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Human rights defenders in the United States of America have been subjected to acts of harassment, intimidation, death threats, stigmatization and restrictions have been placed on their freedoms of expression, assembly and association. Some defenders have also been dismissed from their jobs and been prevented from earning a living, are subject to spurious legal proceedings, and have been arrested, detained, placed under house arrest, beaten and been victims of violent and armed attacks. Whilst most people working for human rights in the USA can do so freely and safely those most at risk were those working for the most vulnerable groups and those working to challenge entrenched economic and social power.
Human rights defenders in America work to promote and protect political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights. Through their work they promote and protect a variety of human rights issues and the specific rights they defend include: the right to adequate food and shelter; the rights of immigrants; freedom from arbitrary detention; humane prison conditions; freedom from discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual identity, class or nationality; freedom of expression and of the press; labour and employment rights; the right to peaceful assembly and protest; the right to legal representation; abolition of the death penalty”. (Front Line USA: Threats, Attacks, Arrests and Harassment of Human Rights Defenders) One of the main obstacles they face in relation to their work is the negative impact of the legal and administrative restrictions placed on fundamental human rights associated with the “war on terrorism” in the wake of 9/11. In her report on the situation of human rights defenders the UN SRSG indicates that she “is concerned about possible negative effects of anti-terrorism laws and provisions introduced in the past years, on the environment for defenders. In particular she is concerned about the effects this could have on the right to freedom of assembly and expression”. Particular issues of concern for human rights defenders in the US, to which they themselves are sometimes subject, include racial discrimination, marginalisation, homophobia and sectarianism. Defenders have also been instrumental in adopting and adapting international human rights language, guarantees, and protections to US domestic abuses and by referring such violations to international mechanisms. In 2004 Front Line published a report on the situation of human rights defenders in the US entitled “Front Line USA: Threats, Attacks, Arrests and Harassment of Human Rights Defenders”.