Posts Tagged ‘killings’

69 NGOs address worsening situation in Eswatini

July 22, 2021

On 21 July 2021 FIDH and many other NGOs addressed an open letter to the Government of Eswatini and the international community:

We, the undersigned 69 civil society organisations, are deeply concerned about the eruption of state violence in Eswatini. We stand in solidarity with the people of Eswatini in condemning the government’s violent repression of mass protests demanding democracy and economic justice.

We support the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s call urging the authorities to fully adhere to human rights principles and reminding them that peaceful protests are protected under international human rights law. We call on the Government of Eswatini to immediately cease its brutal crackdown against civilians, restore and maintain internet access, and engage in inclusive dialogue with pro-democracy groups and politicians.

We call on the international community, including the United Nations, African Union, Southern African Development Community, and individual governments, to demand that the Government of Eswatini respect human rights, allow a thorough, independent investigation of who authorised violence against protesters, including shoot to kill orders, and support a peaceful transition to a democratic form of government.

Reports out of Eswatini indicate that, since late June, the army and police forces have killed dozens of unarmed civilians and injured around 1,000 people, including by shooting indiscriminately at and wounding protesters. The government has reportedly imprisoned hundreds of people, many of them young people, and shut down internet access across the country for several weeks, which Amnesty International calls “a brazen violation of the rights to freedom of expression and information.” Reports further indicate that security
forces have sought to intimidate human rights defenders and activists with unlawful surveillance, imposed a curfew, and restricted public gatherings and petition deliveries to the government. This political crisis caused by state-sponsored violence risks creating a humanitarian crisis, as hospitals struggle to treat the influx of people injured by security forces, food and fuel supplies become limited, and people’s movement and ability to conduct basic commerce is restricted.

Specifically, we lend our support to the demands of civil society organisations, political organisations, and people’s movements within Eswatini calling for a long-term resolution to the current political crisis through an inclusive political dialogue, the total unbanning of political parties, a transitional authority, new democratic Constitution, and a multiparty democratic dispensation.In the immediate term, we join democracy defenders in Eswatini in the following demands, calling for action from the Government of Eswatini to cease violence, restore and maintain communications services, and provide urgently needed humanitarian support:

● The immediate cessation of the killing of civilians and the return of the army to the
barracks;

● The immediate restoration of civic services such as the rapid issuing of death
certificates for those killed in the past days;

● Mandatory independent pathologists to conduct post-mortems on the deceased;

● Urgent humanitarian support to the affected families, workers and citizens who
need basic necessities such as food, sanitary towels, baby food, etc.

● The provision of direct financial support to resuscitate affected small and medium
enterprises;

● The full and permanent restoration of internet and communication services and
peoples’ right to freedom of expression; and

● The urgent availability of vaccines to all emaSwati and the end of unnecessary
lockdowns.

As the Government of Eswatini, Africa’s only remaining absolute monarchy, violates the human rights of residents, suppresses freedom of speech and assembly, and jails young people for demanding a brighter future, the international community cannot remain silent.

We call on partners in international civil society, regional governmental bodies, and diplomats to join us in amplifying the demands of the Eswatini people and seeking the protection of people’s human rights.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/Africa/swaziland-eswatini-civilian-killings-must-stop-now

Goldman Prize laureates express concern about colleague Alberto Curamil in Chile

July 3, 2021
Alberto Curamil. (Vicente Franco/Water For Life)

In the Washington Post of 1 July 2021, Craig Williams and Alfred Brownell (winners of the Goldman Prize in 2006 and 2019 respectively) wrote: He has worked to protect the Earth. Now we must protect him.”

As environmental activists and human rights defenders, we are alarmed by a spike in violent attacks on and killings of land rights activists across the globe and, most recently, in Latin America. The latest in this disturbing trend is a violent assault on Alberto Curamil, a leader of the Indigenous Mapuche people in southern Chile and an activist working to protect his people’s land, water and other resources. As we write, we fear Alberto could become the latest casualty in a global war against Earth’s front-line protectors. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/4f845ff0-86d2-4b12-97af-1590f6ba8602]

On April 29, Alberto was attending a protest along with his son andnephew, both teenagers. They were there to show support for Elena Paine, another Mapuche leader, and her community a day after her house and crops in Koyam Montre were burned to the ground. Alberto, Paine and members of the Machupe community believe that the threat may have come from far-right-wing groups in the area.

As Alberto and his teenage relatives were driving away from the protest, the back window of their truck was shattered by a tear-gas canister. When they got out of the vehicle, police shot Alberto at point-blank range three times with buckshot, which lodged in his back, side, arm and the back of his leg. Then, police beat the teens with batons while yelling “Pinche Mapuche” (“Lousy Mapuche”). The three were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at a public event and breach of sanitary provisions. Alberto was taken to a hospital three hours after being brought into custody, bleeding and in excruciating pain. The teens were bruised, battered and traumatized.

This was not the first time Alberto had been a target of the Chilean government. In 2018, he was arrested and jailed for 15 months on false charges of armed robbery based entirely on hearsay evidence. He was acquitted of all charges and released in December 2019. Due to his imprisonment, he had been unable to receive the Goldman Prize — known as the “green Nobel” — at ceremonies in April and May 2019 in D.C. and San Francisco. He was previously arrested after being violently beaten by police in 2014.

Our alarm has led us, along with several dozen of our fellow Goldman Prize winners from across the globe, to demand assurances from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera that Alberto’s safety will be given the highest priority. We are also seeking support through appeals to the U.S. Congress, the European Union and the United Nations.

We believe time is of the essence, especially given the broader context of violence against those who stand up to protect the Earth. In 2016, the internationally celebrated Honduran Indigenous activist and Goldman Prize winner Berta Cáceres was murdered by operatives for the power company Desarrollos Energéticos (Desa) for her opposition to a hydroelectric project on the Rio Gualcarque. Seven men accused of plotting Cáceres’s murder were convicted and sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison. An eighth suspect, Roberto David Castillo Mejía, president and chief executive of Desa, is currently on trial, accused of masterminding the murder-conspiracy plot.

In its latest report, Global Witness recorded the highest number of environmental defenders killed in a single year — more than 212 people killed in 2019, a rate of four a week. More than two-thirds of the killings took place in Latin America. [see also: Global]

The killings of and assaults on Earth’s defenders worldwide have accelerated in some of the most fragile pristine landscapes and biodiverse countries, jeopardizing the fight against climate change and species extinction. In Mexico, police are investigating the suspicious killings of two employees at a butterfly reserve in 2020. That same month, six members of an Indigenous community were killed at a nature reserve in Nicaragua. And in South Africa, environmental activist Fikile Ntshangase was killed last year in an attack local activists fear was related to her opposition to disruptive local mining operations.

In Chile, Indigenous communities’ push for human rights go hand in hand with their struggle for land and water rights, as government-backed companies try to run them off their land with threats, harassment and violence.

Attacks on environmental defenders in Latin America and worldwide are not only an affront to human rights, but also a cause for deep alarm at a time when the world must fight climate change and bring about a sustainable future. We are demanding that the Chilean government take immediate steps to stop these aggressive and often deadly attacks on the Mapuche community. There should also be a thorough, independent investigation into the destruction of Paine’s home.

We must act against this brutality, or we threaten the fight for a planet in crisis.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/07/01/alberto-curamil-chile-environmental-defender-safety/

William Zabel Human Rights Award 2021 to Philippines NGO Karapatan

May 27, 2021

Human Rights First announced that it will present Karapatan, Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights, with its annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award in recognition of its commitment to human rights in the Philippines. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/984CA015-FE02-4992-8AED-4EB1AEC7D0EE

Karapatan is a Philippines-based alliance of human rights organizations, programs, committees, and individual advocates that have been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights in the country since 1995. 

Human Rights First has tremendous respect and admiration for Karapatan and the work done by Tinay Palabay,” said Michael Breen, president and CEO of Human Rights First. “They are human rights defenders whom the government of Philippines regularly targets, and we hope this award, and our ongoing partnership, helps shine a bright light on their efforts and shields them from additional threats.”

With more than forty member organizations and sixteen regional chapters across the country, Karapatan addresses extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, political prisoners and militarization all across the Philippines. The Alliance helps organize mass actions that expose human rights violations and challenge State policies and actions that promote the culture of impunity.

Karapatan documents human rights violations through fact-finding missions; files cases through courts, even quasi-judicial bodies like the Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations, and other international human rights bodies. It also refers victims to medical professionals and groups for psycho-social and additional assistance; and organizes victims of human rights violations and their families.

It also monitors peace negotiations between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the nation’s adherence to the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and other agreements.

Fifteen human rights workers of Karapatan have been killed in the past five years, nearly 70 since 2001, and many more are imprisoned or are facing judicial harassment and threats because of their work in defending human rights,” said Tinay Palabay of Karapatan. “This recognition is an homage to their memory and legacy of selflessness, compassion and service to the poor and oppressed and we continue to honor them every day as we do the best that we can in advocacy, documentation, direct services and movement-building in the Philippines.”

Human Rights First and Karapatan are currently working on a pilot project testing “Digital Shield,” an application that tracks threats of violence and harassment made against the organization and its members online. 

For last year’s award: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/07/human-rights-first-to-present-saudi-organization-alqst-with-william-d-zabel-human-rights-award/

https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/press-release/human-rights-first-present-philippines-organization-karapatan-william-d-zabel-human

Journalists and HRDs pay the price of authoritarian impunity

May 6, 2021

Regan Ralph on 2 May 2021, in Open Democracy, writes: “When authoritarians get a free pass, activists pay the price”. It is a rich piece.

Much ink has been spilled about US president Joe Biden’s non-response to the confirmation by US intelligence services that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman directed the gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey in 2018. Most of it, like Joseph S. Nye, Jr.’s recent article ‘Biden and Human Rights’, focuses on the political consequences.

The real price of authoritarian impunity, however, is paid by the victims. Pulled punches – like refusing to sanction the crown prince – endanger the lives of brave individuals standing up for democratic values. If the Biden administration is to deliver on its promise to “stand firm behind our commitments to human rights, democracy, [and] the rule of law”, it must make protecting the lives of activists a priority.

In 2020, 50 journalists were killed worldwide. For activists and advocates, the numbers are even grimmer – at least 331 human rights defenders in 25 countries were murdered. Countless others were detained, beaten, and threatened with worse. Women, especially, are singled out for sexualized violence and harassment. And the number of human rights activists killed, harassed, or thrown in jail is steadily rising. According to UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Mary Lawlor, 1,300 peaceful activists were murdered between 2015 and 2019.

Like journalists, frontline activists are targeted by the powerful institutions they publicly criticize. Last month marked five years since the murder of Honduran environmental justice advocate Berta Caceres. She was gunned down in her home on the night of 2 March 2016, after a years-long campaign of harassment and intimidation. Caceres was killed because of her peaceful struggle against the Agua Zarca dam project, which threatens the land and livelihoods of indigenous Lenca communities in western Honduras. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/]

Investigations into Caceres’s murder indicated an elaborate web of co-conspirators, including high-level government officials, former military personnel, and top executives at Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA)—the company building the dam. Seven men, hired by DESA executives, were convicted in 2018 for Caceres’s murder. DESA’s president, a former military intelligence officer, will stand trial next month. He is indicted as the “intellectual author” of the assassination.

These brutal murders are tragedies. They also reveal the costs incurred when we indulge authoritarians as they crack down on voices of dissent.

Not long ago, it seemed that the price of oppression was on the rise. There was a growing consensus that brutal, autocratic actions would isolate a country from the international community. Powerful actors on the world stage, including the US State Department, could and did support the right of independent voices to criticize abuses of power and call for accountability.

Then the new authoritarians came to power. In countries across the world, illiberal and autocratic strongmen granted each other the gift of impunity and permission to silence critics without consequence. Human rights advocates watched with grim resignation as former president Donald Trump’s administration excused gross rights violations and embraced abusive regimes.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day

The now-defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), for example, was established in 2006 with political and financial support from the United States and the United Nations. It scored groundbreaking victories against corrupt and abusive political and military figures. In 2015, Joe Biden, then US vice-president, helped keep the CICIG alive while the then Guatemalan president Perez Molina – later imprisoned on corruption charges – tried to shut it down. But in 2019, when the Guatemalan government dismantled the CICIG, there was nary a peep from Washington.

Existential threats to human rights activism are not theoretical; they grow more concrete and specific every day. As the Trump administration turned a blind eye, the Egyptian government cracked down on critics, harassing or jailing thousands of activists and journalists. Local advocates say President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been emboldened by the lack of consequences over his government’s flagrant disregard for human rights.

Civil society activists are vulnerable wherever they live and travel. Khashoggi’s murder shows the lengths to which an unchecked authoritarian will go to silence critics. This is what happens when heavyweight governments like the United States abdicate their moral leadership—frontline advocates everywhere in the world pay the price. It is unfathomably cruel to valorize the bravery of human rights advocates on the one hand and refuse to hold their murderers accountable on the other.

US leadership should offer the kind of moral suasion that will effectively counter and curtail attacks on human rights defenders. Others, including Khashoggi’s own colleagues at The Washington Post, have outlined the immediate actions Biden can take to hold Saudi Arabia’s crown prince accountable. But beyond sanctions for egregious violations, the Biden administration must do more to proactively support the thousands of courageous individuals who risk their lives to promote democracy and justice.

First, the administration should consistently apply the human rights norms it espouses—at home and abroad. Second, it must lend political and, where appropriate, financial support to those building democratic movements and institutions, especially when their efforts are attacked. Last, it should explore the creation of a novel global security compact, following the collective protection model pioneered by local activists. The safety of human rights defenders anywhere is the concern of governments everywhere, and policymakers must take measures to ensure that all civil society actors can carry out their vital work in safety.

The schoolyard teaches us that bullies don’t back down when they get what they want; instead, they demand more. It’s time to stand up to autocratic bullies and hold them accountable for their actions. The lives of countless brave activists may depend on it.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/when-authoritarians-get-free-pass-activists-pay-price/

Philippines killings continue and de Lima stays in jail

March 9, 2021

Human rights groups called on the Philippine government to investigate what they said was the use of “lethal force” during police raids on Sunday that left at least nine activists dead. The raids in four provinces south of Manila resulted in the death of an environmental activist as well as a coordinator of left-wing group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, among others, and resulted in the arrest of four others, activist groups said.

These raids appear to be part of a coordinated plan by the authorities to raid, arrest, and even kill activists in their homes and offices,” Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said in a statement.

These incidents, he said, were “clearly part of the government’s increasingly brutal counter-insurgency campaign“. “The fundamental problem is (that) this campaign no longer makes any distinction between armed rebels and noncombatant activists, labour leaders, and rights defenders.” The United Nations has warned in a report that “red-tagging”, or labelling people and groups as communists or terrorists, and incitement to violence have been rife in the Southeast Asian nation.

The Philippines government should act now to investigate the use of lethal force in these raids, stop the mayhem and killings that has gone hand in hand with the practice of red-tagging,” Robertson said.

Sunday’s raids, which human rights group Karapatan condemned, came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the police and military to “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights”.

“Nothing could be more apt than calling this day a ‘Bloody Sunday,’” Karapatan’s Cristina Palabay said.

Lieutenant General Antonio Parlade, head of an anti-rebel task force, told Reuters the raids were “legitimate law enforcement operations”, and authorities acted on the basis of search warrants for possession of firearms and explosives.

“As usual these groups are so quick in assuming that the subjects were activists and that they were killed. If (the) motive was to kill them they should all be dead but there were those who did not resist arrest so they were collared,” Parlade told Reuters in a phone message. — Reuters

In the meantime on 7 March 2021 Rappler.com reported that UK lawmakers called for release of jailed Duterte critic De Lima

Senator De Lima’s prosecution appears to have set the pattern for silencing of President Duterte’s opponents,’ write 27 UK parliamentarian as she entered her 5th year in jail, her office said Sunday, March 7. https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/35cd51c0-93fb-11e8-b157-db4feecb7a6f

Signatories include Rt Hon Dame Diana Johnson, MP (chair, All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group), Tonia Antoniazzi MP, Harriett Baldwin MP, Paul Blomfield MP, Tracy Brabin MP, Lyn Brown MP, and Dawn Butler MP, according to the Office of Senator Leila de Lima.

President Duterte’s self-styled ‘war on drugs’ has seen an estimated 30,000 extra-judicial killings – along with increased targeting of journalists and human rights defenders, and the undermining of judicial independence,” they added.

A Muntinlupa court on Friday, March 5, dismissed her second drug case appeal, even as she was earlier acquitted in another case. A third case against her is pending before another court.

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/world/rights-groups-call-for-investigation-into-killings-of-philippine-activists-221956

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/08/bloody-sunday-left-activists-labor-leaders-executed-philippines-after-duterte-says

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/03/1086782

https://www.rappler.com/nation/uk-lawmakers-call-for-release-duterte-critic-leila-de-lima

Colombia accounts for half the number of all environmental defenders murdered in 2020

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021 Mongabay writes about the terrible situation that of the 331 murders of environmental defenders registered worldwide in 2020, Colombia had the most murders at 177.

Impunity still reigns when it comes to the murders of human rights defenders around the world, according to the Front Line Defenders organization, in its global analysis of 2020. The analysis examined 331 homicides of leaders who fight for the defense of the land, the environment, Indigenous peoples, women and the LGBTIQ community. Of these, 177 cases occurred in Colombia.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, defenders have been exposed not only to the day-to-day risks they face from their work and the virus, but also to pressure from governments to control information. Not all of these HRDs are recognized, but the Digest counts some 50 laureates from Colombia [see https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest]

Many of those killed, the report states, supported communities in their fight against COVID-19 , worked on food security issues, access to medical care and were critical of governments. For Front Line Defenders , the health crisis increased risks, especially for women defenders, leaders of the LGBTIQ community and vulnerable populations such as refugees, migrants and sex workers.

Fidel Heras Cruz traded the tranquility of a simple, quiet life for the front line of the fight against economic powers that threaten the environment. Photo: Courtesy COPUDEVER.

For Shirley Muñoz, who coordinates information systems for the Somos Defensores de Colombia, the pandemic made the state abandonment more evident. Colombia accounts for 53% of all rights defenders cases globally in 2020.

“In many territories, the control of the pandemic was exercised by illegal armed groups through fear and threats, and defenders had to be locked up in their homes, which made them more at risk,” Muñoz said in an interview with Mongabay Latam. A large number of the murders that we verified were committed in or near the defenders’ homes.”

Front Line Defenders believes that cases may continue to increase as verifications of allegations are made, and that upcoming figures from Somos Defensores de Colombia will bring the final number of deaths in 2020 higher.

According to Front Line Defenders, 69% of the murders that occurred last year occurred against leaders who worked in defense of the land, the environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples.

Report authors point out that the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has emphasized that the loss of biodiversity could put world food security at risk and Indigenous communities play a fundamental role in the conservation of ecosystems. Since 2017, Front Line Defenders has registered 327 murders of defenders of the rights of Indigenous peoples in the world.

They tried to kidnap Irma Lemus (center) on her journey into exile. Photo: Radio Progreso.

In Colombia, violence has been particularly directed against those who participate in the implementation of the Peace Agreement with the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), those who are part of the initiatives to replace drug crops, and those who oppose natural resources extraction projects.

In addition to homicides, Front Line Defenders also recorded the most common types of human rights violations, which in the case of Latin America are physical attacks (27%), detentions and arrests (19%), harassment (13%), legal actions against leaders (13%), and smear campaigns (7%) .

The report notes that many defenders who were detained were also exposed to an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. Even though many countries allowed the release of prisoners due to the pandemic, according to the report, defenders were not among those released despite serving sentences for “non-violent crimes.”

In the case of Colombia, it is likely that the number of attacks on defenders reported in 2020 has dropped, but this does not mean – warns Muñoz – that the violence has. The reason is that during the pandemic it is presumed that there is a large under-registration since many organizations in charge of registering this type of human rights violations were not able to monitor the territories. So, Muñoz concludes, “there were attacks, but not all of them were recorded.”

Javier Francisco Parra was shot dead in the municipality of La Macarena, Meta, Colombia. Photo: Cormacarena.

Front Line Defenders stresses that direct human rights violations were compounded by restrictive legislation that was introduced in response to the pandemic. “Several other laws were passed designed to limit the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to function well and safely. […] Other governments, including Peru, Honduras, Mexico and Panama, allowed development, deforestation and mining projects to continue despite economic closures, ”the report indicates.

Human rights defenders not only have to protect themselves from physical attacks and murder, but also from digital attacks.

In 2020, a team of Front Line Defenders protection coordinators received 304 requests for support for the following reasons: 26% received threats via social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; 16% were hacked or had their social media accounts compromised; 11% reported telephone surveillance; another 11% reported physical monitoring and 9% said that devices with important information were confiscated or stolen from them.

More than a quarter of those most affected by this type of attack are human rights defenders (17%); rights of the land, the environment and Indigenous peoples (16%). Front Line Defenders claims it received dozens of reports of online gatherings – especially from LGBTIQ groups, feminists and black advocates – that were infiltrated by attackers taking advantage of security breaches

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/03/02/colombia-biden-violence-cauca-duque-peace-farc/

Mary Lawlor addresses Lawlessness in case of Berta Caceres and other HRDs

March 3, 2021

On 2 March 2021, Mary Lawlor – the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders – wrote for Amnesty International “Five years after Berta Cáceres was murdered, states are still failing to protect human rights defenders". With the presentation of Mary Lawlor's report to the UN Human Rights Council coming up this week, the piece is worth reading in full:

It’s five years today since environmental human rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home in Honduras. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/2AD0CEE4-80CB-3234-04B4-F2ED7ACBE6C5]

She was one of hundreds of human rights defenders killed that year because of their peaceful work, and hundreds more defenders have been killed every year since. Those responsible are rarely brought to justice. Although some have been convicted of Berta Cáceres’ killing, others believed to have been involved have still not been brought to account. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/10/nina-lakhanis-who-killed-berta-caceres-reviewed/]

It’s a familiar and continuing story, in Honduras and across the world, where those responsible for the murder of a human rights defender often enjoy impunity. This week I am presenting my latest report to the United National Human Rights Council in Geneva, and it is on the killings of human rights defenders and the threats that often precede them.

At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020. Unless radical, immediate action is taken we can expect hundreds more murders again this year.

Since 2015, at least 1,323 defenders have been killed. While Latin America is consistently the most affected region, and environmental human rights defenders like Berta Cáceres often the most targeted, it is a worldwide issue. At least 281 human rights defenders were killed in 2019, with a similar number expected to be recorded for 2020

Between 2015 to 2019, human rights defenders were killed in at least 64 countries, that’s a third of all U.N. member states. Those collecting the data agree that underreporting is a common problem. The number of defenders killed is likely significantly higher than the figures we have.

We know that on every continent, in cities and the countryside, in democracies and dictatorships, governments and other forces threatened and killed human rights defenders. Many, like Berta Cáceres, are killed in the context of large business projects.

Why do so many governments and others kill human rights defenders working peacefully for the rights of others? Partly because they can, safe in the knowledge that there is unlikely to be the political will to punish the perpetrators.

While some states, particularly those with high numbers of such killings, have established dedicated protection mechanisms to prevent and respond to risks and attacks against human rights defenders, defenders often complain that the mechanisms are under-resourced.

And in too many cases, businesses are also shirking their responsibilities to prevent attacks on defenders or are even responsible for the attacks.

These murders are not random acts of violence that come out of nowhere. Many of the killings are preceded by threats. As Amnesty International noted, Berta Cáceres’ murder “was a tragedy waiting to happen,” and she had “repeatedly denounced aggression and death threats against her. They had increased as she campaigned against the construction of a hydroelectric dam project called Agua Zarca and the impact it would have on the territory of the Lenca Indigenous people.”

And yet her government failed to protect her, as so many governments fail to protect their defenders. Since I took up this mandate in May last year I have spoken to hundreds of human rights defenders. Many have told me about their real fears of being murdered, and have shown me death threats made against them, often in public.

They tell me how some threats shouted in person, posted on social media, delivered in phone calls or text messages, or in written notes pushed under a door. Some are threatened by being included on published hit lists, receiving a message passed through an intermediary or having their houses graffitied. Others are sent pictures through the mail showing that they or their families have been under long-term surveillance, while others are told their family members will be killed. It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account

I’ve been told by defenders about a coffin being delivered to the office of an NGO; a bullet being left on a dining room table in their home; edited pictures of them being posted on Twitter, showing them having been attacked with axes or knives; and an animal head being tied to the door of their organization’s office.

Those advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights, and women and transgender human rights defenders, are often attacked with gendered threats, and targeted because of who they are as well as what they do. Women and LGBTI people demanding rights in a patriarchal, racist, or discriminatory contexts often suffer specific forms of attack, including sexual violence, smears and stigmatisation.

The murders of human rights defenders are not inevitable, many are signalled in advance, and yet governments fail, year after year, to provide enough resources to prevent them, and fail, year after year, to hold the murderers to account. In fact, states should not only end impunity but also publicly applaud the vital contribution that human rights make to societies.

This week I’ll again remind the U.N. that their members are failing in their moral and legal obligations to prevent the killings of human rights defenders. It’s no use for government officials to wring their hands and agree that the murder of Berta Cáceres and other defenders is a terrible problem and that someone should do something about it.

It’s not that complicated. It’s up to states to find the political will to prevent killings by responding better to threats against human rights defenders, and to hold murderers to account.

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2021/03/asesinato-berta-caceres-estados-siguen-sin-proteger-defensores/

Afghanistan: 65 media workers and rights defenders killed since 2018

February 15, 2021

UNAMA/Freshta DuniaThe Pul-e-Kheshti Mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. (file photo) 15 February 2021Human Rights

On 15 February 2021 the UN reported that 65 journalists, media professionals and human rights defenders were killed in Afghanistan between 1 January 2018 and 31 January 2021, with 11 losing their lives since the start of peace negotiations last September. 

This trend, combined with the absence of claims of responsibility, has generated a climate of fear among the population”, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a news release, announcing the findings from its latest report

The violence, the Mission said, resulted in contraction of the human rights and media space, with many professionals exercising self-censorship in their work, quitting their jobs, and leaving their homes, communities – and even the country – in hope it will improve their safety.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/afghanistan-human-rights-defenders-targeted-but-fearless/. The Digest of Human Rights Laureates lists some 20 defenders: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest

“The killings have had the broader impact across society of also diminishing expectations around efforts towards peace”, UNAMA added. 

The special report Killings of Human Rights Defender and Media Professionals also documented “changing patterns” of attacks.  The most recent wave, that of intentional, premeditated and deliberate targeting of individuals with perpetrators remaining anonymous contrasts to previous years, UNAMA said. In the past, such deaths were mainly as a result of proximity of individuals to attacks by organized armed groups, mainly the Islamic State in the Levant-Khorasan-Province (ISIL-KP), involving the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/06/30/car-bomb-kills-two-human-rights-workers-in-afghanistan/

The report underscored the role of all actors in preventing such killings and intimidation, promoting accountability and preventing impunity. Investigations into killings must be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent, it urged, adding that the prosecution of suspected perpetrators should strictly follow due process and fair trial standards.   

Deborah Lyons, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan and the head of UNAMA, underscored the importance of media professionals and human rights activists. 

The voices of human rights defenders and the media are critical for any open and decent society. At a time when dialogue and an end to the conflict through talks and political settlement should be the focus, the voices from human rights and the media need to be heard more than ever before, instead they are being silenced”, she said. 

The Afghan people need and deserve a flourishing civic space – a society where people can think, write and voice their views openly, without fear”, Ms. Lyons added  UNAMA reportHuman rights defenders, journalists and media workers killed by incident type

Recommendations 

Among its recommendations, the report called on the Government to put in place an adequate preventive framework, including special protective and proactive security measures for rights defenders, journalists and media workers subject to threats or other types of intimidation.  

It urged the Taliban to adopt, publicize and enforce policies that prohibit the killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, as well as to repeal existing and refrain from new policies that limit civic space. 

The report also called on the international community to continue to engage with rights defenders, journalists and media workers at risk and increase support to programs that provide security, travel, financial, capacity building and other assistance to them.

It also called on non-state actors to stop all killings of human rights defenders, journalists and media workers, in accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law. 

Killings of Human Rights Defender and Media Professionals

Two more defenders killed in Honduras

October 16, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

https://euobserver.com/foreign/149771

Colombia”s human rights defenders: ‘We’re being massacred’

October 8, 2020

Joe Parkin Daniels in Bogotá Colombia reports for the Guardian of 8 October 2020 on the latest Amnesty International study entitled “Why Do They Want To Kill Us?” and published on Thursday. It identified four areas of the country as particularly dangerous for activists: Buenaventura; the Amazonian province of Putumayo; the war-torn Catatumbo region on the Venezuelan border; and the Kubeo-Sikuani indigenous settlement in the eastern planes

Activists in Colombia have warned that they continue to face extermination despite the coronavirus pandemic, as Amnesty International accused the country’s government of doing little to protect them.

At least 223 social leaders – community activists defending human, environmental, and land rights – have been murdered this year, according to local watchdog Indepaz.

“We are being massacred, drop by drop,” said Danelly Estupiñán, who leads the Black Community’s Process (or PCN), an activist group dedicated to Afro-Colombian rights, in Buenaventura, an Afro-Colombian port city on the Pacific coast. Estupiñán has received countless death threats, been followed by suspicious men, and had her house broken into in recent months

For years, Colombia has been one of the world’s most dangerous countries for people who are defending human rights, territory, and natural resources,” Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty, said in a statement to media on Thursday.

Defenders will continue to die until the government effectively addresses structural issues such as the deep inequality and marginalization suffered by communities, ownership and control of the land, substitution of illicit crops, and justice,” Guevara-Rosas went on to say.

Human rights defenders across the country told Amnesty International’s researchers that the Covid-19 outbreak has also prompted authorities to reduce the protection arrangements – including state-provided bodyguards and armoured vehicles.

A historic 2016 peace deal between the Colombian government and what was then Latin America’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (or Farc), was supposed to end decades of the bloodshed.

But though the accord formally ended five decades of civil war that killed 260,000 and displaced over 7 million, only a small fraction of its provisions have been implemented, while violence continues to rattle the countryside as Farc dissidents, other rebel militias, and cartels jostle for control.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/20/colombia-21-january-2020-civil-society-begins-a-much-needed-patriotic-march/


https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2020/10/debemos-proteger-quienes-defienden-tierra-ambiente-colombia/

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/oct/08/colombia-activists-murder-amnesty-international