Posts Tagged ‘indigenous groups’

Colombia: 52 activists killed in 3 months

April 29, 2022

In Summary:

• Most of the victims are targeted because they clash with the interests of illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking gangs, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.

• The victims include 28 land rights and community rights activists, nine indigenous activists and four farming activists, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports. 

A total of 52 Colombian human rights activists and community leaders have been killed in the first three months of this year, authorities say.

It is a significant increase from 2021, which saw 145 murders all year.

Most of the victims are targeted because they clash with the interests of illegal armed groups, including drug trafficking gangs, according to Colombia’s human rights ombudsman.

The country is one of the world’s most dangerous for activists, monitors say.

The victims include 28 land rights and community rights activists, nine indigenous activists and four farming activists, Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports. Of the victims, 48 ​​were men and four were women.

One of the most shocking cases was that of Breiner David Cucuñame, a 14-year-old indigenous activist who was shot dead in January while on patrol with an unarmed group that seeks to protect indigenous lands.

Colombia is officially at peace after signing a deal with the largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), in 2016. But other armed gangs continue to operate in the country, the world’s largest cocaine producer.

Violence started increasing towards the end of last year due to disputes over territory and resources involving dissident Farc rebels and members of another Marxist guerrilla group – the National Liberation Army (ELN) – as well as right-wing paramilitary groups and criminal gangs such as the Gulf Clan.

“The homicides against social leaders and human rights defenders seriously affect the foundations of democracy,” said Carlos Camargo, the human rights ombudsman.

https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/world/2022-04-27-colombia-reports-52-activists-killed-in-three-months/

Green economy and human rights defenders: Provide data, denounce attacks

April 21, 2022

On 21 April 2022 Christen Dobson, Ana Zbona and Andrea Pelliconi of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre wrote a piece entitled: “Safe, legitimate engagement between firms, human rights defenders key to a just transition

..Human rights defenders are vital leaders of a just transition to green economies. They are on the front lines of the climate crisis – and they hold essential information on the risks and harms associated with business actions, which can be used by companies and investors to conduct effective environmental and human rights due diligence to create long-term value.

Yet, these defenders are under sustained attack. In 2021, there were at least 615 attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms, with nearly 70 per cent of attacks against climate, land and environmental rights defenders. Since January 2015, we have documented more than 3,870 attacks globally, including killings, death threats, arbitrary detention and strategic lawsuits against public participation.

Indigenous peoples, who are at the forefront of protecting biodiversity and our shared planet, experience a disproportionately high level of attacks. Although they comprise approximately 5 per cent of the world’s population, they faced 18 per cent of attacks globally in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

One of the main drivers of this violence is the failure of companies and investors to engage in safe and legitimate consultation with rights-holders and defenders. This failure stands to derail the fast transition to a zero-carbon economy that we urgently need.

If companies and investors do not listen to people highlighting risks related to their operations, investments, supply chains, and business relationships, or if it is not safe to raise these concerns, they will lose out on critical information needed to mitigate harm and achieving a fast and fair energy transition, essential for averting the climate crisis. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/un-experts-urge-eu-to-take-the-lead-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-in-context-of-business/]

Renewable energy firms guilty too

While companies and investors are increasingly making welcome and necessary commitments to climate action, including promises to achieve net zero by mid-century, many do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals, nor do they assess risks to defenders or engage in consultation with them. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/07/clean-energy-will-not-automatically-be-good-for-indigenous-land-defenders/

That’s the case even in the sector most crucial to the transition: our 2021 Renewable Energy Benchmark, we found that of the 15 of the largest global renewable energy companies evaluated, all scored zero on their commitment to respect the rights of human rights and environmental defenders.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

We have seen this failure to secure consent from affected communities prior to starting development projects lead to horrific outcomes. On 30 December 2021, police officers in the Philippines raided an Indigenous village, killing nine leaders. Local groups said that those killed were targeted and red-tagged because of their opposition to the Jalaur Mega Dam construction. Indigenous groups had challenged the project for years saying it would destroy their ancestral domain.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, an Indigenous Zapotec community has been raising concerns about wind farm construction not respecting their rights to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent. Leaders have faced stigmatisation and harassment. In October 2018, a federal court in Mexico delivered a historic ruling in favour of the community, ordering the Mexican authorities to carry out a consultation at a wind farm operated by a state-owned company based in Europe. In October 2020, the community filed a civil lawsuit in Paris against the company.

Engaging with rights-holders and defenders early on is one of the most effective ways of identifying actual and potential human rights and environmental impacts, while also reducing business risks. It is also their responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

For human rights due diligence processes to be effective, companies and investors can start by making clear they will not tolerate any attacks to defenders related to their operations, value chains or investments, communicating this publicly and to their suppliers and business partners. Companies should also conduct due diligence across their entire value chains, as the biggest risks and harms to people and planet occur in the lower tiers…

Throughout the entire due diligence process, companies should engage in ongoing consultation with rights-holders and defenders, including prior to and at every stage of business activity, and integrate their input into decision-making.

Effective due diligence also involves conducting human rights and environmental impact assessments. The assessments should map potentially affected rights-holders and land and resource conflicts and by informed by rights-holders and defenders’ expertise

This is not just nice to do. Conducting safe and legitimate human rights and environmental due diligence benefits everyone and will ensure companies are more effectively achieving their climate commitments. As the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights says, defenders need to be seen as key partners who can help businesses identify their human rights impacts, rather than being seen as obstacles to be disposed of.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/safe-legitimate-engagement-between-firms-human-rights-defenders-key-to-a-just-transition/

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

Bolsonaro’s “indigenous medal” is giving awards a bad name.

March 26, 2022
Jair Bolsonaro

Indigenous leaders said Jair Bolsonaro had spent three years promoting legislation that would open their territories to commercial development. Photograph: Adriano Machado/Reuters

Tom Phillips on 17 March 2022 reported how the Brazilian Government honours a president who activists accuse of undermining Indigenous protections.

Brazilian activists are outraged after Jair Bolsonaro – who has been accused of spearheading a cataclysmic attack on Indigenous rights – was honoured by his own government for his supposedly “altruistic” efforts to protect Indigenous lives.

Bolsonaro was granted the Medal of Indigenous Merit on Wednesday in recognition of what the justice ministry called his attempts to defend Indigenous communities in the South American country.

The same honour was bestowed upon key Bolsonaro allies, including his health, defence and agriculture ministers and the hardline institutional security chief, Augusto Heleno, who has accused Indigenous activists of committing crimes against the state by criticising the government’s policies overseas.

Indigenous leaders reacted to the award with disbelief and exasperation, noting how Brazil’s far-right president had spent three years undermining its Indigenous and environmental protection agencies, Funai and Ibama, and promoting legislation that would open Indigenous territories to commercial development.

The Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil criticised the government’s “contemptuous gesture”. “They want to destroy us at all costs and, as if that wasn’t enough, they now want to pay tribute to themselves in our name?” the group said, claiming Bolsonaro deserved only “the medal of Indigenous genocide”.

Alessandra Korap, an activist from the Amazon’s Munduruku people, said Bolsonaro needed to be arrested, not honoured “for all the destruction he has inflicted on Indigenous people and the forest”. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/14/brazilian-alessandra-korap-munduruku-wins-2020-robert-f-kennedy-human-rights-award/]

“Now he wants to use the Ukraine war [as justification] for allowing mining, oil and gas exploration, hydroelectric dams and soy plantations on Indigenous lands,” Korap added, in reference to recent moves to fast-track draft legislation allowing such activities.

Alessandro Molon, the lower house leader of Brazil’s opposition, urged Congress to strip Bolsonaro of the medal. “It’s a mockery that the same government that is trying to legalise mining on Indigenous lands – endangering the existence of these utterly persecuted and mistreated people – has the nerve to award itself medals of ‘merit’ for all of the harm it has caused over the past three years,” Molon told the magazine Veja.

“If Congress doesn’t overrule this absurdity it will be associating itself with this unprecedented assault on Indigenous people,” Molon said.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/mar/17/contemptuous-anger-in-brazil-as-bolsonaro-given-indigenous-merit-medal

Profile of Woman Human Rights Defender Maria Luisa Acosta

March 8, 2022

Dr. Maria Luisa Acosta is the coordinator of the Centro de Asistencia Legal a Pueblos Indígenas (CALPI), an organisation that supports and seeks to realise the rights of Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples and communities in Nicaragua. She shares her vision for the future and how, despite the personal toll of her work, she remains steadfast in her convictions.

States have the obligation to respect defenders, to provide them with security, to heed their calls and to consider that we are people who support the most vulnerable sectors of society, and that this is a contribution to democratic life.

https://ishr.ch/defender-stories/human-rights-defenders-story-maria-luisa-acosta-nicaragua/

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

Recommendations

As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

The risky lives of Human Rights Defenders during the pandemic

July 15, 2021

Meredith Veit in Open Global Rights of 14 July 2021 wrote how limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locking down.

Human rights defenders march in Thailand after a peaceful protester was threatened by gunshots from a mine security officer in January 2021. Photo courtesy of Meredith Veit


“Risking your life for human rights during a pandemic” is part I of a three-part series on COVID-19 and human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders (HRDs) across the world have been exposed to a wide range of dangers and threats—from smear campaigns and harassment to arbitrary detentions, abductions, and assassinations. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 has worsened the conditions for a kind of work that is already extremely mentally, physically, and emotionally  arduous.

As outlined in Front Line Defenders’ most recent annual report, at least 331 human rights defenders were murdered in 2020 (an 8.8% increase compared to 2019). 

While certain restrictions have been necessary for containing the spread of a highly contagious virus, severe limitations on fundamental freedoms have been purposely and disproportionately used against activists who have refused to put their work on pause, even when the rest of the world was locked down.

At the onset of the pandemic, Protection International (PI) began conducting research via organisation-wide surveys to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights defenders (HRDs) that we work with. PI works principally in 11 countries—Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Thailand and Indonesia. Our findings validate what many human rights practitioners had feared would happen: public health measures are being weaponized against HRDs; there has been a rise in both physical and digital threats and attacks; business interests continue to prevail over human rights; political prisoners continue to be detained and neglected amidst the emergency; and the right to defend human rights is gravely at risk. 

Just one month after lockdowns began, our staff reported that the public health crisis had swiftly exacerbated existing challenges–including heightened physical and digital surveillance, increased criminalization, illegal detentions, and arbitrary arrests. Rates of gender-based violence, including against women HRDs, skyrocketed, and the disproportionate burden of familial care on women rose. The needle on the risk-ammeter didn’t rise gradually; HRDs felt the shock almost instantaneously. 

First, we’ll discuss the most prominently worrying and overarching trend: government’s weaponizing COVID-19 restrictions against their own citizens.

During times of crisis, states lean heavily on law enforcement for the implementation of emergency measures, and due to misinterpretation of government mandates, or sometimes purposefully harsh directives, HRDs and journalists often face the brunt of their brute force. Nearly all PI teams reported that confinement measures have allowed for greater surveillance of defenders.

In Guatemala, for example, a staff member described an unusually persistent police presence outside of their home. In Colombia, our team reports that threats against defenders and their activities have increased, as the government excuses authorities who are acting out under the guise of necessity to control the spread of the virus. 

Towards the beginning of the pandemic, many states did not clearly delineate that press should be excluded from confinement orders. A year later, journalists and dissidents continue to be targeted, discredited, and censored through the veneer of spreading mis- or dis-information about the virus or the effectiveness of the government’s response. In Tanzania, for example, the late President John Magufuli did not acknowledge that COVID-19 was an issue of concern until February 2021 and two editors of independent newspapers said that “officials had informally told them not to publish material that the government would not like.”

Brazil has suffered a similar fate. President Bolsonaro has denied the legitimacy of the pandemic, and he “accus[ed] the press for the chaos that the country is experiencing to divert attention from his disastrous management of the health crisis,” explains Reporters Without Borders. Administrations who baselessly and sweepingly blame journalists and human rights defenders for the impacts of the pandemic are undoubtedly contributing to the rise in violence against them.

Latin America has historically been the region most riddled with killings of HRDs, and this pandemic year has been no exception. The case of Colombia is particularly disheartening, considering that it not only continues to be the most dangerous country in the world for HRDs, but also that the government’s response to the increase of violence and massacres during the pandemic has been to deploy “militarization” techniques. Strict confinement has limited HRDs’ access to protection networks, routes, and allies, especially those who have limited or no access to the internet. Armed actors have taken advantage of confinement measures to more easily locate and murder defenders. Somos Defensores reported a 61% increase in HRD assassinations during the first quarter of 2020 in comparison to the same period of 2019. According to the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (INDEPAZ), at least 308 HRDs and social leaders have been killed in Colombia since the initial lockdowns began on 25 March 2020, including 83 in 2021. Many Colombian HRDs have used temporary relocation programs to find refuge, but towards the beginning of the pandemic, many of these programs were suspended due to travel restrictions. Once emergency evacuations started to be coordinated again, Colombia was the top country for HRD displacements in 2020.

Protection International Colombia has been working principally with Indigenous communities in the Orinoquía region in the east of the country, which continues to be largely neglected by emergency response and relief efforts. Many Indigenous HRDs are left worrying about basic needs such as health and food supplies, forcing defenders to side-line activities related to protecting their land and the environment. Restrictions on mobility and a lack of connectivity have particularly impacted rural HRDs, especially women. “The already enormous burden of familial and household care that falls on women’s shoulders has increased dramatically. Furthermore, they are more exposed and left vulnerable to domestic violence, since, if there is a cell phone in the house, the man normally has it,” explains Aída Pesquera, PI Representative in Colombia. “All of this notably limits them in the exercise of their human rights work.”

Protection International has been working with local leaders to provide cell-phone data to ensure defenders are able to communicate with their protection networks, provide support to communities by facilitating their access to the internet, as well as carry on with their ancestral self-protection practices. “We support them to move to a place where they can safely connect, and we hold virtual workshops every week on protection,” says Pesquera, “We also provide didactic material that they can use autonomously between sessions.”

While Indigenous groups in Colombia and Brazil were hit hardest by the pandemic, they are not yet on the list of prioritized groups for receiving the vaccine even though roll-out has officially begun.

Woman from a rural area of Colombia stands near a mural (2019). Photo courtesy of author

Since we began collecting data, these issues have persisted or even worsened over time. While vaccine inoculation may be on the horizon for some, the reality is that many HRDs are not anywhere near the top of national priority lists for receiving it. We expect that HRDs will continue to work in confrontation with the obstacles listed above for the remainder of 2021, at least.

Human rights groups have been shouting this since March 2020, but we have not yet reached a point where we can stop repeating it: The pandemic cannot be used as a pretext to unjustifiably curtail fundamental rights and freedoms. Governments have no excuse for overtly obstructing the right to defend human rights. One year later, we continue to call on the international community to protect and uphold human rights, especially in times of crisis when they are most at risk of being undermined. Many of us have settled into our routines of the “new normal,” but normalizing these abuses is dangerous. We must continue to speak out. We urge governments around the world to ensure the safety of defenders and to guarantee their right to freedom of expression and their right to defend human rights, even within the context of restrictions that are necessary and proportional.

Meredith Veit is a writer, researcher, multimedia storyteller, and human rights advocate. Her topics of special interest include the right to defend human rights, freedom of the press, digital security, and technology.


https://www.openglobalrights.org/risking-your-life-for-human-rights-during-a-pandemic/

https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/protect-civic-space-post-pandemic-recovery

One of the Killers of Berta Caceras was just brought to justice

July 7, 2021

According to Common Dreams, human rights defenders on Monday 5 July 2021 welcomed the conviction of Roberto David Castillo Mejía, a Honduran businessman and former military intelligence officer, for the March 2016 assassination of Indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres, while calling on authorities in the Central American nation to bring everyone involved in planning the murder.

Memorial day: Environmental activist Berta Caceres was killed in her home in March 2016 Photo CC by Trocaire on Flickr.
(Photo CC by Trocaire on Flickr.)

The Guardian reports that the Tegucigalpa high court found Castillo—formerly head of the dam company Desarrollos Energéticos, or DESA—guilty of collaborating in Cáceres’ murder. The court ruled that Cáceres was killed for leading the campaign to stop construction of the $50 million Agua Zarca dam, a local grassroots effort which caused delays and monetary losses for DESA.

The environmentally destructive hydroelectric project is located on the Gualcarque River, which is sacred to the Indigenous Lenca people, and was approved despite its failure to comply with Honduran and international environmental requirements.

Cáceres, who was 44 years old when she was murdered, was co-founder and coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), a group dedicated to the defense of the environment in Intibucá and the protection of the Lenca. In 2015 she received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for leading “a grassroots campaign that successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder to pull out of the Agua Zarca Dam” project at Río Gualcarque. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/

COPINH hailed Monday’s verdict as “a popular victory for the Honduran people” that “means the criminal power structures failed to corrupt the justice system.”

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said in a statement that “the long-awaited prosecution of David Castillo, convicted as co-author of the murder of Berta Cáceres, is an important step towards justice and the result of her family and COPINH’s tireless efforts to secure truth, justice, and reparation. However, justice for Berta will never be truly complete until everyone who took part in the crime, including those who planned it, is brought to justice.

We urge the prosecutors to keep uncovering the truth,” Guevara-Rosas continued. “Until all those responsible are held accountable, other human rights defenders in Honduras will continue to lose their lives, for raising their voices and defending the most vulnerable. The Honduran authorities must put an end to impunity.”

Noting that Honduras is “the most dangerous country for defenders of land, territory, and the environment,” Guevara-Rosas admonished the Honduran government, which she said “seems to look the other way when human rights defenders are attacked instead of fulfilling its obligation to protect them.”

“Authorities must take this seriously and do whatever is necessary to keep human rights defenders safe from harm, so that a crime like the murder of Berta Cáceres is never repeated,” she added.

A 2017 report (pdf) by international legal experts concluded Cáceres’ murder was not an “isolated incident” and alleged “willful negligence by financial institutions.” The report found that the targeting of Cáceres was part of a “strategy” by DESA employees, private security firms, and public officials “to violate the right to prior, free, and informed consultations of the Lenca.”

“The strategy was to control, neutralize, and eliminate any opposition,” the report said.

Berta received several awards: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5


http://redgreenandblue.org/2021/07/06/environmental-activist-berta-caceras-murdered-killer-just-brought-just

Escazu treaty comes into force on 22 April but its success will depend on the commitment of governments and big business

April 20, 2021

The Thomson Reuters Foundation on 19 April 2021 wrote about the treaty aimed at protecting activists in Latin America which could be a life-saving watershed in a region where scores are murdered each year. But the pact’s success will depend on the commitment of governments and big business, rights advocates said.

Nicaraguan activist Lottie Cunningham, who described the Escazu treaty as “extremely important”, has come to expect death threats and online abuse as she fights mining and agriculture projects on indigenous lands in the Central American country. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/87abe411-b3ca-4301-8607-c894d7e4ecce ]

We have suffered intimidation, harassment and death threats defending indigenous rights, and mother earth and its natural resources,” said Cunningham, an indigenous lawyer.

“It’s virtual warfare. ‘War means blood’ was one of the messages I received on Facebook,” said Cunningham, who heads the Centre for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

But in the world’s deadliest region for campaigners such as Cunningham, the Escazu agreement is raising hopes among some that they will be better protected, and cause the perpetrators of crimes to be brought to justice.

The accord, which comes into force on April 22, has been signed by 24 of the region’s 33 countries, so far, and formally ratified by 12. Nicaragua is among the dozen nations that have agreed to make it legally binding.

Beyond the treaty’s safeguards for activists, Cunningham said she hopes it will allow “the effective participation” of indigenous people in decisions about permits and concessions to companies such as mining firms and cattle ranchers.

The treaty also obligates countries to ensure activists can access public information on environmental cases and issues.

David R Boyd, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said the “groundbreaking” treaty could be “a life-saving game changer”. “It is the first treaty in the world that includes specific obligations on governments to protect environmental and human rights defenders,” he said.

“Globally some Latin American countries have been hotspots of violence against environmental and human right defenders, and this treaty is directly intended to address that by raising the bar and creating obligations on governments.”

It could push countries to tighten their own laws to ensure crimes against environmentalists, which too often go unpunished, are investigated and perpetrators prosecuted, Boyd added.

The agreement comes into effect while attacks against activists are rising in some Latin American countries. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/11/11/in-3-months-the-escazu-agreement-should-come-into-force/

In the Americas last year, 284 human rights defenders were killed, accounting for 86% of the global tally, according to data published this month by campaign group Front Line Defenders.

Colombia, which has signed the Escazu treaty, was the deadliest country for land rights activists and environmentalists last year, according to a 2020 report by advocacy group Global Witness. It found 64 land rights activists were killed in Colombia last year — up from 25 in 2018 — the highest level Global Witness has yet recorded in the country.

Honduras, which has not yet signed the Escazu pact, is another hotspot for violence, where in one recent attack in December masked men with guns and machetes gunned down an environmentalist activist in front of his family. Brazil is unlikely to ratify.

The treaty orders countries to set up bodies to monitor, report and ensure new rules are adhered to, and specifies the rights of environmentalists, including their right to freedom of expression, free movement and peaceful assembly.

Boyd said much of the conflict that places environmentalists in danger is driven by disagreements over projects led by extractive industries and failing to consult communities about activities on their lands.

For the treaty to work in practice, governments and companies must recognise the right of indigenous people to decide what happens on their lands and to be property informed and consulted about projects to stem violence, he said.

“That straightforward step would actually prevent a lot of the conflicts that are leading to peoples’ lives being placed in jeopardy,” he said.

Government commitment to ensure adequate resources and changes in corporate values will also be key, said Marina Comandulli, a campaigner at advocacy group Global Witness.

“[It will only work] if it is properly funded, if every country in the region commits to implementing it, and if big companies start putting people and planet first,” she said, adding that attitudes must shift, too.

“Defenders are routinely threatened, criminalised and killed in Latin America and the Caribbean. Often, that violence is linked to corporate activity, and governments have been complicit in perpetrating it,” she said.

“Defenders are central in the fight against the climate crisis … we need a zero-tolerance approach to violence and to threats.”

Thomson Reuters Foundation

https://www.sightmagazine.com.au/news/19847-war-means-blood-can-a-treaty-stop-latin-american-activists-being-killed

8th Werner Lottje Lecture: Indigenous Human Rights Defenders in Colombia

April 20, 2021
La cátedra Werner Lottje hace parte de la programación del Instituto Alemán para los Derechos Humanos.

The German Institute for Human Rights and Bread for the World announce:

the 8th Werner Lottje Lecture: “Protected by the Collective – Indigenous Human Rights Defenders in Colombia
April 20, 2021
5:00 – 7:00 pm CET

More on Werner Lottje see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2013/11/16/and-a-lot-more-about-werner-lottje-the-great-german-human-rights-defender/

Livestreaming: English, German, Spanish (simultaneous interpreting)

For years, Colombia has led the dismal ranking of countries with the highest number of murders of human rights defenders worldwide. Members of  indigenous communities who defend themselves against the intrusion of armed groups, organized crime, and the overexploitation of natural resources on their ancestral territories are especially affected. With the 8th Werner Lottje Lecture, we therefore honor the Guardia Indígena de Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas, winners of the 2020 Colombian Human Rights Award and the 2020 Front Line Defenders Award (Americas), who impressively demonstrate how effective the collective peaceful defense of their territories can be. What particular threats do indigenous communities face in Colombia and around the world? [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/26619974-ee3f-42ff-9e94-3e34ebc5ba9b

What effects did the COVID-19 pandemic have? What strategies have these communities developed to defend themselves? What kind of support is required from the international community to protect indigenous communities? We discuss these and other questions with:

•             Guardia Indígena de Cauca – Kiwe Thegnas, Indigenous human rights collective, Colombia
•             Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
•             Dr. Peter Ptassek, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany in Colombia

Please register here: Anmeldung/Registration/Registro

Further information (in German)+ Google Calendar+ iCal Export

Details

Date: April 20 Time: 17:00 – 19:00 CEST Website: https://www.institut-fuer-menschenrechte.de/veranstaltungen/detail/8-werner-lottje-lecture-schutz-im-kollektiv-indigene-menschenrechtsverteidigerinnen-in-kolumbien