Posts Tagged ‘environmental defenders’

Being a Woman Human Rights Defender in Thailand is risky

February 10, 2020

Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le
Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le

Growing up, cassava farmer Nittaya Muangklang did not think she would ever become an activist – let alone that she would lead a group of land rights defenders in the first-ever bid to challenge Thailand’s government and its “take back the forests” policy at the Supreme Court. “We did encroach on the national park, but as poor farmers, we should be eligible for exemption,” said Muangklang, who is fighting eviction, imprisonment and fines. Faced with what farmers and rights groups perceive as increasing judicial harassment, more women living in rural areas have joined the fight for land rights in Thailand – amid the spectre of intimidation and the threat of jail time or even being killed for their activism. The appeal court last year sentenced Muangklang and 13 other land rights defenders from Ban Sap Wai village in Thailand’s northeast to up to four years in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of between 40,000 and 1.6 million baht (between US$1,300 and US$52,000) for encroaching on and damaging land in Sai Thong National Park. The court said the farmers failed to prove they had occupied the land before the park was established in 1992. Muangklang, out on bail since last August, said her family had not applied for a land certificate when they moved to Ban Sap Wai in 1986 because they never thought it necessary until the day they faced eviction.

..Thai NGOs estimate that at least 8,000 households have been threatened with eviction since 2015. Meanwhile, Thailand’s ruling junta has in the past five years given away around 999 hectares of forest conservation land as concessions to large corporations, including cement and mining companies, according to Land Watch Thai. Muangklang’s case caught the attention of United Nations special rapporteurs, who last August expressed their concern that Thailand was misusing the forest reclamation policy. In a letter to the government, the UN said Muangklang’s prosecution “appears to be a result of her work as a community leader”, and pointed out that the eviction of the Ban Sap Wai farmers might violate their human rights. The Thai government has yet to respond to the UN’s request to justify its prosecution of the farmers. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment did not respond to This Week in Asia’s request for comment.

Being a female advocate for land rights in Thailand is a dangerous calling. In 2012, female activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonnak were brutally killed. Since 2014, 225 female human rights defenders from Thailand’s rural areas have been subjected to judicial harassment, according to NGO Protection International, which estimates that 70 per cent of these activists are land rights defenders accused of encroaching on national parks and other lands. However, their work is often overlooked and underappreciated…Even when efforts are made to enshrine women’s rights, as is the case with gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 17-section blueprint on achieving a sustainable future by 2030 – on-the-ground implementation when it comes to female land rights defenders tends to be lacking. “There’s a challenge there because many times states are not really connecting a human rights-based approach with [the SDGs’] development approach,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, who works with marginalised communities, agrees. “When the government is the key actor, [SDGs won’t work for] many people who oppose the government because of violations of human rights,” she said, explaining that this meant a lack of indicators and data to assess how female land rights defenders were being affected….On top of this, Phorn-in fears that millions of people could be affected, now that officials involved in the forest reclamation policy have search-and-destroy powers they can use without first needing court orders.

Protection International’s Somwong explained that with the labour involved in household and family-care duties, female activists were essentially “doing double work” while also facing the risk of sexual harassment. Consequently, rights groups have been calling for gender-sensitive support for these activists. “When you’re not protecting women, you’re not protecting the family, the community, or the movement,” Somwong said. Nine of the prosecuted Ban Sap Wai farmers are women.

…..

…Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, said it was her habit of questioning authority that led her to activism. She contended that the local authorities and the Kiew Lueng Company, which oversees the project, had not been transparent with local villagers on the environmental and economic impact of the mine. As a result, she and members of the conservation group have faced more than a dozen defamation lawsuits from the mining company as well as the local government. The project was put on hold in 2015 after the group counter-sued. The company got a mining permit in 2015 but has not been able to move forward since then due to the lawsuits. Jo has paid a steep price for her perseverance. She lost her job at the local school, another job as assistant to the village chief, and suffered two miscarriages due to the stress of activism, which also took its toll on her marriage and saw her divorce her husband. At 36, Jo’s main sources of income are farming and being an administrator of a Facebook group. But she has found a different family. Of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group’s 1,400 members, 70 per cent are women. …….

Early last year, Ban Haeng villagers received a note that the government was planning to annex the forest the community had been relying on as a source of livelihood, and turn it into a national park. The villagers have submitted a letter of objection, stating that people are living in the area. Jo is positive that no one will get evicted. Unlike the Ban Sap Wai case, she said, the people of Ban Haeng had clear proof of the village’s history – a namesake temple that dates back to 1851….

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3048456/thailands-female-land-rights-defenders-activism

Defending the Monarch Butterfly in Mexico costs lives

February 7, 2020

Mexican authorities are investigating the death of an employee of one of Mexico’s largest butterfly reserves. Raúl Hernández Romero was the second person connected to the reserve found dead in less than a week. The first death was Homero Gómez González — an environmental activist and well-known defender of the Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve in the Michoacan state. The deaths have alarmed environmental activists and human rights defenders in the country.

Amnesty International said it is alarmed. Twelve environmental defenders were already killed in Mexico in 2019. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]. The World’s host Marco Werman spoke with Erika Guevara Rosas, director of Amnesty International Americas, about the killings. Marco Werman: Homero Gómez González was very well-known for his protection of the monarch butterfly in Michoacán. He administrated sanctuaries to protect the monarch butterfly. But he was also a protector of the environment. He denounced, many times, illegal logging in the area and the increased presence of groups of organized crime that were trying to take over certain territories and land and threatened the environment where these monarch butterflies arrive every year in Mexico. Erika Guevara Rosas: We get a nice sense of his commitment to what he was doing with a video he posted just last month on Twitter. He’s in his butterfly sanctuary and thousands of butterflies are swirling all around him. He’s pretty happy and proudly declares in his tweet that the sanctuary in Michoacan is the biggest in the world. It’s kind of a sad video in retrospect, shot a couple of weeks before Gomez Gonzalez was killed. [https://twitter.com/miblogestublog/status/1222901129199009798]

Hernández Romero’s death, “along with the death of Homero Gómez, demands immediate investigation and full accountability,” tweeted Richard Pearshouse, head of crisis and environment at Amnesty.

‘Horrific’, adding that Raúl Hernández Romero’s family says he received threats regarding his work campaigning against illegal logging in the weeks before he disappeared. El Rosario sanctuary provides a home for millions of migrating monarch butterflies each year and draws thousands of tourists annually. But the reserve has also drawn the ire of illegal loggers in Mexico, who are banned from cutting down trees in the protected area. Before the ban, more than 1,000 acres of the woodland were lost to the industry between 2005 and 2006.

https://www.wvxu.org/post/killing-environmental-activists-has-become-norm-mexico-activist-says#stream/0

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/02/03/horrific-human-rights-advocates-call-investigation-death-second-monarch-butterfly

Women human rights defenders and climate: a treasure of references

February 5, 2020

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On 4 February 2020 wrote in the New Security Beat an informative pieceUnsung Sheroes, Climate Action, and the Global Peace and Security Agendas“.

The December 2019 workshop on Gender, Peace and the Environment convened by the London School of Economics’ Centre for Women, Peace and Security and the University of Rosario’s Law School in Bogotá, Colombia, brought all of these interrelated perspectives together. Among other conclusions, the workshop acknowledged that indigenous women and girls are vital to more effective climate solutions, including building climate resilience in communities affected by violent conflict. However, their work is becoming increasingly fraught with danger. Criminal gangs, paramilitary groups, and private security forces from industries like mining, logging, dam construction, and agribusiness often target these indigenous environmental and human rights activists……

London School of Economic’s Keina Yoshida, one of the participants in the workshop on Gender, Peace and the Environment, reminded us of the “gender power structures, which result in violence against environmental, indigenous and women’s rights defenders such as Berta Cáceres.” Yet, as Ambassador Melanne Verveer notes in her Foreword to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security’s report on Women and Climate Change, women are contributing to both adaptation and mitigation efforts and are creating innovative and localized solutions to build resilient communities. There is a reason for hope.

The article contains a helpful listing of relevant reports and documents on the role of women human rights defenders and climate change:

For some of my earlier posts: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/women-human-rights-defenders/


Unsung Sheroes, Climate Action, and the Global Peace and Security Agendas

 

Human Rights and Climate defenders should join hands says Andrew Gilmour

February 5, 2020

The Korea Herald of 4 February 2020 carries an opinion piece by Andrew Gilmour (former UN assistant secretary-general for human rights) entitled “Preventing climate change is a human rights issue”. In it he makes a strong case for human rights and climate groups to work more togehter:
…They’d seem to be natural allies. They both regard (with good reason) today’s situation as the worst in their movements’ existence. Second, they share common foes: Leading climate change deniers and environmental despoilers tend to be dismissive of human rights (Presidents Rodrigo Duterte, Donald Trump, or Jair Bolsonaro, to name but three). Third, both movements are accused of being “elitist” by their opponents, a charge neither group of activists has done enough to overcome.  But the two groups haven’t historically worked closely together.

…. In a seminal UN report last spring, Philip Alston castigated the human rights community for its failure to face up to the fact that “human rights might not survive the coming upheaval.” The idea that democratic systems failed to prevent global heating may well take hold, with a resulting urge to strengthen state powers at the cost of rights and freedoms.

To prevent this from happening, human rights advocates and environmentalists both need to broaden their mobilization campaigns by reaching out to groups who have traditionally not been allies of either movement. From Europe to the US to Australia, an alliance of populist leaders, corporate lobbyists and the Murdoch-owned press have pushed the idea that any gains for human rights or environmental protection will come at the expense of jobs. For example, the “gilets jaunes” protests in France were provoked, in part, by a fuel tax hike designed to reduce carbon emissions. (“Fin du monde, fin du mois” was one rallying cry — stop talking about the end of the world, when we’re just trying to get to the end of the month.)

Fossil fuel workers, cattle farmers and others need to know that they will still have livelihoods after serious measures have been taken to reduce global heating. Governments, NGOs and the private sector can offer such assurances through reskilling programs and subsidies for alternative land management and carbon sequestration. Without job security, too many people will remain vulnerable to wealthy climate science deniers — such as the Koch brothers — who have been able to convince them that climate change is basically a hoax against the “people” perpetrated by the “elite.”

Activists and sympathetic local officials must also work harder to win over indigenous people. In many countries, including Brazil, the Philippines and Honduras, there are examples of indigenous groups resisting renewable energy projects. Not because they are politically opposed to renewable energy, but because they have traditionally not been consulted about enterprises inflicted on them within their traditional lands and waters.

Climate and human rights activists should be reaching out to these groups to get their buy-in. Governments should be transferring ownership of forested land back to the indigenous communities who have proven time and again to be the most effective guardians of their own ecosystems. Instead, indigenous people are being attacked — literally. In 2017, an average of three indigenous, environmental or land rights defenders were killed every week worldwide.

Collaboration between human rights advocates and environmentalists will make it more likely that we come together to reduce emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change — and that we do so equitably. But the first step is to create far stronger bonds between the leaders and activists of each cause. Until both sides have fully recognized that neither agenda can be achieved without the other, they will continue to under-perform against their powerful opponents.

http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20200203000932

Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2019 is out: 304 HRDs killed

January 14, 2020

The most dangerous and deadly sector of human rights defenders remains land, environmental and indigenous rights, according to the Global Analysis report 2019 by Front Line Defenders. 304 people across 31 countries were targeted and killed last year and the document starts by listing their names.

Front Line Defenders said this was due to “the profit driven exploitation of natural resources, combined with corruption, weak governments and poverty“. Speaking to RTÉ News, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, Andrew Anderson, described the scale of the killings as “horrific” ..almost one person a day is being killed around the world because they are working “peacefully to defend land rights, environmental rights” and to “hold the powerful to account”.  “The true scale of the problem is probably much higher” he said.

In the cases for which the data is available, the report found:

  • 85% of those killed last year had previously been threatened either individually or as part of the community or group in which they worked
  • 13% of those reported killed were women
  • 40% of those killed worked on land, indigenous’ peoples and environmental issues

Last year saw mounting pressure on activists defending LGBTI rights, as well as women’s rights and migrants’ rights. Female activists faced online smear campaigns, trolling and defamation to intimidate, shame or harass in order to push women activists out of online spaces. The statistics show that 13% of human rights defenders killed in 2019 were women. The report also notes some positive developments, including the male guardianship system being revoked in Saudi Arabia, women from the Sulaliyat tribe in Morocco being able to inherit and own land, and Sudan removing a law where women could be arrested if found dancing, wearing trousers or mixing with men who were not their relatives.

With massive protests in Iran, Hong Kong and Chile, Front Line Defenders said that 2019 was characterised by waves of public uprisings of “remarkable magnitude”, which demanded change of how people are governed. However, it said there were restrictions on freedom of expression and authorities often invoked “security” as a justification to ban all peaceful demonstrations Physical assaults, defamation campaigns and digital attacks were major issues.

Internet shutdowns, restricting access or blocking communication tools, such as social media, were common. Messaging app WhatsApp, which is popular for organising and communications, became a “serious threat” when it was used against human rights defenders in a number of cases.

As the role of human rights defenders ranged from organising and mobilising to monitoring and documenting human rights violations, the human rights organisation said it provided more than 620 protection grants to activists at risk in 2019.

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/

https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2020/0114/1107280-front-line-defenders/

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/jan/14/300-human-rights-activists-killed-2019-report

Sad end of year message by Andrew Gilmour as he leaves his UN post

December 29, 2019

His assesment of the human rights situation – as laid down in the article ofThe past decade has seen a backlash against human rights on every front, especially the rights of women and the LGBT communities. Andrew Gilmour said the regression of the past 10 years hasn’t equaled the advances that began in the late 1970s — but it is serious, widespread and regrettable. He pointed to “populist authoritarian nationalists” in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, who he said are taking aim at the most vulnerable groups of society, including Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims, Roma, and Mexican immigrants, as well as gays and women. He cited leaders who justify torture, the arrests and killing of journalists, the brutal repressions of demonstrations and “a whole closing of civil society space.”

I never thought that we would start hearing the terms ‘concentration camps’ again,” Gilmour told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview. “And yet, in two countries of the world there’s a real question.” He didn’t name them but appeared to be referring to China’s internment camps in western Xinjiang province, where an estimated 1 million members of the country’s predominantly Muslim Uighur minority are being held; and detention centers on the United States’ southern border, where mostly Central American migrants are being held while waiting to apply for asylum. Both countries strongly deny that concentration camp-like conditions exist.

….Despite his dim view of the past decade, Gilmour — a Briton who previously worked in politics and journalism — said he didn’t want to appear “relentlessly negative.” “The progress of human rights is certainly not a linear progression, and we have seen that,” he said. “There was definite progression from the late ’70s until the early years of this century. And we’ve now seen very much the counter-tendency of the last few years.”

He pointed to the fact that in the past eight years or so, many countries have adopted laws designed to restrict the funding and activities of nongovernmental organizations, especially human rights NGOs. And he alleged that powerful U.N. member states stop human rights officials from speaking in the Security Council, while China and some other members “go to extraordinary lengths to prevent human rights defenders (from) entering the (U.N.) building even, let alone participate in the meetings.”…..

The rights of women and gays are also at stake, Gilmour said. He said nationalist authoritarian populist leaders such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have made “derogatory comments” about both groups. He said the U.S. is “aggressively pushing” back against women’s reproductive rights both at home and abroad. The result, he said, is that countries fearful of losing U.S. aid are cutting back their work on women’s rights. Gilmour also pointed out a report issued in September that cited 48 countries for punishing human rights defenders who have cooperated with the U.N. [See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/10/andrew-gilmour-in-the-financial-times-about-reprisals/]

I feel that we really need to do more — everybody … to defend those courageous defenders,” he said. Gilmour said the U.N. should also stand up when it comes to major violations of international law and major violations of human rights, but “I have found it extremely difficult to do so in all circumstances.

..Gilmour said that after his departure from the U.N, he will take a fellowship at Oxford’s All Souls College, where he will focus on the importance of uniting human rights and environmental rights groups. “The human rights impact of climate change — it’s going to be so monumental,” he said.

What gives me hope as we start a new decade is that there will be a surge in youth activism that will help people to get courage, and to stand up for what they believe in,” he said.

https://apnews.com/1d7e80128857308743224aaaf28cd5f8

Special fund for rural defenders in South Africa

December 25, 2019

People standing in a circle in a settlement
A group of activists meets before a march for land rights, in Cape Town, South Africa, on March 7, 2018.© Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty

Sharan Srinivas (program officer with the Open Society Human Rights Initiative) wrote on 16 December 2019 about Protecting Civil Society in South Africa. …Before he was gunned down in front of his son, Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe—a leading environmental and housing advocate in Xolobeni, South Africa—telephoned others who had spoken out against mining interests along South Africa’s Wild Coast. He was checking on like-minded activists’ safety and warning them that a “hit list” had been developed targeting human rights defenders in the area who stood up against mining interests. Two hours later, gunmen posing as police officers shot him at his home.

No one has been held accountable in the killing of Rhadebe, which advocates now see as the first data point in a disturbing new trend. Increasingly, those that stand up for environmental, housing, and land rights in South Africa face bitter—and often violent—attacks. To counter this trend, the Open Society Foundations announced recently the creation of a new fund, hosted at the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, intended to provide support to activists. The fund will provide support services to activists depending on their needs and will include the provision of legal representation; emergency relocation for activists and their families; and physical, psychological, and medical support.

South Africa is rightly commended for its vibrant civil society, robust institutions and progressive constitution, which enshrines the fundamental rights of expression and assembly. But joint research conducted by Human Rights Watch, Earth Justice, GroundWork, and the Center for Environmental Rights reveals that communities who are exercising these fundamental rights have faced vicious reprisals.

  • There is an ongoing pattern of police misconduct during peaceful protests.
  • Local municipalities often impose extralegal restrictions on protest in mining affected communities.
  • An environment of fear has been created among community activists.

Though activists based in South Africa’s major cities are well connected to the international infrastructure built to protect human rights defenders, many attacks against community-based activists located in rural and isolated parts of the country have gone unreported and unnoticed. The fund hopes to serve as a vehicle of solidarity, and to strengthen the resilience of frontline community activists. Sharan Srinivas is a .

CAFOD starts “messages to the brave” campaign

December 3, 2019

Send a message to the brave this Christmas, says CAFOD

Three Brazilian women protest in the Netherlands against Brazil’s rainforest destruction Photo: Ana Fernandez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA

Samantha Aidoo – Campaigns Engagement Manager at CAFOD – explains the Messages to the Brave campaign:

Indigenous governor Cristina Bautista from Northern Cauca, Colombia, was passionate about defending the rights of the Nasa people and protecting their land and territory. But her courage and determination came at great personal cost. On 29 October, the 42-year-old and four unarmed indigenous guards who were with her were killed in a brutal attack near their Tacueyó reserve. Five other people were injured. The organisation which Cristina and her colleagues were part of, ACIN – the coordinating council for 22 indigenous reserves in the area which is supported by CAFOD – is no stranger to tragedy.

Just a few weeks earlier, Glabedy Gómez who worked alongside ACIN, her daughter, Karina, and four other people were ambushed and killed on their way back from a political event. Karina, 32, strongly believed that debate and political participation were important paths for building peace in Colombia and had been campaigning to stand in a local election. It is people like Cristina and her colleagues – known as human rights defenders – who are responding most acutely to what Pope Francis referred to in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ as “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

Across the world, indigenous communities are trying to stop big businesses from fencing off their land, tearing down forests and polluting rivers in the pursuit of mining, logging or large-scale agribusiness. But community members who dare to speak out and organise others to do the same may be harassed, threatened or even killed. To anyone here who has been following the climate strikes, or perhaps even taken part in one, it may seem unfathomable that people speaking out for the environment, peace and human rights could pay with their lives, but that is exactly what is happening. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

..

Their courage is helping to keep greenhouse gases in check and preserve key values like peace and human rights, but these communities are often left defending “our common home” on their own. In many countries, corruption, a lack of political will, or simply the fact that they live in a remote place means that communities who speak out often have no legal protection and no recourse for justice. That’s why this Advent, CAFOD is inviting people across England and Wales to send Christmas cards to those facing threats and attacks around the world in Brazil, Colombia, Uganda or the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The Messages to the Brave campaign highlights the tireless work of men and women like Jose Batista Afonso from Brazil. Born in the countryside to rural worker parents, Jose grew up deeply connected to the land. He hadn’t planned to be a lawyer, but this changed after he saw rural leaders around him being routinely assassinated. Despite receiving death threats, for more than 20 years Batista has worked for the Pastoral Land Commission, defending the rights of landless communities in the Brazilian Amazon with support from CAFOD.

.. a simple card will show them that they aren’t alone in their fight to protect “our common home”, they have a community of people in the UK who are praying and standing with them. Perhaps members of the Fuerza Mujeres Wayuu women’s movement in Colombia, who have received more than six threats already this year, put it best when they say that together, we can “weave little by little for the future, a world more just than the one we had to live in”.

https://www.thetablet.co.uk/blogs/1/1331/send-a-message-to-the-brave-this-christmas-says-cafod

COP25: climate defenders also needed to be shielded

November 28, 2019

Tomorrow, 29 November, 2019, young people will gather at locations around the world for a Fridays for Future Global Climate Strike. On 2 December, United Nations delegates, world leaders, business executives, and activists will meet at the 25th Conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid to discuss ways to protect the environment. Participants in these events should also discuss ways to protect the protectors: the individuals and groups targeted around the world for their efforts on behalf of the planet.

Six HRDs from Latin America on PBI’s European tour

November 18, 2019

Whilst the European Union continues to express concern for the increased impact of climate change on the planet, those defending their territories and the environment continue to be attacked for their activism across the world. This alarming trend is present in Latin America where the women defenders of land, territory and the environment are particularly vulnerable. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/environmental-human-rights-defenders-more-deadly-than-being-a-soldier-in-a-war-zone/] With this in mind, PBI will be accompanying five women and one man from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia to different parts of Europe in order to exchange experiences and perspectives about protection and self-protection from a holistic perspective. These defenders will share information about their own situation of risk, as well as the cases they are working on.