Violence against Environmental Human Rights Defenders: one of the worst trends in recent years

September 1, 2016

The chilling trend of attacking human rights defenders working on environment and land rights continues. The help keep an overview here a summary of a number of relevant items:
On 26 August 2016 Patricia Schaefer of the Center for International Environmental Law posted a blog in the NonProfitQuarterly website under the Title “International Collaboration Reports on Violence against Environmental Activists”, summarizing two recent reports (On Dangerous Ground by Global Witness and a more recent “Deadly Shade of Green” by Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), British NGO Article 19, and Vermont Law School).

The second report, “Deadly Shade of Green” documents the extent of the threat in Latin America. For environmental human rights defenders (EHRDs), the dire situation in the region has been created in good part by the lack of effective guarantees of human rights protection. This has been worsened by the weak rule of law in most Latin American countries, by worrying trends of impunity that corrode the fabric of society, and by the fact that environmental movements usually concern major development projects involving powerful governmental and corporate interests.

“Deadly Shade of Green” cites recent incidents throughout Latin America covering human rights violations against EHRDs, violent attacks, torture, disappearances, and murder. Indigenous peoples are too often most at risk and according to the report comprise more than 40 percent of the deaths.

The persistent human rights violations targeting EHRDs are caused by resource exploitation, and increasing numbers of large-scale and mega-development projects in Latin American countries. For example, Honduras currently has 837 mining concessions, of which 411 have already been granted covering an area of 6,630 km. In Colombia, coal extraction between 2000 and 2010 nearly doubled and the number of mining concessions has similarly maintained an accelerated pace. This has resulted in a substantial increase in attacks across the region. According to the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission/USA, in the decade between 2000 and 2010, 118 environmental human rights defenders in Guatemala were murdered and over 2,000 assaults occurred against groups of protesters.

On Dangerous Ground reveals a surge in killings of those opposing hydroelectric projects, mainly in Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. And researchers find little or no meaningful consultation with affected communities opposing the displacement of their villages and disruption of their farming. On the subject of freedom of expression and access to information, the CIEL report examines how countries in the region wield anti-terrorism legislation and libel threats against activists opposing corporate interests (as well as governmental interests, which are often tied in closely to development projects). It looks at how even the rights to freedom of assembly and association are threatened when governments limit where protests can take place and have the last word on which NGOs are recognized and funded.

While the assassination of Berta Cáceres in Honduras in March 2016 created an international stir, an 17 August 17 article in the New Yorker, by Jonathan Blitzer, points out that in the five months since her death, two more members of the group she led, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), have also been killed. [see https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/berta-caceres/]

The UN has also has its say in the matter as reported in “A deadly undertaking” by Indigenous Voices In Asia on 3 June 2016 which refers to 3 UN experts speaking ahead of World Environment Day. The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John Knox; the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli Corpuz, all three stressed that protecting environmental rights defenders is crucial to protect the environment and the human rights that depend on it.

Every week, on average, two environmental and land rights activists are killed and the numbers are getting worse, according to civil society figures. The situation is particularly grave in Latin America and Southeast Asia, but it affects every region of the world. It is truly a global crisis.

On this World Environment Day, we want to underscore that environmental human rights defenders should be lauded as heroes for putting themselves at risk to protect the rights and well-being of others. Instead, they are often targeted as if they were enemies of the State.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Council adopted a landmark Resolution (res 31/ 32 – see https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/norwegian-resolution-un-human-rights-council-defenders-amendments/) which requires States to ensure the rights and safety of human rights defenders working towards the realization of economic, social and cultural rights. That was a good initial step, but Governments must do far more. They have obligations under human rights law to protect environmentalists’ rights of expression and association by responding rapidly and effectively to threats, promptly investigating acts of harassment and violence from all parties including business and non-State actors, protecting the lives of those at risk, and bringing those responsible to justice….Currently, States are failing to meet these obligations. Of the nearly 1000 reported murders over the last decade, fewer than 10 have resulted in convictions. The real culprits are rarely held accountable for their crimes. In the last year, the international community has reached consensus on the new sustainable development goals as a roadmap to a more sustainable, prosperous and equitable future. But those goals cannot be met if those on the front line of protecting sustainable development are not protected…

On 14 July 2016, Lydia de Leeuw, Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations (SOMO) published “Human Rights Defenders Essential for Development, referring to a joint petition signed by over 150 development, human rights, and environment groups saying inter alia that… “Development banks should respect human rights in their investments…and ensure their activities are not putting human rights and environmental defenders at risk, … Major development banks have long touted the importance of public participation for effective development. But the space for safe and effective participation in development processes has been rapidly shrinking as governments criminalize activities by environmental and human rights activists, adopt restrictions on civil society groups, and allow intimidation and attacks by private businesses or security forces to go unpunished. The petition is directed to international financial institutions (IFIs), including the World Bank, African, Asian, European, and Inter-American Development Bank,… the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and BRICS New Development Bank.The joint petition details ways in which the institutions should ensure that the activities they finance respect human rights and that there are spaces for people to participate in the development of IFI projects and hold IFIs to account without risking their security.

The Bretton Woods Project may well report – on 29 June 2016 – that in response to the increasing concern about the safety of human rights and environmental defenders (e.g. in the Human Rights Watch report of June 2015), the World Bank’s accountability mechanisms look to improve complainant protection against retaliation and intimidation, but the reports mentioned above (and many others) seem to indicate that here is a lot more to be done.

Individual cases – here some recent ones taken from Front Line Defenders – show that it remains ‘business as usual:

  • On 8 July 2016, a court in Ecuador ruled against 8 women human rights defenders from the Frente de Mujeres Defensoras de la Pachamama (Women’s Front for the Defence of Mother Earth) in a complaint they submitted after being beaten and arbitrarily detained by police during a peaceful demonstration against a mining project in Río Blanco on 20 October 2015. The NGO (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/frente-de-mujeres-defensoras-de-la-pachamama) was created in 2008, in Cuenca, Azuay Province, to promote human rights with a focus on environmental and gender issues in rural areas. The organisation is invested in the struggle against the Río Blanco and Loma Larga mining projects, which they claim will have profound negative social and environmental impacts on the region.
  • On 1 July 2016, human rights defender Ms Gloria Capitan was shot dead by two unidentified men in Lucanin village, Mariveles municipality, Bataan province, Philippines. She was one of the leaders of the Coal-Free Bataan Movement and the President of United Citizens of Lucanin Association, a community-based organisation that has been peacefully opposing the operation and expansion of coal plants and open storage facilities in the Mariveles neighbourhood which have had harmful consequences for the local population. As a part of her human rights work, Gloria Capitan organised campaigns, filed complaints with the court, collected signatures for petitions and initiated other public actions, calling for a permanent closure of a coal project undertaken in the region. (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/gloria-capitan).
  • On 21 June 2016, the body of human rights defender Ms Nilce de Souza Magalhães was found by the dam of Usina Hidrelétrica (UHE) in Jirau, Porto Velho, Brazil. Previously, on 15 January 2016, Edione Pessoa da Silva was detained and confessed to her murder, but he escaped from prison shortly after. The human rights defender initially went missing on 7 January 2016. She was one of the leaders of the Movement of People Affected by Dams, a social movement founded in the 1970s that sought to advocate for the rights of people affected by the construction of dams. Nilce de Souza Magalhães was active in denouncing human rights violations perpetrated by the consortium Sustainable Energy of Brazil in the construction of the Usina Hidrelétrica (UHE) in Jirau, Porto Velho. (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/Nilce-de-Souza-Magalhaes) At least 27 human rights defenders have been killed in 2016, placing Brazil at the top of the list of killings of defenders reported <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/blog/post/brazil-tops-list-killings-hrds-2016>  to Front Line Defenders this year, with indigenous, environmental and land rights defenders being the most targeted.

Sources:

International Collaboration Reports on Violence against Environmental Activists |

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2016/08/09/deadly-shade-green

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/04/world-banks-new-rules-condemned-disregarding-people-and-planet

http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/2016/06/word-bank-accountability-mechanisms-look-improve-complainant-protection/

https://business-humanrights.org/en/154-ngos-sign-petition-calling-on-development-banks-to-respect-human-rights-in-investments-and-ensure-their-activities-are-not-putting-human-rights-and-environmental-defenders-at

http://globalnation.inquirer.net/141613/human-land-rights-defenders-vital-to-any-democracy-eu

http://news.trust.org/item/20160728133450-5w2pg/

http://iva.aippnet.org/a-deadly-undertaking-un-experts-urge-all-governments-to-protect-environmental-rights-defenders/

http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/we-are-defending-the-land-with-our-blood-defenders-of-the-land-territory-and-environment-in-honduras

3 Responses to “Violence against Environmental Human Rights Defenders: one of the worst trends in recent years”


  1. […] see also: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/violence-against-environmental-human-rights-defenders-one-o… […]


  2. […] Witness reported earlier: that 2015 was the most deadly year for human rights defenders yet. [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2016/09/01/violence-against-environmental-human-rights-defenders-one-o…]. The Oxfam briefing notes “This trend appears to be continuing in 2016, given that 24 defenders […]


  3. […] May 16, 2017 Amidst reports about the rising toll among human rights defenders around the world, especially in rural areas, this initiative must me welcome. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/09/01/violence-against-environmental-human-rights-defenders-o…] […]


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