Posts Tagged ‘criminalisation’

In 2018 three murders per week among environmental human rights defenders

July 30, 2019

Taking a stand for environmental justice and protecting natural resources is a dangerous pursuit. A new report from the UK-based NGO Global Witness showed that 164 environmental human rights defenders worldwide were killed for their activism in 2018. That averages to just over three murders per week. And that’s an underestimation.

Global Witness said the true number was likely “much higher, because cases are often not documented and rarely investigated. Reliable evidence is hard to find or verify“. Also, murder is not the only way to quash dissent. Global Witness said, although killings are at a disturbing level, companies and governments were increasingly using other tactics like criminalization, non-lethal violence, harassment and threats, as the Guardian reported. One common tactic is for governments to label activists as terrorists. “Deaths were down last year, but violence and widespread criminalization of people defending their land and our environment were still rife around the world,” said Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, as the HuffPost reported.

“The drop in killings masks another gruesome reality, ” said Harrison. “Our partners in Brazil and many other countries have noted a spike in other forms of non-lethal attacks against defenders — often attacks so brutal they’re just shy of murder.” [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

The bulk of the murders took place in Asia or Central and South America. In fact, more than half were in Latin America and most of the victims were indigenous or rural campaigners standing up for their communities against mining, hydrocarbon development, damming and agribusiness. The mining sector was responsible for one-fourth of the murders.

The Philippines replaced Brazil as the most murderous country, with 30 victims, followed by Colombia with 24, India with 23 and then Brazil with 20. It’s the first time since the annual list began in 2012 that Brazil did not top the list, according to the Guardian. The number of reported murders there dropped from 57 the year before to 20 in 2018.

Guatemala had one of the highest numbers per capita and the sharpest increase with a five-fold increase, bringing the total number to 16 deaths in 2018, which Global Witness attributed to new investments in plantations, mining and energy projects, according to US News and World Report. “In general, the surge in killings is because Guatemala is witnessing a major setback with regard to democracy and human rights,” said Jorge Santos, executive director of the non-profit Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, to Al Jazeera. His group has documented machete attacks and armed militias opening fire on indigenous people campaigning for land rights in areas that are home to mining operations, oil palm plantations and displacement of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community.

For the role of international financial institutions in al lthis see my post of roday: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/uncalculated-risks-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-in-name-of-development/

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/spotlight-criminalisation-land-and-environmental-defenders/

https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-killed-2639511189.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

https://www.euronews.com/2019/07/30/more-than-160-people-killed-for-defending-the-environment-campaign-group

https://timesofoman.com/article/1694919/World/Asia/Philippines-authorities-respond-to-Global-Witness-report

See also: Download the full report: Enemies of the State? (PDF, 3.8MB)

41st session Human Rights Council: Opening statement by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet

June 25, 2019

On 24 June, 2019, the 41st session of the Human Rights Council started with an opening statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. I refer to the guide to human rights defenders issues published earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/06/14/guide-to-human-rights-defenders-issues-at-the-41st-human-rights-council-starting-on-24-june/

The High Commissioner’s speech contained many topics including these:

……
I regret Saudi Arabia‘s dismissal of last week’s report by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. I also reiterate my strong condemnation of the mass execution of 37 men in April. Some were children when the alleged crimes occurred.

Iran continues to sentence children to death. I was appalled that the authorities sentenced and executed two boys under the age of 18 in April. I remain particularly concerned about the high number of child offenders on death row – possibly more than 85 individuals – with some at risk of imminent execution.

I take this opportunity to note and commend global progress with respect to the death penalty in this year, which marks the 30th anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. The advances include recent ratifications by Gambia and State of Palestine; removal of the death penalty from the penal codes of Benin and Burkina Faso; and declarations of moratoria in Malaysia and the State of California.

..The inspiring and peaceful popular uprising in Sudan, with its call for democratic governance and justice, has been met with a brutal crackdown by the security forces this month. I regret that the Government has not responded to our request for access to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations by the joint security forces during the crackdown. They include reports that more than 100 protestors were killed, and many more injured, during and following the assault by security forces on a peaceful sit-in on 3 June. In addition, hospitals and clinics were reportedly raided, and medical staff assaulted. We have received allegations of rape and sexual abuse of both women and men during the crackdown, as well as information alleging that hundreds of protestors may be missing. I urge Sudan to grant access to my Office; to put an end to the repression of the people’s human rights; and to immediately end the Internet shutdown. The Sudanese people are entitled to express their opinions, and – like people everywhere – they have a right to live in freedom and at peace, enjoying the rule of law and the conditions necessary to dignity.

In Myanmar, evidence indicates continuing persecution of the remaining Rohingya people in northern Rakhine State, with little or no effort by the authorities to create conditions for the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees. Although restrictions on humanitarian and media access in both Rakhine and in Chin State limit our access to information, the ongoing conflict there has included use of heavy weaponry, airstrikes and helicopter gunships by the military, with significant loss of life on all sides and severe impact on civilians. Based on allegations received, we fear that the conflict is being used as a pretext to carry out attacks against Rohingya civilians, and to cause further displacement. Some 35,000 ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Khamee civilians have been internally displaced by fighting. The suspension of humanitarian aid by the government means at least 95,000 people have been cut off from life-saving assistance.

….
My Office is following the situation of human rights in the Philippines very closely. The extraordinarily high number of deaths – and persistent reports of extrajudicial killings – in the context of campaigns against drug use continue. Even the officially confirmed number of 5425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country. I welcome the recent statement by Special Rapporteurs calling for action by the Council. There should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths, and investigations related to allegations of violations. These could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities.Human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; journalists; lawyers; members of the Catholic clergy; and others who have spoken out – notably the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples – have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials. This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression.

In Portugal, where I attended an encouraging conference on drug policies and harm reduction, I also benefited from informative discussions on migration. Portugal’s open and forward-looking migrant policy aims to offer migrants easy access to social and legal assistance and encourages migrants to access the labour market. I visited a centre in Lisbon which offered free pre-school classes, alongside training courses and other support to migrant women aiming to set up their own companies. Ensuring that migrants are included and integrated brings many benefits for host communities, including net financial contributions: Portugal’s High Commissioner for Migration informed me that in 2017, migrants contributed 510 million euros more to the social security system than they took out. I invite all countries to consider learning from this example. Despite extensive disinformation campaigns regarding the supposedly damaging impact of migration on destination countries, close attention to the facts indicates that when their dignity and rights are respected, migrants can be strong drivers of successful economies and societies. We should recognize and cherish these contributions.

Instead, I observe a deeply unfortunate trend towards the criminalisation of basic human compassion for migrants, including those in situations of great vulnerability. The NGO Open Democracy reported last month that over 100 ordinary people in Europe have been arrested or prosecuted this year for acts such as feeding hungry migrants; helping them find shelter; or even assisting a pregnant woman to get to hospital to give birth. Similar prosecutions of ordinary people seeking to help individuals in distress have also taken place in the United States and elsewhere. Moreover, in several countries, new legal measures aim to penalise NGOs which rescue people drowning at sea.

Measures such as these clearly put the lives of children, women and men at risk. But they also put our societies at risk. They violate ancient and precious values that are common to us all, by penalizing compassion. Those who seek to help people in need should be honoured, not prosecuted. Caring should not be considered a crime, and this criminalisation of acts of basic human decency must be resisted. We have, all of us, a right – and even a duty – to help each other.

https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?LangID=E&NewsID=24724

Also in USA helping migrants is criminalised: Scot Warren in court on 29 May

May 29, 2019

Not just in Italy [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/]. Front LIne Defenders on 28 May 2019 reports that in the United States Scott Warren is facing 20-year prison sentence for “harbouring” migrants.

On 29 May 2019, Scott Warren is due to face a felony trial at the District Court for the District of Arizona. The human rights defender is charged with two counts of “harbouring” migrants in Ajo, Arizona, and one count of “conspiracy to transport and harbour” migrants. If found guilty, he might be sentenced to up to 20 years of imprisonment.

Dr. Scott Warren [https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/profile/scott-warren] is a human rights defender working on migration issues in Ajo, Arizona. For over ten years, he has provided humanitarian aid to migrants and asylum seekers who attempt crossing the United States – Mexico border through the Sonora desert. He helped establish the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths or No Más Muertes which provides water and medical aid on migration routes, and documents the deaths of migrants in the desert.

On 29 May 2019 at 9:30am, Scott Warren is due to be tried at the District Court for the District of Arizona for two counts of “harbouring” migrants and one count of “conspiracy to transport and harbour” migrants. On 21 May 2019, the judge assigned to the case rejected a motion to dismiss the indictment. Scott Warren’s lawyers argued that his arrest “arose from selective enforcement of the laws by the Border Patrol” and that he was being targeted specifically for his work in defence of migrants’ rights.

On 17 January 2018, Scott Warren was arrested at a volunteer gathering point known as the “Barn”, located in Ajo, by a convoy of U.S. Border Patrol agents from a specialised anti-smuggling unit. The agents were wearing plain clothes and did not present the human rights defender with a warrant. Earlier on that day, No More Deaths had published a report denouncing the involvement of Border Patrol officers in the destruction of water gallons left by volunteers for migrants crossing the desert. After the publication of the report, Scott Warren gathered evidence of surveillance activities carried out against him by the U.S. Border Patrol.

The arrest of Scott Warren represents an escalation of existing patterns of harassment against humanitarian volunteers and human rights defenders in Arizona. In 2018, officers of the Fish and Wildlife Services cited Scott Warren and other volunteers of No More Deaths for entering the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most deadly migrant corridors along the Mexico-US border, to provide life-saving aid, including water, food and medical supplies, to migrants crossing the desert.

…..
On recent country visits, Front Line Defenders found that defamation and criminalisation of humanitarian activity is increasing along the migrant caravan routes. Human rights defenders in Mexico and the United States have been detained, harassed and criminalised for the provision of humanitarian aid, including distributing food, water and medical supplies, and operating emergency shelters for migrant families. Moreover, the authorities in the United States have increased efforts towards the criminalisation of all forms of immigration, including through coordinated action with other states in the region.

Front Line Defenders condemns the criminalisation of Scott Warren, as it is believed to be directly motivated by his humanitarian work assisting migrants and documenting their deaths. Front Line Defenders is further concerned about the increased use of the judiciary to target human rights defenders and organisations who assist migrants at the United States – Mexico border, including by selective enforcement of the law.

European governments should stop treating solidarity and compassion as a crime

May 15, 2019

Two recent cases of criminalization of human rights defenders in Europe helping people at sea:

Iuventa crew
Iuventa crew

On 13 May 2019 MarEx  reported that the crew of the rescue ship Iuventa operated by the German NGO Jugend Rettet has received the Swiss Paul Grüninger human rights award for saving the lives of around 14,000 of men, women and children in the central Mediterranean. For more on this award, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/paul-grueninger-award

The award is seen as a statement against the criminalization of those helping people at sea and comes whilst the crew is under criminal investigations in Italy for “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” They face up to 20 years in prison and fines of 15,000 Euro ($16,900) per saved person. The prize money of 50,000 Swiss francs contributes to the defense.

The Iuventa was the first rescue vessel seized in Italy in August 2017. Captain Dariush was master of the Iuventa for three voyages off the Libyan coast: “We’re being charged for saving lives. This is absurd,” he said. “It is European politicians who block any safe way for people in need, so we had to act.

The crew says: “Although we have to stand trial, it is us who accuses Europe. We accuse European politicians of turning their backs on people in need. We accuse the E.U. of collaborating with regimes who violate human rights.” The Italian public prosecutor’s office has been investigating the crew for almost two years. Covert investigators claim to have observed the Iuventa crew cooperating with smugglers. However, the NGO claims that scientists at Goldsmiths, University of London have said there is no evidence for this. “They have compared the accusations of the Italian police with all available data, meteorological measurements, logbooks and recordings of the Reuters agency. In their study for Forensic Architecture, they conclude that the allegations are false.” The trial is expected to begin in autumn, and it is expected that charges will be brought against the 10 crew members. It is a precedent for Europe, says lead lawyer Nicola Canestrini: “This trial will show whether Europe can continue to stand for fundamental rights and solidarity in the world.

——–

Tom Ciotkowski is facing up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 7,500 Euros on trumped up charges. In July 2018, he was observing French riot police preventing volunteers from distributing food to migrants and refugees in Calais. He was charged with contempt and assault after he challenged the violent actions of a policeman against another volunteer. “Tom Ciotkowski is a compassionate young volunteer who was taking action to support migrants and refugees when he was arrested. He has committed no crime and is being unjustly targeted for documenting the abusive behaviour of the police in Calais,” said Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Migration Maria Serrano.

Tom’s case is sadly emblematic of the harassment, intimidation and attacks that human rights defenders supporting migrants and refugees face at the hands of police in Calais. His case also reflects a wider European trend of criminalizing acts of solidarity, as a way of discouraging others from standing up for human rights. We need courageous, compassionate people like Tom more than ever

[BACKGROUND At the end of July 2018, Tom Ciotkowski was observing French riot police ID-checking volunteers who were trying to distribute food to migrants and refugees. He recorded on his mobile phone an official pushing and kicking a volunteer. When Tom complained about the behaviour of the police, an officer approached him and another female volunteer, who he hit with a baton. When Tom asked the officer for his identification number and told the policeman not to hit women, he was pushed hard by an officer and fell backwards over a metal barrier separating the pavement from the road. As Tom fell backwards, a passing lorry narrowly missed him. He was then arrested, put in custody for 36 hours and charged with contempt and assault (“outrage et violence”). In May 2019, Tom filed a complaint against the police officer who pushed him and against other officers who provided reports stating false facts against Tom to support his arrest and prosecution.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

Report “Indigenous World 2019” launched on 24 April in NY

April 24, 2019

On 24 April 2019, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, IWGIA released The Indigenous World 2019, an extensive yearbook presenting a comprehensive, global overview of the developments indigenous peoples experience. The book documents an increasing trend towards the harassment and criminalization of indigenous peoples and communities. It also highlights the rising tensions between states and indigenous peoples, shrinking civil society space, loss of land rights and lack of access to justice for indigenous peoples to enjoy their rights.

“Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, yet they represent 15% of the world’s poorest, and in 2017, half of the approximately 400 environmental and human rights defenders killed. The numbers for 2018 are as-yet-unknown, but this troubling trend hasn’t seemed to stop,” Julie Koch, IWGIA Executive Director, says. “We need to do more to protect, learn from and support indigenous peoples and their traditional, sustainable practices as key actors in ensuring a safer and more equitable world.”

In 2018, there has been an increase in the documentation and reporting of illegal surveillance, arbitrary arrests, travel bans preventing free movement, threats, dispossession and killings of indigenous peoples. We have witnessed instruments meant to protect indigenous peoples being turned against them, through the use of legislation and the justice system, to penalize and criminalize indigenous peoples’ assertion of their rights. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/08/08/9-august-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-un-experts-see-increasing-murder/]

The intensification and exploitation of natural resources is leading to a global crisis for indigenous peoples’ rights,” Koch says. Many indigenous peoples live in the Earth’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots and are often called the “guardians of the forest”. Several studies have shown that tree cover loss is significantly reduced on indigenous land compared to non-indigenous controlled land.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/15/documenting-the-killings-of-environmental-defenders-guardian-and-global-witness/

Tensions are rising between states and indigenous peoples

Human Rights Defenders/Journalists in Mexico in 1919: 2 killed – 2 released

February 16, 2019

Jesus Eugenio Ramos Rodriguez was at breakfast Saturday morning 9 February 2019 when he became the second journalist murdered in Mexico this year. Rafael Murua, a community radio station director in the northern state of Baja California Sur who had received death threats for his work, was found dead in a ditch Sunday, 21 January 2019, after being reported missing. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/22/first-mexican-journalist-killed-in-2019-protection-mechanism-failing/]

On 11 February 2019 Front Line Defenders and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT/FIDH) – together with 2 other NGOs – brought out a joint statement in which they celebrate the release of human rights defenders Damián Gallardo and Enrique Guerrero, but urge Mexican authorities to include the end of criminalisation against human rights defenders as a central theme in the human rights agenda of this Presidential term.

[On 28 December 2018, Messrs. Damián Gallardo Martínez and Enrique Guerrero Aviña were released after a resolution in this regard by the Eighth District Court of Federal Criminal Proceedings in the State of Jalisco. Both human rights defenders had been arbitrarily imprisoned since May 2013 and had been victims of repeated violations of their human rights since their arrest, including acts of torture and ill-treatment and numerous violations of their due process rights.]

….In this regard, we once again urge [See Joint Open Letter to the President Elect of the United Mexican States, Mr. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, dated 27 August 2018, “To put an end on the criminalisation of human rights defenders must be a priority for the new Mexican] the Mexican Administration to include as a central theme in the human rights agenda the development, with the participation of civil society, of a State policy that puts an end to the criminalisation of human rights defenders in Mexico.  Download the full Statement

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/mexico-journalist-murdered–as-2018-sets-homicide-record-11150600

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/02/10/americas/mexico-journalist-shot/index.html

UN Experts consider human rights defenders in Italy under threat

December 2, 2018

In Europe it is not just in Hungary where human rights defenders are under pressure [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/07/26/some-facts-about-refugee-flows-which-hungary-seems-not-to-know/]. On 21 November 2018 a group of UN experts  – including Michel Forst, the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – expressed concern that amidst Italy’s proposed tightening of immigration rules HRDs are the subject of smear campaigns.

Since coming into power in June 2018, the new Italian Government has implemented the anti-migrant and exclusionary measures it campaigned upon. “Removing protection measures from potentially thousands of migrants and limiting their ability to regularise their stay in Italy will increase their vulnerability to attacks and exploitation. They will be at greater risk from traffickers and other criminal groups, and many will have no means to meet their basic needs through lawful means”.

While acknowledging the challenges Italy faces due to the absence of an effective European-wide system of solidarity, the UN experts said this did not justify violations of human rights. “The government must adhere to the values enshrined in the Italian constitution, and the international commitments it signed up to,” they said in an appeal to the government to reconsider the legislative changes.

During the most recent electoral campaign, some politicians fuelled a public discourse unashamedly embracing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric. Such speech incites hatred and discrimination,” the experts said. ……“We are also concerned about the continuing smear campaigns against civil society organisations engaged in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as the criminalisation of the work of migrant rights defenders, which have become more widespread in Italy,”.

The UN experts urge the Italian government to combat incitement to hatred and discrimination, racism and xenophobia. “Perpetrators of hate crimes must be held accountable and justice provided to the victims. Italian authorities should implement the national and relevant European legal framework and provide the needed responses to hate crime and the use of hate speech.”

The experts have contacted the government about their concerns and await a reply.

https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23908&LangID=E

Some FACTS about refugee flows (which Hungary seems not to know)

July 26, 2018

UNHCR just published its Global Trends Report 2017 (see link below) and it contains some interesting facts, some myth-busting:
Fact 1:  85% refugees are hosted in the developing world (many of which are desperately poor and receive little support to care for these populations). At the end of 2017, Turkey continued to be the country hosting the world’s largest number of refugees, with 3.5 million. Lebanon continued to host the largest number of refugees relative to its national population, where 1 in 6 people was a refugee under the responsibility of UNHCR.

 Fact 2: Two-thirds of all refugees come from just five countries. Altogether, more than two-thirds of all refugees worldwide came from just five countries, namely:
1. Syrian Arab Republic (6.3 million)
2. Afghanistan (2.6 million)
3. South Sudan (2.4 million)
4. Myanmar (1.2 million)
5. Somalia (986,400)

Fact 3: Four out of five refugees remain in countries next door to their own. About 2.7 million people were newly registered as refugees during 2017. Crises in South Sudan and Myanmar caused new refugee numbers to grow. Most of them fled to neighboring countries or elsewhere in their immediate region. Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 31 per cent of the global refugee population.

Still, Hungary found it necessary to pass legislation that criminalizes individuals and groups deemed to be supporting asylum-seekers, refugees and undocumented migrants. On 21 Jun 2018 UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said: “Parliament’s decision is an attack on fundamental human rights and freedoms in Hungary. The constant stoking of hatred by the current Government for political gain has led to this latest shameful development, which is blatantly xenophobic and runs counter to European and international human rights standards and values.” …“To target those dealing with the most vulnerable, simply because they are foreigners, is truly disgraceful.”

The new legislation criminalizes a range of activities, including distributing information on migration-related matters, providing advice to migrants and refugees, and conducting human rights monitoring at borders. The authorities will be able to arrest, charge and immediately remove from Hungary’s border area with non-Schengen countries any lawyer, adviser, volunteer or legally resident family member suspected of helping a person to make an asylum claim or obtain a residence permit, or of providing other legal or humanitarian assistance. Under the legislation, individuals could face up to one year in prison and organisations could be banned. In addition, foundations that provide funding for NGOs that work on migrant issues could face charges. Hungarian authorities also announced this week that they would introduce a 25 per cent tax on funding for NGOs which “support immigration”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/05/18/excellent-background-piece-to-hungarys-stop-soros-mania/

——-

http://www.unhcr.org/statistics/unhcrstats/5b27be547/unhcr-global-trends-2017.html?utm_source=NEWS&utm_medium=email&utm_content=Opening_Global+Trends+report&utm_campaign=HQ_PS_EN_NEWS_B-JULY_180725_PROS_5

https://reliefweb.int/report/hungary/ 

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

April 28, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

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

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

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

ProtectDefenders.eu held its annual meeting 2017

December 28, 2017

The Newsletter of December 2017 of ProtectDefenders.eu contains a report of the 2017 Annual Meeting. The highlights:

On the 8th of November, ProtectDefenders.eu held its second annual meeting, under the motto “Champions of change – Human rights defenders at the forefront of development and democracy“. More than 30 human rights defenders at risk from all regions of the world who have benefited from the project gathered in Brussels with representatives of international NGOs and European institutions. This unique meeting has successfully brought together grassroots activists working on the frontlines for change and leading experts on the protection of human rights defenders, universal and regional protection mechanisms, and representatives of various EU institutions implicated in the protection of human rights defenders and current development agenda.

The meeting highlighted the crucial role and impact of human rights defenders around the world as promoters of a sustainable development and engaged development actors in how to integrate the protection of human rights defenders as part of an effective development and protection agenda. The widespread attempts to de-legitimise human rights’ discourse and human rights defenders’ work worldwide were addressed, by promoting a positive narrative grounded on the universality and indivisibility of human rights and its contribution to more advanced and developed societies. Human rights defenders and high-level speakers shared strategies to enhance the protection of those who strive to defend human rights, and to develop a positive narrative on the human rights’ work, legitimising their work at the local level and taking back the human rights discourse to the centre of the international agenda.

To conclude the meeting, the twelve partner organisations of ProtectDefenders.eu have issued a public statement urging all national authorities to “publicly recognise the crucial role played by human rights defenders and protect them in all circumstances from any form of judicial harassment“. As stressed by Antoine Madelin, FIDH Director for International Advocacy and Chair of the Board of ProtectDefenders.eu, “Human Rights Defenders are the pillars of democracy and of the rule of law but are too often subjected to unfair criminal prosecution, in an effort to undermine their work in the defence of human rights.”

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/24/video-of-the-defending-human-rights-is-not-a-crime-meeting-now-available/

https://www.protectdefenders.eu/en/newsletter.html