Posts Tagged ‘accompaniement’

Portrait of Anuja Pathak of PBI in Guatemala

July 2, 2022

Anuja Pathak was in Guatemala for a year, escorting threatened rights activists for International Peace Brigades. (Credit: Geneva Solutions/ML)

Michelle Langrand in Geneva Solutions of 1 July 2022 did a lengthy portrait of Anuja Pathak, the 27-year-old who had just returned from spending one year in Guatemala as an international observer for Peace Brigades International (PBI). The NGO provides protection to threatened human rights defenders in different Latin American countries and other regions by stationing volunteers whose presence is meant to discourage attacks. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/04/we-start-2021-with-a-long-read-about-non-violence-and-pbi/

Along with other young volunteers, Pathak was sent to Guatemala to accompany indigenous and peasant rights groups persecuted for resisting mining, hydroelectric and farming projects in their lands. The Central American region, and particularly Guatemala carry a history of violent repression against land rights defenders. In 2020, the country ranked seventh worldwide in killings of environmental activists, according to the NGO Global Witness.

Pathak and her colleagues were based in Guatemala City, the national capital, and would oversee several organisations. Most of them were a six or eight hours ride away in the rural regions of Verapaces. The volunteers would make weekly visits and were on call 24/7 in case they were contacted by one of the NGOs.

“I’m a light sleeper,” Pathak says, in between laughs. Taking a more serious tone, she tells of the emergencies that they’re expected to handle citing the example of the Association of Neighbours of Chicoyogüito, Alta Verapaz (AVECHAV) – an organisation that she grew fond of.

Massacred and kicked out of their lands by the army in the 1980s, the group is still fighting to recover their territory. One night, the volunteers got a call, Pathak remembers.

“Members of AVECHAV had tried to take over one piece of land, and they had been arrested and taken into custody for trespassing, including children,” she explains.

“It’s a complex situation because we don’t support the fact that they trespassed, but we have to make sure that their rights are respected.”

The volunteers then call the police to obtain information and activate their network of organisations and embassies in order to raise the alarm, all in the hopes that international attention will deter authorities from abusing those in custody.

In the remote rural areas where these rights groups are based, impunity is rampant and criminalisation of human rights defenders has been institutionalised. One of the other organisations PBI supports, the Peasant Committee of Altiplano (PCA), has over 300 members with arrest warrants on them and seven in prison, according to their own figures. The Q’eqchi’ indigenous group has been in a land dispute with the government and business landowners for over 100 years.

Imelda Teyul, leader of PCA, gave a chilling account last month in Geneva about the harassment and abuse she and other members went through when they visited their imprisoned colleagues.

Pathak’s job was to accompany some of the defendants during their trials. “A lot of times you go to court, and you just wait for hours. I think I went to more court hearings that were postponed than those that went through. It’s part of the process of criminalisation in order to cause frustration,” she says, sharing the feeling.

In recent years, Guatemala has passed increasingly restrictive laws against civil society. The latest, the law of NGOs, gives the government the power to shut down any organisation that uses external funds to “alter public order”. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/25/almost-200-international-organizations-denounce-attacks-against-peaceful-resistance-to-escobal-mine-in-guatemala/

“It’s obviously a law that seeks to restrain the work of organisations,” Pathak stresses. It has also made it harder for organisations like PBI. Set up in the 1980s and inspired by Gandhi’s non-violence movement, PBI follows a non-partisan approach and abstains from making public statements.

“We would take measures in order to mitigate these risks, for example, by being very careful to always present clearly the work of PBI to avoid confusions.”

Questioning international aid

Brought up in Birmingham by Swiss and Indian parents, Pathak was drawn to the world of international aid. Before going to Guatemala, she worked in Tunisia, Lebanon and Palestine with refugee and minority rights organisations. She had also volunteered in refugee camps in Calais and Greece.

“In the jungle refugee camp, there was a massive feeling of community, and people supported each other, whereas other camps organised by the UN or other international organisations have a different feeling,” she says.

Through her different experiences, Pathak found herself interested in grassroot organisations, the topic of her bachelor’s degree thesis from the University of Leeds, and questioning the role of big international organisations in conflict-affected zones.

“The field of international development is crazy in the sense that we have countries supporting other countries, while also causing issues in those countries. It is ultimately based on racism and unequal wealth distribution. I was curious to understand how international organisations could change those power dynamics, rather than exacerbate them,” she reflects.

In Guatemala, Pathak got to experience a more horizontal approach, where the international organisation is only there to support local actors. “What will I take from this experience is the importance of a collaborative approach with different organisations and embassies and how that’s the only way to make changes,” she says.

Exiled Nicaraguan Human Rights Defenders in Costa Rica

March 15, 2022

A recent case study by Freedom House focuses on programming that offers holistic protection, support, and services, tailored to the needs of human rights defenders in their host country. This case study focused on the most current wave of migration of HRDs and CSOs who were forced to flee after anti-government protests in April 2018.

The Nicaraguan government continues to violate freedoms of expression, assembly and information and thwart the work of HRDs, including journalists and CSOs. Ortega-Murillo’s recent actions against potential presidential candidates and opposition figures demonstrate that the country will continue to see an outpouring of critics, activists, and HRDs to Costa Rica, among other countries. Nicaraguans continue to flee based on the attacks and harassment they face as HRDs and members of CSOs that champion democracy and human rights. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/02/21/nicaragua-death-in-detention-and-sham-trial/

Of those 20 Nicaraguan HRDs who were surveyed, almost 90% stated that harassment and surveillance was a primary reason for leaving Nicaragua, followed by violence (65%) and threats (50%).
Costa Rica provides comparatively ample protection for migrants, and recently launched a new asylum category for those fleeing from authoritarian regimes in Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. The flow of migration since 2018 has persisted until March 2020 when the border shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, migrant flows have begun to increase in recent months. However, Costa Rica is struggling to recover economically from the pandemic, particularly within the tourist, service, and commercial industries where most migrants and refugees find work. Most Nicaraguan refugees find themselves in a precarious economic situation, unable to find steady work, forcing many to resort to informal work with low salaries. HRDs are often not recognized as having different needs or characteristics from the larger refugee population, either by organizations or the Costa Rican population in general. Even for those who continue to work in human rights describe their ability to
continue work is difficult, and many express experiencing severe trauma as an exile, with remorse for not being able to stay and remain fighting for human rights at home. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/12/24/vilma-nunez-human-rights-defender-who-stays-in-nicaragua/]
However, many Nicaraguan HRDs try to carry out their work by investigating the laws and procedures in Costa Rica, accompanying their compatriots in their efforts, sharing knowledge, and giving advice. There are support and protection options for HRDs and CSOs in exile in Costa Rica, including a network of organizations and institutions facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that provide access to vital services.

All available support and protection options for Nicaraguan HRDs are operating at full capacity and cannot keep pace with the growing demand. We believe that it is necessary to seek support and accompaniment mechanisms for HRDs that facilitate their subsistence and enhance the
implementation of their work to defend the human rights of exiles and other Nicaraguan migrants who lack mechanisms for complaint and demand for their rights in Costa Rica.

https://freedomhouse.org/article/fighting-democracy-exile-my-story-nicaraguan-activist

later: https://thegaltimes.com/daniel-ortegas-regime-outlawed-another-25-ngos-in-nicaragua/87071/

Six HRDs from Latin America on PBI’s European tour

November 18, 2019
Whilst the European Union continues to express concern for the increased impact of climate change on the planet, those defending their territories and the environment continue to be attacked for their activism across the world. This alarming trend is present in Latin America where the women defenders of land, territory and the environment are particularly vulnerable. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/environmental-human-rights-defenders-more-deadly-than-being-a-soldier-in-a-war-zone/] With this in mind, PBI will be accompanying five women and one man from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia to different parts of Europe in order to exchange experiences and perspectives about protection and self-protection from a holistic perspective. These defenders will share information about their own situation of risk, as well as the cases they are working on.

Human Rights Defender Profile: Iván Madero from Colombia

June 30, 2018
2018 is the year of the Human Rights Defenders! The Norwegian Human Rights Fund (NHRF) celebrates its 30th anniversary by showcasing some of the brave human rights defenders it supports through out the year. Iván Madero is a human rights defender from Colombia. Iván Madero Vergel is the director of CREDHOS, an organization that documents violations and accompanies human rights defenders. For him becoming a human rights defender was a natural response to the difficult circumstances in his hometown Barrancabermjea. For more than three decades he has been a leader that stands up for the rights of others. In this video, he tells  how it is to work in a country where people who stand up for human rights are risking their lives:

Peace Brigades International officially launches its country chapter in Ireland

November 28, 2014

Interesting to note that Peace Brigades International (PBI), in spite of a large number of Irish volunteers working for it, officially launched its local chapter in Ireland only now, Wednesday 26 November 2014. PBI is known for sending teams of international volunteers to areas of conflict at the request of local human rights defenders who are threatened and the volunteers provide protective accompaniment backed up by political support networks around the world.

Peace Brigades International are active in Colombia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the launch, three visiting human rights defenders from countries where PBI works – Colombia, Kenya and Honduras – spoke about the risks facing human rights defenders in their countries. Honduran lawyer Donald Hernández Palma joined Colombian activist Yomaira Mendoza and Ruth Mumbi Meshack.

[Ms Mendoza’s husband was shot dead in front of her and her family’s land was taken from her illegally. After talking to Colombia’s attorney general about the progress of her case, she was subjected to death threats. After months of trying to reduce her risk in Colombia and re-location attempts within the country, she is now living in exile in Spain.]

[Mr Hernández Palma has been subject to threats and harassment in his work in criminal and environmental law, with a particular focus on mining in Latin America.]

[Ms Meshack is a community mobiliser, and founder and current National Coordinator of Bunge la Wamama, a women’s chapter a movement for social justice and accountability in different parts of Kenya. She has been imprisoned for her work defending human rights.]

Human rights NGO launches in Ireland – RTÉ News.

Honduras: mining company destabilizes community and threatens HRDs

August 9, 2013

Front Line reports the continuous presence of armed security guards in the community of La Nueva Esperanza, in the department of Atlántida, threatening and intimidating the local population, resulted in the temporary kidnapping of two human rights defenders, Mr Daniel Langmeier and Ms Orlane Vidal. Both are working for the Proyecto de Acompañamiento Honduras – PROAH (Honduras Accompaniment Project), an organisation which aims to prevent or alleviate situations of risk against human rights defenders in Honduras. Read the rest of this entry »