Lawyers, and other human rights defenders (‘HRDs’), are currently under attack. In The Perils of Defending Human Rights (2014) 39(3) AltLJ 183, Hina Jilani provided a valuable overview of the precarious position of HRDs in the world today. They are caught between state forces on the one hand, which are attempting to ensure the fulfilment of pro-development and often anti-people, neo-liberal practices and policies and, on the other hand, non-state actors (‘NSAs’) such as para-militaries, private armies and hired assassins, acting on behalf of private interests.
It is impossible to get precise figures on the extent of attacks on HRDs, but available research indicates they are targeted in large numbers around the globe. Interestingly, and not surprisingly, the media has for years given considerable exposure to the deaths and other attacks on journalists. And so they should, as journalists are also fighters for rights and freedoms, essential for the preservation, or establishment, of democracy. But the daily toll of attacks on HRDs is surely much higher and deserves more prominence in the media. A recent French report indicates that in Colombia alone there have been 400 lawyers killed since 1991.