Anna Neistat, Senior Director of Research at Amnesty International, writes in the Huffington Postof 23 February 2017 about 4 Human Rights Defenders who deserve a “Lifetime Achievements” Oscar. Since it’s awards season, Amnesty International is paying tribute to four human rights heroes whose dramatic stories could – and should – be made into movies:
Itai Peace Dzamara
It’s been almost two years since Zimbabwean journalist and activist Itai Peace Dzamarawas dragged from a barbers’ chair by five armed men while he was getting a haircut. Dzamara, the leader of a pro-democracy movement called “Occupy Africa Unity Square”, had long been considered an enemy of the state by the Zimbabwean government. Just two days before his abduction he had delivered a speech at an opposition rally in Harare, calling for mass action against the deteriorating economic conditions in Zimbabwe. If this were a movie, justice would have been done long ago. Dzamara would have been returned to his wife and children, and the men who abducted him held accountable. But this isn’t Hollywood. This is Zimbabwe, where basic rights and freedoms have been trampled on throughout the long years of Robert Mugabe’s reign. As Itai Peace Dzamara and his family know, anyone who dares to speak out is a target for intimidation, harassment and arrest, and there’s no happy ending in sight. Despite a court ruling ordering state security agents to investigate Dzamara’s disappearance, there were gaps in the investigation and his whereabouts remains a mystery. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/05/05/itai-dzamaras-disappearance-worrying-for-all-human-rights-defenders-in-zimbabwe/]
Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Honduras has the highest number of killings per capita of environmental and land activists in the world. The vast majority of these killings go unsolved and unpunished. One story that really stands out in this deadly context is that of Berta Cáceres. Berta was the leader and co-founder of an organisation that was campaigning against the construction of a hydroelectric project on the ancestral lands of indigenous communities in Honduras. In the early hours of 2 March 2016, she was murdered in her own home. Berta knew that she was putting her life in danger, but she was willing to take the risk to stand up for indigenous communities. Like the audience of a horror movie, the people around Berta could see that terrible danger was coming her way – but they were powerless to stop it. Despite the stark warning that her death served, environmental activists in Honduras say that stopping their work is not an option – no-one else will defend their communities and rights. They continue Berta’s work every day, reminding us that we should never take freedom for granted. It is essential that Berta’s assassination is solved, to show that there is a price to pay for attacking and killing environmental activists. Berta’s story ended in tragedy, but we will not stop fighting until we are sure that other activists will not meet the same fate. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/07/exceptional-response-from-ngo-world-on-killing-of-berta-caceres/]
Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. In Iran, human rights defenders and other peaceful critics are subject to relentless harassment. Over the past year, those jailed after shockingly unfair trials before Revolutionary Courts including lawyers, bloggers, students, women’s rights activists, filmmakers and even musicians. Human rights defender Narges Mohammadi knows better than most how vengeful the Iranian authorities can be towards anyone who dissents. She is currently serving a total of 22 years in prison for speaking out against issues such as Iran’s prolific use of the death penalty and acid attacks on women. What makes her situation even worse is that she is critically ill and cannot receive proper medical care in prison. Just as cruelly, the authorities have at times denied her access to her young children, who had to leave Iran to live with their father in France after she was jailed. Narges is a prisoner of conscience who should be lauded, not locked up, for her human rights work. We will continue to fight until she is free.[https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/12/retaliation-against-iranian-human-rights-defender-for-meeting-with-ashton/]
Itai, Berta, Sirikan and Narges are just a handful of the outstanding human rights defenders around the world who deserve recognition, but have instead been silenced by forces of cruelty, injustice and repression.
Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet and 30 October 2016 she summarized the findings of the latest OXFAM report under the appropriate title: There Is an Epidemic of Assassinations Targeting Human Rights Defenders in Latin America.
Michel Forst – the UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders – wrote on 21 October in the Guardian equally alarmingly about the problem faced by land rights defenders under the title: “Police and hired assassins are killing land rights defenders. Let’s end this violence.” He ends with the conclusion: “In a resource-constrained world heading towards a climate emergency, we urgently need to rethink our approach to land use, which pivots on short-term profit regardless of human and environmental cost. Working more closely with environmental defenders is not just about protecting individual lives; it’s about protecting our planet.”
Many (including HRW, AI and Front Line) have reported on the 18 October 2016 killing of human rights defenders José Ángel Flores and Silmer Dionisio were murdered after they left a meeting of peasant farmers in the Bajo Aguán region of [AGAIN https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/honduras/] Honduras. Both were organizers with the Unified Campesino Movement of the Aguán (MUCA). Read the rest of this entry »
It comes too late for murdered human rights defender Berta Caceres[https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/berta-caceres/] but perhaps her fellow environmental activist in Honduras, Ana Mirian Romero, will receive the protective publicity she needs by being selected as the winner of the 2016 Front Line Defenders Award. Ana Mirian Romero had her home burned down and was beaten by police for protesting in her native country. Romero has been active in opposing the installation of the Los Encinos hydro-electric dam on indigenous land of the Lenca people in Honduras. She was presented with the award at a ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall this morning, 10 June 2016.
Ana Mirian Romero at the ceremony in Dublin’s City Hall with Front Line Director May Lawlor on the left – Image: Sean Defoe
Bertha Cáceres, daughter of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Liz Ford for the Guardian
This week, Bertha, who is studying for a masters degree in Latin American studies in Mexico, was in New York to speak at side events during the annual Commission on the Status of Women. Here she said “… I will talk about the situation in Honduras. This is not the first assassination, but one of a series of assassinations of human rights defenders … I don’t want another human rights defender to be assassinated”. Even while she spoke with the Guardian journalist a call came through from COPINH’s lawyer (the NGO her mother worked for) to say another member of the organisation had been shot dead ….
According to a statement by Front Line Defenders today, this human rights defender, Nelson Garcia, was returning home following a violent eviction conducted by the Public Order Military Police and the Cobras Special Force in the municipality of Río Lindo when he was intercepted by unidentified men who shot him in the face four times. Read the rest of this entry »
The killing of Honduran human rights defender Berta Cáceres [http://wp.me/pQKto-20p] has resonated widely in the media and may (finally) lead to some real action in the world where the dam is being financed. Peter Bosshard, Interim Executive Director, International Rivers, wrote under the heading “Agua Zarca: A Stain on the Dutch and Finnish Human Rights Record” (15 March 2016) that the Dutch government announced that it will send an ambassador to Honduras “to express concern over the killing of human rights activist Berta Cáceres” and presumably assess the state of the Agua Zarca Project. In response to International Rivers’ online action, FMO (the financial arm of development aid) said that it would decide about continued involvement in the dam project on the basis of this visit. Finn fund says that speculation about an exit from Agua Zarca is “at the moment premature,” but the financier would probably follow if FMO pulled out of the project.