Posts Tagged ‘environmental defenders’

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/

Mary Lawlor opinion: Time for action, the role of human rights defenders in crisis and in a just recovery

February 11, 2021

On 4 February 2021 the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre published an opinion piece by Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human rights Defenders:

Human rights defenders (HRDs) all over the world face continuous harassment, threats and intimidation, with some even getting killed in response to their work protecting and defending human rights. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, attacks against HRDs have continued with many facing greater risks as some governments misuse the situation to further curtail civil rights, deny participation in public decision-making, and deploy state forces to repress legitimate, peaceful protests and obstruct access to justice.

Many of these attacks are related to business activities. In 2019, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) documented the killing of 357 HRDs, half of whom worked on land rights, protection of the environment, minority rights and indigenous people rights. These violations are often carried out in the context of extractive industries, energy production, agro-industrial development and other business activities. When human rights are under threat from business activities, HRDs stand up and put themselves at risk to protect these rights and their communities. For an overview of all such HRDs, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

A landmark example is that of HRD Mungunkhun Dulmaa in Mongolia. In 2017, the Mongolian Government entered into a mining agreement with Steppe Gold, a Canadian gold mining company. The local community complained about the environmental impact of the agreement, the associated gold mine, and allocation of land to step-mines – lands which had been used by the community for generations. In 2018, members of the affected community staged a protest and were attacked by private security guards, hired by the company. When Ms. Dulmaa tried to video-record the assault as evidence she was detained, beaten and sexually harassed, and the video was deleted from her phone. A year later, when she attempted to report the incident to local police, Ms. Dulmaa received death threats via text, warning her to stop her work. Here, the lack of engagement by companies with potentially affected communities is blatant. In 2020, my predecessor and the UN Working Group on business and human rights sent a communication regarding Ms. Dulmaa’s case to both the Mongolian Government and the company, but neither responded. This signals a real lack of accountability. If we really want to ‘build back better’ and achieve a just recovery, human rights and HRDs need to become a priority for both states and business.

Five steps companies should take to address risks to HRDs in the context of just recovery:

  1. Implement the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) through adequate engagement with rightsholders. A recent report from Trinity College, Dublin on 50 large companies and 10 states showed that companies either don’t know or don’t care about the UNGPs. A key part of the implementation of UNGPs is engagement with potentially affected rightsholders and their representatives, including independent trade unions and other civil society organisations. So far, this is not happening: for example, in the Know the Chain benchmark, all companies scored zero on their efforts to support freedom of association. This must change if we want to ‘build back better’: from the earliest possible stage of each project and throughout their supply chains, companies need to engage with potentially affected communities, workers and HRDs representing and supporting them. This needs to include critical voices and companies must give due consideration to the possible objections of HRDs, even if these may render their work and projects more costly, less profitable or even less viable.
  2. Free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) from affected communities, especially indigenous ones, is non-negotiable. It is an essential part of the effective due diligence called for in the UNGPs and a platform to prevent conflict. HRDs, typically leaders in their communities, can help business develop the kind of precise, contextualised understanding of local situations they need if they intend to prevent and address the potential threats to human rights arising from their activities. In assessing risk, both companies and investors, and the social auditors they hire to help them do so, should give adequate weight to independent civil society and community-level information and evidence. This is fundamental when considering actions for just recovery.
  3. This engagement with HRDs and rightsholders must continue for the duration of any business project, because opinions can change over time. Therefore, companies need to constantly keep their door open to HRDs and their input.
  4. Companies should create public HRDs policies and processes. Business needs to commit to the recognition of communities, HRDs and trade unions as partners by systematically including them in human rights policies and due diligence. They need to commit to a zero-tolerance approach to violence in their supply chains, and enforceable agreements with unions, and consistently prevent, monitor and address risks HRDs face in them.
  5. Companies should also stand with HRDs when they are attacked and release public statements denouncing threats and attacks. Such steps should be taken in consultation with HRDs themselves to increase effective actions that prevent harm and most importantly build trust with HRDs and local communities.

It must be acknowledged some private businesses are already taking positive steps when it comes to protecting HRDs, but most of them do not. This is extremely disappointing and indicates a very strong need for mandatory human rights and environmental due diligence (HREDD). As the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, I strongly support the growing momentum worldwide for mandatory HREDD, and advocate for an early inclusion of rightsholders and HRDs in the legislative process. These laws need to ensure access to justice and the right to an effective remedy, include a business duty to conduct effective, meaningful and informed consultations, and introduce robust safeguards for HRDs and whistle-blowers. An uncritical return to business-as-usual in the post-pandemic period would only perpetuate the deep inequalities between companies, workers and local communities, whereas we have a precious opportunity to reimagine and rebuild an economy that serves and respects the rights of all its participants.

https://www.business-humanrights.org/en/

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

Almost 200 international organizations denounce attacks against peaceful resistance to Escobal mine in Guatemala

January 25, 2021

On 21 January, 2021 Ellen Moore in Earthworks reports that more than 190 organizations have denounced an armed attack against Guatemalan land defender Julio David González Arango, a leader in the peaceful resistance to Pan American Silver’s Escobal mine. Julio was shot and wounded on January 16 at his home. Since the attack, two other members of the peaceful resistance have received threatening messages saying they’ll be next. The letter calls on the Guatemalan Attorney General to immediately launch a thorough investigation into the attack and hold the material and intellectual authors of this crime responsible. Julio has led opposition to the Escobal mine for nearly a decade, facing numerous criminalization and defamation campaigns against him by supporters of the mine. Saturday’s terrifying attack is part of a long history of violence against opponents of the Escobal mine since the project was first imposed in 2011. A Constitutional Court order suspended the mine in 2017 pending consultation with the Xinka people. But the threats and defamation campaigns against community leaders never stopped. In early December, a complaint was filed with Guatemalan authorities denouncing threats against Julio. Community leaders report that following the filing of the complaint, threats against them actually increased, including threats directed at Xinka representatives who are participating in the consultation process. 

This is a dangerous time for land-defenders impacted by the Escobal mine, which Xinka leaders say is made worse by Pan American Silver’s ongoing community outreach. For more than two years, the Xinka have called on the company to respect the court ordered suspension and halt all mining activities, including community programs, which they say stoke tensions and undermine their ability to freely participate in the consultation process.

While the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) recently agreed to accept all 59 Xinka representatives in the consultation process, marking the first significant advancement in almost two years, serious obstacles remain. A recent report details a slew of attacks against judicial independence in Guatemala, including allegations of corruption within the Supreme Court. This is significant for the Escobal mine consultation given that the Supreme Court is the main arbiter in the process, responsible for ensuring that the Constitutional Court order is upheld and Xinka rights are respected. Without an independent and impartial Supreme Court, Xinka communities are left in an increasingly precarious and dangerous situation. 

For More Information: 

Felix Vasquez, environmental defender, killed in front of family in Honduras

December 29, 2020

Reuters on 28 December 2020 reported that masked men armed with guns and machetes killed Felix Vasquez, a Honduran environmental rights defender, in front of his family, police said, the latest in a string of such attacks in the Central American country. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/16/two-more-defenders-killed-in-honduras/]

Police authorities immediately decided to initiate a corresponding investigation… we hope to have an answer soon,” police official Kevin Hernandez told journalists.

Honduras is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for activists, with 14 land and environmental defenders killed last year, up from four people in 2018, according to data made available by advocacy group Global Witness. [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

Vasquez, a member of the indigenous Lenca community which lives in the mountainous region near the border with El Salvador, had intended to run for Congress as a member of the opposition LIBRE party in 2021 elections.

Soon after a second land defender was killed: Adan Medina, 46, of the Tolupan indigenous community, was shot and killed by a group of men on Sunday after returning from work in the town of Candelaria, according to Noe Rodriguez, the president of a local indigenous federation. [https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing/second-indigenous-activist-killed-in-honduras-in-past-week-idUSKBN29423E]

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-killing-idUSKBN2921QK

Amazon Forest Defender Osvalinda winner Edelstam Prize 2020

November 25, 2020

The Edelstam Prize 2020 is awarded to Osvalinda Marcelino Alves Pereira from the Amazon rainforest territory in Brazil for outstanding contributions and exceptional courage. She has fearlessly and continuously been reporting to federal authorities illegal logging of the forest in the Areia region. For more on this and similar awards, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/CAA00E38-C320-41E0-9FD4-B3BF3DC0D54F

Mrs. Osvalinda Alves Pereira from Pará in Brazil is an Amazon rainforest defender and community organizer who puts herself at great risk in defending the forest and its population. Defending the forest from illegal logging is very dangerous, as laws are rarely enforced against the perpetrators of the abuses. Criminal logging networks deploy men to protect their illegal activities and intimidate, threaten and kill those who obstruct their activities which are causing the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

Osvalinda Alves Pereira and her husband, Mr. Daniel Alves Pereira, have received numerous threats for nearly a decade from criminal networks involved in illegal logging in the state of Pará. For more than 18 months they have been in hiding, with the support of the Federal Program to Protect Human Rights Defenders, Journalists, and Environmental Defenders; however, they are now back in Pará as they feel that, even if the security is not strong enough, they have to continue their work within the rainforest areas where the illegal logging is taking place.

“The courageous activity of Mrs. Osvalinda in reporting illegal logging of the Amazon rainforest despite constant threats and in standing up for her convictions in times when justice is required sets an important example for the resilience needed to protect and defend our environment. Brazil has signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and has committed to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon by 2030. However, authorities are failing to implement and enforce environmental laws in the Amazon, which heavily undermines the work to protect the forest,” says Caroline Edelstam, Chair of the Edelstam Prize Jury and co-founder of the Edelstam Foundation

Large farmers involved in illegal logging often use land-reform settlements where poor farmers have small plots to have access to the nearby protected forests. Osvalinda Alves Pereira founded the Areia II Women’s Association to develop sustainable organic agriculture and to reforest areas where logging has occurred. She is a local leader of the Areia Settlement Project, which is geographically situated as a gateway to three major conservation units: the Trairao National Forest, the Riozinho de Afrisio Extractive Reserve, and the Jamanxim National Park, which are areas of great interest to illegal loggers. Pará is today the state with the highest reported number of conflicts over land and resources.

In spite of offers of bribes and persistent threats, Osvalinda Alves Pereira has courageously continued to report the activities of the illegal loggers. Criminal networks are engaged in the large-scale extraction, processing, and sale of timber, illegal land seizures, as well as illegal mining in the Amazon. They employ armed men to intimidate the local population. The vast majority of threats and attacks against forest defenders is never properly investigated or punished. As a consequence, forest defenders are at great risk, and Osvalinda Alves Pereira fears for her life.

“It is important to find ways to enforce national and international law and promote accountability for serious abuses of human rights. In this case, Brazil, should be able to provide protection to forest defenders who receive death threats. Impunity is not an option. The international community also has a responsibility to uphold justice and ensure the protection of victims and defenders of the forest, including both environmental enforcement officials and members of the Indigenous and other local communities, and to uphold the principle that nobody is above the law. This year, nearly 8000 square kilometres have been deforested,” says Caroline Edelstam, Chair of the Edelstam Prize Jury.

The prize will be awarded during a live-streamed ceremony tomorrow, the 24th of November at 5 pm CET, 2020 on http://www.edelstam.org

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/05/li-wenzu-wife-of-wang-quanzhang-wins-2018-edelstam-award/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/11/23/brazilian-forest-defenders-are-not-alone

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http://www.edelstam.org/news/threatened-amazon-forest-defender-receives-the-edelstam-prize/

EU law on corporate due diligence and SLAPPs: crucial and urgent matters

November 19, 2020

European Parliament is deciding its position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence should look like. Richard Gardiner (a Senior Campaigner for Corporate Accountability at Global Witness) on 2 September  2020 explains more and more recently (11 November 2020) a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups call on the EU to to protect journalists against gag lawsuits (SLAPPs)

As the European Parliament begins developing proposals for a new – and momentous – law to hold business to account for its impact on people and planet, Richard Gardiner sets out how this process came about and what needs to happen now to ensure this really delivers results.

Where are we now?

Following the publication of the European Commission study on due diligence requirements through the supply chain earlier this year, in April, European Commissioner for Justice Didier Reynders announced to the European Parliament Responsible Business Conduct Working Group that he will introduce EU rules on corporate accountability and corporate due diligence in early 2021.

In response to this announcement, Members of the European Parliament are now starting work to develop a European Parliament position on what an EU law on corporate due diligence could look like. This work will take place within the European Parliament Legal Affairs Committee and will be led by MEP Lara Wolters.

The goal of this work is to influence the final Commission legislative proposal and ensure that the Commissioner follows through on his commitment to present an ambitious framework for this law.

Potential to be a real game changer?

Global Witness has long advocated for mandatory corporate accountability rules to tackle corporate abuse against people and planet.

Our recently published report ‘Defending Tomorrow’ shows that while land and environmental defenders continue to act as the first line of defence against climate breakdown, far too many businesses, financiers and governments either fail to protect them or – in the worst examples – can be complicit in the violence they face.

These brave people play a vital role challenging companies operating recklessly, rampaging unhampered through virgin forests, protected wetlands, indigenous territories and biodiversity hotspots. They are on the frontline of our global, collective fight against climate change. However, despite their importance to the preservation of our planet, our report shows that 212 land and environmental defenders were murdered in 2019 – the bloodiest on record, with the deadliest sectors for this violence being mining, agribusiness and logging.

Our findings show that an average of four land and environmental defenders are killed every week since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016. These are reinforced by our previous investigations on continued deforestation, minerals that fuel and fund conflict, and grand-scale corruption.

There is clearly a legislative gap when governments and citizens have no legal means to hold corporations accountable for their human rights and environmental abuses. As the world’s largest trading bloc, the EU is now looking to lead the global debate on corporate accountability and this new law will shape not only corporate behaviour within the EU but also globally.

What needs to be in this new law?

Civil society united in their calls for the EU to introduce legislation on corporate due diligence. We have consistently pointed to the fact that voluntary measures have proved to be vastly insufficient and new legislation is urgently needed to establish clear, robust and enforceable cross-sectoral requirements on all business enterprises, including financial institutions, to respect human rights and the environment.

As the European Parliament begins to discuss the details of corporate accountability legislation, Global Witness is part of a coalition of NGOs that has published its call to action for the key elements needed to hold businesses to account:

  • The new law must apply to all businesses, including finance, of all sizes and sectors acting in the EU.
  • Business must have a duty to address all the adverse human rights, environmental and governance impacts in their global supply chains.
  • Businesses must conduct Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) Due Diligence to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, monitor and account for their adverse risks.
  • Businesses must engage and consult with all relevant stakeholders, including human rights defenders and indigenous peoples, as part of their RBC due diligence.
  • Businesses must be made liable for the human rights, environmental and governance adverse impacts in their global value chains.

You can read the full paper here.

So what happens next?

The months between now and the end of the year promise to be extremely interesting on the topic of corporate accountability across all the EU institutions. Firstly, the European Parliament will aim to finalise its advice to the Commission by end 2020 in order to ensure that it can be taken into account in the Commission proposal. Secondly, the Commission has draft plans to release a public consultation on the new due diligence legislation in Autumn 2020 to get public input on how to draft their proposal.

And finally, the German Presidency of the European Council have indicated that due diligence is a key political priority for their Presidency and they will aim to have Council conclusions on this topic by the end of the year. At Global Witness, we will continue to engage with all the European institutions to ensure that EU policy makers live up to their commitments to introduce a meaningful and impactful new law.

SLAPPs: More and more journalists and civil society organisations are being sued by powerful businessmen and politicians. The International Press Institute (IPI) has joined a group of 87 organisations and media freedom groups calling on the EU to ensure those with a watchdog role are protected from gag lawsuits.

‘SLAPP’ stands for Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation. It’s a form of legal harassment designed to intimidate critical voices into silence. Expensive and unscrupulous law firms market this attack-dog service to powerful and wealthy individuals who can afford to drag on abusive proceedings for years just to shield themselves from unwanted public scrutiny. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/28/ngos-demand-that-rules-against-strategic-lawsuits-against-public-participation-slapp-are-upgraded/]

This scrutiny is the lifeblood of healthy democratic societies. The European Court of Human Rights and other national and regional courts have consistently and explicitly recognised in their judgments the important role a free press, and more broadly civil society, plays in holding the powerful to account. Their judgments reaffirm the obligation states have to create an environment that is conducive to free speech. Because without this, democracy weakens and dies.

The holes in our laws that allow powerful people to hammer their critics into submission are a hole in European democracy. Cases of abuse pepper the continent. Poland’s second-biggest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, has received over 55 legal threats and lawsuits by a number of actors, including from Poland’s ruling party, since 2015.

French businessman Vincent Bolloré and companies affiliated with the Bollore Group have blanketed journalists and NGOs in libel suits to stop them covering his business interests in Africa. In Spain, meat producer Coren is demanding €1 million in damages from an environmental activist for criticising its waste management practices, having previously threatened activists and scientists who were researching nitrate levels in its local waters.

The people we depend on for information about what is happening around us are being distracted, impeded, or entirely blocked from pursuing their work by these costly and resource-intensive legal attacks. The situation is becoming skewed beyond recognition. When it comes to certain people, governments, companies and topics, it’s not writers, film makers or journalists who decide what we read, watch and talk about.

It’s not even the courts, for SLAPPs rarely make it to a hearing, let alone a court judgment. Rather, it’s the oligarchs and their associates in politics, through the lawyers they pay, who are shaping the narrative and preventing the truth from emerging.

We’ve seen a worrying pattern emerge in Europe of government officials or beneficiaries of large public contracts adopting the tactics of celebrities and oligarchs to shield themselves from the heightened level of scrutiny that their positions or financial links to government warrant. The fact that the threats are often cross-border ratchets up the costs for journalists and activists, who find themselves summoned to court far from home in Europe’s most expensive legal jurisdictions.

Awareness of this problem is growing. European Commission Vice-President Věra Jourová has promised to ‘look into all possible options’ to counter the threat SLAPPs pose to European democracy. One promising solution lies in the institutions of the European Union, and it could help realter the balance between pursuers of SLAPPs and the public’s right to be informed of matters in the public interest.

EU-wide legislation should be adopted to protect people across the European Union from SLAPPs. This has to be a priority. As in other parts of the world, rules should be in place across the EU to allow SLAPP suits to be dismissed at an early stage of proceedings, to sanction SLAPP litigants for abusing the law and the courts, and to provide measures to allow victims to defend themselves.

When we consider the importance of public watchdogs such as investigative journalists, activists, and whistleblowers to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, the absence of safeguards is a threat not only to press freedom but to the proper functioning of Europe’s internal market and, increasingly, to Europe’s democratic life.

The reality is that for every journalist or activist threatened with violence in Europe, a hundred more are silenced discreetly by letters sent by law firms, perverting laws meant to protect the reputations of the innocent from attacks by the powerful.

SLAPPs are a far less barbaric means of silencing someone than a car bomb or a bullet to the head, but their silencing effect is often just as destructive.

Signatories

In 3 months the Escazú Agreement should come into force

November 11, 2020

On 9 November 2020, a very large group of UN human rights experts welcomed the impending entry into force of the first environmental human rights treaty in Latin America and the Caribbean, known as the Escazú Agreement, lauding it as a ground-breaking pact to fight pollution and secure a healthy environment. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/23/escazu-agreement-to-protect-environmental-human-rights-in-latin-america-stalling/]

In the face of proliferating environmental conflicts and persistent intimidation, harassment and detention of environmental human rights defenders, the Escazú Agreement offers hope to the countless individuals and communities in the region that suffer from pollution and the negative impacts of extractive industries,’ said the UN Special Rapporteur on toxics and human rights, Marcos Orellana.

The Escazú Agreement includes strong protections for indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders, at a time when they are subject to unprecedented levels of violence.

The experts expressed hope that the treaty could serve as a model for other regions to improve cooperation and mobilise efforts for better governance of natural resources and environmental protection through transparency, accountability and community engagement. By ensuring people’s rights to information, participation, and access to justice, the Agreement affirms a strong rights-based approach to environmental governance.

The experts also voiced concern over disinformation campaigns that have obfuscated public debate in certain countries of the region.

‘We urge those countries who have yet to ratify or adhere, to join regional efforts and demonstrate best practice for a more just and sustainable region,’ the experts said.

The Escazú Agreement will enter into force 90 days following the 11th ratification. The experts commended the 11 countries that ratified the agreement: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Kitts & Nevis, and Uruguay.

‘The remaining nations in the Latin America and Caribbean region should move quickly towards ratifying the Escazú Agreement in order to maximise the treaty’s effectiveness in protecting human rights in the face of today’s interconnected climate, biodiversity, and pollution crises,’ the experts said.

https://www.marketscreener.com/news/latest/UN-Experts-Hail-Landmark-Environmental-Treaty-in-Latin-America-and-the-Caribbean–31739025

Climate defense suffers from on-line abuse of Environmental Defenders

October 30, 2020

Deutsche Welle carries a long but interesting piece on “What impact is hate speech having on climate activism around the world?”

From the Philippines to Brazil and Germany, environmental activists are reporting a rise in online abuse. What might seem like empty threats and insults, can silence debate and lead to violence.

Hate speech online

Renee Karunungan, an environmental campaigner from the Philippines, says being an activist leaves you “exposed” and an easy target for online hate. And she would know.  “I’ve had a lot of comments about my body and face,” she says, “things like ‘you’re so fat’ or ‘ugly’,” she says. “But also, things like ‘I will rape you‘.”  Such threats were one reason she decided to leave the country.  

There isn’t much data on online abuse against environmentalists. But Karunungan is one of many saying it’s on the rise.  

As it becomes woven into the fabric of digital life, we sometimes forget the impact a single comment can have, Karunungan says: “The trauma that an activist feels – it is not just ‘online’, it is real. It can get you into a very dark place.”  

Platforms like TikTok and Facebook have begun responding to calls for stricter regulation for stricter regulations.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/03/more-on-facebook-and-twitter-and-content-moderation/]..

“There is also a huge gray zone,” says Josephine Schmitt, researcher on hate speech at the Centre for Advanced Internet Studies, and definitions can be “very subjective.”  ..

While no international legal definition exists, the UN describes hate speech as communication attacking people or a group “based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, color, descent, gender or other identity factor.” 

According to several researchers and activists, environmental campaigning also serves as an identifying factor that attracts hate.  

Environmental defenders are attacked because they serve as a projection surface for all kinds of group-based enmity,” says Lorenz Blumenthaler of the anti-racist Amadeu Antonio Foundation. 

Blumenthaler says his foundation has seen an “immense increase” in hate speech against climate activists in Germany – and particularly against those who are young and female.  This year Luisa Neubauer, prominent organiser of Germany’s Fridays for Future movement, won a court case regarding hateful comments she received online. This came after far-right party Alternative für Deutschland’s criticisms of Greta Thunberg included likening her to a cult figure and mocking her autism

In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, for example, Mary Menton, environmental justice research fellow at Sussex University, says in there is often a fine line between hate speech and smear campaigns.  She has seen an increase in the use of fake news and smear campaigns – on both social and traditional media – aiming to discredit the character of Indigenous leaders or make them look like criminals. Coming from high-level sources, as well as local lobbies and rural conglomerates, these attacks create an atmosphere of impunity for attacks against these Indigenous activists, Menton says, while for activists themselves, “it creates the sense there is a target on their backs.“.. 

Some of it comes from international “climate trolls” calling climate change a hoax or the activists too young and uninformed. But the most frightening come from closer to home. “Some people outrightly say we are terrorists and don’t deserve to live,” Mitzi says.  In Philippines, eco-activists are targets for “red-tagging” – where government and security forces brand critics as “terrorists” or “communists.” 

Global Witness ranks it the second most dangerous place in the world for environmental defenders, with 46 murders last year, and Mitzi believes there is a clear link between hate speech online and actual violence. 

Online hate can delegitimize certain political views and be the first step in escalating intimidation. Mitzi says many environmental groups are frightened of having their offices raided by the police and have experienced being put under surveillance.

Ed O’Donovan, of Irish-based human rights organization Frontline Defenders says in contrast to the anonymous targeting of human rights defenders by bots, attacks on climate activists “often originate with state-controlled media or government officials.” 

And they can serve a very strategic purpose, dehumanizing activists so that there is less outrage when they are subject to criminal process, or even attacked and killed.  Extractive industries and businesses are also involved, he adds, highlighting how “very calculated” hate speech campaigns are used to divide local communities and gain consent for development projects.  

Indigenous people protesting against large-scale projects, like these activists against a mine in Peru, are particular targets for hate campaigns For those invested in suppressing climate activism, Wodtke says hate speech can be a low-cost, high-impact strategy. For environmental defenders, it diverts their “attention, resources and energy,” forcing them into a position of defence against attacks on their legitimacy.  …

https://www.dw.com/en/what-impact-is-hate-speech-having-on-climate-activism-around-the-world/a-55420930

Two more defenders killed in Honduras

October 16, 2020

Arnold Joaquín Morazan was shot dead in his home in Guapinol, a small low-income community on Honduras’s north coast, earlier this week in what is being reported as a murder by local media.

Morazán Erazo belonged to the Guapinol environmental group, whose imprisoned activists were recently shortlisted for the EU’s Sakharov Prizefor freedom of thought. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/guapinol-activists/]

On 27 September 2020, in the central Honduran city of Comayagua, two unidentified individuals on a motorcycle shot Almendares, a local freelance journalist, three times and then fled the scene; bystanders brought the journalist to a local hospital, and he was then transferred to the Escuela Universitario hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, where he died yesterday morning, according to news reports and a report by Honduran free expression organization C-Libre.

“Honduran authorities must do everything in their power to conduct a credible investigation into the killing of journalist Luis Alonzo Almendares, determine whether it was related to his work, and prosecute those responsible,” said CPJ Central and South America Program Coordinator Natalie Southwick, in New York. “Violence against journalists is happening with terrifying frequency in Honduras, and impunity prevails in almost all cases. The government must act urgently to show that the killers of journalists will be held to account.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/22/honduran-defender-iris-argentina-alvarez-killed-by-private-security-guards/

https://euobserver.com/foreign/149771