Posts Tagged ‘land rights defender’

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/

Brazilian Alessandra Korap Munduruku Wins 2020 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award

October 14, 2020

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has named Alessandra Korap Munduruku the winner of its 2020 Human Rights Award for her work defending the culture, livelihoods, and rights of Indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Indigenous peoples, including Alessandra’s Munduruku community, have faced tremendous challenges in Brazil in recent years—from gold miners and loggers illegally invading and exploiting Indigenous territories; to widespread fires in the Amazon; and an increased risk to the coronavirus; not to mention a combative president who’s proactively removed protections for Indigenous tribes and insulted them on numerous occasions.

As one of the key leaders and organizers of the Munduruku people, Alessandra has fought to stop construction projects and illegal mining that are infringing upon Munduruku territory, garnering international attention and support. She’s advocated for the demarcation of Indigenous lands and for Indigenous communities to be consulted on decisions that affect their territories. Alessandra has also played an important role in advancing the leadership of women in the Munduruku community and among other Indigenous tribes in Brazil through her involvement in the Wakoborûn Indigenous Women’s Association and the Pariri Indigenous Association. 

I’m humbled to be this year’s Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award winner,” said Alessandra Korap Munduruku. “To have the additional backing and support of Kerry Kennedy and her entire organization, especially during the pandemic, will make all the difference as we continue to fight for our rights, including the demarcation of our lands to ensure that Indigenous peoples have their autonomy, and for the fight of women who are also the strength of the resistance.

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples, including the Munduruku, have repeatedly been oppressed, silenced, and subjected to horrific human rights abuses,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. “Alessandra has heroically faced intimidation and violence for defending Indigenous rights across Brazil—including the ability to oppose projects and developments that affect her peoples and their livelihoods. She is a champion of women’s rights, Indigenous rights, and the foundational right of all human rights—civic space. Civic space protects the right to dissent, to advocate and to defend human rights, free of government reprisal. It is the keystone of a functioning democracy.”

Alessandra will be honored at a virtual ceremony on Thursday, October 22, at 6:00pm EDT. The event is free and open to the public. You can register here

Kerry Kennedy will present the award, followed by a keynote address from former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the countless threats and challenges Indigenous peoples face around the world. Andrew Revkin, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, will then moderate a discussion on the pathways forward for Indigenous peoples in Brazil with an esteemed panel of experts:

  • Juarez Saw Munduruku, Chief of the Sawré Muybu village in Brazil 
  • Maria Leusa Cosme Kaba, a Munduruku women’s leader
  • Francisco Calí Tzay, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
  • Sebastião Salgado, Award-winning French-Brazilian documentary photographer 
  • Antonia Urrejola Noguera, Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Commissioner of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Christian Poirier, Program Director at Amazon Watch 
  • For more on the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/award/69FD28C0-FE07-4D28-A5E2-2C8077584068

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/rfks-ripple-of-hope-award-2020-to-kaepernick-fauci-and-other-us-leaders/

https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/10/12/2106955/0/en/Alessandra-Korap-Munduruku-Wins-2020-Robert-F-Kennedy-Human-Rights-Award-for-Her-Work-Protecting-Indigenous-Peoples-in-Brazil.html

The Indomitable Father Stan Swamy, defending the adivasis and the Dalits a cause of arrest

October 11, 2020

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn to enable vested interests to finish them off.The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy

A file photo of human rights activist Stan Swamy. Photo: PTI

Mari Marcel Thekaekara wrote in the Indian Wire of 10 October 2020 a detailed and personal piece about “The Indomitable Spirit of Father Stan Swamy”

No, it’s not possible,” were my first thoughts when I heard that Father Stan Swamy, an 83-year-old Jesuit priest and activist had been arrested – for the second time. His crime? He defended the rights of adivasis being exploited in their homeland Jharkhand.

[see also; https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/40747]

Father Swamy has been accused of having links to a Maoist plot connected to the Bhima Koregaon case and was arrested by the National Investigation Agency on Thursday night. The rights activist is one of the gentlest and kindest men I have ever met. So the entire premise – for anyone who knows him – is entirely ludicrous. Funny even, if it were not so tragic. He has Parkinson’s disease. His hand shakes when he raises a cup of tea to his lips. He speaks so softly, you have to strain to hear him.

Social activists hold a protest after the arrest of Father Stan Swamy by the NIA in the Bhima Koregaon case, in Ranchi, October 9, 2020. Photo: PTI

He assures his interrogators that he has no connection with Maoists. He believes in peaceful, non-violent protest. I believe him. Because I know that his integrity is above reproach.

I heard of Father Stan Swamy in the early seventies, because he was among the first people I knew who advocated living with the adivasi community in Jharkhand to understand their lives and their problems; to help find solutions and a way forward. I went there in the early seventies while still in college to write a story for our student magazine.

On a more personal note, Stan Swamy, introduced my husband, also named Stan, to the adivasi world. He shared Father Swamy’s hut in a Ho village in Jharkhand. My husband always told young activists:

“Gandhiji’s non violence was not merely moral or religious. It was strategic. Gandhi was a brilliant general. Oxymoronic though that sounds. He understood that the fight for freedom could not be won by violence because mere ordinary Indians, even if they poured out on the streets with justice on their side, with God on their side, could never win. Even if there were thousands or lakhs of people marching in protest, they could never match the might of the state. Before 1947, the British could bring out the artillery and finish us off. One wrong step could have changed the course of our history. But the entire world watched India’s non violent battle for independence, open mouthed. Non violence was a new word, a new tactic, made in India. The world sympathised and empathised. Gandhi’s strategic non violence was the most brilliant weapon in our war for Independence’

The same scenario is playing out today. And the average activist understands that putting ordinary villagers, adivasis, Dalits or women in the line of fire is counterproductive and unfair. We learnt this strategy from Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narayan.

In recent times, it has become the norm to equate the word activist with ‘anti-national’. But who is an activist? What do they do?

It’s quite simple. All over India, there are thousands of people who took up the cause of fighting for social justice for the poor, the marginalised and the voiceless. These people were inspired by the brightest and best minds in our country – from Gandhiji to Vinobha Bhave to JP.

Post Independence, when the battle for freedom was won, Gandhi urged his followers to go out and continue the fight for freedom. This time, it was to free the poorest from hunger and poverty, to teach and educate, to weave and spin, to spread harmony and peace. Thousands rallied to his call and Gandhi ashrams were filled with people determined to continue the freedom struggle on a new battlefield – India’s villages.

The sixties saw the rise of the Dalit movement. New leaders emerged. Gandhi raised the question of untouchability in the early days of the Independence movement, but his ‘Harijan’ epithet was subsequently dismissed  by Dalits as patronising. Dalit power became a clarion call, drawing inspiration from the African-American Black Panther movement. Dr B.R. Ambedkar showed the way.

The term activist gained popularity during the JP movement and during the fight against the Emergency in the mid seventies. After the Emergency, thousands of young patriots, drawing their inspiration from JPs charisma, accepted his challenge to go out and organise the poor, the under privileged and the vulnerable; to fight for their rights. This period saw a proliferation of human rights defenders, though the term was not used till later.

Women and men dedicated their lives to fighting for Dalit rights, adivasi rights, womens’ rights, farmers’ unions and fisherfolk movements. These activists evolved in their understanding of rights based movements. They often lived with the communities they worked with. They identified with the people and though many were middle class, they tried to live simpler lives than their parents, than the backgrounds and privileged upbringing they had been born into. They were pleased to be branded activists and wore the badge with pride.

From the fifties and sixties, when Gandhians prevailed, we moved into the seventies where a sea change took place. Global thinking wafted across the world to India. The 1968 student movement in France, Latin American thinking, Marxist ideology – all these gained ground and influenced grass roots workers. The focus changed from the passive Gandhian way – the giving of food, clothes, free education and medicine to changing unjust situations at the base. ’Daan’ or mere giving was now passe.  Activists were trained to encourage people to ask who was cheating them and why? So if people were encroaching on adivasi or Dalit land, it was time to establish basic human rights; time to equip people to defend themselves, to fight injustice – non-violently, the Gandhian way, and the strategic way.

Soon, womens’ groups began to take action against dowry deaths and acid attacks, and took to the streets and courts to protest and demand justice. Dalit groups found lawyers willing to fight caste atrocity cases in court. Adivasis had activists urging them to defend their ancestral millennia old homelands from dominant caste landlords who shamelessly cheated them and usurped their lands. Environmentalists and eco-warriors hugged trees and stopped forests from being denuded. A huge green movement began. The protest movements grew from strength to strength.

In reality, these people are defending human rights and saving the Earth for future generations. When it comes to central India and defending tribal land from powerful mining companies, the battle assumes David versus Goliath proportions.

Stan Swamy and the adivasis he supports in an impossible battle for their own ancestral lands are tiny pawns pitted against mammoth mining companies. Falsely branding activists as Maoists is the easiest way to condemn them and to enable vested interests to finish them off.

The frail 83-year-old has trumped up charges levelled against him. Yet he has a core of steel, an indomitable strength that comes with moral conviction and a commitment to truth and to the powerless. As they took him to prison, Stan Swamy announced he would begin a fast. His fellow Jesuits who rushed to the prison with his medicines, say he has refused even a sip of water.

I kept asking why, they would arrest this gentle, kind man. Father Cedric Prakash, who is also a Jesuit and activist, said in a TV interview, “It’s to create a fear psychosis. If they can imprison an 83-year-old who has spent his life committed to the poor, who is safe?”

Asianet phoned to interview my husband Stan. People cautioned him, “You will draw attention to yourself. It can boomerang and have repercussions on your work in the Nilgiris.”

On 17 October: https://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/13484/jesuits-worldwide-protest-against-imprisonment-of-elderly-priest-

On 16 January 2021: https://indianexpress.com/article/india/stan-swamy-bhima-koregaon-stan-swamy-arrest-united-nations-human-rights-7148223/

https://thewire.in/rights/the-indomitable-spirit-of-father-stan-swamy

https://scroll.in/latest/975476/project-to-silence-dissent-all-india-catholic-union-demands-activist-stan-swamys-

Global Witness: 2019 worst year ever for land rights and environmental defenders

July 29, 2020

On Wednesday 29 July 2020 Global Witness revealed the highest number of land and environmental defenders murdered on record in a single year, with 212 people killed in 2019 for peacefully defending their homes and standing up to the destruction of nature. 2019 is thus the deadliest year since the advocacy group began compiling data in 2012. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

More than half the killings were in Colombia and the Philippines and indigenous people made up 40% of the victims, the Britain-based group said inn its report. It was a significant rise on 2018, when 164 killings were recorded.

The threat from mining and large-scale agriculture caused the most number of deaths, with these sectors also responsible for worsening climate change impacts, Global Witness said.

Insecure land tenure, irresponsible business practices and government policies that prioritise extractive economies at the cost of human rights are putting people, and their land, at risk,” said Rachel Cox, a campaigner at Global Witness.

Land and environmental defenders play a vital role in protecting climate-critical forests and ecosystems. When they take a stand against the theft of their land, or the destruction of forests, they are increasingly being killed,” she said.

Latin America accounted for more than two-thirds of all victims last year, with Colombia the deadliest country of all, with 64 killings.

In Asia, the Philippines had 43 killings compared to 30 the previous year, with six in India, three in Indonesia and one in Cambodia, according to Global Witness.

Many more were attacked, arrested, threatened and sued, said Global Witness, which recorded killings in 21 countries.

In the Philippines – which was the deadliest country in 2018 – “relentless vilification” of activists by the government and impunity for attackers may be spurring an increase in killings, it said.

A spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte did not respond to requests for comment.

At least 119 activists and farmers have been killed since Duterte took office in 2016, according to Global Witness, while local campaign groups put the figure at about 200.

Dozens of United Nations experts last month called for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings of farmers and indigenous people.

The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the “downward spiral of the human rights situation”, and a new anti-terrorism bill could be used to target activists, they said.

“Days after the act was signed, the harassment of human rights defenders has visibly worsened,” said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Philippine human rights advocacy group Karapatan.

“While rural communities, including indigenous peoples, grapple with the impact of COVID-19, they are constantly hounded by military operations that benefit mining corporations encroaching on their ancestral land,” she said.

Two of the country’s biggest agribusiness brands – Dole Philippines and Del Monte Philippines – earlier this year said they would review their processes to better protect land rights.

But attacks against activists during coronavirus lockdowns signalled more violence worldwide, Cox said.

“Governments around the world have used the crisis to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and roll back hard-fought environmental regulations,” Cox told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This a more worrying time than ever.”

ttps://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/global-witness-records-the-highest-number-of-land-and-environmental-activists-murdered-in-one-year-with-the-link-to-accelerating-climate-change-of-increasing-concern/

https://news.trust.org/item/20200728231459-86pra

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/07/dangerous-day-land-rights-defenders-killings-surge-200729022143251.html

In memoriam Santiago Manuin, defender of Peru’s Amazon forest

July 3, 2020

Neil Giardino for ABC News reports on the passing of Santiago Manuin, one of the most celebrated defenders of Peru’s Amazon rainforest and the leader of the Awajún tribe, whose vast and besieged territory spans the country’s mountainous northern region along the Ecuador border. He died on Wednesday of COVID-19 at the age of 63.

Manuin devoted his life to defending his tribe and their ancestral land, which in recent decades had endured illegal gold mining and logging, persistent threats linked to narco-trafficking and state-sanctioned oil and gas operations….

In 2009, Manuin nearly died defending Awajún territory after he was shot eight times by Peruvian security forces. The incident, referred to as “the Bagua Massacre,” occurred when police fired on thousands of Awajún and Wampis tribespeople who were blocking a jungle highway to protest a U.S.-Peru trade agreement that would’ve opened up land in the Amazon for gas, oil and lumber extraction. More than 30, both officers and natives, died in the clash.

For the Westerner, the Indigenous person is an impediment to development because we refuse to destroy the land. That’s why they label us anti-development,” he said. “Indigenous peoples are not anti-development. We protect the forest and live for the forest. Our spirituality is tied to it. We don’t need to go to the largest churches to pray. We pray within this natural world. We live in this plenitude.”..

In 1994, Manuin won the international Reina Sofia Prize for his defense of the Amazon, and in 2014 he was awarded Peru’s National Prize for Human Rights for a life lived in service of Indigenous peoples and the rainforest..

https://www.weisradio.com/santiago-manuin-tireless-defender-of-the-amazon-rainforest-succumbs-to-covid-19/

Even Costa Rica has serious problem with protection of indigenous defenders

July 1, 2020

On 8 June qcostarica.com reported that a UN expert expressed grave concern for the lives of indigenous human rights defenders being attacked in Costa Rica, saying that impunity and lack of accountability are fuelling a continuation of violence against defenders in the country despite some positive steps by the Government.

Costa Rica has experienced an upsurge in attacks on indigenous leaders since the March 2019 killing of indigenous Bribri leader Sergio Rojas, who worked for decades defending the rights of indigenous peoples against the illegal occupation of their territories. “Now, over 14 months later, it is still not clear whether the authorities are any closer to identifying the perpetrators,” said Mary Lawlor, the new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The expert said other attacks against human rights defenders had gone fully or partially unpunished, and “until there are proper investigations and accountability for these crimes, we may witness further intimidation, injury and death”.

A change in Costa Rican law in 1977 established a legal framework for the redistribution of ancestral indigenous land occupied by non-indigenous persons but the law’s implementation has been slow, and indigenous leaders have carried out peaceful requisitions of lands back to indigenous peoples. This has caused significant violent backlash from non-indigenous illegal land occupants.

While the Costa Rican Government has increased police presence in affected communities, police investigations have been inadequate or inconclusive. As a result, both the victims and their family members continue to be threatened by the suspected perpetrators.

Since the February killing of indigenous leader Yehry Rivera, for example, his family has been repeatedly threatened and intimidated by the family of the perpetrator, who regularly passes close to their land holding a machete.

Pablo Sibar, a human rights defender of the same Broran tribe as Rivera has also been intimidated and subjected to arson attacks that have still not been investigated. Minor Ortíz Delgado, an indigenous land defender from the same Bribri community as Rojas, was shot in the leg in March. The perpetrator, who was released and handed down restraining measures, has since sent death threats to Ortíz and his family.

The expert’s call has been endorsed by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco Cali Tzay.

The experts are in a dialogue with Costa Rican authorities and will continue to closely monitor the situation.

On 5 October 2020 came this: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/statement-report/international-organisations-call-end-violence-and-impunity-against-indigenous-human

Swee also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/22/misconceptions-about-indigenous-peoples-and-their-defenders-explained/

https://qcostarica.com/costa-rica-ongoing-impunity-prevents-effective-protection-of-indigenous-defenders-says-un-expert

Abuse of nature and people: Environmental and Justice Activists Need to Join Forces

June 7, 2020

Image: Stournsaeh/Shutterstock

Cayte Bosler wrote on 3 June 2020 for the General Earth Institute a blog repeating the often heard warning that “Environmental and Justice Activists Need to Join Forces“. (https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/06/03/environmental-justice-activists/). It also relates this to the recent upheavals in the USA started by the killing of George Floyd:

Resistance inspires. Defiance in the face of a violent, oppressive culture can inspire another person’s defiance. Even when an uprising is only beginning, when the path forward is unclear, it is essential to resist. All together. The goal: to defeat a system fundamentally, historically, and intentionally based on mass exploitation in the interest of profit for a privileged few.

The environmental movement can learn from those who come from a tradition of resistance and have organized their struggle in movements like Black Lives Matter and Idle No More, founded by First Nations. The protests enveloping our country today are seeded by centuries of injustice and violence, by underlying power imbalances and inequalities that have never been truly addressed. The founders of these social movements knew then and now that they cannot combat violent oppressors through pure persuasion. So they resist.……….

Environmentalists and justice activists cannot stay isolated in their movements. To be effective at combating climate change and countless other social and environmental injustices, we must acknowledge the links between the abuse of nature and people, and devise strategies to protect the planet, to resist its demise – even when doing so is frightening. Especially then. Ultimately, resisting mass exploitation on all fronts is the only thing that will make us safer.

For many — especially people of color — the impacts of climate change and the degradation of environmental harm are not a future concern. It is life or death, and it’s happening now. If we want to reverse the losses, we need to begin to speak honestly to each other about the long history of abuse that has led to the unrest, rage, and grief that we feel today. We need to confront how power works in society, including in regions where exploitation of indigenous people and the ecosystems they call home go unnoticed by mainstream media….

In addition to poverty, lack of clean air, safe drinking water, health care, and more—all of which lead to “preexisting conditions”—many communities of color are confronted with the threat of coronavirus and are more vulnerable to the pandemic. Reports estimate that people of color are twice as likely to die from COVID-19…….

The author provides several examples from her own field work and experience……

How can we endeavor to protect the planet when its frontline defenders are being killed or intimidated by state-sanctioned violence? How can we expect to solve the climate crisis if our strategies do not include protecting life above corporate, government, and elite interests? Again, environmental advocates can learn from movements born from violent exploitation who are organizing to resist that violence.

Viable movements need supportive cultures to sustain them. They require healthy norms of behavior, processes to handle conflict, and ways to defeat destructive internal divisions and competition that stymie even the best-intentioned efforts toward progress. Horizontal hostility—a concept defined by Florynce Rae Kennedy, an African American lawyer, feminist, civil rights advocate, lecturer, and activist—occurs when activists fight against each other over differences rather than vertically against the oppressor. This behavior leaves relationships, activist networks, and movements in shreds.

A livable planet for all requires solidarity, using our shared principles and humanity to rise together to protect nature and banish injustice.

Cayte Bosler is a student in Columbia’s Sustainability Management masters program.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/environmental-human-rights-defenders-more-deadly-than-being-a-soldier-in-a-war-zone/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/04/24/land-rights-defenders-are-the-main-target-of-those-destroying-the-environment/