Posts Tagged ‘land rights defender’

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/

Clean energy will not automatically be good for indigenous land defenders

April 7, 2022

Emily Pontecorvo a reporter for GRIST published on 6 April 2022 a piece about a new report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre which states that the renewable energy sector is unprepared for the protection of land rights defenders.

In April of last year, José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and his wife Maria de Jesús Gomez Vega were found dead in the desert in Sonora, Mexico. In July, Fernando Vela, a doctor in Coqueta, Columbia, was shot to death by two men on a motorcycle while he was in his truck. In September, Juan Macababbad, an attorney in the Philippines was shot dead outside his home.

In each case, the victims were prominent human rights defenders, known in particular for defending their communities’ natural resources from mining, deforestation, water contamination, and other threats. These were just three of at least 76 such murders that occured in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/02/human-rights-high-commissioner-bachelet-urges-support-for-environmental-defenders/]

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tracks attacks on people who protest or otherwise raise concerns about business-related human rights abuses. It has documented more than 3,800 attacks, including killings, death threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and lawsuits, since January 2015, with 615 occurring in 2021 alone.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/ as well as: https://news.mongabay.com/2022/04/more-than-half-of-activists-killed-in-2021-were-land-environment-defenders/]

Our data shows almost the tip of the iceberg,” Christen Dobson, senior program manager for the BHRRC and an author of the new report. “Many attacks are not publicly reported. And so we know the problem is much more severe than these figures indicate.”

According to the report, human rights defenders who spoke out against mining projects consistently experienced the greatest number of attacks over the past seven years. The authors say this is especially concerning considering the expansion of mineral production required by a transition to clean energy. All those batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines are going to require a lot of cobalt, nickel, zinc, lithium, and other minerals.

We’re already seeing this level of attack, and we’re not seeing major producers of transition minerals have strong policies or practices in place about protecting defenders,” said Dobson. “There’s a real risk there and I think it’s an area that we’re very concerned about.

The report urges investors to publish a human rights policy and require that companies begin disclosing human rights and environmental-related risks. But Dobson said that voluntary actions from companies and investors was not enough. She said there was some momentum building behind mandating that companies report on measures they are taking to respect human rights, including legislation proposed in the European Union and Canada.

“It is concerning to see a vast majority of companies and investors, including major renewable energy companies, do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals in their operations, supply chains and business relationships,” said Dobson in a statement. “It’s time for companies and investors to recognise the energy transition cannot be effective if it is not also rights-respecting.”

https://grist.org/international/land-defenders-face-violence-and-repression-clean-energy-could-make-it-worse

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/

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

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

Garifuna rights defenders in Honduras should be released.

March 16, 2021
Defensoras garífunas

Sunday March 7 2021 an initial hearing was held in the court at Trujillo, Colón, in which Marianela Solórzano and Jennifer Solórzano, women human rights defenders belonging to the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), are on trial. Both were arrested by the Public Security Force (FUSEP) on March 3rd, and charged with damages, threats, robbery and usurpation of lands. 

In the trial records they are incriminated for the offenses of land usurpation, involving other Garifuna defenders, as well. The charges against them are related to the historic process of resistance by the Garifuna people to the plunder of their lands. Private businesses and governments alike have participated in the illegal appropriation of the ancestral territory of the Garifuna people, particularly the ownership of more than seven thousand hectares of land in the Cristales and Rio Negro communities confirmed by ancestral property deeds.  

Marianela is a defender of the rights of the LGBTI Garifuna community, and Jennifer, a defender of the ancestral Garifuna territories. Their arrests took place in the context of the continuous persecution and attacks against the Garifuna people organized in OFRANEH.

Historically, the communities belonging to OFRANEH have been the target of harassment, threats by armed groups, assassinations, and the disappearance of community leaders, among other highly serious rights violations. During the last ten years, these have only worsened due to the authoritarian criminal government model headed by Juan Orlando Hernández. Eight months ago, five Garifuna comrades were disappeared by armed men wearing uniforms of the Office of Police Investigations (DPI) of Honduras. As of now, their whereabouts are unknown. 

National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras, the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), and many other groups and networks of women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica, as well as the FIDH call on all feminist and LGBTI social movements and the international community to stay on the alert for developments in this case and to demand a hearing with full guarantees for the rights of the criminalized Garifuna defenders. 

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/25/four-honduran-woman-human-rights-defenders-say-why-funders-need-to-prioritize-social-movmements/

They demand the immediate freedom and point out that Marianela and Jennifer are human rights defenders, not criminals.  

http://im-defensoras.org/2021/03/urgent-alert-honduras-arrested-garifuna-rights-defenders-will-have-hearing-this-sunday-march-7th-the-international-community-demands-their-release/

https://www.fidh.org/es/temas/defensores-de-derechos-humanos/honduras-criminalizacion-de-las-defensoras-garifunas-marianela-y

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/

MEA 2020 finalist Sizani Ngubane Dies

December 23, 2020

NGO CSW/NY/YouTube Sizani Ngubane, founder of the Rural Women’s Movement land rights group in South Africa. 23 December 2020 allAfrica.com

South African women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane (also known as uGogo) has died, according to the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM) – an organisation of which she was the director and founder. This sad news was brought by AllAfrica.com on 23 December.

There were several attempts on Ngubane’s life during her 40 years of activism. At the time of her death she and her organisation , along with rights groups, were challenging the Ingonyama Trust in Pietermaritzburg High Court, Thomson Reuters reported in November 2020. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/]

Their work so far includes finding housing for evicted women and children, helping grow food on communal land for the hungry and sick, and campaigning for better legal protection of women’s land rights. Ngubane said the movement, which was launched in 1998, has now grown to 50,000 women.

She was in 2020 one of three finalists for the 2020 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, which is referred to as the Nobel Prize for human rights.

The RWM statement, released via their Twitter account, read:

We are saddened to share that our Founder and Director, uGogo Sizani Ngubane has passed on. She transformed countless lives. A lifelong freedom fighter, first against the brutal apartheid regime, uGogo, alongside other rural women, would later charge forward towards the promises of democracy.

“Tirelessly working for women’s land rights and equality, uGogo also laboured against gender-based violence and other challenges facing rural women. Originating in a non-partisan, women-led peace building movement, we have become a leader-full movement inspiring countless across KZN, South Africa, and the globe.
She was really beyond a special person. Fearless. Creative. Kind. Determined like no other. An unwavering belief in others and an endless reservoir of empathy and ubuntu.

She will be missed deeply by all. Hamba kahle, Gogo.”

This tribute was followed by one from Nomboniso Gasa, in which she wrote: ” Mam’ Sizani Ngubane has died. She was a gentle giant. My heart’s breaking. Last time I spoke to her, she was fatigued from a govt hell-bent on destructive Bills, TCB & TKLB.
Can’t imagine Rural Women’s movement – which she found in 1990 – without her energy, courage and vision
.”

The Ennals Award ceremony was to be streamed live from Geneva on February 19, 2020, and the Martin Ennals Foundation said about Ngubane after it decided to recognise her work with a nomination: ” In South Africa, women face discrimination, the worst expression of which is widespread gender violence. In rural communities, they frequently have their land expropriated and are deprived of access to education and justice. Sizani Ngubane founded an organisation of more than 50,000 women from rural areas in her country and has fought successfully for over 40 years for the recognition of their rights.”

On hearing of her death, the MEA tweeted: ” A lifetime #HumanRights giant is gone. #SouthAfrica #WomenRights champion and #MartinEnnals finalist #SizaniNgubane has passed away. Generous, determined, loving, resilient, she was the very essence of a #HRD . She will be dearly missed.

https://allafrica.com/stories/202012230793.html

Fikile Nsthangashe: “I will die for my people” and she did..

November 2, 2020

Portrait of a Community Activist

In the Daily Maverick of 1 November 2020 Estelle Ellis tells the sad story of murdered land rights defender Fikile Ntshangase in South Africa

A strongly worded statement from a large number of civil society organisations in South Africa has condemned the death of KwaZulu-Natal community activist Fikile Ntshangashe who was gunned down in her home last week as lawyers were preparing for a groundbreaking appeal fighting an order that her community organisation and those who assisted them should pay for a failed attempt to stop further mining operations in the area.

I refused to sign. I cannot sell out my people. And if need be, I will die for my people.” This was the quote that activists remembered Mama Fikile Nsthangashe by after she was gunned down in her home at Ophondweni near Mtubatuba on 22 October 2020.

As the vice-chairperson of a sub-committee of the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), she was deeply involved in the challenge against the further expansion of a large coal mine at Somkele in KwaZulu-Natal by Tendele Coal Mining (Pty) Ltd. She was described by her fellow activists as a strong, passionate and principled leader.

On Tuesday the Supreme Court of Appeal will hear one of Nsthangashe’s final stands – an appeal in the case brought by MCEJO to stop the mining operations in the area.

According to a joint statement issued by environmental rights NGO Groundworks; Earthlife Africa; Global Environmental Trust, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation, the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Women Against Mining United in Action the South African Police were called on to act swiftly and arrest those responsible for her death.

The statement alleges that four gunmen arrived at Ntshangashe’s home on 22 October 2020 at about 18:30. Her 11-year-old grandson was with her. She was shot five times and died at the scene.

“Tendele’s coal mining operations have caused untold destruction of the environment and the homes and livelihoods of the residents of Somkhele,” the statement reads. “Over the past few months, tension has been rising in the community over the proposed expansion of Tendele’s operations, and [her organisation’s] opposition to that expansion … Recently, Tendele was pushing for an agreement to be signed between MCEJO and Tendele to the effect that MCEJO would withdraw its Court challenges of Tendele’s expansion of its coal mine at Somkhele. Mama Ntshangase refused to sign the agreement, which certain of her fellow sub-committee members signed, purportedly doing so on behalf of the organisation … She warned sub-committee members that they had no power to make decisions on behalf of MCEJO and that the agreement only benefited Tendele. She also refused to attend any of the secret meetings that other sub-committee members held with Tendele. Days before her brutal killing, Mama Ntshangase stated her intention to write an affidavit, revealing that sub-committee members had spoken to her of a payment of R350,000 in return for her signature,” she added.

According to the statement the expansion of the mine would require the relocation of 21 families (19 of them MCEJO members) from their ancestral land. Many of these families have lived on their land for generations.

We mourn the senseless tragedy of Mama Ntshangase’s murder, and condemn her killing. We call on the South African Police Service to act swiftly to arrest and prosecute her murderers,” the statement concluded.

Martin Mosweu from the Southern Africa Resource Watch said he was deeply saddened and angered by the killing of Ntshangase.

She was hailed as a courageous human rights defender by her community for standing against the Tendele Coal Mine expansion in violation of the right to a safe environment. The murder of Fikile Ntshangase is a cause of concern to the work of human rights defenders in South Africa and in the SADC region. Governments are failing in their international obligations to the Declaration of Human Rights by not protecting and supporting human rights defenders in the context of their work. In Southern Africa, people who live near mines continue to face threats of violence and intimidation from mining companies who blatantly disregard their socio-economic, land, and environmental rights. Human rights defenders continue to be threatened and killed for standing up against powerful mining companies that violate human rights, often with impunity and tacit support from governments. This is why many mining communities throughout the region are now taking a stand and demanding a new order, insisting on extractive projects that secure a beneficial win-win relationship, free and prior informed consent in involuntary displacements, and community engagement in all stages of the mining cycle for inter-generational sustainable livelihoods,” he added.

Papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal for a hearing on Tuesday, in one of the last battles that Ntshangase had been passionately fighting on behalf of her community, has painted a stark picture of the conflict in the area.

The appeal, brought by MCEJO and the Global Environmental Trust is against the refusal by the Pietermaritzburg High Court to issue an interdict to stop mining operations in the area.

The community claimed that the mine did not have the necessary environmental authorisation, lacked land use authorisation, had not removed or altered the traditional graves in the area according to law and had failed to comply with the Waste Act.

The mine, however, argued that it had all the valid mining rights and permissions to carry on with its operations. In papers filed at court, lawyers for Tendele, stressed that their operations were conducted in terms of valid Mining Rights and Environmental Management Programmes granted and approved by the Department of Mineral Resources in 2006 and that while the legislative framework had changed there were transitional measures put in place for mines like Tendele.

This, according to papers before court included the waste management at the mine.

According to papers filed at the Supreme Court of Appeal the Centre for Environmental Rights (CER), represented by advocate Max du Plessis SC; intervened in the matter because of its concerns that the judgment opened the door for mining companies to operate illegally. The CER also expressed its concern over a cost order made in the original case as this “would discourage communities from approaching the courts to defend their constitutional rights through the fear of being debilitated by having to pay the legal costs of industry and the state”.

For another land issue in South Africa, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/30/rural-women-in-south-africa-win-landmark-case-in-court/