Archive for the 'AI' Category

Joint Statement by NGOs: Ukraine should address attacks against Human Rights Defenders

October 8, 2018

On 3 October 2018 a number of NGOs published a Joint Statement on Ukraine deploying the many attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

More than 50 attacks on activists and human rights defenders in Ukraine have been recorded by local human rights organisations in just the last nine months, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Freedom House and Front Line Defenders said today. Those under attack include people working to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, protect the environment, and campaign against corruption. 

The organisations criticised the lack of effective investigations into these incidents and of prosecutions of those responsible, which heightens the risk to human rights defenders and sends a message that the authorities tolerate such attacks and assaults. Recently, the prosecutor general suggested that civil society activists brought the attacks on themselves <https://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2018/09/27/7193378/&gt;  for criticising the authorities, giving an impression that human rights defenders can be openly targeted.

In most cases, the attacks have targeted individuals or groups that campaign against corruption in the local community, shine a light on the operation of local government and businesses, or defend people’s rights. The purpose of such attacks is clear: to silence activists and human rights defenders and to discourage others from speaking out against injustice and standing up for human rights. 

Two recent examples of the kind of vicious attacks that have yet to be effectively investigated took place on 22 September, in Odessa and Kryvyi Rih. Oleh Mikhaylyk, an anti-corruption activist, was shot in Odessa, in southern Ukraine, and remains in the hospital. Mikhaylyk had campaigned with the Syla Lyudei (People’s Power) movement against illegal construction in Odessa. Three hundred kilometers away, in Kryvyi Rih, unidentified assailants broke into the home of Artem Moroka after he criticised the local police on Facebook. The assailants severely beat him, breaking his nose, Moroka told Ukrainian human rights monitors.

In June, an environmental activist, Mykola Bychko, was found dead under suspicious circumstances in a village in Kharkiv region. Villagers found Bychko hanged in the woods near the village of Eskhar on June 5. The local police initially started a suicide investigation, but have yet to investigate the possibility that he was killed in connection with his activism. At the time, Bychko was documenting the pollution of a local river, allegedly caused by a nearby waste treatment plant.  A lawyer representing Bychko’s family questioned the conduct of the local police for ignoring the possibility that this was an intentional killing, and for allegedly intentionally delaying the investigation. The lawyer told Freedom House that police lost relevant evidence from the site where Bychko’s body was found, such as the rope from the improvised gallows. The authorities have also not pursued allegations that Bychko had received threats related to his documentation work, such as questioning people from the waste treatment plant. 

On July 31, an unidentified assailant threw acid on Kateryna Handzyuk, a local council member who monitored police activities, in Kherson. ……….

The Ukrainian authorities should take effective steps to prevent further threats and attacks against activists and human rights defenders, and ensure prompt, thorough, impartial and independent investigations into such threats and attacks and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials. 

The Interior Ministry, the National Police, the prosecutor general’s office, and other relevant institutions should explicitly recognise the important work of human rights defenders in protecting human rights and uncovering corruption. The authorities should publicly denounce any threats and attacks against human rights defenders. They should take decisive measures to ensure that government critics can work in a safe and enabling environment in which they can exercise the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and conduct their activities without fear of reprisals. 

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraine-address-attacks-against-activists-and-human-rights-defenders

https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/EUR5092012018ENGLISH.pdf

Human Rights lawyer Louis Blom-Cooper died 19 September 2018

September 27, 2018

Louis Jacques Blom-Cooper, lawyer and writer, born 27 March 1926; died 19 September 2018. Blom-Cooper was involved in the foundation of Amnesty International in 1961, supporting Peter Benenson‘s idea for an appeal for amnesty for political prisoners. He was also a Patron of Prisoners Abroad a registered charity which supports Britons who are held overseas, and was a trustee of the Howard League for Penal Reform. He was a fighter against the death penalty.

….

The enduring value of Louis’s work is likely to lie in his campaigning, supported by astute legal scholarship, against the death penalty, his contribution to the foundation of Amnesty International and his lifelong championship of the cause of penal reform and prisoners’ rights. For half a century he was a courageous advocate, a controversial legal author and journalist, a deputy high court judge and a forthright and radical chairman of numerous public inquiries and bodies. A man of extraordinarily wide intellectual interests, he was generous in his encouragement of younger lawyers and his availability and accessibility to his many prisoner clients.

Louis Blom-Cooper in 2015. He was a prolific, informed and provocative legal journalist, writing for the Guardian and the Financial Times
Pinterest
Louis Blom-Cooper in 2015. He was a prolific, informed and provocative legal journalist, writing for the Guardian and the Financial Times

Born in London, Louis was the son of Alfred Blom-Cooper, a fruit and vegetable trader, and his wife Ella (nee Flesseman), who lived in Mill Hill. After attending Port Regis school in Dorset and Seaford college in West Sussex, Louis joined the East Yorkshire Regiment towards the end of the second world war (1944-47). He studied law at King’s College London, Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, and the Municipal University of Amsterdam, where he obtained his doctorate in 1954.

He retained a spirit of inquiry in writing numerous challenging books on the death penalty, penal reform and murder law, notably the imposition of a mandatory life sentence for murder. But he also argued for the abolition of the jury system, because it did not give the convicted offender any reasons for his conviction.

….He was the first to argue for the extension of the principles of natural justice or fairness to the field of immigration and asylum law in cases such as that of the American journalist Mark Hosenball, deported in 1977 as a security risk after revealing the existence of GCHQ in a magazine article. ..

Most of all, Louis was a leading proponent of a general duty to state reasons in administrative law and made a judgment to that effect in his capacity as a high court judge. Rejected at the time as too advanced a position, the duty to give reasons for executive decisions has now been widely accepted.

….

As chairman of the Press Council (1989-90), he supported the principle that there should be a requirement that newspapers accord a right of reply to those they attacked. He also called for a law against the invasion of privacy, introduced changes to give complainants a better hearing and speed up adjudications, and also introduced a code of practice for newspapers. But it proved to be too little, too late.

Eswatini or Swaziland? As long as human rights defenders can do their work…

September 21, 2018

Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) saying that it must bring an end to the long record of human rights violations that have blighted the country for more than four decades. The Southern African kingdom – which is under the near total control of King Mswati – has a longstanding record of human rights violations, including the routine suppression of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as widespread forced evictions. Swazis will today elect new members of parliament that will form the new government for the next five years.

This election represents a golden opportunity for an incoming government to comprehensively address longstanding human rights issues,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa.

On 8 August 2017, King Mswati approved the Public Order Act, imposing far-reaching restrictions on organizers of public gatherings. The Act also failed to provide mechanisms to hold law enforcement officials accountable for their use of unnecessary or excessive force against protesters or public gatherings. The government continues to ban opposition parties, while political activists are regularly put in jail for trying to organize and speak out against the status quo. Eswatini will only become a thriving nation when human rights are respected for all, without discrimination, added Deprose Muchena.

See also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/07/02/swaziland-ngo-welcomes-release-of-hrds-with-new-hope-for-independence-of-the-judiciary/

Some good news from Cambodia: Tep Vanny and three other human rights defenders pardoned

August 22, 2018

Tep Vanny, second from left, gestures upon arrival at her home in Phnom Penh, Aug. 20, 2018.

Tep Vanny, second from left, gestures upon arrival at her home in Phnom Penh, Aug. 20, 2018. – AP Photo

Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni on 20 August 2018 granted royal pardons to prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny and three others convicted for their roles in a protest over a land grab in the capital Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community. Tep Vanny, 38, was arrested on 15 August 2016 after participating in a demonstration, handed six days in prison for “insulting a public official” and, instead of being released when the sentence was served, charged with “aggravated intentional violence” for a protest she held more than three years earlier in front of the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

On Feb. 23, 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted Tep Vanny of assaulting two security officers during the 2013 protest at Hun Sen’s home, sentencing her to 30 months in prison and making her pay 9 million riels (U.S. $2,250) in compensation to the officers. Three other female activists—Heng Mom, Bo Chhorvy, and Kong Chantha—were also convicted for “obstructing public officials” during the protest, but released on bail.

On Monday, King Sihamoni issued a royal decree at the behest of Hun Sen, overturning the convictions of all four activists without providing any reason for the decision. Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Tep Vanny said: “I was given no prior notice that I would be released,”“The prison guards came to inform me just before 8:30 p.m. that I would be freed soon and said I should get my things ready. I told them they had come to tell the wrong person.”  Although I am happy tonight for the freedom to meet with my family, relatives, and community members, my pain remains with me, as I have spent over two years in jail,”.

Tep Vanny was awarded the 2013 Vital Voices Global Leadership Award for her work campaigning on behalf of the community evicted from Boeung Kak Lake, which was later filled with sand to make way for a development project with ties to Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). On Monday, she appealed to Hun Sen to release all of the country’s remaining political prisoners, including former RFA reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, who have spent nine months behind bars on “espionage” charges.

Various rights groups had demanded Tep Vanny’s release in the lead up to the 15 August anniversary marking her two years in prison, with New York-based Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director Phil Robertson calling her conviction “just one of many outrageous cases in which the authorities have misused Cambodia’s justice system to harass and imprison peaceful land rights activists.” On Monday, London-based Amnesty International’s senior director of global operations Minar Pimple welcomed Tep Vanny’s release in a statement, but called it “long overdue.”

re Boeung Kak Lake case see my older: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2012/06/20/boeung-kak-lake-women-sentenced-for-peaceful-protest-in-cambodia/

Still this is only SOME good news as in the meantime Front Line reported that on 12 August 2018, human rights defender Nay Vanda received a court summon dated 9 August 2018 issued by the Vice Prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, summoning him to attend a trial at 7:30am on 27 August 2018 at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Subsequently, human rights defender Ny Chakrya also received the same court summons. These summons are related to charges brought against five human rights defenders on 2 May 2016. Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony were charged  <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/five-adhoc-members-detained#case-update-id-3050&gt; with bribing a witness under Article 548 of the Criminal Code, and Ny Chakrya was charged as an accomplice to bribery of a witness in accordance with Articles 28 and 548 of the Criminal Code. If convicted, they face between five to ten years imprisonment. It is anticipated that the three human rights defenders who have not received the court summons will receive them in the coming days. 

The Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) <https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/adhoc&gt;  is a human rights organisation founded in December 1991 by a group of former political prisoners aiming to address violations of rights and freedoms. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/adhoc/

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Many links including: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/pardons-08202018162801.html

BRICS leaders should have addressed human rights at their recent summit

July 30, 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) and Turkish President Recep Erdogan (R) interact during a family photo during the BRICS summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa, 27 July 2018. EPA-EFE/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / POO

As they met in Johannesburg last week, BRICS leaders focused on the economy, development, peacekeeping, health and industrialisation issues within the bloc (accounting for 40% of the world’s population). However, equally important issues such as the protection and realisation of human rights in the respective countries remained off the agenda. Jennifer Wells, an intern with AI South Africa, on 30 July 2018, gave a useful reminder of what could and should have been also addressed:

Brazil

Brazil has one of the highest murder rates in the world, with around 60,000 people murdered each year…Brazil’s failure to protect black Brazilians from police violence remains critical as this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Candelaria killings. The tragedy, in which eight young black boys were killed by off-duty police officers in Rio de Janeiro in 1993, represents the endemic racism within the Brazilian security forces. The situation was aggravated by the murder of Rio de Janeiro human rights defender and councilwoman Marielle Franco on 14 March 2018. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/16/marielle-franco-38-year-old-human-rights-defender-and-city-councilor-of-rio-assassinated/]

Russia

human rights defenders and civil society activists continued to face harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests across the country. The trial of human rights defender Oyub Titiev started in Chechnya. He, like several other human rights defenders, is being prosecuted on trumped-up criminal charges. Law enforcement agencies continue to launch cases on fabricated “extremism” and “terrorism” charges. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/] The Ukrainian film director Oleg Sentsov, serving 20 years on “terrorism” charges, is on day 75 of a hunger strike demanding the release of “64 political prisoners from Ukraine”. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly has been increasingly restricted in Russia since 2012 and remains under severe clampdown. …. The rights of LGBTI people are trampled upon daily and the authorities continue to refuse to investigate the horrific gay purge in Chechnya. The World Cup has come and gone, but the suppression of freedoms and shrinking of civil liberties continues unabated.

India

It’s a similar story in India where human rights defenders are consistently under threat, attacked and threatened, often from security forces. India has witnessed horrific instances of alleged extrajudicial executions by security forces for years as police and federal forces have effective immunity from prosecution. In the North-Eastern state of Manipur, human rights defenders who have lost their loved ones in alleged extrajudicial executions and are now campaigning for justice, face unprecedented attacks. Salima Memcha, a widow who lost her husband to an alleged extrajudicial execution, was verbally threatened by security personnel. Her house was also vandalised by them. Three other human rights defenders in Manipur have faced similar reprisals for campaigning for justice for their loved ones.

China

In China, the government continues to enact repressive laws under the guise of “national security” that present serious threats to human rights. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobodied in custody whilst other human rights defenders are detained, prosecuted and sentenced on vague charges such as “subverting state power”, “separatism” and “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. Controls on the internet have been strengthened and freedom of expression and freedom of association are under attack.[see also:https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/12/how-china-extracts-televised-confessions-from-human-rights-defenders/]

South Africa

In the host nation, nearly a quarter of century after adopting arguably one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, the country is bedevilled by profound inequalities, which persistently undermine economic, social and cultural rights. Failures in the criminal justice system continue to present barriers to justice for victims of human rights abuses and violations, including the state’s failure to hold perpetrators accountable for the killing of 34 striking mineworkers in Marikana in 2012 by the South African Police Service. Access to sexual and reproductive health services remain a human rights issue as does the provision of quality education.

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-07-30-what-brics-leaders-should-have-talked-about/

Farewell message from Amnesty’s Salil Shetty

July 17, 2018

I announced Salil’s successor on 22 December [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/12/22/amnesty-announces-kumi-naidoo-as-next-secretary-general-effective-august-2018/]. The farewell message by the departing Secretary General, Salil Shetty, is worth sharing as it contains some general thoughts on the state of the human rights movement:

..

As some of you would know, after eight great years with Amnesty International, I am moving on. My time as Secretary General formally drew to a close on 8 July after the annual gathering of our global leadership in Poland. I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your important and generous support through this period – a turbulent time in the world at large, and a crucial transformation process internally.
 
It is difficult to sum up eight years in a pithy way, but as we look back on the so-called Arab Spring, the Syrian conflict, spiralling refugee numbers, the social impact of government policies in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, and the rise of popular authoritarians in many countries, it is clear that we have lived – and continue to live – through very challenging times. The voices of those who stand up against oppression and the abuse of power are more isolated but more important than ever. And Amnesty has played a vital role in supporting these voices.
 
We have seen much fruit from the work in virtually every region of the world we have done together during this period – from the adoption of the Arms Trade Treaty to some important breakthroughs on corporate accountability, from another 10 countries abolishing the death penalty to the release of innumerable prisoners unjustly detained. We have built a new body of work on technology and human rights, ready to confront important new challenges ahead. We have also seen some crucial steps forward on women’s rights and have good reason to hope for much more progress in the coming months and years. Above all, it has been a privilege to work with so many extraordinary people from every part of the world. I will treasure the memories of so many courageous activists I have met during my time with Amnesty.
 
For me, the biggest source of hope has always been people at the local level who refuse to accept injustice. During the past eight years we have had a strong focus on building a truly global human rights movement, particularly by rebalancing the centre of gravity from our traditional strongholds in the richer countries of the world towards a more distributed centre with a much stronger voice for the global south. The growth of Amnesty’s membership in key southern powerhouses such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Nigeria, has been very encouraging, and gives us stronger foundations for the future.
 
……..
I am delighted to hand over to my successor, Kumi Naidoo from South Africa, who will take up the reins on 15 August. Kumi is a well-respected activist and leader in the international NGO sector, having previously led Greenpeace International and CIVICUS. …


Best,

Salil Shetty

Ahmed Mansoor: ten years jail for tweeting and a street named after you

June 7, 2018

Joe Odell's picture Joe Odell (press officer for the International Campaign for Freedom in the UAE) wrote on Wednesday 6 June 2018 a long piece in the Middle East Eye about the “UAE‘s shameful imprisonment of Ahmed Mansoor“. As the last dissident voice in the Emirates is silenced, it remains to be seen who is left to speak out about injustice in the UAE, he states rightly. As I have posted regularly on him (see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/13/update-on-mansoor-in-uae-after-one-year-detention-appears-in-court/), will only refer to a few highlights in Odell’s article:

“Last week Abu Dhabi’s Supreme Court sentenced the awarded-winning Emirati human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor to 10 years in prison after finding him guilty of using his social media account to “defame the nation” by spreading “rumours and lies about the UAE” and promoting “sectarian feelings and hatred” among its citizens. It is a ruthless ruling for one of the region’s most prominent rights campaigners, who in 2015 won the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders after his tireless struggle for basic political and civil rights in the UAE.……

It was almost as if the UAE wanted to get this news out in a way that created as little fanfare as possible. Many hours were to pass before the UAE state-owned publication the National confirmed that this was indeed Ahmed Mansoor; international media promptly picked up the story within minutes – no doubt to the ire of the UAE government. Emirati authorities, however, are yet to give an official comment on the court decision. More pertinently, Mansoor’s exact whereabouts remains unknown, leaving the 48-year-old father of four at grave risk of torture and other forms of ill-treatment.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FMiddleEastEye%2Fvideos%2F1707420759323305%2F&show_text=0&width=476

…..Perhaps, in his heart, Ahmed knew this day would come. But he always refused to place himself above the struggle, telling journalist Bill Law prior to his arrest: “The only way to counter repression is by revealing it. And, yes, there is always that possibility that I will go back to jail. But if activists do not talk, who will?”

This knock-on effect has already begun. In the UK, pressure is now mounting on Manchester mayor Andy Burnham to issue a statement on Ahmed’s case after a coalition of 34 NGOs, including Amnesty International and the European Centre for Democracy and Human Rights, demanded intervention. This is a sensitive and fought over issue in a city whose council have burgeoning commercial links with the UAE, and whose football club is owned outright by the Emirates’ deputy prime minister, Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed al-Nahyan. [see below]

…….Meanwhile, in north London, Arsenal supporters are now questioning their club’s links with the UAE, which began with their move to the Emirates Stadium more than 10 years ago. In response to Ahmed’s sentence, leading Arsenal fan website the Daily Cannon published an editorial calling for a review of the club’s sponsorship deal with Emirates Airline. Perhaps for the first time the UAE’s soft-power project in the UK now lies on contested ground, not only from regional foes, but increasingly from ordinary people across Britain….[ see also my: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/09/15/fly-emirates-if-the-emirs-let-you/]

And indeed on Friday 3 June 2018, campaigners in Manchester, UK, held a “street renaming” ceremony for Ahmed Mansoor and to highlight the city’s close links with the UAE government. Activists raised a banner saying “Ahmed Mansoor Street” in Manchester, to pressure the city’s council to bring up the case of the blogger who was sentenced to a decade in jail by UAE authorities this week.

The protest took place on Thomas Street, in the city’s fashionable Northern Quarter district. Supporters of Mansoor in the UK have asked Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham to help secure the release of the free-speech activist. The campaigners believe one way that could help is for Burnham to name a street after the 2015 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders laureate.

“As the first directly-elected Mayor of Greater Manchester you are in a unique position to show leadership on this issue,” a letter by Mansoor’s supporters to Burnham stated. “Your public support for a street named after Ahmed Mansoor – and calling for his immediate and unconditional release – would demonstrate your commitment to this heritage and these ideals.

Manchester has deep ties with the Gulf state, including companies and investment groups tied to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the de-facto ruler of the UAE. The football club, Manchester City, is also owned by leading Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

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Saudi Arabia still steering in the wrong direction

May 19, 2018

Saudi authorities detained seven women human rights defenders since 15 May 2018, say Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Gulf Centre for Human Rights. “Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s ‘reform campaign’ has been a frenzy of fear for genuine Saudi reformers who dare to advocate publicly for human rights or women’s empowerment,” HRW Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said in a statement. Among the detained women are Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi blogger, and Lujain al-Hathloul, a women right’s activist who had been arrested previously and held for 75 days for attempting to drive back into Saudi Arabia from neighbouring United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Rothna Begum, a women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the government is trying to silence critics, particularly those who champion women’s rights reforms.  “While it’s not clear why they were arrested, today we have seen Saudi press reports come to suggest that these women are traitors and have been arrested because they are undermining the national unity of the country,” Begum told Al Jazeera.

Amnesty International condemned the commentary of the arrests as a “chilling smear campaign” and an “extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders” in the country.

[Since 2011, nearly 30 activists and dissidents have been convicted in Saudi courts, many of whom received sentences of up to 15 years, according to HRW.]

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/middle-east/175098-180519-saudis-detain-women-s-advocates-ahead-of-driving-ban-lift

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/saudi-arabia-arrests-women-rights-activists-180519075533018.html

For some of my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/saudi-arabia/

later: http://www.thesundaily.my/news/2018/05/24/saudi-driving-activist-released-after-crackdown-say-campaigners

2018: Latin America still the graveyard for environmental human rights defenders

April 28, 2018

This blog has on several occasions drawn attention to reports that show that Latin America is among the deadliest places to be a human rights defender [e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/01/06/latin-america-philippines-most-dangerous-places-for-human-rights-defenders/]. An infographic – published on 27 March 2018 by Latin America Press – summarises criminalization of land & environmental rights defenders in Latin America.

 
http://www.lapress.org/objetos/informe/48PI_criminalization-defenders-of-the-land.pdf
In 2016/17 an Amnesty International team took two trips to Peru and one to Paraguay and spoke with representatives of 10 human rights groups in Peru and 14 in Paraguay. AI concludes that environmental leaders are under constant threat. Authorities in Paraguay and Peru are unjustly criminalizing activists who speak out to protect their environment and land, an Amnesty International report released Thursday revealed. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/]

The report, A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay, outlined the three “ingredients” both countries use to undermine the efforts of human rights defenders. First, they delegitimize activists through smear campaigns. Second, they apply laws and regulations that allow for forced evictions. And, third, they misuse the criminal justice system to prosecute activists for unfounded reasons.

Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara-Rosas said in a press release.

The report included examples of how these ingredients combine on the ground. For example, Amnesty International highlighted the case of community activists working to protect their home in Peru’s Cajamarca region from the gold and copper Conga mining project. On 26 April 2013, police arrested 16 protesters on trumped up charges of abduction and coercion. The state prosecutor sought 30-year prison sentences. But the evidence presented was secondhand and so spotty and contradictory that a court dismissed the case in 2017.

In Paraguay, the Tekoha Sauce community of the Avá Guaraní People was evicted from their ancestral lands by a court order following a dispute with local businessman German Hultz. The community was forced onto a nature reserve where they struggle to survive because hunting and fishing is not allowed. During the court proceedings leading up to the eviction, their opponents stigmatized the indigenous community by referring to them as a “gang of criminals.”

On 24 April 2018, Front Line reported that on 19 April 2018, Olivia Arévalo Lomas, a woman human rights defender and spiritual leader of the Shipibo-Konibo indigenous peoples, was killed by unknown assailants just a few feet from her home in the community of ‘Victoria Gracia’, in Peru. The defender was shot in the chest and died instantly. Her body was left on the street in full view of her local community (https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/olivia-arevalo).  The killing of Olivia Arévalo Lomas comes after a spike in violence, threats and intimidation against members of FECONAU communities in Ucayalí, such as Santa Clara de Uchunya. In the past six months, several members of FECONAU have been subjects of attacks. A representative of FECONAU, Edinson Mahua, was shot at close range and narrowly escaped serious injury, while community leaders in Ucayalí have received anonymous death threats. 

In the meantime Colombia has seen a spike in assassinations of human rights defenders in 2018, according to study by Colombian NGO Somos DefensoresA total of 46 human rights leaders have been killed so far this year, up from 26 in the same period last year; paramilitary groups were responsible for three of the killings, four were murdered by guerrilla groups and another four were killed at the hands of security forces. The investigative body also recognized a total of 132 acts of aggression against public defenders so far this year. Of the registered acts, there were 12 attacks, 66 death threats and one case of forced disappearance. The provinces in which the aggression occurred were predominately in areas at the heart of the country’s conflict, with Cauca, Antioquia and Norte de Santander figuring heavily in the statistics.

The UN has said it is “extremely concerned” about the increase in violence surrounding social leaders while Inspector General Fernando Carrillo has “urged” authorities to “assume their commitments to defend the lives of social leaders.” While the government has attempted to reel in the varying armed criminal groups responsible for a lot of these acts — as seen with the 2016 peace deal with the FARC guerrilla organisation, and ongoing peace negotiations with the ELN rebel group — it has clearly failed to provide basic security, and protect human rights defenders, rural community leaders and other social activists.

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https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-amnesty-international-2563882266.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/peru/recipe-criminalization-defenders-environment-territory-and-land-peru-and-paraguay

https://colombiareports.com/killing-of-human-rights-leaders-in-colombia-more-than-doubles-study/

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/latin-america-infographic-summarises-criminalization-of-land-environmental-rights-defenders-in-the-region

Colin Kaepernick receives Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award

April 22, 2018

SPORTS ILLUSTRATED 2017 Sportsperson of the Year Show on December 5, 2017 at Barclays Center in New York City.

USA athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick has been honoured with Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award for 2018. The award was officially presented at a ceremony in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 21 April 2018, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of AI Netherlands.

“The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates the spirit of activism and exceptional courage, as embodied by Colin Kaepernick. He is an athlete who is now widely recognised for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. [for more on this and other human rights awards see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ambassador-of-conscience-award]

[During the 2016 pre-season of the American National Football League, Colin Kaepernick knelt during the US national anthem, as a respectful way of calling for the country to protect and uphold the rights of all its people. The bold move was a response to the disproportionate numbers of black people being killed by police. It sparked a movement that follows a long tradition of non-violent protests that have made history. While the polarised response to the “take-a-knee” protest has ignited a debate about the right to protest and free speech, Colin Kaepernick has remained focused on highlighting the injustices that moved him to act. His charity, the Colin Kaepernick Foundation, works to fight oppression around the world through education and social activism, including through free “Know Your Rights” camps which educate and empower young people.]

I would like to thank Amnesty International for the Ambassador of Conscience Award. But in truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force. …said Colin Kaepernick. “While taking a knee is a physical display that challenges the merits of who is excluded from the notion of freedom, liberty, and justice for all, the protest is also rooted in a convergence of my moralistic beliefs, and my love for the people.
See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/05/07/ais-ambassador-of-conscience-award-2016-shared-by-angelique-kidjo-and-african-youth-groups/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/04/colin-kaepernick-ambassador-of-conscience/

https://thinkprogress.org/colin-kaepernick-receives-humanitarian-prize-a1b3ca0460cc/