Posts Tagged ‘El Salvador’

Murder of Dutch IKON journalists in 1982 in El Salvador revisited

September 25, 2018

In the Dutch media a lot of attention is being paid at the moment to the 35-year old story of the IKON journalists who were killed in El Salvador in 1982. Some years ago I started to write up ‘human rights stories’ that I had been closely involved in, with the idea that some day they would be of interest. This seems a good moment to ‘publish’ for the first time the chapter on my involvment with the case of the IKON journalists:

1982 IKON journalists killing and El Salvador

…On 17 March 1982, three months before I took up my post as thea first director of the new Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (SIM), the world – and especially the Netherlands – were shocked by the kiliing of a team of television journalists of the TV channel IKON in El Salvador. The very uncivil conflict there had already costs thousands of people their lives including the internationally known cases of the 4 American nuns and the progressive bishop Oscar Romero 1980. The USA under Reagan had clearly changed course and was openly supporting the Duarte regime against the left-wing rebels. The Dutch government – especially its ‘atlanticist’ Minister of Foreign Affairs Hans van de Broek[1]– was caught between its desire to appease the US government and to respond to the public outcry back home. The compromise reached was that the Dutch Ambassador from a neighbouring country (Jan Willem Bertens) was exceptionally allowed to undertake an investigation on Salvadoran territory, but – if no evidence of government involvement was found – that would be the end of the affair. The fact-finding mission by the Dutch Ambassador did not find any strong evidence; the report was left with the Salvador government and submitted to the Dutch parliament.

One of the first visitors to SIM was Yata Matsuzaki who was the partner of one of the journalists killed and on behalf of the families – who were not convinced by the inconclusive Bertens report. She asked me to take on the case and see whatever else could to done to keep the matter alive. There was even some money set aside for this by the families which was very useful as later – when the Dutch Minister Van der Stoel queried whether this kind of activity (i.e. second-guessing him) was within SIM’s mandate – I was able to refer to the fact that SIM was supposed to find externally funded projects and this had been one of them.

In fact, I had to scratch the bottom of the barrel to find ways to keep the case alive but fortunately the UN had just establish a “Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions”and I submitted the case there. With the help of the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in NY I also tried to obtain copies of relevant telexes from the US State Department but most was blacked out.

This involvement with El Salvador led SIM to start a project on how to count human rights violations in general (with initial focus on Central America) and we tried to solve difficult issues such as killings by non-state actors and defining indirect victims. One of the persons helping in El Salvador was Marianella Garcia Villas who had come to SIM in early 1983. I offered to help her with obtaining political asylum in the Netherlands, but she insisted on going back as she was most needed there.  I felt not just sad and shocked but also ‘guilty’ when soon after her return she was murdered.

Then in May 1984 three Dutch parliamentarians (one from each main party) accepted to go on a mission to Central America (and the USA see picture) and I was asked to join as an independent ‘expert’. It became a memorable trip, including a shooting incident on the road in Nicaragua, but what crowned it was that in El Salvador I got a chance to meet with the Prosecutor’s office that was in charge of the IKON investigation. They kindly showed me the file and I was shocked to see that it contained almost nothing and especially that the report by the Dutch Ambassador – 2 years later! – had not been translated into Spanish.

Upon arrival in Schiphol airport, there was a well-attended press conference and when there were questions about the IKON investigation the parliamentarians agreed that I should answer as an independent expert. The journalists had clearly not forgotten their colleagues and fielded many questions. When asked what the Dutch government should do now, I replied that it is was time to re-open the investigation and that my colleagues on the mission representing a majority in parliament were well placed to formally ask for it, which they promptly said they would. When soon afterwards a majorly in parliament adopted a motion requesting this, the Minister of Foreign Affairs was not pleased and initially refused to carry out the motion. However, as this was not worth a government crisis the Prime Minster Lubbers engineered a compromise under which the Dutch government would follow up and at least translate the text.

In 1993 a Report of the Truth Commission of the United Nations on El Salvador concluded that the journalists had been killed in a planned ambush, that Reyes Mena was responsible and that El Salvador so far had failed to do research in order to sentence and punish those responsible. That same year an amnesty law was passed in El Salvador,…

and now (September 2018) I can add a final chapter:

A team of the Dutch television programme Zembla has traced the former colonel of the Salvadoran army, Mario Reyes Mena, who ordered the killings. The now 79-year-old Reyes Mena has been living in the United States for four years. Zembla found him through his three adult children, who are active on social media.

When confronted he claimed that the amnesty pronounced by the government of El Salvador covers his actions. However this amnesty law was cancelled in 2016. In August 2017, the investigation into the murders was already reopened administratively. Two Salvadoran human rights organizations, ‘Fundación Comunicándonos’ and ‘Associacíon de Derechos Humanos’, urged the Salvadoran judiciary to carry out the investigation and the ensuing prosecution.Gert Kuiper, de brother of one of the killed journalists has also started a procedure against the colonel and the Dutch Ambassador in El Salvador supports the move.

It is not known where we stand with this investigation but interesting is to note that in November 2017 another former Salvadoran army colonel, Inocente [SIC] Orlando Montano, was extradited from the USA to Spain to face charges relating to the 1989 killings of the 6 Jesuits priests.

Killings cannot have happy endings but justice is the next best thing.

[1]He succeeded in May 1982 the socialist Van der Stoel whose initial reaction to the killing had been more forceful.

Sources:

https://nltimes.nl/2018/09/25/investigation-ongoing-dutch-journalists-murders-el-salvador-1982

https://nos.nl/artikel/2251835-brein-achter-moord-op-ikon-journalisten-opgespoord.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/former-el-salvador-colonel-extradited-to-spain-over-1989-of-jesuits

Interview with Karla Avelar, human rights defender from El Salvador

November 10, 2017

A former ISHR trainee, Karla Avelar defends the rights of LGBTI people. She is a finalist of this year’s Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. In an exclusive interview with ISHR, on 6 November, she talked about her award nomination and what it means to be a trans woman and human rights defender in El Salvador. See also the THF film on her work:

 

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/16/trans-defenders-karla-avelars-life-is-under-constant-threat/

Trans defender’s Karla Avelar’s life is under constant threat

May 16, 2017

Brian Dooley of Human Rights First, wrote the following piece “Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats” in the Huffington Post of 13 May 2017 (in full below). Karla (El Salvador) is one of the three finalists of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/26/breaking-news-three-human-rights-defenders-selected-as-finalists-for-the-2017-martin-ennals-award/].  An rise in deadly violence against transgender women in El Salvador prompted the United Nations on Friday to call for an investigation into crimes against sexual minorities in the conservative Central American country. So far this year, seven transgender women have been killed in El Salvador, according to the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights [http://www.reuters.com/article/us-elsalvador-violence-lgbt-idUSKBN189018]

CARLOS CRUZ, COMCAVIS TRANS
Karla Avelar, advocating despite the danger.

Six times in two years. Human rights activist Karla Avelar has been forced to move home six times in the last two years after being physically threatened by individuals she believes are gang members and for her work as a human rights defender in El Salvador.

She’s a leading advocate for the human rights of LGBT people, founder and head of COMCAVIS TRANS, an organization known for its work for transgender people for nearly a decade. It’s dangerous, unpopular work, and Avelar is regularly targeted and threatened.

A couple of weeks ago she was forced to move home when people tried to extort from her possible prize money for the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award, for which she is a finalist. The award’s winner will be decided and announced in October, but news of her nomination has prompted these latest threats.

It hasn’t been an easy life. She was shot in two separate incidents, spent five traumatic years in jail and has been a constant target of abuse for being a transgender woman. Avelar told my colleague Mariel Perez-Santiago at her office in San Salvador last year how she had been raped by more than a hundred men on her first day in prison, and that the attacks continued with the complicity of prison staff.

She became a formidable advocate for the rights of trans people in and out of prison, helping to win important reforms in the prison where she used to be an inmate. Thanks to her campaigning, transgender women are now separated from men in different wards, and human rights organizations are allowed access to the prisoners to educate them about their rights. She also represented El Salvador’s LGBT civil society at the country’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva.

Her advocacy has led to international recognition including becoming a finalist for this year’s Martin Ennals Award. “Transgender persons, and the wider LGBT community, face widespread hostility and social rejection in El Salvador,” said the Martin Ennals organization in a statement. “Crimes against them are almost never brought to justice, which results in a climate of impunity. Sadly, this treatment of transgender people can be seen well beyond El Salvador. We aim to highlight Ms. Avelar’s bravery in continuing her work. We are encouraged that the authorities contacted her after the media coverage of the latest threats. This needs to be followed up with judicial proceedings against those responsible and, most importantly, effective protection for Karla Avelar.”

Her profile has meant that the threats against her are receiving attention, and the Attorney General’s office has been in touch with her to discuss issues of her safety. But for Avelar and others in El Salvador’s LGBT community the risks are daily and grave. She estimates around 600 cases of unsolved murders of LGBT people in the country over the last 25 years.

“Sadly, these most recent threats against me are not surprising and are part of a broader and systematic pattern of persecution of members of the LGBT community in El Salvador,” said Avelar. “I will not be silenced by these threats, but the Salvadoran government must guarantee my safety and that of all human rights defenders and activists, who work tirelessly to monitor and urge respect for the human rights of the most vulnerable.”

Forced to leave her home again and again, she’s asking for protection as well as international visibility. Making her more famous won’t guarantee her safety but we can try to help by sharing her story with whoever we know, by showing that we’re watching, and by saying that she should be protected and never be forced to move again.

Source: Karla Avelar’s Life Of Constant Threats | HuffPost

Breaking news: three Human Rights Defenders selected as Finalists for the 2017 Martin Ennals Award.

April 26, 2017

Today, 26 April 2017, the Martin Ennals Foundation announced that the following 3 human rights defenders have been selected as the Finalists for the  2017 Martin Ennals Award. This award is considered to be the main of award of the whole international human rights movement as the Jury (see below) is composed of leading human rights NGOs.

FreeThe5KH (Cambodia)

FreeThe5KH are five Human Rights Defenders who have been in pre-trial detention for almost one year. This is linked to their work with the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC). International bodies like the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and UN Special Rapporteurs have repeatedly called for their immediate and unconditional release, and a stop to judicial harassment of human rights defenders in Cambodia based on their legitimate human rights work. This comes in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia.

On behalf of the Khmer Five, Thun Saray, President of (ADHOC) comments: “It is an immense honour for the five HRDs to be selected as finalists. 28 April will mark their one year in arbitrary detention on the basis of their legitimate human rights work. The increased attacks against HRDs and activists has had a tremendous impact on those working to promote and protect human rights in Cambodia. This Award is symbol of encouragement for every courageous Cambodian, who continues to speak out against injustices and human rights violations. I would like to express my deepest gratitude to everyone that has supported the nomination.

Karla Avelar (El Salvador)

Karla Avelar, a transgender woman in El Salvador, grew up on the streets of San Salvador, suffering discrimination, violence, exploitation, and rape. She was imprisoned when she defended herself, and then regularly abused by fellow prisoners with the knowledge and even participation of the prison authorities. These terrible experiences have forged her into a powerful advocate. With three others, she founded COMCAVIS TRANS, which was created to represent, defend, and promote the human rights of LGBTI persons, with a focus on those living with HIV, as she does. She works to change legislation and the authorities’ practices, by holding them publicly to account. Notably her advocacy helped prompt the authorities to segregate LGBTI prisoners for their own safety, and allow for the standard HIV treatments provided by the Ministry of Health.

She said,” I want to thank Martin Ennals, the jury, and those who nominated me for this important award. Although today I am in danger, and sure that my struggle is risky, my eagerness for justice and equity motivates me. I will continue to push the State to accept reforms and legislation proposed by civil society to allow the LGBTI community to fully enjoy their human rights.”

Mohamed Zaree (Egypt)

Mohamed Zaree is the Egypt Country Director for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), responsible for CIHRS’s legal research, media outreach and national advocacy. CIHRS’s work was influential in the Arab world particularly Egypt, which resulted in death threats to its director. This forced the CIHRS executive director and regional staff to move abroad to continue their work. Mohamed chose to stay and is now banned from travel. He is a legal scholar coordinating research to challenge laws designed to limit NGOs activities working on human rights, such as freedom of expression and assembly. He is widely seen a unifying figure bringing together the human rights community in Egypt to advocate with a common approach.

He stated “Our hopes were high following the Egyptian revolution in 2011; we don’t know how the situation has instead deteriorated to such an extent. Today, we are battling human rights violations that are worse than before 2011, and challenging the normalization and acceptance of these atrocities. Killing almost 1000 citizens in few hours, arresting almost 40,000 others, innocents dying in Egyptian prisons; is not the norm and we will not allow it to become so. We human rights defenders are fighting these abuses at risk of indefinite imprisonment. 

The Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA) is a unique collaboration among ten of the world’s leading human rights organizations to give protection to human rights defenders worldwide. The Jury is composed of the following NGOs:

  • Amnesty International,
  • Human Rights Watch,
  • Human Rights First,
  • FIDH – Int’l Federation for Human Rights,
  • World Organisation Against Torture,
  • Front Line Defenders,
  • International Commission of Jurists,
  • EWDE Germany,
  • International Service for Human Rights,
  • HURIDOCS

The Award will be presented on October 10th 2017 at a ceremony hosted by the City of Geneva.

For further information, please contact: Michael Khambatta +41 79 474 8208 khambatta[at]martinennalsaward.org or visit www.martinennalsaward.org

Amnesty International campaigns with “7 women who refuse to wait for their rights”

March 8, 2017

Also in the light of International Women’s Day 2017…….here are the seven Women Human Rights Defenders whom AI UK are profiling in their campaign of women who “refuse to wait in the face of injustice, and often paying the price of freedom in the process”..:

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng – She won’t wait… while women are still denied abortions 

Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng

Tlaleng is a medical doctor in South Africa. She fearlessly advocates for sexual health as a radio presenter, spreading her message far and wide.  ‘I won’t stop until the right of women to have an abortion is respected and provided for safely,’ she says. ‘In South Africa, women die every year due to unsafe abortions, yet politicians think they can use women’s reproductive rights as a political ping pong ball.‘ Tlaleng is also challenging rape culture, and championing the drive to get health practitioners to treat patients with respect and without discrimination.

Karla Avelar – She won’t wait… while refugees are denied safety

Karla Avelar

Karla Avelar is a survivor. She’s made it through gang attacks, murder attempts and prison in El Salvador. Today, she heads Comcavis Trans, which supports LGBTI people, all of whom face threats and violence in El Salvador. Their situation is so difficult in the country that many flee as refugees. Through Comcavis, Karla provides information and other support to help them on what is often a treacherous journey that normally takes them to the USA or Mexico. But the US’s hardline stance on refugees and migrants entering the country has thrown these LGBTI refugees into even greater jeopardy – something Karla is now tackling with energetic defiance.

Su Changlan – She won’t wait … to reunite another child bride with her parents

Sue Changlan

Former school teacher Su Changlan’s story is not unique. One of her closest friends says that hers is the story of many women in China. She couldn’t stand by when she heard about girls trafficked as brides or parents whose children had gone missing. She did her best to help them and many others, her activism extending to land rights issues and support for pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. She did all this knowing that she might have to sacrifice her freedom in the process. Sadly, this is just what happened. She has been detained by the authorities since 2015. ‘I hope that parents do not despair about searching for their missing children. We, civil society, should work together to help them reunite with their children. The government should also invest more in these efforts instead of hindering our work!

Samira Hamidi – She won’t wait… while women are excluded from government

Samira Hamidi

Since 2004, Samira Hamidi has been blazing a trail for women in Afghanistan. As Chairperson of the Afghan Women’s Network (AWN) she has actively tried to ensure that women’s voices and concerns are represented at the highest levels of government. At the same time, she is a staunch advocate in the international arena, reminding governments and potential aid donors that promoting and securing women’s rights in Afghanistan must be part of any conversation they may have with the country’s leaders. She faces a steep road, but she remains undaunted, championing other women human rights defenders, ensuring that their concerns are amplified. Women should be given an equal opportunity to make a better Afghanistan.

Jeanette John Solstad Remø – She won’t wait… for the right to be recognised as a woman

Jeanette John Solstad Remo

Until recently, she was John Jeanette, her name signifying the dual identity she was forced to accept every day in Norway. Although this former submarine commander felt her future could only be female, Norwegian law did not allow her to change her legal gender without undergoing a compulsory ‘real sex conversion’. This would have involved having her reproductive organs removed, as well as a psychiatric diagnosis. She refused to put herself through any of this. As a result, her driving license, passport, medical prescriptions, even her library card, still referred to her as male. She campaigned hard against Norway’s abusive law and her actions, alongside those of her supporters – including Amnesty – scored a huge victory. In 2016, Norway finally adopted a new law on legal gender recognition, which allows transgender people to choose their gender. Today, in acknowledgement of this milestone, she has changed her name to Jeanette John.

Loujain al-Hathloul – She won’t wait… for the right to drive a car 

180Loujain%20al-Hathloul.png

Fearless and formidable, Loujain defied Saudi Arabia’s driving ban and faced the consequences. In November 2014, she was detained for 73 days for live-tweeting herself driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates. Released in February 2015, she went on to stand for election in November that year – the first time women were allowed to both vote and stand in elections in the state. However, despite finally being recognised as a candidate, her name was never added to the ballot. Today, she continues her fight to create a better future for her fellow Saudis – one where women enjoy their rights as full citizens of their nation. ‘I will win. Not immediately, but definitely.’

Connie Greyeyes – She won’t wait… for another sister to be stolen

Connie Greyeyes

Connie Greyeyes is an ‘accidental’ activist. An Indigenous Cree woman living in the province of British Columbia in Western Canada, she realised that a shocking number of Indigenous women in her community had gone missing or had been murdered. She began organising to support the families of these women and took the demand for a national inquiry to the Canadian capital in Ottawa. According to official figures, more than 1,000 Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered in Canada in the last three decades. The efforts of Connie and many other Indigenous women across Canada have borne fruit, with the Canadian government finally announcing an inquiry in 2016. ‘When we’re together, there’s so much strength. Being able to smile even after finding out that your loved one was murdered. How can you not be inspired by women who have been to hell and back over their children? How can you not be inspired and want to continue fighting?

https://www.amnesty.org.uk/blogs/campaigns/international-womens-day

The killing of Oscar Romero – El Salvador’s ‘turbulent priest’ – written up after 36 years

January 18, 2017

Tom Sandborn wrote in the Vancouver Sun of 7 January 2017 review  of the book “Assassination of a Saint: The Plot to Murder Oscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice“, by Matt Eisenbrandt, published by University of California Press.

Sainthood and civil torts
Book cover: Assassination of a Saint: The Plot to Murder Oscar Romero and the Quest to Bring His Killers to Justice

It took a single bullet to kill Oscar Romero, but his legacy has outlived many who plotted his murder and he may soon be officially named a saint by the Catholic Church. Assassination of a Saint is an exciting, dramatically paced account of his murder by a right wing death squad and the painstaking and eventually successful efforts to expose some of the men behind the Archbishop’s death.

In El Salvador in 1980, Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, had been elevated to his position in part because the cabal of land owners and politicians that controlled the tortured Central American state saw him as unlikely to pose uncomfortable moral challenges to their power. But Romero was fast becoming a problem for the elites…. he was condemning the war of right wing terror being waged against the Salvadoran people by the army, police and paramilitary death squads, all of whom took orders and funding from the country’s ruling class and inspiration from a particularly bloody minded brand of Cold War anti-Communism….

During the three years he spent as Archbishop, Romero was gradually radicalized by the suffering inflicted on the poor of his country by the official and unofficial death squads. In the end, he condemned the state and ruling class sponsored murders and called on soldiers and policemen to refuse the orders to turn their guns on Salvadorans standing up for their freedom. “No soldier,” he thundered from the altar, “is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God.” That call for conscientious disobedience was the last straw. The decision was made that the “turbulent priest” must die.

On March 24, 1980, a sniper in a van parked outside the church fired a rifle once, striking Romero in the chest as he said mass and killing him. The assassination made the Archbishop a beloved martyr among the poor, and kicked off a new round of civil war and bloodshed. For decades, no one was held to account for the public murder.

The Assassination of a Saint is the compelling story of how a rag-tag band of idealistic lawyers collaborated with Salvadoran exiles to identify one of the killers, Alvaro Saravia. Because the assassin was found to be living in the United States, the legal team, working out of the San Francisco offices of the Center for Justice and Accountability, was able to file a civil suit against him under an obscure American law, the Alien Torts Act, for damages incurred by Romero’s killing. In the course of that effort, they brought to light much of the hidden history of the Romero murder, meeting with witnesses and accomplices in the crime and uncovering much more about the archbishop’s death than had been known before.

Matt Eisenbrandt was a member of the legal team, and he has written a fast paced, informative and dramatic account. …Before they were successful in that effort in 2004, the crusading lawyers experienced a series of dramatic meetings with perpetrators and potential witnesses, tense moments, mysterious phone calls, frightening visits to El Salvador and years of exhaustive research. Their win was a triumph for human rights defenders, and this book is a powerful account of how that victory was won. 

Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He has been involved in human rights activism for over five decades. He welcomes feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

Source: Sainthood and civil torts

Salvadoran human rights defender Angélica Miriam Quintanilla Hernández murdered

May 18, 2016

American Jewish World Service (AJWS) reported that on Friday, 6 May 2016, Salvadoran human rights defender, Angélica Miriam Quintanilla Hernández, was killed. Angélica, a sex worker activist, leader and AJWS grantee, was assassinated just two blocks from her office in El Salvador. Read the rest of this entry »

El Salvador and Honduras remain rotten places for (women) human rights defenders

December 21, 2015

Two cases of women human rights defenders in Central America as reported by Front Line Defenders.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

El Salvador  Read the rest of this entry »

Bishop Oscar Romero from El Salvador: now a saintly human right defender

May 23, 2015

Whether one believes in sainthood or not, it is not difficult to rejoice with Pax Christi International about the 23 May beatification of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero who became known for his persistent search for truth, justice and reconciliation in the late seventies in conflict-torn El Salvador. He was shot dead while celebrating mass on 24 March 1980. The assassin has never been identified, but it is widely believed that the assassins were members of a death squad led by former Major Roberto D’Aubuisson.  Read the rest of this entry »

IM-Defensoras: women human rights defenders in Central America support each other

February 25, 2014

MDG : Women activists in Latin America  : protest against violence in Mexico

(A woman protesting against violence (c) Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

An excellent piece in the Guardian of 25 February by Jo Tuckman describes the impact of the Mesoamerican Human Rights Defenders’ Initiative [IM-Defensoras] which through solidarity tries to protect woman human rights defenders. The Honduran Berta Cáceres – who has been under threat for years because of her campaign against extractive industries – says that without solidarity from her peers, it could all be over. “The solidarity is why I am alive and why I am here,” she told a recent meeting of the IM-Defensoras in the Mexican capital. “And, of course, we are committed to continue.” (https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/berta-caceres/)

IM-Defensoras is a three-year-old effort to provide women rights defenders in the Central American region with protection mechanisms that are gender-sensitive and adapted to different contexts, and that go beyond traditional options. The organisers of IM-Defensoras say activists in Central America are increasingly being targeted and governmental protection is rarely effective and difficult to trust. The initiative documented 414 attacks on women activists between 2010 and 2012, a period in which it says 38 women were killed, with the vast majority of their deaths blamed on the state.

The initiative is built around the creation of national networks of activists. So far, these have been set up in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, with about 360 members. The plan is to expand these networks and set up new ones in Costa Rica and Panama. The importance of the networks stems partly from the recognition that women activists are usually less able to rely on family and organisational support than men. For example, a female leader in danger is much likelier to face pressure from her family, or even from male colleagues, to withdraw from activism. “The gender perspective means recognising that women defenders have already broken the rules“.

The networks are the basis of most of the work of IM-Defensoras. In times of emergency, the networks may draw attention to a credible death threat or organise temporary exile, for example. They devise strategies that take into account complications such as whether an activist also has children.

The Guardian article also draws attention to an often overlooked aspect of support networks: fighting stress. The initiative also encourages activists to pay attention to the stress they accumulate from sustained threats, attacks, sexual harassment and smear campaigns. The risk of burnout is increased further by the fact that most women activists receive no salary and so also undertake paid work, at the same time as spending several hours a day on domestic chores. After getting supportive messages, Lolita Chávez, a Guatemalan K´iche’ (Mayan language) human rights defender is quoted as saying:  “I said to myself: ‘Maybe others think I am a terrorist but there are sisters telling me I am a defender of human rights’,”… “It was a counterbalance.” Chávez also spent three weeks in Mexico at a workshop to help her look after her own mental and physical health, which, like most women activists, she had neglected for years. “The initiative has filled me with life, but there are many sisters out there who are still waiting for this kind of support,” Chávez told the Mexico City meeting. “It is possible to do what we do and not be a martyr.” (see also: http://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/lolita-chavez-about-land-and-life-in-peril-in-guatemala/)

 

Central American women put their lives on the line for human rights | Global development | theguardian.com.