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At the heart of the struggle: Human rights defenders fight corruption

12 March 2022

GENEVA (11 March 2022) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor, today urged States to find the political will to protect human rights defenders exposing corruption.

“Corruption is fundamentally a human rights issue, and human rights defenders working to prevent it are targeted, even killed, all over the world for their peaceful advocacy,” the UN expert said in a report presented to the Human Rights Council. The report includes details of attacks on journalists, academics, lawyers, medical workers and others for exposing corruption, sometimes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Corruption is often written off as inevitable or harmless, or as a victimless crime. But it’s none of those things. Every time someone takes a bribe, gives a job to an unqualified relative, or diverts money intended for a hospital or a school to their own pocket, it’s an attack on human rights,” she said.

“They’re often attacked because of their success - governments and businesses are afraid of them and what they might reveal,” Lawlor said.

The report includes practical recommendations for States, based on consultations with human rights defenders, NGOs, academic experts and government officials, on how to better support the work of defenders working against corruption. It also recommends that States should not only end attacks on defenders but publicly applauds the vital contribution they make to fight corruption and to help build just societies based on the rule of law.

“States have obligations to protect defenders working against corruption. This is vital human rights work. Those doing it should be supported by States, not vilified and attacked,” she said.

ENDSMs. Mary Lawlor is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently Associate Professor of Business and Human Rights at the Centre for Social Innovation (CSI) at Trinity College Dublin Business School. In 2001 she founded Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders to focus on human rights defenders at risk. As Executive Director between 2001 and 2016, Ms. Lawlor represented Front Line Defenders and played a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was previously Director of the Irish Office of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, after becoming a member of the Board of Directors in 1975 and being elected its President from 1983 to 1987.

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