son has been attacked.”
She said that the “government of Bangladesh needs to be pressured to properly investigate attacks on human-rights defenders, and to bring perpetrators to justice”.
Read the report at defendthedefender.com.