Posts Tagged ‘Berta Cáceres’

One of the Killers of Berta Caceras was just brought to justice

July 7, 2021

According to Common Dreams, human rights defenders on Monday 5 July 2021 welcomed the conviction of Roberto David Castillo Mejía, a Honduran businessman and former military intelligence officer, for the March 2016 assassination of Indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, while calling on authorities in the Central American nation to bring everyone involved in planning the murder.

Memorial day: Environmental activist Berta Caceres was killed in her home in March 2016 Photo CC by Trocaire on Flickr.
(Photo CC by Trocaire on Flickr.)

The Guardian reports that the Tegucigalpa high court found Castillo—formerly head of the dam company Desarrollos Energéticos, or DESA—guilty of collaborating in Cáceres’ murder. The court ruled that Cáceres was killed for leading the campaign to stop construction of the $50 million Agua Zarca dam, a local grassroots effort which caused delays and monetary losses for DESA.

The environmentally destructive hydroelectric project is located on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Indigenous Lenca people, and was approved despite its failure to comply with Honduran and international environmental requirements.

Cáceres, who was 44 years old when she was murdered, was co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), a group dedicated to the defense of the environment in Intibucá and the protection of the Lenca. In 2015 she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for leading “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam” project at Río Gualcarque. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/

COPINH hailed Monday’s verdict as “a popular victory for the Honduran people” that “means the criminal power structures failed to corrupt the justice system.”

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement that “the long-awaited prosecution of David Castillo, convicted as co-author of the murder of Berta Cáceres, is an important step towards justice and the result of her family and COPINH’s tireless efforts to secure truth, justice, and reparation. However, justice for Berta will never be truly complete until everyone who took part in the crime, including those who planned it, is brought to justice.

We urge the prosecutors to keep uncovering the truth,” Guevara-Rosas continued. “Until all those responsible are held accountable, other human rights defenders in Honduras will continue to lose their lives, for raising their voices and defending the most vulnerable. The Honduran authorities must put an end to impunity.”

Noting that Honduras is “the most dangerous country for defenders of land, territory, and the environment,” Guevara-Rosas admonished the Honduran government, which she said “seems to look the other way when human rights defenders are attacked instead of fulfilling its obligation to protect them.”

“Authorities must take this seriously and do whatever is necessary to keep human rights defenders safe from harm, so that a crime like the murder of Berta Cáceres is never repeated,” she added.

A 2017 report (pdf) by international legal experts concluded Cáceres’ murder was not an “isolated incident” and alleged “willful negligence by financial institutions.” The report found that the targeting of Cáceres was part of a “strategy” by DESA employees, private security firms, and public officials “to violate the right to prior, free, and informed consultations of the Lenca.”

“The strategy was to control, neutralize, and eliminate any opposition,” the report said.

Berta received several awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5


http://redgreenandblue.org/2021/07/06/environmental-activist-berta-caceras-murdered-killer-just-brought-just

Journalists and HRDs pay the price of authoritarian impunity

May 6, 2021

Regan Ralph on 2 May 2021, in Open Democracy, writes: “When authoritarians get a free pass, activists pay the price”. It is a rich piece.

Much ink has been spilled about US president Joe Biden’s non-response to the confirmation by US intelligence services that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. Most of it, like Joseph S. Nye, Jr.’s recent article ‘Biden and Human Rights’, focuses on the political consequences.

The real price of authoritarian impunity, however, is paid by the victims. Pulled punches – like refusing to sanction the crown prince – endanger the lives of brave individuals standing up for democratic values. If the Biden administration is to deliver on its promise to “stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, [and] the rule of law”, it must make protecting the lives of activists a priority.

In 2020, 50 journalists were killed worldwide. For activists and advocates, the numbers are even grimmer – at least 331 human rights defenders in 25 countries were murdered. Countless others were detained, beaten, and threatened with worse. Women, especially, are singled out for sexualized violence and harassment. And the number of human rights activists killed, harassed, or thrown in jail is steadily rising. According to UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, 1,300 peaceful activists were murdered between 2015 and 2019.

Like journalists, frontline activists are targeted by the powerful institutions they publicly criticize. Last month marked five years since the murder of Honduran environmental justice advocate Berta Caceres. She was gunned down in her home on the night of 2 March 2016, after a years-long campaign of harassment and intimidation. Caceres was killed because of her peaceful struggle against the Agua Zarca dam project, which threatens the land and livelihoods of indigenous Lenca communities in western Honduras. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/]

Investigations into Caceres’s murder indicated an elaborate web of co-conspirators, including high-level government officials, former military personnel, and top executives at Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA)—the company building the dam. Seven men, hired by DESA executives, were convicted in 2018 for Caceres’s murder. DESA’s president, a former military intelligence officer, will stand trial next month. He is indicted as the “intellectual author” of the assassination.

These brutal murders are tragedies. They also reveal the costs incurred when we indulge authoritarians as they crack down on voices of dissent.

Not long ago, it seemed that the price of oppression was on the rise. There was a growing consensus that brutal, autocratic actions would isolate a country from the international community. Powerful actors on the world stage, including the US State Department, could and did support the right of independent voices to criticize abuses of power and call for accountability.

Then the new authoritarians came to power. In countries across the world, illiberal and autocratic strongmen granted each other the gift of impunity and permission to silence critics without consequence. Human rights advocates watched with grim resignation as former president Donald Trump’s administration excused gross rights violations and embraced abusive regimes.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day

The now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), for example, was established in 2006 with political and financial support from the United States and the United Nations. It scored groundbreaking victories against corrupt and abusive political and military figures. In 2015, Joe Biden, then US vice-president, helped keep the CICIG alive while the then Guatemalan president Perez Molina – later imprisoned on corruption charges – tried to shut it down. But in 2019, when the Guatemalan government dismantled the CICIG, there was nary a peep from Washington.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day. As the Trump administration turned a blind eye, the Egyptian government cracked down on critics, harassing or jailing thousands of activists and journalists. Local advocates say President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been emboldened by the lack of consequences over his government’s flagrant disregard for human rights.

Civil society activists are vulnerable wherever they live and travel. Khashoggi’s murder shows the lengths to which an unchecked authoritarian will go to silence critics. This is what happens when heavyweight governments like the United States abdicate their moral leadership—frontline advocates everywhere in the world pay the price. It is unfathomably cruel to valorize the bravery of human rights advocates on the one hand and refuse to hold their murderers accountable on the other.

US leadership should offer the kind of moral suasion that will effectively counter and curtail attacks on human rights defenders. Others, including Khashoggi’s own colleagues at The Washington Post, have outlined the immediate actions Biden can take to hold Saudi Arabia’s crown prince accountable. But beyond sanctions for egregious violations, the Biden administration must do more to proactively support the thousands of courageous individuals who risk their lives to promote democracy and justice.

First, the administration should consistently apply the human rights norms it espouses—at home and abroad. Second, it must lend political and, where appropriate, financial support to those building democratic movements and institutions, especially when their efforts are attacked. Last, it should explore the creation of a novel global security compact, following the collective protection model pioneered by local activists. The safety of human rights defenders anywhere is the concern of governments everywhere, and policymakers must take measures to ensure that all civil society actors can carry out their vital work in safety.

The schoolyard teaches us that bullies don’t back down when they get what they want; instead, they demand more. It’s time to stand up to autocratic bullies and hold them accountable for their actions. The lives of countless brave activists may depend on it.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/when-authoritarians-get-free-pass-activists-pay-price/

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Nina Lakhani’s “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” reviewed

June 10, 2020
COHA

COHA of 9 June 2020 published a Book Review by John Perry of “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?: Dams, Death Squads, and an Indigenous Defender’s Battle for the Planet,” by Nina Lakhani.

They build dams and kill people.” These words, spoken by a witness when the murderers of environmental defender Berta Cáceres were brought to trial in Honduras, describe Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA), the company whose dam project Berta opposed. DESA was created in May 2009 solely to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric scheme, using the waters of the Gualcarque River, regarded as sacred by the Lenca communities who live on its banks. As Nina Lakhani makes clear in her book Who Killed Berta Cáceres?, DESA was one of many companies to benefit from the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, when the left-leaning President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and replaced by a sequence of corrupt administrations. The president of DESA and its head of security were both US-trained former Honduran military officers, schooled in counterinsurgency. By 2010, despite having no track record of building dams, DESA had already obtained the permits it needed to produce and sell electricity, and by 2011, with no local consultation, it had received its environmental licence.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/03/anniversary-sparks-arrest-in-investigation-of-berta-caceres-murder/].

..Lakhani quotes a high-ranking judge she spoke to, sacked for denouncing the 2009 coup, as saying that Zelaya was deposed precisely because he stood in the way of this economic model and the roll-out of extractive industries that it required. The coup “unleashed a tsunami of environmentally destructive ‘development’ projects as the new regime set about seizing resource-rich territories.” After the post-coup elections, the then president Porfirio Lobo declared Honduras open for business, …….

Lakhani’s book gives us an insight into the personal history that brought Berta Cáceres to this point. She came from a family of political activists. As a teenager she read books on Marxism and the Cuban revolution. But Honduras is unlike its three neighbouring countries where there were strong revolutionary movements in the 1970s and 1980s. The US had already been granted free rein in Honduras in exchange for “dollars, training in torture-based interrogation methods, and silence.” At the age of only 18, looking for political inspiration and action, Berta left Honduras and went with her future husband Salvador Zúñiga to neighbouring El Salvador. She joined the FMLN guerrilla movement and spent months fighting against the US-supported right-wing government. Zúñiga describes her as having been “strong and fearless” even when the unit they were in came under attack. But in an important sense, her strong political convictions were tempered by the fighting: she resolved that “whatever we did in Honduras, it would be without guns.”

Inspired also by the Zapatista struggle in Mexico and by Guatemala’s feminist leader Rigoberta Menchú, Berta and Salvador created COPINH in 1993 to demand indigenous rights for the Lenca people, organising their first march on the capital Tegucigalpa in 1994. From this point Berta began to learn of the experiences of Honduras’s other indigenous groups, especially the Garífuna on its northern coast, and saw how they fitted within a pattern repeated across Latin America….

In Río Blanco, where the Lenca community voted 401 to 7 against the dam, COPINH’s struggle continued. By 2013, the community seemed close to winning, at the cost of activists being killed or injured by soldiers guarding the construction. They had blocked the access road to the site for a whole year and the Chinese engineering firm had given up its contract. The World Bank allegedly pulled its funding, although Lakhani shows that its money later went back into the project via a bank owned by the Atala Faraj family. In April 2015 Berta was awarded the Goldman Prize for her “grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam.”

…….

The horrific events on the night of Wednesday March 2 are retold by Nina Lakhani. Armed men burst through the back door of Berta’s house and shot her. They also injured Gustavo Castro, who was visiting Berta; he waited until the men had left, found her, and she died in his arms. ,,,By the first anniversary of Berta’s death the stuttering investigation had led to eight arrests, but the people who ordered the murder were still enjoying impunity. Some of the accused were connected to the military, which was not surprising since Lakhani later revealed in a report for The Guardian that she had uncovered a military hit list with Berta’s name on it. In the book she reports that the ex-soldier who told her about it is still in hiding: he had seen not only the list but also one of the secret torture centers maintained by the military.

Nina Lakhani is a brave reporter. She had to be. Since the coup in Honduras, 83 journalists have been killed; 21 were thrown in prison during the period when Lakhani was writing her book. She poses the question “would we ever know who killed Berta Cáceres?” and sets out to answer it. Despite her diligent and often risky investigation, she can only give a partial answer. Those arrested and since convicted almost certainly include the hitmen who carried out the murder, but it is far from the clear that the intellectual authors of the crime have been caught. In 2017 Lakhani interviewed or attempted to interview all eight of those imprisoned and awaiting trial, casting a sometimes-sympathetic light on their likely involvement and why they took part.

….

In September 2018, the murder case finally went to trial, and Lakhani is at court to hear it, but the hearing is suspended. On the same day she starts to receive threats, reported in London’s Press Gazette and duly receiving international attention. Not surprisingly she sees this as an attempt to intimidate her into not covering the trial. Nevertheless, when it reopens on October 25, she is there. The trial reveals a weird mix of diligent police work and careful forensic evidence, together with the investigation’s obvious gaps. Not the least of these was the absence of Gustavo Castro, the only witness, whose return to Honduras was obstructed by the attorney general’s office. Castillo, though by then charged with masterminding the murder, was not part of the trial. Most of the evidence was not made public or even revealed to the accused. The Cáceres family’s lawyers were denied a part in the trial.

The who did what, why and how was missing,” says Lakhani, “until we got the phone evidence which was the game changer.” The phone evidence benefitted from an expert witness who explained in detail how it implicated the accused. She revealed that an earlier plan to carry out the murder in February was postponed. She showed the positions of the accused on the night in the following month when Berta was killed. She also made clear that members of the Atala family were involved.

When the verdict was delivered on November 29 2018, seven of the eight accused were found guilty, but it wasn’t until December 2019 that they were given long sentences. That’s where Nina Lakhani’s story ends. By then Honduras had endured a fraudulent election, its president’s brother had been found guilty of drug running in the US, and tens of thousands of Hondurans were heading north in migrant caravans. David Castillo hasn’t yet been brought to trial, and last year was accused by the School of Americas Watch of involvement in a wider range of crimes. … Daniel Atala Midence, accused by COPINH of being a key intellectual author of the crime as DESA’s chief financial officer, has never been indicted.

...And a full answer to the question “Who Killed Berta Cáceres?” is still awaited.

http://www.coha.org/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-on-the-life-death-and-legacy-of-a-courageous-honduran-indigenous-and-environmental-leader/

Mural of human rights defenders Vitaly Safarov, Greta Thunberg and Berta Cáceres unveiled at Hague university

May 19, 2020
A portrait of late human rights defender and multiculturalism activist Vitali Safarov was created as part of the mural by artists Karski & Beyond. Photo via Hague University of Applied Sciences.
On 15 May 2020 Agenda.ge reported that a mural portrait of Vitali Safarov, the Jewish-Georgian human rights defender and activist killed in Tbilisi in 2018, now adorns a facade of the Hague University of Applied Sciences alongside faces of student climate movement figure Greta Thunberg and assassinated Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. Re Safarov see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/22/vitos-trial-in-georgia-opens-crucial-to-challenge-raising-hate-crimes/. The 25-year-old can be seen on the large work by artist duo Karski & Beyond, painted on an outside wall of the university after the project originated at one of their sessions involving students. Thunberg, a teenage climate activist who has become widely acknowledged for inspiring school student strikes on climate change [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/09/17/greta-thunberg-receives-amnestys-ambassador-of-conscience-award/], and Cáceres, an indigenous leader on environmental concerns who was killed in 2016 [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/], are the other two personalities seen in the artwork.

Started in an initiative by Justice & Peace Netherlands to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the declaration of universal human rights, the creative project pays tribute to the activists for their commitment to “climate, freedom and equality”, the university said.

The mural] is a tribute to three people who show that it is really possible to make a difference”Hague University of Applied Sciences

https://agenda.ge/en/news/2020/1530

World Environment Day: seven stories of human rights defenders

June 9, 2019

Amnesty International marked 5 June – World Environment Day – by focusing on environmental human rights defenders, who often face the gravest risks to protect their homes and communities. Being an environmental human rights defender has deadly consequences, making it among the deadliest types of activism. According to the NGO Global Witness, in 2017 almost four environmental defenders were killed each week for protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. In 2017, 207 environmental activists were killed. The vast majority of them hailed from South America, making it the most dangerous region in the world. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

Amnesty highlights the stories of seven environmental activists from the Americas who remind us of why we need to stand up for Earth’s defenders.

BERTA CÁCERES, COPINH (HONDURAS)

Berta Cáceres cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH) in 1993 to address the growing threats posed to the territorial rights of the Lenca communities and improve their livelihoods. For more on her case see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/

JULIÁN CARRILLO AND THE COLORADAS DE LA VIRGEN COMMUNITY (MÉXICO)

Julián Carrillo was a leader of the Coloradas de la Virgen community. His job was to take care of the territory, the water, the forest and the wildlife. He had publicly denounced logging and mining by landlords in their ancestral land, as well as violence by criminal armed groups against his community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/07/reprehensible-says-un-about-mexican-killing-of-human-rights-defender/%5D

PARAGUAY: AMADA MARTÍNEZ, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

Amada is an Avá Guaraní Indigenous environment defender from the Tekoha Sauce community.

In the 1970s, the construction of the Itaipú Binational hydroelectric plant, in the border between Paraguay and Brazil, forcibly displaced her community from its ancestral territory, putting their survival at risk. Since then, she has defended the right of her community to have a territory in which they can thrive in harmony with nature and has denounced the serious impacts of hydroelectric projects on nature and Indigenous Peoples’ lives. On 8 August 2018, a group of armed men threatened to kill her. Amada was leaving the community in a taxi along with his seven-year-old son, his sister and two young nephews, when the vehicle in which they were traveling was intercepted by a pickup truck with the logo of the hydroelectric plant. Amada Martínez believes that the threat against her was due to her work defending Indigenous Peoples rights and the environment.

PATRICIA GUALINGA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

“We are united and we will continue our struggle to defend Mother Earth.”

Patricia is an Indigenous leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku community. She defends her people’s rights to their territory and to live in a healthy environment in the face of damaging oil activities there. Patricia is also protecting the Amazonian environment and promoting sustainable development. In 2012, the Indigenous Sarayaku community achieved a historic victory for Indigenous Peoples against the Ecuador government after reporting an oil concession that had installed explosives on their territory without consulting them. In the early hours of 5 January 2018, an unknown man made death threats to Patricia and attacked her at her home in Puyo, in the east of Ecuador., The man shouted, “Next time we’ll kill you, bitch!” before fleeing. Patricia and her family had to leave their home after the attack because the property owner “was terrified that something would happen to her.”

NEMA GREFA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

 

Nema is defending the Amazon environment and her people’s right to protect their territory from the possible negative effects of oil activity. After being legally recognized as President of the Sápara nationality of Ecuador in January 2018, her appointment was challenged by a group of people who Nema says are supportive of oil activities on the Sápara territory. Nema’s appointment was revoked in April 2018 as a result. Later that month a video was shared on social media featuring a man armed with a spear, identified by Nema as belonging to the group who had challenged her appointment, issuing her with a death threat: “Those present here are united in rejecting her and are thus going to kill Nema Grefa; she has no territory.” One year on, the Attorney’s Office has yet to open in investigation into the death threat. On 19 October 2018 Nema was finally recognized as president but still faces serious threats to her life. In April this year, despite the Ecuadorian authorities’ promises to protect her and her family, unknown individuals forcibly broke into her home to steal two computers containing sensitive information on her human rights work.

SALOMÉ ARANDA, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS DEFENDER

Salomé is an Indigenous leader from the Kichwa people who is defending the Amazonian environment and the right of women in her community to live in a healthy environment, free from sexual violence. Salomé is the Women and Family Leader in Moretecocha commune, Pastaza province. Salomé has publicly denounced the possible environmental impacts of oil operations in the Villano River basin, Pastaza province, and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women that have occurred in this context. In the early hours of 13 May 2018, a number of unidentified individuals attacked and threatened her and her family at home. Despite making a formal complaint, the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office has yet to make any significant progress in this investigation. The authorities have not even offered her protection measures to address the risk facing her and her family.

MARGOTH ESCOBAR, ENVIRONMENTAL AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ RIGHTS DEFENDER

Margoth has devoted her life to defending the environment and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In August 2015, Margoth was physically attacked by police officers at a protest and national strike called by the social and Indigenous movements in Puyo, Pastaza province. She was held on pre-trial detention for more than a week despite poor health caused by her injuries. She was charged with “attack and resistance”, which she was eventually acquitted of. In September last year Margoth’s house was set on fire, destroying all her belongings. On 1 October 2018, the Puyo Fire Brigade Commander stated that the fire at Margoth’s house had been intentional. Margoth lodged a criminal complaint with the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office to investigate the attack, yet no progress has been made in her case. Margoth refused to join the country’s witness protection program because of her previous experience at the hands of the police: “I didn’t want to join the victim and witness protection system because I have no faith in the current government, I have no faith in the independence of the legal system in Ecuador, nor in the military or police forces.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/06/why-we-need-to-stand-up-for-earth-defenders-this-world-environment-day/

 

 

Anniversary sparks high-level arrest in investigation of Berta Caceres murder

March 3, 2018

[On 2 March 2016, Berta Cáceres, a courageous defender of the environment and Indigenous rights, was shot dead by gunmen in her home in Intibucá, Honduras.  She campaigned against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project and the impact it would have on the territory of the Indigenous Lenca People. see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]

A recent report from an independent team of international lawyers hired by the family of Berta Cáceres had exposed serious flaws in the official investigation. The report includes evidence that would implicate high-level business executives and state agents in the crime.  The Honduran Attorney General’s office has arrested eight people in connection to Berta’s murder, including some individuals linked to Desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA), the company building the Agua Zarca dam, and others with ties to the military, but COPINH (the NGO Berta worked for) is concerned that no high-ranking officials in the government or the company have been investigated for having allegedly ordered her murder. Ahead of the trial which is scheduled to begin in June, the lawyers of Berta’s family and COPINH have called on the prosecutor office and the judicial authorities to ensure that those responsible for ordering the killing of Berta are also investigated and brought to justice.

Then on the same day as the anniversary of her killing the Honduran authorities (AP reports) arrested Roberto David Castillo Mejia, who at the time of the slaying was executive president of DESA, calling him an intellectual author of the crime. It became the ninth arrest in the killing of Caceres. Two others have been arrested for allegedly impeding the investigation.

The Public Ministry alleges Castillo was “the person in charge of providing logistics and other resources to one of the material authors already being prosecuted for the crime.” In a statement, DESA defended Castillo and its employees as innocent, saying they were “totally unconnected” to the crime and calling the “unjust detention” the result of “international pressure and campaigns by diverse NGOs to discredit the company.”

DESA questioned the coincidence that the arrest came on the second anniversary of Caceres’ killing as her supporters held a protest in Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa. Caceres’ relatives said they were certain of Castillo’s guilt.

https://www.amnestyusa.org/press-releases/honduras-failure-to-identify-those-behind-berta-caceres-murder-puts-other-activists-at-risk/

https://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/crime/article/Honduras-New-arrest-in-2015-killing-of-activist-12724134.php

http://www.peoplesworld.org/article/continuing-the-battle-berta-caceres-daughter-to-return-to-honduras/

Amnesty just published major report on human rights defenders

December 6, 2017

This report – published on 5 December – is part of Brave, Amnesty International’s campaign launched in May 2017 calling on states to recognize the work of human rights defenders, and to ensure they are able to carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment. States around the world are failing in their duty to effectively protect people who defend human rights, leading to an escalation in preventable killings and enforced disappearances, Amnesty International said.

The organization’s new report, Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights, highlights the growing risks faced by human rights defenders.
The report includes testimonies from friends, relatives and colleagues of human rights defenders, including environmentalists, LGBTIQ and women’s rights activists, journalists and lawyers, who have been killed or disappeared. Many described how victims’ pleas for protection had been repeatedly ignored by the authorities and how the attackers had evaded justice, fuelling a deadly cycle of impunity. “We spoke to families of killed and forcibly disappeared human rights defenders all over the world, and kept hearing the same thing: these people knew their lives were at risk,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Head of Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Defenders Programme. “Their deaths or disappearances had been preceded by a string of previous attacks, which authorities turned a blind eye to or even encouraged. If states had taken their human rights obligations seriously and acted diligently on reports of threats and other abuses, lives could have been saved.”

Cases include:
Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental and Indigenous activist who was shot dead in 2016 after years of threats and attacks. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]
Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBTIQ activist who was hacked to death in Bangladesh, along with his colleague, in 2016. Over 18 months later, justice is yet to take place.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, founder of a human rights organization in Burundi, who was shot in the face and neck in 2015. Months later, while he was recovering abroad, his son and son-in-law were killed. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/10/17/mbonimpa-wins-also-the-2017-civil-courage-prize/]
The “Douma 4”, four Syrian activists who were abducted from their office by armed men in December 2013 and have not been seen since.

When the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, the international community committed to protecting them and recognizing their crucial work. But Amnesty International’s report shows that championing human rights continues to be highly dangerous work, with thousands of human rights defenders killed or forcibly disappeared by state and non-state actors in the two decades since. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/11/21/breaking-news-un-adopts-key-resolution-on-human-rights-defenders/]
Amnesty International’s report reveals the motives behind these attacks are multiple and layered. Some people are attacked because of their occupations (for example, journalists, law professionals, trade unionists), for standing up to powerful actors violating human rights, for sharing information or raising awareness. Others are at heightened risk of attack both for what they do and who they are, facing discrimination and violence. These people include those defending the rights of women; sex workers; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people; Indigenous peoples and other minority groups. Others are attacked in context-specific situations, for example during conflict or where communities are in the grip of organized crime and violent crackdown.

  • Amnesty International is urging all states to prioritize the recognition and protection of human rights defenders.
  • Authorities must publicly support their work, and acknowledge their contribution to the advancement of human rights.
  • They must take all necessary measures to prevent further attacks on them, and bring to justice those responsible for attacks by effectively investigating and prosecuting killings and enforced disappearances.

 

View Original

Honduras, already the deadliest country in the world for environmental defenders, to get deadlier

October 2, 2017
 
Demonstrators protest in the wake of the 2009 coup in Honduras that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. Source: Creative Commons / Flickr–PBS NewsHour 

The article describes how activists in Honduras could soon face up to 20 years in prison for simply marching in the streets after Congress passed an article of the new Criminal Code last week that opposition lawmakers claim criminalizes social protest as a form of “terrorism.”…..Human rights defenders have raised alarm over the proposed reform, arguing that the sweeping definition of “terrorism” in the bill leaves activists and social leaders vulnerable to harsh criminalization and violence at the hands of military and police forces. As the piece is long and copyrighted, here just the link.

Earlier posts on Honduras, which is one of the most dangerous in the world for human rights defenders, include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/ .

Source: Honduras, the Deadliest Country in the World for Environmental Defenders, Is About to Get Deadlier – Upside Down World

Lifetime Achievements in Human Rights: 4 Human Rights Defenders

February 24, 2017

Anna Neistat, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, writes in the Huffington Post of 23 February 2017 about 4 Human Rights Defenders who deserve a “Lifetime Achievements” Oscar. Since it’s awards season, Amnesty International is paying tribute to four human rights heroes whose dramatic stories could – and should – be made into movies:

Itai Peace Dzamara

It’s been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamarawas dragged from a barbers’ chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut.  Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable. But this isn’t Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabe’s reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and there’s no happy ending in sight. Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/05/itai-dzamaras-disappearance-worrying-for-all-human-rights-defenders-in-zimbabwe/]

Berta Cáceres 

GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL FOUNDATION
 

Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished. One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cáceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras.  In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities.  Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Berta’s work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted. It is essential that Berta’s assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Berta’s story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]

Sirikan Charoensiri

Sirikan Charoensiri, also known as “June”, is a young lawyer who has bravely stood up for human rights during a dark period of military rule in Thailand. In June 2015, she was on hand at a peaceful protest by pro-democracy student activists in Bangkok to monitor the situation and provide legal representation, if necessary.  She now finds herself facing sedition charges and a potential trial in a military court alongside her clients. She also faces charges in two additional cases relating to her defence of the student activists and could be imprisoned for up to 15 years. As the Thai authorities have escalated their crackdown in the name of security, people who stand up for human rights in the country are increasingly falling foul of a government intent on silencing dissent. As June herself put it: “There is now an environment where risk is visible and imminent.” [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/12/01/international-day-of-women-human-rights-defenders-agents-of-change-under-pressure/]

Narges Mohammadi

Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians.  Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Iran’s prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women. What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed. Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/12/retaliation-against-iranian-human-rights-defender-for-meeting-with-ashton/]

Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights defenders around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression.

Source: Lifetime Achievements: Paying Tribute to 4 Human Rights Heroes | The Huffington Post