Posts Tagged ‘environmental issues’

World Environment Day: seven stories of human rights defenders

June 9, 2019

Amnesty International marked 5 June – World Environment Day – by focusing on environmental human rights defenders, who often face the gravest risks to protect their homes and communities. Being an environmental human rights defender has deadly consequences, making it among the deadliest types of activism. According to the NGO Global Witness, in 2017 almost four environmental defenders were killed each week for protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. In 2017, 207 environmental activists were killed. The vast majority of them hailed from South America, making it the most dangerous region in the world. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

Amnesty highlights the stories of seven environmental activists from the Americas who remind us of why we need to stand up for Earth’s defenders.

BERTA CÁCERES, COPINH (HONDURAS)

Berta Cáceres cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH) in 1993 to address the growing threats posed to the territorial rights of the Lenca communities and improve their livelihoods. For more on her case see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/

JULIÁN CARRILLO AND THE COLORADAS DE LA VIRGEN COMMUNITY (MÉXICO)

Julián Carrillo was a leader of the Coloradas de la Virgen community. His job was to take care of the territory, the water, the forest and the wildlife. He had publicly denounced logging and mining by landlords in their ancestral land, as well as violence by criminal armed groups against his community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/07/reprehensible-says-un-about-mexican-killing-of-human-rights-defender/%5D

PARAGUAY: AMADA MARTÍNEZ, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

Amada is an Avá Guaraní Indigenous environment defender from the Tekoha Sauce community.

In the 1970s, the construction of the Itaipú Binational hydroelectric plant, in the border between Paraguay and Brazil, forcibly displaced her community from its ancestral territory, putting their survival at risk. Since then, she has defended the right of her community to have a territory in which they can thrive in harmony with nature and has denounced the serious impacts of hydroelectric projects on nature and Indigenous Peoples’ lives. On 8 August 2018, a group of armed men threatened to kill her. Amada was leaving the community in a taxi along with his seven-year-old son, his sister and two young nephews, when the vehicle in which they were traveling was intercepted by a pickup truck with the logo of the hydroelectric plant. Amada Martínez believes that the threat against her was due to her work defending Indigenous Peoples rights and the environment.

PATRICIA GUALINGA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

“We are united and we will continue our struggle to defend Mother Earth.”

Patricia is an Indigenous leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku community. She defends her people’s rights to their territory and to live in a healthy environment in the face of damaging oil activities there. Patricia is also protecting the Amazonian environment and promoting sustainable development. In 2012, the Indigenous Sarayaku community achieved a historic victory for Indigenous Peoples against the Ecuador government after reporting an oil concession that had installed explosives on their territory without consulting them. In the early hours of 5 January 2018, an unknown man made death threats to Patricia and attacked her at her home in Puyo, in the east of Ecuador., The man shouted, “Next time we’ll kill you, bitch!” before fleeing. Patricia and her family had to leave their home after the attack because the property owner “was terrified that something would happen to her.”

NEMA GREFA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

 

Nema is defending the Amazon environment and her people’s right to protect their territory from the possible negative effects of oil activity. After being legally recognized as President of the Sápara nationality of Ecuador in January 2018, her appointment was challenged by a group of people who Nema says are supportive of oil activities on the Sápara territory. Nema’s appointment was revoked in April 2018 as a result. Later that month a video was shared on social media featuring a man armed with a spear, identified by Nema as belonging to the group who had challenged her appointment, issuing her with a death threat: “Those present here are united in rejecting her and are thus going to kill Nema Grefa; she has no territory.” One year on, the Attorney’s Office has yet to open in investigation into the death threat. On 19 October 2018 Nema was finally recognized as president but still faces serious threats to her life. In April this year, despite the Ecuadorian authorities’ promises to protect her and her family, unknown individuals forcibly broke into her home to steal two computers containing sensitive information on her human rights work.

SALOMÉ ARANDA, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS DEFENDER

Salomé is an Indigenous leader from the Kichwa people who is defending the Amazonian environment and the right of women in her community to live in a healthy environment, free from sexual violence. Salomé is the Women and Family Leader in Moretecocha commune, Pastaza province. Salomé has publicly denounced the possible environmental impacts of oil operations in the Villano River basin, Pastaza province, and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women that have occurred in this context. In the early hours of 13 May 2018, a number of unidentified individuals attacked and threatened her and her family at home. Despite making a formal complaint, the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office has yet to make any significant progress in this investigation. The authorities have not even offered her protection measures to address the risk facing her and her family.

MARGOTH ESCOBAR, ENVIRONMENTAL AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ RIGHTS DEFENDER

Margoth has devoted her life to defending the environment and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In August 2015, Margoth was physically attacked by police officers at a protest and national strike called by the social and Indigenous movements in Puyo, Pastaza province. She was held on pre-trial detention for more than a week despite poor health caused by her injuries. She was charged with “attack and resistance”, which she was eventually acquitted of. In September last year Margoth’s house was set on fire, destroying all her belongings. On 1 October 2018, the Puyo Fire Brigade Commander stated that the fire at Margoth’s house had been intentional. Margoth lodged a criminal complaint with the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office to investigate the attack, yet no progress has been made in her case. Margoth refused to join the country’s witness protection program because of her previous experience at the hands of the police: “I didn’t want to join the victim and witness protection system because I have no faith in the current government, I have no faith in the independence of the legal system in Ecuador, nor in the military or police forces.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/06/why-we-need-to-stand-up-for-earth-defenders-this-world-environment-day/

 

 

Greta Thunberg becomes Amnesty International’s 2019 Ambassador of Conscience

June 7, 2019

Climate activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren have been given Amnesty International’s ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award for 2019

Climate activist Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement of schoolchildren have been given Amnesty International’s ‘Ambassador of Conscience’ award for 2019 © Amnesty International

On 7 June it was announced that climate activists Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future movement are given Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award 2019 [for more on this and other such awards:http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/ambassador-of-conscience-award]. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/10/first-prix-liberte-of-normandy-for-teen-climate-activist-greta-thunberg/.

The Fridays for Future movement was started by Greta Thunberg, a teenager from Sweden who last August began protesting outside the Swedish parliament – skipping school every Friday demanding the Swedish government take more serious action to tackle the climate crisis. Her efforts have inspired a global movement, with the most recent Fridays for Future schools strikes seeing more than one million young people from all over the world take part, with demonstrations in more than 100 countries.

Greta Thunberg, said: “It is a huge honour to receive Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award on behalf of Fridays for Future. This is not my award, this is everyone’s award. It is amazing to see the recognition we are getting and know that we are fighting for something that is having an impact.  To act on your conscience means that you fight for what you think is right. I think all those who are part of this movement are doing that, because we have a duty to try and improve the world. The blatant injustice we all need to fight against is that people in the global south are the ones who are and will be most affected by climate change while they are the least responsible for causing it.

Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: “The Ambassador of Conscience award celebrates people who have shown unique leadership and courage in standing up for human rights. I can think of no better recipients this year than Greta Thunberg and the Fridays for Future climate strike movement.

Greta Thunberg, said: “Human rights and the climate crisis go hand in hand. We can’t solve one without solving the other. Climate change means people won’t be able to grow food, their homes will come under threat and their health will be compromised. Governments have a duty to protect us, so why are they doing nothing to stop climate change from devastating our lives?”

Kananura Irene, a Fridays for Future activist from Kampala, Uganda, said: “Sometimes I feel really sad because some of the people I try to talk to won’t listen. Some people insult us, others think we are politicians, and others ignore us entirely, they tell us maybe we won’t finish what we’ve started.  But I can assure everyone that we are really determined to finish what we have started, because our futures are on the line.

[Around the world, attacks against ordinary people who stand up for freedom, justice and equality are surging. Authorities around the world are misusing their power to crack down on human rights defenders – imprisoning, torturing and even killing them for speaking up. In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record. Amnesty is calling on the UK Government to show the world that protecting human rights defenders is a priority.]

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https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/greta-thunberg-given-amnestys-2019-ambassador-conscience-award

https://www.dw.com/en/greta-thunberg-fridays-for-future-movement-win-amnesty-human-rights-award/a-49096921

Three award-winning Colombian human rights defenders on a European tour to raise awareness

May 29, 2019

Three award-winning Colombian human rights defenders visited the Lutheran World Federation on 27-28 May as part of a European tour to raise awareness of the dangers and difficulties faced by so many people working for justice and peace in the country today. According to the Somos Defensores network which monitors attacks against human rights defenders, 2018 was one of the worst years ever for these activists and social leaders in Colombia, with over 800 attacks and 155 murders reported. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/26/somos-defensores-in-colombia-publishes-annual-report-2018-worst-ever/]

The three are recipients of the 2018 National Human Rights Defenders award, presented by the Church of Sweden and the Swedish faith-based organization Diakonia, with the support of the Swedish government. Its goal is to draw international attention to struggles of those working for human rights, especially those located in isolated, grassroots communities/

Germán Graciano Posso, legal representative of the San José de Apartadó Peace Community in the northwest of Colombia, shared stories of over 300 members and supporters of his community who have been murdered in the past two decades. The small farming community of some 600 people was founded in 1997 at the height of the conflict between the government and members of the two main guerrilla groups, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN)… Germán said he and the community “had high hopes with the country’s peace process that everything would change for the better” but that has not happened. The paramilitary presence has been growing in the past months, he said, and young people continue to be recruited into their ranks, an issue that has been acknowledged by the Ombudsman office.

Dolis Estela Valencia is a leading member of the Black and Afro-Descendant Community Council of Alto Mira y Fronteras in Tumaco, on the Pacific coast close to the border with Ecuador. The Council represents 42 local communities, working to support the Afro-Colombian people whose collective land rights were recognized by the government in 1993. Despite that legal recognition, Dolis shared her experience of death threats, forced displacements and assassinations of those struggling to defend their land and livelihoods Farmers in this community are trying to grow cocoa beans, bananas and other traditional crops instead of the coca leaves that drive Colombia’s lucrative drug trafficking industry. Her community is included in the government program for the substitution of illegal crops as part of the peace accords.

Genaro de Jesús Graciano is legal representative of a socio-environmental organization, Movimiento Ríos Vivos in Antioquia which includes 15 grassroots communities affected by the giant Ituango hydroelectric dam project. Plans for the 220-meter high dam across the Cauca river were completed a decade ago and construction began in 2011, but Genaro said the project –one of the largest of its kind in Latin America – has been flawed from the start…Genaro and his organization have filed official complaints and requests for compensation from the construction company and shareholders, the Empresas Públicas de Medellin and the regional Government of Antioquia. Besides, the national environment authority (ANLA) has issued official warnings about the dangers of this project which have been disregarded. In the meantime, 5 environmental leaders have been killed, while many others have been the targets of death threats, discrimination and exclusion from public debates about the future of the dam.

As well as sharing stories during an encounter at LWF headquarters and meeting UN special rapporteurs in Geneva, Germán, Dolis and Genaro were also visiting Berlin, Stockholm and Uppsala as part of the 16 to 29 May European tour. A fourth prize winner, 78-year-old community leader Maria Ligia Chaverra, was unable to take part in the tour because of health reasons. All of them underline the importance of the Human Rights Defenders prize in shining a much-needed spotlight on their stories and bringing international attention to the plight of their communities.

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/dangerous-task-defending-human-rights-colombia

Profile of Alfred Brownell, Liberian human rights defender for more than 20 years

May 20, 2019

Under the title “This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias” Front Page Africa on Line published on 3 May 2019 an extensive profile of Alfred Brownell.

Twenty-two years ago Alfred Brownell could see a problem. The government of his country, Liberia, was awarding contracts for the exploitation of natural resources without consulting local communities; forest and mineral resources were being taken away with no questions asked. “It was at a time when a very notorious company called OTC and many other companies were cutting down the forest for timber and no benefit was going back to the people,” Brownell says.

Then a law student in the capital, Monrovia, Brownell challenged President Charles Taylor and his government on the operations of OTC – the Oriental Timber Company. The company was later found to be involved in arms smuggling, Taylor is in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity – and Alfred Brownell has just been awarded the African Goldman Environmental Prize for 2019 at a ceremony in San Francisco. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/winners-of-the-2019-goldman-environmental-prize/]. Brownell’s organisation, Green Advocates, has become a household name in Liberia as a champion of customary rights to land and natural resources for indigenous communities. He is helping thousands of people around the country to fight multinational companies and regain their rights.

Sowing seeds

In 2003 when the war to oust Taylor was raging in Monrovia, Brownell had just graduated with a degree in Environmental Law from Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana, the previous year. Green Advocates was still an idea and Brownell had no money – only a vision.. The Fund for Global Human Rights gave Green Advocates its first seed money in 2003 of $10,000 after Brownell returned to Liberia following the ouster of Taylor and Green Advocates began operations from a tiny office in Monrovia. “We did not have a bank account; we were not a formal organisation,” recalls Brownell.

“The Fund for Global Human Rights had a lot of confidence in me. They awarded me the grant even without a formal structure in place.” John Kabia works for The Fund for Global Human Rights as programme officer for thematic initiatives. He has worked closely with Green Advocates over the years and says that the lack of a track record meant that the Fund was taking a risk, but it was a risk worth taking. “We feel at the Fund that our very reason for being is taking those smart risks, because that is the only way you can identify and support new and emerging actors and new ideas,” he says.

He says it is convenient for international donor organisations to support groups they already know. The threshold for approving support is set very high, making it difficult for small and emerging groups like Green Advocates to gain recognition and support to advance their work. However, seed funding can provide an organisation the necessary credibility and opportunities it needs to attract support from other funders and partners. “Often times if people are given the opportunity and investment to turn their ideas into reality, you’d be amazed by what they can do. I think the example is Alfred and Green Advocates,” he says. “Seeing how Alfred and the communities have mobilised and successfully pushed for major policy and legal reform is impressive. I think that type of smart risk-taking is what many other donors and development partners should be taking on.”

But for such risks to be sustainable, Kabia noted that it is critical for seed funding not to be a one-off, short-term support. “Change doesn’t happen overnight,” he says. “Long-term and capacity-building support needs to accompany an initial seed grant in order for promising organisations to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Big concessions, big government

Back in 2003, Liberia was just emerging from conflict and Brownell knew that the country lacked expertise on land and natural resources governance.

“It was sad to see a country with a natural-resource-endowed economy [where] its lawyers were not learning anything about natural resources or environmental laws,” says Brownell. “I said we have to use the law to help our people.”

“When I graduated, we worked to set up Green Advocates to provide support to the poor, marginalised, vulnerable, who had no voice. To focus our effort on creating policies to protect people through advocacy and campaigning for regulations.”

In 2005, Brownell partnered with over a dozen other local organisations and took on the transitional government of Liberia headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant. It was the first post-war challenge to the government of Liberia by rights groups. The government had awarded contracts to a Chinese company for the shipment of iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of the citizens. A subpoena was issued by the Supreme Court of Liberia to stop it, but the government defied the court and shipped the ore anyway.

After successfully challenging a government contract to ship iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of local people, Brownell and Green Advocates began to expand their work. Both the government and the companies that profited from concessions to exploit Liberia’s natural resources began to see them as a threat. Green Advocates was involved in massive public sensitisation about land rights across the country, and started taking on companies as huge as the US tyre and rubber multinational Firestone, the Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby and Golden Agri-Resources, the world’s largest oil palm conglomerate – not to mention the government of Liberia itself.

One of the biggest cases involved Firestone, Liberia’s largest and oldest rubber concession-holder. For 75 years it had dumped all its waste into the Farmington River in the community of Owens Grove. That blatantly violated Liberian laws prohibiting the discharge of waste into the water system. Green Advocates filed complaints that led Firestone to create a waste treatment facility after almost a century of operations. The organisation also partnered with other rights groups in a US lawsuit that accused Firestone of using child labour. After six years of litigation Firestone won that case, but significantly the judge ruled that companies can be sued in the US for human rights abuses outside the country. In addition, Firestone was forced to introduce reforms that addressed the root causes of child labour in its plantation. This included reducing the quotas for workers, to prevent them having to bring their children to work, and building more schools within its concession area.

Doing it for the people

By this time Brownell was at odds with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had become president in 2006. As Africa’s first elected female head of state she had won admirers around the world; in 2011 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize. But her international eulogists turned a blind eye to some dubious actions at home: by 2010 her government had awarded massive amounts of land to agriculture companies through a ‘backdoor’ scheme, despite agreeing to landmark land reform.

“You’re talking about 300,000 hectares of forest land without consulting the people” says Brownell. “There was no mapping or surveying to know where the land was, who grew what on the land or what the cultural impact was on the people.”

Brownell says that Green Advocates’ first grant from the Fund for Global Human Rights, and the organisation’s ongoing support over 16 years, has given other funders confidence to provide revenue that has supported other projects. For instance, Green Advocates has also gone on to establish the Alliance for Rural Democracy and the Natural Resources Women Platform, and was key to the formation of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resource Rights and Governance Platform, which now covers eight west African countries.

The fight gets real

As Brownell was fighting to help communities understand their rights to the land and push companies to reform and make policies that would benefit the local population in the concession areas, he also faced a battle of his own. A battle for personal safety.

Brownell and his staff came near death on several occasions while on their many trips in rural areas. On one occasion, in Tarjuwon, Sinoe County, people had complained that Golden Veroleum Liberia had decided to construct an oil mill on a site that was used for annual religious worship. They resisted and Green Advocates was called in to help. Brownell and his colleagues went to Sinoe to see what was happening. On their way to the area, the team came under attack from militia that Brownell believes were working for the company.

The men, dressed in company security uniforms, had set up a roadblock. They were ex-combatants armed with machetes and sticks, according to Brownell. Brownell and his colleagues resigned themselves to death – until the intervention of the town chief.

“I had given up and was just praying to God. I had no idea how we were going to get out of there because we were completely surrounded by these men,” he says.

“We knew that the attack against us in Tarjuwon was not just the company. We think the government was also very complicit in those attacks to try to eliminate us,” he says. Brownell says the Liberian government has been behind several attacks, and felt his organisation was standing in the way of its development objectives. The government did not take kindly to Green Advocates trying to enlighten people on their right to the land and natural resources.

Francis Colee is head of programmes at Green Advocates and has worked on several court cases on land rights issues brought against the Liberian government. He says the government sometimes brands the organisation as anti-development, but its focus is to ensure good investment that protects the rights of people and not alter their livelihood.

“We have argued that it is good that we have investment, but we have also argued that we need to ensure a delicate balance between the protection of human rights, the environment and the investment,” says Colee.

“In most cases, what we have seen is that the project-targeted communities end up becoming worse off than they were before the coming of the investment.”

In 2016, the government accused Brownell of refusing to help give testimony in the trial of the Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven, the former head of the Oriental Timber Corporation – Brownell’s first case. The Green Advocates office in Monrovia was raided and ransacked by plain-clothes police officers. Some of the staff were arrested. The police even went to his home and arrested his uncle when Brownell himself could not be found.

“It was a ploy to get me. They use the criminal justice system to threaten people,” he says.

“They made Liberia very unsafe for me when they started threatening me and so I was forced to flee with my family to come [to the US]. President Sirleaf has directly threatened me, in my face, ‘I will charge you with sedition’.”

In a strongly worded letter to the president of Liberia, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemned the attacks on Brownell, and through the support of the Fund for Global Human Rights and other groups he fled the country with his wife and children. He now serves as an associate research professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Green Advocates’ work in Liberia continues, even with Brownell in the US, through support from a team of dedicated local activists and Green Advocates staff.

Land rights at last

Despite the challenges, Green Advocates has helped ensure Liberia passed sweeping land reform legislation in 2018. Local communities now have the exclusive right to possess and use land for different purposes, and to lease it.

But there is still a long way to go in terms of actual impact on land rights despite these reforms, says Simpson Snoh, who represents the Alliance for Rural Democracy, a Liberian non-governmental body working closely with Green Advocates. Green Advocates is in the process of taking the message to the people, and helping to translate laws into action.

“After years of securing rights for its community partners,” says Brownell, “Green Advocates is currently exploring options for translating these rights into economic opportunities to address not just the bread-and-butter issues these communities face, but a business and development model that can co-exist with nature.”

Snoh says that with funding, local organisations can move quickly to help communities that are facing serious human rights abuses from multinational companies and governments. This is because community-based groups best understand the needs of the communities more and what the issues are.

Brownell echoes Snoh’s sentiments. He believes that international funders should be able to bet their money on local organisations like Green Advocates, just as The Fund for Global Human Rights did when the organisation was still just an idea. He feels Green Advocates has been able to enlighten the people on their basic human right – the right to own land.

“The government’s perception that there was free land or open spaces where they could give concessions to companies was a complete false assumption. All these years the government had lied,” he says.

“The future of Liberia is never ever going to be with massive foreign investment through transnational corporations coming to Liberia. Liberia’s future comes from its own people.”

This article is part of an editorial partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights.

This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias

 

Profile of Putla: a 75-year-old indigenous rights defender in Cambodia

May 16, 2019

….if you drive two and a half hours West of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, you reach a community consisting of five small villages with a total population of around 1,350 people. They are the last members of the indigenous Souy people, who until recently, lived peacefully on their ancestral land. This is where the indigenous rights defender Putla has lived most of her life – except when she was forced to move away by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Today, she is a 75-year-old woman whose skin has been tainted by the sun and from a hard life. She is a tiny woman, not more than 150 centimeters tall, and often dresses in the Souy people’s traditional black cloth. Putla is a woman who looks fragile at first sight – but this impression only lasts until she starts to speak, or until you look into her eyes. She has a strong and crisp voice, and her eyes reflect the hardships that she has endured in her life. She is a very warm woman who often finishes her tirades with heartfelt laughter. Read the rest of this entry »

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

April 24, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

Tensions are rising between states and indigenous peoples

Important legal victory for land rights defenders in UK Court

April 11, 2019

Vedanta building in India
Image copyright VEDANTA

On 10 April 2019, BBC and others reported on a landmark judgement in the UK that could have big implications for others cases in which human rights defenders seek compensation from multinationals. Nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers have won the right to sue mining giant Vedanta over alleged pollution, the UK Supreme Court has ruled. The landmark judgement means other communities in developing countries could seek similar redress in the UK.

Zambian villagers have been fighting for the right to seek compensation in British courts for several years. Vedanta had argued that the case should be heard in Zambia. The UK Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the case must proceed in the UK, due to “the problem of access to justice” in Zambia. The case relates to allegations by villagers living near the huge Nchanga Copper mine, owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta. Vedanta said: “The judgment of the UK Supreme Court is a procedural one and relates only to the jurisdiction of the English court to hear these claims. It is not a judgment on the merits of the claims.

Martyn Day, senior partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the Zambian villagers, said: “I hope this judgment will send a strong message to other large multinationals that their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility]. policies should not just be seen as a polish for their reputation but as important commitments that they must put into action.

[In 2015, Zambian villagers accused Vedanta of poisoning their water sources and destroying farmland. Leaked documents seen by the BBC appeared to show that KCM had been spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into the water sources. …In India’s Tamil Nadu state, a Vedanta-owned copper smelting plant was closed by authorities in May 2018.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/23/human-rights-council-recognises-vital-role-of-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

‘Belgrade Call” presses governments to protect rural human rights defenders

April 9, 2019

On 9 April 2019 the International coalition: ‘Belgrade Call to Action’ urges governments to address rural repression”

The “Belgrade Call to Action” presses governments and members states of the United Nations to act upon the deteriorating conditions for civil society and the growing human rights violations targeting human rights defenders in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. The Civil Society Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), CIVICUS, Action for Sustainable Development, Civic Initiatives and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network initiated the launching of the action agenda on 8 April 2019, while civil society organizations worldwide are gathered in Belgrade, Serbia for the 2019 International Civil Society Week.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) finds the Belgrade Call to Action timely and relevant especially to land rights defenders including farmers and Indigenous Peoples groups who brave repression for their opposition to state-sponsored and corporate-backed development ‘aggression’ projects.

According to Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS, the Belgrade Call to Action lays down practical measures for UN member states and international organizations to address the shrinking space of and foster an enabling environment for civil society organizations and human rights defenders, which would significantly advance the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs.

We hope that the Belgrade Call to Action will push the governments of these countries to undertake appropriate measures that will put an end to the phenomenon of peasant killings and promote genuine agrarian reform to uplift farmers from their dire conditions,” Mallari stressed.

………

We hope that through the Belgrade Call to Action, rural repression will end and land conflicts will be addressed. We appeal to the member states of the UN and the international community to support and adhere to the Belgrade Call to Action,” Mallari said.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1904/S00064/belgrade-call-to-action-to-govts-on-rural-repression.htm

OSCE Human Rights Monitoring and Security Training for Human rights defenders: apply soon

March 23, 2019

The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) is pleased to offer a five-day training event on human rights monitoring and safety and security for human rights defenders (HRDs) working in three thematic areas: 1) human rights of Roma and Sinti, 2) human rights of people of African descent, and 3) environmental protection issues.
The objective of the training event is to enable human rights defenders (HRDs) to independently carry out quality and objective human rights monitoring activities in a safe and secure manner and taking into account relevant gender considerations. The event will take place in Montenegro from 27 to 31 May 2019, and will cover the human rights monitoring cycle and principles; physical safety and security of human rights monitors; and digital security, including secure information management. The language of the event will be English. The training will be based on interactive learning methods and requires a high level of active participation by all participants. During group exercises, participants will be divided based on their field of work/interest and coached by a senior professional expert. ODIHR will select up to eight participants per group.

The size of the entire group will be limited to 25 participants, selected according to the following criteria:
• Citizenship or residence in one of the OSCE participating States;
• Involvement as a human rights defender in one of the specified fields: environmental protection, human rights of Roma and Sinti, or human rights of people of African descent;
• Limited or no experience on human rights monitoring and reporting;
• No or limited previous training in safety and security (including digital security);
• Relevance of the training for future human rights activities in OSCE the region;
• Computer literacy;
• Fluency in English.

The OSCE/ODIHR recognizes as a human rights defender any person promoting and striving for the realization of human rights regardless of profession, age or other status. Human rights defenders carry out their human rights activities individually or jointly with others, as part of an informal group or as a non-governmental organization (NGO), and act in a voluntary capacity or professionally. ..The workshop is designed for activists with limited or no skills who can benefit fully from receiving the training. Accommodation and travel for the selected human rights defenders to attend the event will be covered by ODIHR.

Deadline for submission: 29th March 2019. If you have any questions about the content or the selection procedure of the training, please do not hesitate to contact David Mark david.mark@odihr.pl and Marine Constant at marine.constant@odihr.pl.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfQUm0t3S8vU3Kat8C46gbcRlxSaXQC6ZcMA7DwKmEyngknQA/viewform

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/28/human-rights-education-courses-also-exist-in-europe/

CIVICUSat the 40th Human Rights Council: counter-terrorism, environmental defenders and more

February 28, 2019

During the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO CIVICUS will be presenting research and conducting advocacy activities and is organising a number of side events, issuing advocacy statements and supporting our members engage in official proceedings, where they can inform government and UN officials on the state of civic space conditions in their countries.

Panel discussions CIVICUS will be co-organising:

Friday, 1 March, 13:00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | The Role of Counter-Terrorism Laws in the Closing of Civic Space | Civic Space Initiative (Article 19, CIVICUS, ECNL, ICNL, World Movement for Democracy)

This event will examine the misuse of counter-terrorism laws by States to target government critics and human rights defenders. The panel will look at how states are abusing security legislation to curtail civic freedoms. See full invitation. Speakers include:

Tuesday,  5 March, 13.00-14:00 (Room XXVII) | Escazú and Beyond: Strengthening the Global Normative Framework on Protecting Environmental Defenders | Article 19, Centre for Environmental Rights, CIVICUS, Defend Defenders, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, Ground Work, Human Rights Watch,  International Land Coalition

This side event will review State obligations for protecting the rights of environmental defenders and how the recently adopted Escazú Agreement can inform the work of the Human Rights Council. The panel will look at how the standards of the regional Escazú Agreement in Latin America and the Caribbean can support global efforts to end the widespread attacks against environmental and land rights activists. See full invitation. Speakers include:

  • Leiria Vay, Comité de Desarrollo Campesino, CODECA Guatemala
  • Matome Kapa, Attorney, Centre for Environmental Rights, South Africa
  • Marcos Orellana, Director Human Rights and Environment Division, HRW
  • David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment
  • Moderator: Natalia Gomez, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

Other events that CIVICUS is co-sponsoring at the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, include:

  • 5 March (10:00-11:00) | The case for international action on Bahrain | Room XV
  • 6 March (11:00-12:00) | Women Human Rights Defenders: Local Realities & Shared Global Challenges | Room XXI
  • 8 March (12:00-13:00) | East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project – Human Rights in South Sudan | Room XXVII

CIVICUS will be live-streaming events through its Facebook page and posting updates on Twitter.

https://www.civicus.org/index.php/media-resources/news/united-nations/geneva/3753-civicus-at-the-40th-human-rights-council