Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

Global Witness report 2021: continued disaster

October 5, 2022

Stuti Mishra in the Independent of 29 September 2022 summarises and analyses the report “A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide” by Global Witness

<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2022/09/27/13/10185902.jpg?quality=75&width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quot; alt="<p>A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru

A mural of environmental defender Roberto Pacheco assassinated in 2020 while guarding his land, in Puerto Maldonado, Peru (EPA)

More than 1,700 environmental defenders have been killed around the world in the last decade with one death reported every other day on average…The report titled A Decade of Defiance: Ten years of reporting land and environmental activism worldwide, released by Global Witness, reveals the increasing threats environmental activists are facing as the climate and biodiversity crisis worsens.

The research states that a total of 1,733 people have been killed over the past 10 years trying to protect their land and resources. That is an average of one defender killed approximately every two days over 10 years.

The report shows Brazil has been the deadliest country for environmental defenders with 342 lethal attacks reported since 2012 with over 85 per cent of killings within the Brazilian Amazon.

The data found within the report also shows that over half of the attacks over the 10-year period have taken place in three countries — Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines — with around 300 killings reported in these countries.

Mexico and Honduras witnessed over 100 killings while Guatemala and India saw 80 and 79 respectively, remaining one of the most dangerous countries. The report also reports 12 mass killings, including three in India and four in Mexico.

Mexico was the country with the highest recorded number of killings in 2021, totalling 54 killings, up from 30 the previous year. Almost half of those killed were again Indigenous people while over a third were forced disappearances, including at least eight members of the Yaqui community.

The report also reveals that over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America. In Brazil, Peru and Venezuela, a big majority of 78 per cent of these attacks occurred in the Amazon.

Meanwhile, the biggest increase in lethal attacks was witnessed in Brazil and India in 2021 with 26 deaths reported in Mexico, up from 20 and 14 in India, up from four.

Both Colombia and the Philippines saw a drop in killings to 33 in 2021 from 65, and 19 from 30 in 2021 respectively. Yet overall they remain two of the countries with the highest numbers of killings in the world since 2012.

2021 Highlights from Global Witness report

  • Around 200 Land and Environmental Defenders were killed in 2021 – nearly four people a week
  • Over three-quarters of the attacks recorded in 2021 took place in Latin America
  • Nearly 40 per cent of all attacks reported were against Indigenous people
  • Mexico recorded the highest number of killings in 2021
  • Brazil and India both saw a rise in lethal attacks in 2021
  • 50 of the victims killed in 2021 were small-scale farmers
  • Around 1 in 10 of the defenders recorded killed in 2021 were women, nearly two-thirds of whom were Indigenous [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

In Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo remained the country with the highest number of attacks — eight defenders were killed there in 2021. All eight of these killings were in Virunga National Park, which remains extremely dangerous for the park rangers protecting it.

The organisation began collecting data on attacks against those defending land and the environment in 2012 and found that the control and use of land and territory is a central issue in countries where defenders are threatened. Much of the increasing killing, violence and repression is linked to territorial conflicts and the pursuit of economic growth based on the extraction of natural resources from the land, it states. The research has also highlighted that Indigenous communities in particular face a disproportionate level of attacks — nearly 40 per cent — even though they make up only 5 per cent of the world’s population.

However, the research found that the figures also do not capture the true scale of the problem, as tightened control on media has led to severe underreporting in some countries where environmental defenders are most vulnerable. Research has also found that few perpetrators of killings are rarely ever brought to justice due to the failures of governments to properly investigate these crimes.

While a majority of these attacks are not properly investigated or reported on, a big proportion of these attacks were linked to sectors like mining and infrastructure, including large-scale agribusiness and hydroelectric dams.

Many authorities ignore or actively impede investigations into these killings often due to alleged collusion between corporate and state interests, the report says.

All over the world, Indigenous peoples, environmental activists and other land and environmental defenders risk their lives for the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss.

They play a crucial role as a first line of defence against ecological collapse, yet are under attack themselves facing violence, criminalisation and harassment perpetuated by repressive governments and companies prioritising profit over human and environmental harm.

a spokesperson for Global Witness said

With democracies increasingly under attack globally and worsening climate and biodiversity crises, this report highlights the critical role of defenders in solving these problems,” a spokesperson for Global Witness said, adding that the organisation makes an “urgent appeal for global efforts to protect and reduce attacks against them.”

Apart from killings, the report also reveals a number of tactics being used to silence them, like death threats, surveillance, sexual violence, or criminalisation – and that these kinds of attacks are even less well reported.

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/decade-defiance/

https://www.independent.co.uk/climate-change/news/global-witness-report-environment-defenders-threat-b2176247.html

Colombia: 52 activists killed in 3 months

April 29, 2022

In Summary:

• Most of the victims are targeted because they clash with the interests of illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking gangs, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.

• The victims include 28 land rights and community rights activists, nine indigenous activists and four farming activists, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports. 

A total of 52 Colombian human rights activists and community leaders have been killed in the first three months of this year, authorities say.

It is a significant increase from 2021, which saw 145 murders all year.

Most of the victims are targeted because they clash with the interests of illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking gangs, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.

The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for activists, monitors say.

The victims include 28 land rights and community rights activists, nine indigenous activists and four farming activists, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports. Of the victims, 48 ​​were men and four were women.

One of the most shocking cases was that of Breiner David Cucuñame, a 14-year-old indigenous activist who was shot dead in January while on patrol with an unarmed group that seeks to protect indigenous lands.

Colombia is officially at peace after signing a deal with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), in 2016. But other armed gangs continue to operate in the country, the world’s largest cocaine producer.

Violence started increasing towards the end of last year due to disputes over territory and resources involving dissident Farc rebels and members of another Marxist guerrilla group – the National Liberation Army (ELN) – as well as right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs such as the Gulf Clan.

“The homicides against social leaders and human rights defenders seriously affect the foundations of democracy,” said Carlos Camargo, the human rights ombudsman.

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/world/2022-04-27-colombia-reports-52-activists-killed-in-three-months/

Pramila Patten on Enhancing the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders and honoring Jineth Bedoya

April 14, 2022

On 12 April 2022 SRSG-SVC Pramila Patten made a statement at a side event in New York on the Protection of Women Human Rights Defenders and Journalists:

…..Today’s meeting is a critical opportunity to take stock of both the persistent and entrenched, as well as new and emerging, challenges that women activists, women human rights defenders, and women journalists face in their daily lives. The annual Report of the Secretary-General on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence, which is due to be debated tomorrow by the Security Council, notes that in 2021, women peace builders and human rights defenders were specifically targeted, including through sexual violence and harassment as a form of reprisal, in order to exclude them from public life in a number of country settings, such as Afghanistan, Libya, Myanmar, Yemen and elsewhere. Moreover, activists working to highlight the plight and rights of survivors of conflict-related sexual violence, and to support their access to justice and services, were also subjected to reprisals and intimidation, which has a chilling effect on their critical work.

The high-risk environment in which women leaders and activists are compelled to operate is directly correlated with the trend of intersecting humanitarian, security and political crises, including coups, military takeovers, and unconstitutional shifts of power seen in recent months. This has exacerbated the root causes and drivers of conflict-related sexual violence, including militarization, the proliferation of arms, impunity, the collapse of rule of law institutions, structural gender-based inequality, and harmful social norms.

Today, we will hear directly from powerful women activists who have raised their voices against injustice, at great personal risk, and continue to advocate for the eradication of conflict-related sexual violence, and the closure of accountability and protection gaps. Today’s panel of speakers will highlight the tireless efforts of women human rights defenders and journalists, as well as the risks they endure working on the frontlines of armed conflict and civic strife. In the work of my mandate, I am continually reminded that we are only as strong as our partnerships. Since I took up this mandate in 2017, I have consistently emphasized the importance of working directly with survivors as the co-creators of solutions. It is in this spirit that today, I recognize Ms. Jineth Bedoya Lima, a trailblazing survivor, activist, and agent of change, with the demonstrated ability to lead and influence others to take action to end the scourge of conflict-related sexual violence. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6f49a0f6-7dd6-4f95-902c-9d9f126e0bcc] I commend her courage and commitment in elevating the issue of conflict-related sexual violence onto the public agenda and historical record in Colombia and globally, and her two-decade quest for justice, truth and reparations for these heinous crimes. Her vision and determination contributed to the establishment of the National Day for the Dignity of Women Victims of Sexual Violence in the context of the internal armed conflict in Colombia, which is commemorated every year on the 25th of May. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/19/inter-american-court-holds-colombia-responsible-in-the-case-of-jineth-bedoya/]

I also congratulate Ms. Bedoya on the emblematic judgment delivered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on 18 October 2021, in connection with her case, which sets a powerful precedent for women activists, journalists, human rights defenders, and peace builders the world-over, who are subjected to, or at risk of, sexual violence. This ruling marks the first time that a court has specifically considered the use of sexual violence as a tool to silence a female journalist in the context of the Colombian armed conflict. Significantly, the judgment also entailed important reparative measures, such as the creation of a fund for the prevention, protection, and assistance of women journalists who are victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

I am pleased to announce that today I am naming Ms. Jineth Bedoya Lima a Global Champion for the Fight Against Sexual Violence in Conflict. In this capacity, she will contribute to the efforts of my mandate to enhance advocacy and awareness-raising, and to amplify the voices of survivors.

Please join me in showing our appreciation for Jineth’s remarkable journey and infinite courage. Jineth, I look forward to working with you in common cause to break not only the silence of history, which has hidden these crimes, but also the vicious cycle of violence and impunity, which must be replaced with a virtuous cycle of recognition and redress for all survivors. It is only by facing difficult truths that we can transcend them and end the seemingly endless cycle of violence.

OSRSG Sexual Violence in Conflict

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/statement-srsg-svc-pramila-patten-side-event-enhancing-protection-women-human-rights

Conservation deaths in 2021 – you can help

January 19, 2022

Mongabay.com on 30 December 2021 made a tentative list of deaths of environmental human rights defenders

  • Between the pandemic, natural disasters worsened by human activities, and violence against environmental defenders, 2021 was another year of significant losses in conservation.
  • The following is a list of some of the deaths that occurred in 2021 that were notable to the conservation sector.

On 10 January 2022, the following shocking addition can already be made: 14-year old Breiner David Cucuame – who was part of Cauca Self-Defense Groups, a territory contested by drug traffickers and other illegal groups – was murdered on Friday 14 January. The killer El Indio is a defector from the former guerrilla FARC [https://hardwoodparoxysm.com/brenner-david-kokonami-indigenous-activist-murdered-at-age-14-in-colombia-corriere-it/]

This list acknowledges some of the deaths in 2021 that are significant to the broader conservation community. In case Mongabay missed a death that occurred in 2021 that’s notable in conservation, it asks to reach out via this form.

  • 6 Congolese rangers: Six Congolese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICCN) rangers working at Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo were killed in an ambush by a local militia group in January. They were: SuruMwe Burhani Abdou, 30; Alexis Kamate Mundunaenda, 25; Reagan Maneno Kataghalirwa, 27; Eric Kibanja Bashekere, 28; Innocent Paluku Budoyi, 28; and Prince Nzabonimpa Ntamakiriro, 27. More.
  • Ann Croissant, 81 (United States): An environmental activist, educator, and botanist who worked to protect native plants like Brodiaea filifolia in California’s San Gabriel Mountains via the Glendora Community Conservancy, which she founded in 1991. More.
  • Aruká Juma, 88 (Brazil). Aruká Juma, the last of the Juma people in Brazil, died of Covid-19. More.
  • Bob Scholes, 63 (South Africa). A professor of systems ecology at Wits who served as the Director of the Global Change Institute (GCI) and was one of the world’s leading scientists on climate change. More
  • Cornelia Hahn Oberlander, 99 (Canada): The landscape architect sometimes known as the ‘Queen of Green’, Oberlander embraced sustainable design before it was fashionable and was an advocate for rewilding. More.
  • Dave Courchene Jr., 71 (Canada): A Manitoba elder also known by his spirit names Nitamabit and Nii Gaani Aki Inini, Courchene Jr. founded the Turtle Lodge Centre of Excellence in Indigenous Education and Wellness to “exchange intergenerational knowledge, revitalize language, train youth leaders and find environmental solutions to climate change.”. More.
  • David Wake, 84 (United States). An authority on salamanders who grew alarmed by the disappearance of many amphibians. Wake founded AmphibiaWeb. More.
  • Deb Abrahamson, 66 (United States): An Indigenous environmental activist who campaigned against mining pollution and uranium contamination on Indigenous lands. Abrahamson was active in the Standing Rock protests and the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women coalition.. More.
  • Debra Ann Jacobson, 69 (United States): A lawyer and environmentalist who helped cofound the Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment and served in leadership roles in the local and state Sierra Club groups. Jacobson spent nearly 20 years working on clean energy and other issues at the U.S. Department of Energy. More.
  • Dongria Kondh or Penny Eastwood, 65 (United Kingdom): A founding member of Treesponsibility and founder of The Source Partnership, Kondh spent 30 years working to slow climate change through tree planting and other initiatives. More.
  • Edward O. Wilson, 92 (United States). A prominent biologist and prolific author who help raise global awareness and understanding about biodiversity and conservation. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. While Wilson’s research on ants was highly influential in scientific circles and won numerous recognitions, he was mostly widely known for his accessible writing, including articles and best-selling books which introduced concepts like biodiversity to the masses. More.
  • Elsie Herring, 73 (United States): An environmental activist who sued a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods in 2014 for pollution from their industrial hog farms eventually winning a $550 million judgement in 2018 (which was later reduced to $98 million). More.
  • Estela Casanto Mauricio, 55 (Peru). A human rights defender who founded the Asháninka community of Shankivironi in the Perené valley of Junín in Peru. Mauricio was murdered in March 2021. More.
  • Francisco “Paco” Javier Valverde Esparza, 48 (Mexico). A conservationist who dedicated his life to protect the vaquita, the world’s smallest porpoise and most threatened marine mammal. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Gonzalo “Gonza” Cardona Molina, 55 (Colombia): A conservation biologist who worked to protect the yellow-eared parrot and other critically parrots in the Colombian Andes. Cardona was murdered in January while doing a bird count. More.
  • Greg Lasley, 71 (United States). Wildlife photographer and naturalist who served in leadership role in several ornithology organizations and published dozens of articles on birds. More.
  • Guillermo Guerra, 60 (Peru). A logistics specialist at Project Amazonas and Margarita Tours. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Ian Lemaiyan, 31 (Kenya). A rhino conservationist and anti-poaching patrol pilot who died in a plane crash in February 2021.More.
  • Javiera Rojas, 43 (Chile): A Chilean environmental activist who opposed dams was foundered murdered in Calama city. More.
  • Jene McCovey, 69 (United States): A Yurok elder who was a fierce advocate for Indigenous rights, environmental rights, and social justice. McCovey played an important role in taking down the Klamath Dams and protecting the Headwaters Forest from logging. More.
  • Jesús Choc Yat, 57 (Guatemala). A Mayan spiritual guide who was found dead with signs of torture. More.
  • Karapiru AWA, 70s (Brazil). After a violent ambush that killed most of his family in the Brazilian Amazon, Karapiru wandered the forests of eastern Brazil for a decade alone. Karapiru later became a holder of traditional knowledge and an activist for Indigenous rights in Brazil. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • LaFanette Soles-Woods, 63 (United States): An environmental justice activist who fought pollution from landfills near her community in Florida. More.
  • Paul J. Crutzen, 87 (Germany). A meteorologist and atmospheric chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1995 for his work the formation and decomposition of atmospheric ozone, including the effects of chlorofluorocarbon chemicals (CFCs). Crutzen popularized the term Anthropocene to describe the our current epoch where humanity has a substantial impact on the planet. More.
  • Pentti Linkola, 87 (Finland). Founder of the Finnish Nature Heritage Foundation which works to preserve the few ancient forests still left in southern Finland. More.
  • Peter Gorrie, 71 (Canada): An environmental journalist who reported on Canadian tar sands and other issues for multiple newspapers in Canada. More.
  • Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, 99 (United Kingdom). The husband of Queen Elizabeth II who was the royal consort from 1952 until his death in 2021. Philip was an avid conservationist, helping found the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1963 and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in 1961. He went on to serve as President of WWF-UK from 1961 to 1982 and President of WWF International from 1981 to 1996. More.
  • Rafael “Rafa” Gallo (Costa Rica). A prominent figure in the world’s river rafting community, Gallo founded Rios Tropicales in 1985 and became defender of the free-flowing Pacuare River against efforts to dam the popular whitewater river. Gallo also established the International Rafting Federation and was Board Chair at the International Whitewater Hall Of Fame. More.
  • Rizki Wahyudi, 25 (Indonesia). A forest ranger at Mount Palung National Park in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo, Wahyudi was killed in the Sriwijaya plane crash off Java in January 2021. More.
  • Rory Young (Zambia). The co-founder and CEO of Chengeta Wildlife was killed in an ambush on patrol in Burkina Faso in April 2021. More.
  • Sharon Begley, 64 (United States). Science journalist for the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, and Reuters. More.
  • Sharon Matola, 66 (Belize): The biologist, environmentalist, and zookeeper who founded the Belize Zoo and Tropical Education Center. Matola was sometimes known as the “Jane Goodall of jaguars” and the “Jane Goodall of Belize. More.
  • Shirley McGreal, 87 (United States): Founder of the International Primate Protection League who campaigned to prevent wildlife trafficking. More.
  • Solomon Chidunuka (Zambia). Senior Wildlife Warden who oversaw the North Luangwa Area Management Unit, Zambia’s only area protecting black rhino. Solomon was a Tusk Conservation Award winner. More.
  • Sunderlal Bahuguna, 94 (India). An environmentalist best known for leading Chipko movement in the 1970s and the anti-Tehri dam Movement in the 1990s. Bahuguna inspired a generation of environmentalists. He died of COVID-19. More.
  • Tom Lovejoy, 80 (United States). A prominent and influential conservation biologist who helped catalyze a global movement to save life on Earth as we know it. Lovejoy is credited with coining the term “biological diversity”, developing the concept of “debt-for-nature” swap programs, and being one of the earliest to sound the alarm about the global extinction crisis. More.

Groups like the The Thin Green Line Foundation, The International Ranger Federation and The Game Rangers’ Association of Africa keep tallies on conservation and wildlife rangers who have died, including the Ranger Roll of Honor.

At least 78 human rights defenders killed in Colombia in 2021

January 17, 2022

On 13 January 2022, Reuters and others reported that at least 78 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia in 2021 according to the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), adding that more cases were still being verified.

Violence against human rights defenders, environmentalists and community activists – known collectively in Colombia as social leaders – has become a big challenge for President Ivan Duque’s government amid international criticism and demands that it do more to stop the killings.

The government accuses left-wing guerrillas from the National Liberation Army, ex-members of the FARC rebels who reject a 2016 peace deal, and criminal groups, some comprised of former right-wing paramilitaries, of attacking activists as they seek control of drug trafficking networks and illegal mining areas.

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said it received 202 reports human rights leaders killed in Colombia last year. Of these 78 were confirmed as killed, 39 cases were still being verified, and 85 were inconclusive.

The Colombian Ombudsman documented 145 murders of social leaders and human rights defenders during 2021. See: https://www.parisbeacon.com/29669/.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/about-80-rights-defenders-killed-colombia-2021-un-2022-01-13/

https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/international/latin-america/1642096591-un-78-human-rights-activists-killed-in-colombia-during-2021

Gladys Acevedo, a Colombian mother who has lost her son, became a human rights defender

December 13, 2021

See what has motivated Gladys Acevedo, a Colombian mother who has lost her son in the war, to become a human rights activist and help other victims.

http://america.cgtn.com/livenews

Inter-American Court holds Colombia responsible in the case of Jineth Bedoya

October 19, 2021

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights on Monday 19 October 2021 ruled that the state of Colombia bears responsibility for the ordeal of a female journalist who was kidnapped, raped and then tortured in 2000 by paramilitaries. Jineth Bedoya was working for the El Espectador newspaper at the time, investigating a weapons smuggling ring, when she was abducted and assaulted by far-right militia members. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6f49a0f6-7dd6-4f95-902c-9d9f126e0bcc]

The paramilitaries, some of whom have since been convicted, were among the forces that fought left-wing guerrillas in Colombia until their official demobilization in 2006.

The acts against Bedoya “could not have been carried out without the consent and collaboration of the (Colombian) State, or at least with its tolerance,” the court, an autonomous part of the Organization of American States (OAS), ruled on Monday.

Bedoya, now 47, hailed the decision. “October 18, 2021 goes down in history as the day when a struggle that began with an individual crime has led to the vindication of the rights of thousands of women who have been victims of sexual violence and of women journalists who leave a part of their lives in their work,” tweeted Bedoya,

Colombia “fully accepts the decision,” President Ivan Duque tweeted.

Bedoya had implicated agents of the state, in particular an “influential” general of the police force, in the attack, which started when she was kidnapped in front of La Modelo prison in the capital Bogota. The paramilitaries tortured and raped her for 16 hours before leaving her lying naked by the side of a road. Bedoya has said she has suffered two decades of “persecution, intimidation and constant threats.”

The failure to investigate violated Bedoya’s “rights to judicial guarantees, judicial protection and equality before the law,” the court ruled. It also ordered Colombia to “punish those remaining responsible for the acts of violence,” and called for other measures including the creation of a training program for public officials and security forces focused on violence against women.

The Colombian state had apologized to the journalist before the same court in March, when it also ordered the government to immediately ensure the safety of Bedoya and her mother, who had both been victims of threats — including a 1999 attack on both that the state failed to investigate.

The Press Freedom Foundation (FLIP) welcomed Monday’s “dignified” decision for a woman who “has tirelessly sought justice for more than 20 years.” And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called it “a historic acknowledgment of the deadly dangers that Colombia’s female journalists face.”

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/jineth-bedoya-journalist-rape-torrture-colombia-responsible-court-ruling/

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

The risky lives of Human Rights Defenders during the pandemic

July 15, 2021

Meredith Veit in Open Global Rights of 14 July 2021 wrote how limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locking down.

Human rights defenders march in Thailand after a peaceful protester was threatened by gunshots from a mine security officer in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Meredith Veit


“Risking your life for human rights during a pandemic” is part I of a three-part series on COVID-19 and human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) across the world have been exposed to a wide range of dangers and threats—from smear campaigns and harassment to arbitrary detentions, abductions, and assassinations. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has worsened the conditions for a kind of work that is already extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally  arduous.

As outlined in Front Line Defenders’ most recent annual report, at least 331 human rights defenders were murdered in 2020 (an 8.8% increase compared to 2019). 

While certain restrictions have been necessary for containing the spread of a highly contagious virus, severe limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locked down.

At the onset of the pandemic, Protection International (PI) began conducting research via organisation-wide surveys to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights defenders (HRDs) that we work with. PI works principally in 11 countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand and Indonesia. Our findings validate what many human rights practitioners had feared would happen: public health measures are being weaponized against HRDs; there has been a rise in both physical and digital threats and attacks; business interests continue to prevail over human rights; political prisoners continue to be detained and neglected amidst the emergency; and the right to defend human rights is gravely at risk. 

Just one month after lockdowns began, our staff reported that the public health crisis had swiftly exacerbated existing challenges–including heightened physical and digital surveillance, increased criminalization, illegal detentions, and arbitrary arrests. Rates of gender-based violence, including against women HRDs, skyrocketed, and the disproportionate burden of familial care on women rose. The needle on the risk-ammeter didn’t rise gradually; HRDs felt the shock almost instantaneously. 

First, we’ll discuss the most prominently worrying and overarching trend: government’s weaponizing COVID-19 restrictions against their own citizens.

During times of crisis, states lean heavily on law enforcement for the implementation of emergency measures, and due to misinterpretation of government mandates, or sometimes purposefully harsh directives, HRDs and journalists often face the brunt of their brute force. Nearly all PI teams reported that confinement measures have allowed for greater surveillance of defenders.

In Guatemala, for example, a staff member described an unusually persistent police presence outside of their home. In Colombia, our team reports that threats against defenders and their activities have increased, as the government excuses authorities who are acting out under the guise of necessity to control the spread of the virus. 

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, many states did not clearly delineate that press should be excluded from confinement orders. A year later, journalists and dissidents continue to be targeted, discredited, and censored through the veneer of spreading mis- or dis-information about the virus or the effectiveness of the government’s response. In Tanzania, for example, the late President John Magufuli did not acknowledge that COVID-19 was an issue of concern until February 2021 and two editors of independent newspapers said that “officials had informally told them not to publish material that the government would not like.”

Brazil has suffered a similar fate. President Bolsonaro has denied the legitimacy of the pandemic, and he “accus[ed] the press for the chaos that the country is experiencing to divert attention from his disastrous management of the health crisis,” explains Reporters Without Borders. Administrations who baselessly and sweepingly blame journalists and human rights defenders for the impacts of the pandemic are undoubtedly contributing to the rise in violence against them.

Latin America has historically been the region most riddled with killings of HRDs, and this pandemic year has been no exception. The case of Colombia is particularly disheartening, considering that it not only continues to be the most dangerous country in the world for HRDs, but also that the government’s response to the increase of violence and massacres during the pandemic has been to deploy “militarization” techniques. Strict confinement has limited HRDs’ access to protection networks, routes, and allies, especially those who have limited or no access to the internet. Armed actors have taken advantage of confinement measures to more easily locate and murder defenders. Somos Defensores reported a 61% increase in HRD assassinations during the first quarter of 2020 in comparison to the same period of 2019. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), at least 308 HRDs and social leaders have been killed in Colombia since the initial lockdowns began on 25 March 2020, including 83 in 2021. Many Colombian HRDs have used temporary relocation programs to find refuge, but towards the beginning of the pandemic, many of these programs were suspended due to travel restrictions. Once emergency evacuations started to be coordinated again, Colombia was the top country for HRD displacements in 2020.

Protection International Colombia has been working principally with Indigenous communities in the Orinoquía region in the east of the country, which continues to be largely neglected by emergency response and relief efforts. Many Indigenous HRDs are left worrying about basic needs such as health and food supplies, forcing defenders to side-line activities related to protecting their land and the environment. Restrictions on mobility and a lack of connectivity have particularly impacted rural HRDs, especially women. “The already enormous burden of familial and household care that falls on women’s shoulders has increased dramatically. Furthermore, they are more exposed and left vulnerable to domestic violence, since, if there is a cell phone in the house, the man normally has it,” explains Aída Pesquera, PI Representative in Colombia. “All of this notably limits them in the exercise of their human rights work.”

Protection International has been working with local leaders to provide cell-phone data to ensure defenders are able to communicate with their protection networks, provide support to communities by facilitating their access to the internet, as well as carry on with their ancestral self-protection practices. “We support them to move to a place where they can safely connect, and we hold virtual workshops every week on protection,” says Pesquera, “We also provide didactic material that they can use autonomously between sessions.”

While Indigenous groups in Colombia and Brazil were hit hardest by the pandemic, they are not yet on the list of prioritized groups for receiving the vaccine even though roll-out has officially begun.

Woman from a rural area of Colombia stands near a mural (2019). Photo courtesy of author

Since we began collecting data, these issues have persisted or even worsened over time. While vaccine inoculation may be on the horizon for some, the reality is that many HRDs are not anywhere near the top of national priority lists for receiving it. We expect that HRDs will continue to work in confrontation with the obstacles listed above for the remainder of 2021, at least.

Human rights groups have been shouting this since March 2020, but we have not yet reached a point where we can stop repeating it: The pandemic cannot be used as a pretext to unjustifiably curtail fundamental rights and freedoms. Governments have no excuse for overtly obstructing the right to defend human rights. One year later, we continue to call on the international community to protect and uphold human rights, especially in times of crisis when they are most at risk of being undermined. Many of us have settled into our routines of the “new normal,” but normalizing these abuses is dangerous. We must continue to speak out. We urge governments around the world to ensure the safety of defenders and to guarantee their right to freedom of expression and their right to defend human rights, even within the context of restrictions that are necessary and proportional.

Meredith Veit is a writer, researcher, multimedia storyteller, and human rights advocate. Her topics of special interest include the right to defend human rights, freedom of the press, digital security, and technology.


https://www.openglobalrights.org/risking-your-life-for-human-rights-during-a-pandemic/

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/protect-civic-space-post-pandemic-recovery