Posts Tagged ‘Colombia’

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

Key issues affecting HRDs in 47th session of UN Human Rights Council (June 2021)

June 22, 2021

The 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council will take place from 21 June to 15 July 2021. The ISHR has again issued its very helpful overview of key issues and below is an extract of those affecting human rights defenders most directly. For a wrap-up of the previous session, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/29/wrap-up-46th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-with-key-resolutions-on-belarus-and-myanmar-and-more/

Modalities of participation in HRC47

According to the Bureau minutes of 2 and 4 June 2021, the extraordinary modalities for the 47th session should be similar to the modalities applied during the 46th session.

Thematic areas of interest:

Sexual orientation and gender identity

The Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity will present his report, followed by an interactive dialogue on 24 June. The report seeks to document how particular narratives on gender are being used to fuel violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. In the report, the Expert examines how the incorporation of comprehensive gender theory enables more accurate and appropriate consideration of dynamics of negation and stigma, and the key role of law, public policy and access to justice in promoting either continuity of injustice or social change.

The report highlights the mandate’s position in relation to current narratives and constructions through which the application of gender frameworks, especially its promise for gender equality across diverse persons, is challenged; and build on gender concepts and feminist analysis to further substantiate the mandate’s understanding of root causes and dynamics of violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This report will be presented in the context of high levels of violence against trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights. Beyond this, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted trans and gender nonconforming people and those defending their rights worldwide, especially those most marginalised.

Systemic racism, police brutality and violence against peaceful protests in the United States and globally

The High Commissioner will present the comprehensive report of Resolution 43/1 to the Council on 12 July followed by an interactive dialogue. ISHR previously joined 171 families of victims of police violence in the United States and over 270 civil society organisations from more than 40 countries in calling on the Council to establish an independent commission of inquiry into police killings of Black men and women, as well as violent law enforcement responses to protests in the United States….

The Council should ensure the establishment of robust international accountability mechanisms which would further support and complement, not undermine, efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States and globally, especially in the context of police violence against Black people.

Business and human rights

June 2021 marks the tenth anniversary of the unanimous endorsement by the Council of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs). The Guiding Principles have become one of the key frameworks for private business to carry out their responsibility to respect human rights, for States to discharge their obligations under international law in relation to business activities, and for civil society and human rights defenders to utilise the UNGPs to demand structural changes in the way companies operate internationally. Human rights need to be an essential element of how businesses design their operations. After 10 years, we have the chance to look back and into the future with a critical eye. In that regard, a ‘Roadmap for the Next Decade’ will be presented by the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights this month. ISHR continues to work with the UN, civil society and progressive companies to protect and promote the work of human rights defenders.

In tandem with its annual report, the UN Working Group will also present in June a long-awaited guidance document on business and human rights defenders based on the UNGPs. The ‘United Nations Guidance on the role of the Guiding Principles for engaging with, safeguarding and ensuring respect for the rights of human rights defenders’ was supported and informed by ISHR and partners, and builds on the experiences gathered through the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders, an initiative ISHR co-founded with the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre. This document will become a key instrument for civil society, businesses and States in ensuring that human rights defenders are protected and recognised as essential actors in maintaining rule of law and a functioning shared civic space. 

The Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises will present its reports, followed by an interactive dialogue, on 29 June. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/09/30/business-and-human-rights-updated-list-of-companies-supporting-hrds/]

Reprisals

On this topic see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/05/06/un-action-on-reprisals-towards-greater-impact/

During the 42nd session, the Council adopted a resolution which listed key trends such as the patterns of reprisals, increasing self-censorship, the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism strategies by States as justification for blocking access to the UN. The resolution also acknowledged the specific risks to individuals in vulnerable situations or belonging to marginalised groups, and called on the UN to implement gender-responsive policies to end reprisals. The Council called on States to combat impunity and to report back to it on how they are preventing reprisals, both online and offline.

Item 5 of the Human Rights Council’s agenda provides a key opportunity for States to raise concerns about reprisals, and for governments involved in existing cases to provide an update to the Council on any investigation or action taken toward accountability to be carried out.

During the organisational meeting held on 7 June, the President of the Council stressed the importance of ensuring the safety of those participating in the Council’s work, and the obligation of States to prevent intimidation or reprisals.

ISHR recently launched a study analysing 709 reprisals cases and situations documented by the UN Secretary-General between 2010 and 2020 and looked at trends and patterns in the kinds of cases documented by the UNSG, how these cases have been followed up on over time, and whether reprisal victims consider the UN’s response effective. Among other things, the study found that nearly half the countries serving on the Council have been cited for perpetrating reprisals. The study also found that the HRC Presidency appears to have been conspicuously inactive on intimidation and reprisals, despite the overall growing numbers of cases that are reported by the UNSG – including on individuals’ or groups’ engagement with the HRC – and despite the Presidency’s legal obligation to address such violations. The study found that the HRC Presidency took publicly reported action in only 6 percent of cases or situations where individuals or organisations had engaged with the HRC. Not only is this a particularly poor record in its own right, it also compares badly with other UN actors.

In line with previous calls, ISHR expects the President of the Human Rights Council to publicly identify and denounce specific instances of reprisals by issuing formal statements, conducting press-briefings, corresponding directly with the State concerned, publicly releasing such correspondence, and insisting on undertakings from the State concerned to investigate, hold the perpetrators accountable and report back to the Council on action taken.

Other thematic reports

At this 47th session, the Council will have dedicated debates with the mandate holders and the High Commissioner, including interactive dialogues with:

  • The High Commissioner on State response to pandemics 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to housing
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health 
  • The Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to education 
  • The Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights 
  • The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression 
  • The Working Group on arbitrary detention on its study on drug policies
  • The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy 

In addition, the Council will hold dedicated debates on the rights of specific groups including:

  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants 
  • The Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons 
  • The Special Adviser on Prevention of Genocide 
  • The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls 
  • The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences 
  • The Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children
  • The Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers 
  • The Special Rapporetur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members 

Country-specific developments

China 

One year after the UN Special Procedures issued a sweeping statement  calling for the international community to take ‘decisive action’ on the human rights situation in China, much more remains to be done. Calls are growing for more clear and timely reporting from the UN, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office, on the repressive policies and practices targeting Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims. At the same time, worrying news continues about violations of cultural rights of Tibetans, while Hong Kong’s democratic institutions – and its people – have suffered a series of blows from legislative, policy and legal decision targeting pro-democracy leaders. For the first time since 1989, peaceful public demonstrations to commemorate the massacre on Tiananmen Square were prohibited. 

Against this context, ISHR urges States to speak out firmly against the lack of accountability for the Chinese government in light of substantial evidence of violations, including crimes against humanity. In so doing, it is essential to recognise the systemic and structural nature of these violations: to highlight the dire situation for Uyghurs, Tibetans and other minority groups; pro-democracy civil society leaders, lawyers and legislators in Hong Kong; and human rights defenders like lawyer and Martin Ennals Award winner Yu Wensheng [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/69fc7057-b583-40c3-b6fa-b8603531248e] and anti-discrimination activists like the Changsha 3. No matter its position or influence, China must be held to the same high standards as any other Council member. See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/12/18/chinas-continuing-crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-shocking-say-un-experts/

Egypt

At the 46th session of the Council, over 30 States led by Finland urged Egypt to end its repression of human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers under the guise of countering-terrorism. The joint State statement ended years of a lack of collective action at the Council on Egypt, despite the sharply deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Egypt must answers these calls, starting by releasing the thousands arbitrarily detained, protecting those in custody from torture and other ill-treatment, and ending the crackdown on peaceful activists. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has previously concluded that arbitrary detention is a systematic problem in Egypt and the Committee against Torture has concluded that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt. To date, Egypt has failed to address all the concerns expressed by States, the High Commissioner and Special Procedures, despite repeated calls on the government, including most recently by over 60 NGOs. ISHR joined over 100 NGOs from across the world in urging the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt and will continue to do so until there is meaningful and sustained improvement in the country’s human rights situation.

Saudi Arabia

This session will mark two years since the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions presented to the Council the investigation into the unlawful death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and yet no meaningful steps towards accountability have been taken by the Saudi authorities. The Special Rapporteur called on Saudi Arabia to “demonstrate non-repetition by: releasing all individuals imprisoned for the peaceful expression of their opinion and belief; independently investigating all allegations of torture and lethal use of force in formal and informal places of detention; and independently investigating all allegations of enforced disappearances and making public the whereabouts of individuals disappeared”. To date, Saudi Arabia has refused to address these key concerns, which were also raised by over 40 States at the Council in March 2019, September 2019 and September 2020, further demonstrating its lack of political will to genuinely improve the human rights situation and to engage constructively with the Council. The sentencing and subsequent release of several women’s rights activists highlights the importance of the Council’s scrutiny which must be sustained in order to secure meaningful, concrete, and systematic gains. We recall that the Special Rapporteur also called on Member States to support resolutions that seek to ensure or strengthen accountability for the execution of Khashoggi. ISHR reiterates its call on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia.

Colombia  

After more than a month of strikes and street protests in Colombia, which have seen protestors killed at the hands of law enforcement officers and civilians, and human rights defenders covering the events threatened and attacked, the Council session provides States with the opportunity to take action. States must call on Colombia to respect the human rights of its people – including the right to freedom of peaceful assembly – and address the underlying causes of the protests, including violations of economic, social and cultural rights, inequality and racial discrimination. This situation of violence and non-compliance with all standards of the use of force has had a particular impact on the Afro-descendant population. Specific calls from Colombian civil society include for OHCHR to investigate and report on the protests in the country including gather statistical data on the facts that threaten the human rights of Afro-Colombian people; for the High Commissioner to visit Colombia when possible; and for Colombia to open its doors to a range of Special Rapporteurs to allow for ongoing monitoring and reporting. The High Commissioner, who has made a statement on the situation in the country, will present her annual report at the start of the session and it is hoped and expected that Colombia will feature as a country of concern. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/]

Nicaragua 

Last March, the Council renewed its resolution on the human rights situation in Nicaragua, which strengthened the High Commissioner’s office monitoring and reporting mandate, by including an interim oral update with recommendations in the context of upcoming national elections. Despite the resolution’s clear calls on the Government to repeal recently adopted laws that harshly restrict civic space, stop targeting human rights defenders and journalists, and urgently implement reforms to ensure free and credible elections, the Nicaraguan authorities have acted in the opposite direction. While UN experts ‘deplore spate of attacks and arrests of human rights defenders’, the OHCHR publicly expressed their deep concern that ‘Nicaragua’s chances of holding free and genuine elections on 7 November are diminishing as a result of measures taken by authorities against political parties, candidates and independent journalists, which further restrict the civic and democratic space’. As the High Commissioner will present her oral update on Nicaragua on 22 June, States should call on Nicaragua to urgently reverse course and implement the recommendations from resolution 46/2, in particular to guarantee the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of information, expression, association and assembly, and the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs; and to swiftly put an end to the harassment (including the judicial harassment) and detention of journalists and ex-members of the Violeta Chamorro Foundation and Confidencial media outlet. 

Venezuela

Venezuela will be back on the Council’s agenda with OHCHR providing an update on the situation of human rights in the country, including in regard to UN recommendations (5 July).  Recent positive developments in the country, including the nomination to the National Electoral Council of individuals supported by a broad swathe of civil society, are offset by continuing human rights and humanitarian crises. The UN’s recommendations to Venezuela are numerous, wide-ranging and largely ignored. States must use opportunities at the Council to press home the importance of those recommendations being heeded. ISHR looks forward to making a statement during the dialogue, focusing in on levels of implementation of recommendations. Given that reprisals against Venezuelan defenders have been common over recent years – with cases cited in eight of the Secretary General’s reports on cooperation with the UN since 2010 – it is essential that States speak out in support of civil society engagement and that the UN define a preventative strategy to ensure defenders’ protection. 

Burundi

On 30 June 2020, the Supreme Court of Burundi set aside the ruling by the Appeals Court to uphold the 32-year sentence in Rukuki’s case and ordered a second appeal hearing, citing violations to his right to a fair trial. This second appeal hearing took place 8 months later on 24 March 2021 in Ngozi prison, where he is currently detained. According to the Burundian Code of Criminal Procedure, following the hearing the Court has 30 days to return a verdict on the case, but this verdict is still pending nearly 60 days later. This delay clearly demonstrates a lack of due process in the case of the internationally recognised human rights defender and political prisoner. In an open letter, a group of civil society organisations denounced the dysfunctioning of judicial proceedings in the country. After confirming the 32 years sentence of defender Germain Rukuki, Burundi continues its crackdown against civil society. Germain Rukuki has now spent nearly 4 years in prison. He has already waited an additional 30 days for this final verdict to be announced without any legal reason; he should not have to wait any longer. In addition to ensuring the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, members of the Council need to call on Burundi to demonstrate their commitment to respect the independence of the judiciary and comply fully with the fair trial obligations of Burundi under international law and announce the verdict in this case without any further delay.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/29/ngo-statement-condemns-new-irregularities-in-the-case-of-germain-rukuki-burundi/]

The Council will consider reports on and is expected to consider resolutions addressing a range of country situations, in some instances involving the renewal of the relevant expert mandates. These include:

  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Eritrea
  • Oral update by the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Nicaragua
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Belarus 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar and Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in Myanmar 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the SR on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on Ukraine  and interim report of the Secretary-General on human rights in Crimea 
  • Interactive Dialogue with the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic

Council programme, appointments and resolutions

During the organisational meeting for the 47th session held on 7 June the President of the Human Rights Council presented the programme of work. It includes seven panel discussions. States also announced at least 22 proposed resolutions. Read here the reports presented this session. 

The President of the Human Rights Council will propose seven candidates for the following sevent mandates: 

  1. The Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism; 
  2. The Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy;
  3. The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; 
  4. Two members of the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (one from Asia-Pacific States and one from Eastern European States); 
  5. A member of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, from Western European and other States; 
  6. The Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights 

As of 8 June, however, the recommended candidates list was only available for four of the above positions, due to challenges among the Consultative Group, the five individuals appointed from each UN region to interview and shortlist candidates. It is critical that the process overcome such delays, so as to avoid any protection gaps arising from a failure to appoint a new mandate holder.

Resolutions to be presented to the Council’s 47th session

The following resolutions were announced (States leading the resolution in brackets):

  1. Menstrual hygiene, human rights and gender equality (Africa Group)
  2. Elimination of harmful practices (Africa Group)
  3. Cooperation with and assistance to Ukraine in the field of human rights (Ukraine) 
  4. Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar (OIC) 
  5. The protection of human rights in the context of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) (Brazil, Colombia, Mozambique, Portugal, Thailand)
  6. The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic, on missing persons and enforced disappearances (France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Qatar, Turkey, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America)
  7. The human rights situation in Belarus, mandate renewal (EU)
  8. The human rights situation in Eritrea, mandate renewal (EU) 
  9. Negative impact of corruption on the enjoyment of human rights ( Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Morocco, Poland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  10. Enhancement of international cooperation in the field of human rights (Azerbaijan on behalf of NAM)
  11. New and emerging digital technologies and human rights (Austria, Brazil, Denmark, Morocco, Republic of Korea, Singapore)
  12. Human rights of migrants (Mexico)
  13. Impact of arms transfers on human rights (Ecuador, Peru)
  14. Civil society space (Chile, Ireland, Japan, Sierra Leone, Tunisia)
  15. Realizing the equal enjoyment of the right to education by every girl (UAE, UK)
  16. Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity (Colombia, New Zealand, Estonia) 
  17. The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet (Brazil, Nigeria, Sweden, Tunisia, United States of America)
  18. Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women (Canada)
  19. Right to education (Portugal)

Adoption of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reports

During this session, the Council will adopt the UPR working group reports on Federated States of Micronesia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Australia, Saint Lucia, Nepal, Oman, Austria, Myanmar, Rwanda, Georgia, Sao Tome and Principe and Nauru.

ISHR supports human rights defenders in their interaction with the UPR. We publish and submit briefing papers regarding the situation facing human rights defenders in some States under review and advocate for the UPR to be used as a mechanism to support and protect human rights defenders on the ground. 

Panel discussions

During each Council session, panel discussions are held to provide member States and NGOs with opportunities to hear from subject-matter experts and raise questions. Seven panel discussions are scheduled for this upcoming session:

  1. High-level panel discussion on the multisectoral prevention of and response to female genital mutilation
  2. Panel discussion on the tenth anniversary of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
  3. Panel discussion on the human rights of older persons in the context of climate change [accessible panel]
  4. Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women, one on violence against women and girls with disabilities, and another on gender-equal socioeconomic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
  5. Quadrennial panel discussion on promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal [accessible panel]. Theme: The potential of leveraging sport and the Olympic ideal for promoting human rights for young people
  6. ​Annual thematic panel discussion on technical cooperation and capacity-building. Theme: Technical cooperation to advance the right to education and ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning for all

Read here the three year programme of work of the Council with supplementary information.

Read here ISHR’s recommendations on the key issues that are or should be on the agenda of the UN Human Rights Council in 2021.

Stay up-to-date: Follow @ISHRglobal and #HRC47 on Twitter, and look out for the Human Rights Council Monitor.

During the session, follow the live-updated programme of work on Sched

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc47-key-issues-agenda-june-2021-session

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/myanmar-debate-dominates-human-rights-council-opening-session

https://observatoryihr.org/news/47th-session-of-the-human-rights-council-opens-on-the-longest-day/

8th Werner Lottje Lecture: Indigenous Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

April 20, 2021
La cátedra Werner Lottje hace parte de la programación del Instituto Alemán para los Derechos Humanos.

The German Institute for Human Rights and Bread for the World announce:

the 8th Werner Lottje Lecture: “Protected by the Collective – Indigenous Human Rights Defenders in Colombia
April 20, 2021
5:00 – 7:00 pm CET

More on Werner Lottje see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/16/and-a-lot-more-about-werner-lottje-the-great-german-human-rights-defender/

Livestreaming: English, German, Spanish (simultaneous interpreting)

For years, Colombia has led the dismal ranking of countries with the highest number of murders of human rights defenders worldwide. Members of  indigenous communities who defend themselves against the intrusion of armed groups, organized crime, and the overexploitation of natural resources on their ancestral territories are especially affected. With the 8th Werner Lottje Lecture, we therefore honor the Guardia Indígena de Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas, winners of the 2020 Colombian Human Rights Award and the 2020 Front Line Defenders Award (Americas), who impressively demonstrate how effective the collective peaceful defense of their territories can be. What particular threats do indigenous communities face in Colombia and around the world? [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/26619974-ee3f-42ff-9e94-3e34ebc5ba9b

What effects did the COVID-19 pandemic have? What strategies have these communities developed to defend themselves? What kind of support is required from the international community to protect indigenous communities? We discuss these and other questions with:

•             Guardia Indígena de Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas, Indigenous human rights collective, Colombia
•             Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
•             Dr. Peter Ptassek, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Colombia

Please register here: Anmeldung/Registration/Registro

Further information (in German)+ Google Calendar+ iCal Export

Details

Date: April 20 Time: 17:00 – 19:00 CEST Website: https://www.institut-fuer-menschenrechte.de/veranstaltungen/detail/8-werner-lottje-lecture-schutz-im-kollektiv-indigene-menschenrechtsverteidigerinnen-in-kolumbien

331 Human Rights defenders killed according to Front Line’s Global Analysis 2020

March 24, 2021

On 9 February 2021, Front Line Defenders published its Global Analysis 2020 which details the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gendered attacks faced by HRDs, especially women and gender non-conforming human rights defenders.

In 2020, human rights defenders responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by taking on additional, and often leading, roles around community health and support to fill gaps left by governments. HRDs proved invaluable to saving lives, delivering food parcels or PPE or medicines to the sick and elderly who were unable to move during lockdown periods. And yet, despite measures taken to respond to the pandemic, HRDs continued to face an onslaught of attacks, ranging from criminalisation and harassment to physical attack and killings, as political and economic elites lashed out against those working for social, economic, racial and gender justice. This is a deliberate and well-resourced attack on human rights and human rights defenders by corrupt and autocratic governments and political leaders who fear democracy and the realization of human rights will end their plunder and put them in jail.

The report gives a breakdown of the most common violations by region both by gender and in total as reported to Front Line Defenders in 2020. The gender breakdown percentages shown reflect the violations experienced as a proportion of the total number of violations to which each group was exposed. At least 331 environmental defenders were killed globally. The majority of those deaths were among people who worked in the defense of land and environment rights, and the rights of Indigenous peoples. Of the 331 murders registered last year, Colombia had the most murders at 177, by far the highest. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/15/hrw-blasts-colombia-over-human-rights-defenders-murders/]

This is the video of Front Line Defenders “Global Analysis 2020” Press Conference (11 Feb 2021)

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/14/front-line-defenders-global-analysis-2019-is-out-304-hrds-killed/

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2020

Colombia accounts for half the number of all environmental defenders murdered in 2020

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021 Mongabay writes about the terrible situation that of the 331 murders of environmental defenders registered worldwide in 2020, Colombia had the most murders at 177.

Impunity still reigns when it comes to the murders of human rights defenders around the world, according to the Front Line Defenders organization, in its global analysis of 2020. The analysis examined 331 homicides of leaders who fight for the defense of the land, the environment, Indigenous peoples, women and the LGBTIQ community. Of these, 177 cases occurred in Colombia.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, defenders have been exposed not only to the day-to-day risks they face from their work and the virus, but also to pressure from governments to control information. Not all of these HRDs are recognized, but the Digest counts some 50 laureates from Colombia [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest]

Many of those killed, the report states, supported communities in their fight against COVID-19 , worked on food security issues, access to medical care and were critical of governments. For Front Line Defenders , the health crisis increased risks, especially for women defenders, leaders of the LGBTIQ community and vulnerable populations such as refugees, migrants and sex workers.

Fidel Heras Cruz traded the tranquility of a simple, quiet life for the front line of the fight against economic powers that threaten the environment. Photo: Courtesy COPUDEVER.

For Shirley Muñoz, who coordinates information systems for the Somos Defensores de Colombia, the pandemic made the state abandonment more evident. Colombia accounts for 53% of all rights defenders cases globally in 2020.

“In many territories, the control of the pandemic was exercised by illegal armed groups through fear and threats, and defenders had to be locked up in their homes, which made them more at risk,” Muñoz said in an interview with Mongabay Latam. A large number of the murders that we verified were committed in or near the defenders’ homes.”

Front Line Defenders believes that cases may continue to increase as verifications of allegations are made, and that upcoming figures from Somos Defensores de Colombia will bring the final number of deaths in 2020 higher.

According to Front Line Defenders, 69% of the murders that occurred last year occurred against leaders who worked in defense of the land, the environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Report authors point out that the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has emphasized that the loss of biodiversity could put world food security at risk and Indigenous communities play a fundamental role in the conservation of ecosystems. Since 2017, Front Line Defenders has registered 327 murders of defenders of the rights of Indigenous peoples in the world.

They tried to kidnap Irma Lemus (center) on her journey into exile. Photo: Radio Progreso.

In Colombia, violence has been particularly directed against those who participate in the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), those who are part of the initiatives to replace drug crops, and those who oppose natural resources extraction projects.

In addition to homicides, Front Line Defenders also recorded the most common types of human rights violations, which in the case of Latin America are physical attacks (27%), detentions and arrests (19%), harassment (13%), legal actions against leaders (13%), and smear campaigns (7%) .

The report notes that many defenders who were detained were also exposed to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Even though many countries allowed the release of prisoners due to the pandemic, according to the report, defenders were not among those released despite serving sentences for “non-violent crimes.”

In the case of Colombia, it is likely that the number of attacks on defenders reported in 2020 has dropped, but this does not mean – warns Muñoz – that the violence has. The reason is that during the pandemic it is presumed that there is a large under-registration since many organizations in charge of registering this type of human rights violations were not able to monitor the territories. So, Muñoz concludes, “there were attacks, but not all of them were recorded.”

Javier Francisco Parra was shot dead in the municipality of La Macarena, Meta, Colombia. Photo: Cormacarena.

Front Line Defenders stresses that direct human rights violations were compounded by restrictive legislation that was introduced in response to the pandemic. “Several other laws were passed designed to limit the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to function well and safely. […] Other governments, including Peru, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, allowed development, deforestation and mining projects to continue despite economic closures, ”the report indicates.

Human rights defenders not only have to protect themselves from physical attacks and murder, but also from digital attacks.

In 2020, a team of Front Line Defenders protection coordinators received 304 requests for support for the following reasons: 26% received threats via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; 16% were hacked or had their social media accounts compromised; 11% reported telephone surveillance; another 11% reported physical monitoring and 9% said that devices with important information were confiscated or stolen from them.

More than a quarter of those most affected by this type of attack are human rights defenders (17%); rights of the land, the environment and Indigenous peoples (16%). Front Line Defenders claims it received dozens of reports of online gatherings – especially from LGBTIQ groups, feminists and black advocates – that were infiltrated by attackers taking advantage of security breaches

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/02/colombia-biden-violence-cauca-duque-peace-farc/

HRW blasts Colombia over human rights defenders’ murders

February 15, 2021
Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists
Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas, accuses the Colombian government of failing to act on the murders of rights activists Raul ARBOLEDA AFP

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday 10 Febuary 2021 hit out at Colombia’s government over the rising number of human rights defenders and activists being murdered in the South American country.

Since the 2016 peace accord that ended half a century of fighting between government forces and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an increasing number of civil society leaders have been killed each year. But “the government has acted slowly and weakly in the implementation of policies to prevent these murders,” HRW said in a statement.

Despite Colombia suffering the largest number of such murders on the continent, “the government’s response has been more focussed on making speeches and announcements than adopting measures that will have an impact in the territories” affected by the violence, said Jose Miguel Vivanco, HRW director for the Americas.

In 2016, 61 civil society leaders were killed, a number that increased to 84 in 2017, 115 in 2018, 108 in 2019 and 133 in 2020, according to UN figures, some of which have yet to be verified. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/

Behind the wave of violence targeting advocates are National Liberation Army Marxist rebels, dissident FARC guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries, as well as armed drug-trafficking groups. They are fighting each other over access to lucrative cocaine and illegal mining markets.

HRW says most victims were murdered as reprisals for opposing drug-trafficking in their territories, allegedly collaborating with the army or supporting the replacement of illegal coca plantations with legal ones. The digest of Human Rights Laureates lists 50 HRDs in Colombia. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210210-hrw-blasts-colombian-govt-over-rights-activists-murders

Too sad for words: 11-year-old boy receives death threat

January 28, 2021
<img src="https://static.independent.co.uk/2021/01/27/10/Screenshot%202021-01-27%20at%2010.18.59.png?width=982&height=726&auto=webp&quality=75&quot; alt="<p>Francisco Vera

Francisco Vera (Reporter’s screenshot)

Clea Skopeliti reports in the Independent of 27 January 2021 that an 11-year-old environmental and children’s rights activist in Colombia has received death threats after he urged the government to improve children’s access to remote education during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Francisco Vera was sent a death threat from an anonymous Twitter account in mid-January after posting a video calling on the government to better internet connection for pupils learning from home during the coronavirus crisis.  The child activist has since been awarded with a letter of congratulations from the UN for his work, personally delivered by a UN representative who also expressed solidarity with the 11-year-old for the intimidation he has faced.

Francisco’s mother, Ana María Manzanare was the first to noticed  the threatening messages. Ms Manzanare told Columbian newspaper El Tiempo: “I was the one who noticed that message because I checked all of Francisco’s networks. He had already received many ridicules, criticism and insults for his activism in defence of life and the environment, but he had never been threatened with death.”

Colombian President Ivan Duque condemned the threats of violence, and ordered the police to “find those bandits” who threatened Francisco. Police say the investigation is ongoing.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/child-activist-death-threats-climate-activism-b1793364.html