Posts Tagged ‘land rights defender’

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.

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/

Land rights defenders are the main target of those destroying the environment

April 24, 2020

The world has come together in the fight against a common enemy in COVID-19; a force so strong that it has knocked economies to the ground, turned our daily lives upside down and made us reflect on what really matters. Yet amidst the world’s lockdown, there are land grabbers and investors looking to take advantage of the situation. For them, there is no better time to strike than now.

This Earth Day, more than any other, it’s time to shine a spotlight on the everyday guardians of our planet, land and environment defenders, who stand at the front line to defend their land and territories from corporate or state abuse and unsustainable exploitation.  They protect lands, forests and water sources, which provide their communities with good and healthy food, shelter and medicine.

By protecting such resources for the common good, they find themselves directly in the way of others who want to profit from these natural resources. If their lives were at risk before, this global pandemic has only exasperated an already difficult situation. When a community goes into lockdown, defenders not only become easier to target, they lose their right to protection and the world’s attention and that of the media, is elsewhere.

A Miskito woman in Nicaragua. Photo: Jason Taylor/ILC.

Defending land, ecosystems, and Indigenous rights has always come with immense risks.

More than three people were murdered each week in 2019 for defending their land and environment. Countless more were attacked or threatened. Only a year ago, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a landmark resolution, recognizing the importance of environmental human rights defenders and urging States to ensure their protection. Yet, as governments call states of emergencies and enforce new containment measures, even where national protection mechanisms for defenders exist, they are rendered futile.

Even worse, lockdowns are being used by irresponsible companies to further suppress defenders and by governments to give industries a free pass.

We saw evidence of this as the first cities in Colombia went into lockdown and three social activists were killed. Marco Rivadeneira, a high-profile activist, was murdered in the southern Putumayo province, Ángel Ovidio Quintero was shot dead in the western Antioquia region, and Ivo Humberto Bracamonte was killed on the eastern border with Venezuela. These follow more than six hundred murders of social activists in Colombia since the Peace Accords were signed.

While in Indonesia, two local land defenders have been killed and four arrested in connection with land disputes in Sumatra and Borneo, as mining and palm oil operations in rural areas continue on with business as usual and activists are told to stay home.

In Brazil, the country’s environment agency is withdrawing its enforcement staff because of the risk of contracting the virus. This move coincides with a 70 percent increase in deforestation compared to 2019. Many fear that loggers and land grabbers will take advantage of the lax policing, hoping for impunity. We are observing the same trend in other countries, all over the world.

The increased vulnerability of these defenders is palpable, and what’s happening, alarming. We must ask ourselves how we can ensure and promote their safetyUN Human Rights Experts have expressed grave concern on “the rise of reports of killings and other instances of excessive use of force targeting in particular people living in vulnerable situations”.  Amnesty International has issued a series of recommendations to states in the Americas to ensure that their responses to COVID-19 are in line with their international human rights obligations.

In addition to appealing to States to maintain and reinforce their promises and protection schemes, there are some urgent steps that we need to take.

Develop an urgent real-time alert system for crisis situations to help people in danger. Where data is available, 80 percent of killings are preceded by a non-lethal attack or a threat on the affiliated group or community.  So while environmental human rights defenders receive daily death threats, usually a sign for what’s to come, who will hear their cries for help?

A group of organizations belonging to the Defending Land and Environmental Defenders Coalition – among them, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, the World Resources Institute and the International Land Coalition – are systematically monitoring COVID-related incidents in order to identify trends. Cases can be securely collected beginning Friday via LANDex, a global monitoring system dedicated to democratizing land data.

Particularly vulnerable are many of the world’s 320 million Indigenous peoples, whose territories are often rich in natural resources. Despite protecting more than 50% of the world’s land surface, they have formally recognized ownership over just 10%, which leaves them especially exposed. Governments and corporations should heedcalls for a moratorium on external activities in Indigenous territories without their express consent.

Beyond urgent measures, building longer-term resilience for these communities is essential so that they are not as vulnerable to increased harassment, threats, criminalization and eventually, killings. Secure land rights for local communities gives greater control over their own territories, and provides them with legal recourse when faced with harassment and attacks.

On this Earth Day, as we look forward to re-building a more sustainable world, we cannot forget those who have dedicated their entire lives – putting themselves and their families at risk – to do just that.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/14/front-line-defenders-global-analysis-2019-is-out-304-hrds-killed/

Land and environmental defenders are sitting ducks, while world goes into lockdown

New law in Peru may protect the police more than indigenous human rights defenders

April 5, 2020

Matias Perez Ojeda del ArcoPolice Protection Act (Law No. 31012), which was passed in Peru by the new Congress on 27 March, without approval by the Executive, 11 days after declaring a state of emergency in the country due to the spread of COVID-19. This law is constitutionaly questionable and may open the door to impunity according to the Institute of Legal Defense (IDL), the Ombudsman’s Office, the National Human Rights Coordinator (CNDDHH) of Peru, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). [The Act forbids ordering a warrant of arrest or pre-trial detention for Peruvian National Police (PNP) personnel who may injure or kill in a regulatory intervention. Its complementary provision repeals the principle of proportionality in the use of force for a police officer response, which undermines actions under a constitutional framework and is against full respect for human rights, and may create excesses and arbitrariness.]

According to the Ombudsman’s Office, as of January 2020, there were 129 socio-environmental conflicts in Peru. So how will the National Police respond to unforeseen events, even more so in a post-COVID-19 context, where indigenous people’s territories could be more vulnerable to actions to reactivate the country’s economy?  This is more relevant within the framework of the End of Mission Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. At the beginning of this year, it identified that, despite the progress made in this area, human rights defenders, especially from indigenous peoples and local communities, are still unable to carry out their work in a safe environment.

According to the Rapporteur and a report by the Ombudsman’s Office, 960 people have been criminalised for defending and promoting human rights since 2002, of whom 538 were criminalised during social protests. Between 2011 and 2016, 87 human rights defenders lost their lives in Peru, 67% because of law enforcement, according to a CNDDHH report.

Comprehensive police protection for common interest has lost its essence. Instead, the interests of companies are gaining serious ground in Peru, i.e. 145 agreements of “Extraordinary Police Service”, between the Peruvian Police and extractive companies (mining and hydrocarbon sector), were established between 1995 and 2018, according to a report by the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples of the CNDDH. One example of this is the agreement between the hydrocarbon company PETROPERÚ S.A. and the PNP (2018) for operations in Amazonas and Loreto regions, which affects the ancestral land of the Autonomous Territorial Government of the Wampis Nation (GTANW).It is crucial that Peruvian authorities repeal said law to avoid risking the lives of human rights defenders, especially indigenous peoples who are at the forefront of threats, harassment and criminalisation when they protest due to conflicts arising in their territories. Indigenous territories are more vulnerable than ever during the current community contagion phase of COVID-19, as proper health infrastructure and equipment may not reach those areas, nor provide timely and dignified protection for them. There are companies working on indigenous territories during the State of Emergency, including the oil palm company Ocho Sur P. in the Shipibo land of Santa Clara de Uchunya. According to IDL, Ocho Sur is continuing to work without an approved Environmental Impact Assessment. When the State of Emergency is over, most companies will want to recover their losses by any means, regardless the rights of indigenous peoples. This is the moment when the State Protection rules must focus on these issues.

http://www.forestpeoples.org/en/new-law-in-peru-threatens-indigenous-human-rights-defenders

Brazil remembers Sister Dorothy Stang murdered 15 years ago

February 13, 2020

Sister Dorothy Stang, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, is pictured in a 2004 file photo in Belem, northern Brazil.  (CNS/Reuters)

12 February 2020 was the 15th anniversary of Sr. Dorothy Stang‘s assassination in the Amazon region of Brazil. The nun was 73 when she was murdered on 12 February, 2005, on an isolated road near the Brazilian town of Anapu. She had lived in the country for nearly four decades and was known as a fierce defender of a sustainable development project for the Amazon forest. The U.S.-born nun is remembered as a crusader for the poor and the landless and for her love of the land and the Amazon forest.

Lise Alves, for the Catholic News Service, wrote about her on 12 February 2020:

She taught me how to be a missionary in Brazil; she was my mentor,” Sr. Rebeca Spires told Catholic News Service. Spires, who, like Stang, is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur, said the first thing Stang gave her was Brazil’s land statute. “She was all about doing things within the law,” said Spires.

…She said that, in the early 2000s, Stang started to pressure public officials to combat land invasions by ranchers and large landowners, who wanted to take away areas occupied by smaller farms. The officials “became extremely irritated with her, with her persistence,” Spires said. “Although threatened with death, Dorothy never failed in her life’s mission, to fight for the poor of the land, so that they had their rights guaranteed and a dignified life,” read the statement issued by the Brazilian bishops’ Pastoral Land Commission to mark Stang’s death.Mary Cohen, a lawyer in Belem and a member of the Brazilian bishops’ justice and peace commission, was president of the human rights commission at Brazil’s lawyer association when Stang was in Anapu. Cohen remembered Stang’s determination, as the nun pushed and pressured government agencies into taking action. “She once slept on the steps of the INCRA (Institute for Agrarian Reform) so they would talk to her. She had a lot of determination, and that invigorated all of us,” said the lawyer. That determination made many people in the region angry. Trying to reduce the tension between landowners and peasants and their advocates, the lawyer’s association gave Stang a human rights award two months before she was killed.

We thought that more media attention and recognition of her work would keep her safe, that they (landowners and ranchers) would be deterred. We were wrong,” said the lawyer. And although Stang’s assassination made international headlines and caused worldwide commotion, those who continue her work say the threats today to the landless and their advocates are even greater. “There are still a lot of people being threatened, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize anyone’s life,” Sr. Jane Dwyer, a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame of Namur who worked closely with the murdered nun, told CNS.

Dwyer, who still lives in Anapu, told CNS she was uneasy about giving interviews over the telephone. She said that, since 2015, 19 landless, small-scale farmers had been assassinated over land conflicts in the area. “Nineteen in the last five years,” she said. “Of the 19 assassinations, in only one did authorities bring someone to justice,” added Spires, who works with the Brazilian bishops’ Indigenous Missionary Council in Belem. Cohen said those who speak out today against the rich and powerful in the region continue to be threatened. “Her successor, Father Amaro (Jose Amaro Lopes de Souza), continues to be threatened, and when they were unable to scare him off, they accused him of extortion and inciting violence among landless peasants,” she said…

“The synod document is titled ‘Querida Amazonia’ (Beloved Amazonia), which … embodies what Sister Dorothy spoke of her entire life: ‘Dear Amazon, we are here to defend you, to protect you. Dear people of the Amazon, we are here to help you in your fight, in your resistance, in the recognition of your rights.'”

Being a Woman Human Rights Defender in Thailand is risky

February 10, 2020

Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le
Thai land rights activist Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, working in the fields in Ban Haeng village. Photo: Lam Le

Growing up, cassava farmer Nittaya Muangklang did not think she would ever become an activist – let alone that she would lead a group of land rights defenders in the first-ever bid to challenge Thailand’s government and its “take back the forests” policy at the Supreme Court. “We did encroach on the national park, but as poor farmers, we should be eligible for exemption,” said Muangklang, who is fighting eviction, imprisonment and fines. Faced with what farmers and rights groups perceive as increasing judicial harassment, more women living in rural areas have joined the fight for land rights in Thailand – amid the spectre of intimidation and the threat of jail time or even being killed for their activism. The appeal court last year sentenced Muangklang and 13 other land rights defenders from Ban Sap Wai village in Thailand’s northeast to up to four years in prison, and ordered them to pay fines of between 40,000 and 1.6 million baht (between US$1,300 and US$52,000) for encroaching on and damaging land in Sai Thong National Park. The court said the farmers failed to prove they had occupied the land before the park was established in 1992. Muangklang, out on bail since last August, said her family had not applied for a land certificate when they moved to Ban Sap Wai in 1986 because they never thought it necessary until the day they faced eviction.

..Thai NGOs estimate that at least 8,000 households have been threatened with eviction since 2015. Meanwhile, Thailand’s ruling junta has in the past five years given away around 999 hectares of forest conservation land as concessions to large corporations, including cement and mining companies, according to Land Watch Thai. Muangklang’s case caught the attention of United Nations special rapporteurs, who last August expressed their concern that Thailand was misusing the forest reclamation policy. In a letter to the government, the UN said Muangklang’s prosecution “appears to be a result of her work as a community leader”, and pointed out that the eviction of the Ban Sap Wai farmers might violate their human rights. The Thai government has yet to respond to the UN’s request to justify its prosecution of the farmers. Thailand’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment did not respond to This Week in Asia’s request for comment.

Being a female advocate for land rights in Thailand is a dangerous calling. In 2012, female activists Montha Chukaew and Pranee Boonnak were brutally killed. Since 2014, 225 female human rights defenders from Thailand’s rural areas have been subjected to judicial harassment, according to NGO Protection International, which estimates that 70 per cent of these activists are land rights defenders accused of encroaching on national parks and other lands. However, their work is often overlooked and underappreciated…Even when efforts are made to enshrine women’s rights, as is the case with gender equality in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – a 17-section blueprint on achieving a sustainable future by 2030 – on-the-ground implementation when it comes to female land rights defenders tends to be lacking. “There’s a challenge there because many times states are not really connecting a human rights-based approach with [the SDGs’] development approach,” said Dubravka Simonovic, UN special rapporteur on violence against women. Thai human rights activist Matcha Phorn-in, who works with marginalised communities, agrees. “When the government is the key actor, [SDGs won’t work for] many people who oppose the government because of violations of human rights,” she said, explaining that this meant a lack of indicators and data to assess how female land rights defenders were being affected….On top of this, Phorn-in fears that millions of people could be affected, now that officials involved in the forest reclamation policy have search-and-destroy powers they can use without first needing court orders.

Protection International’s Somwong explained that with the labour involved in household and family-care duties, female activists were essentially “doing double work” while also facing the risk of sexual harassment. Consequently, rights groups have been calling for gender-sensitive support for these activists. “When you’re not protecting women, you’re not protecting the family, the community, or the movement,” Somwong said. Nine of the prosecuted Ban Sap Wai farmers are women.

…..

…Waewrin Buangern, or Jo, said it was her habit of questioning authority that led her to activism. She contended that the local authorities and the Kiew Lueng Company, which oversees the project, had not been transparent with local villagers on the environmental and economic impact of the mine. As a result, she and members of the conservation group have faced more than a dozen defamation lawsuits from the mining company as well as the local government. The project was put on hold in 2015 after the group counter-sued. The company got a mining permit in 2015 but has not been able to move forward since then due to the lawsuits. Jo has paid a steep price for her perseverance. She lost her job at the local school, another job as assistant to the village chief, and suffered two miscarriages due to the stress of activism, which also took its toll on her marriage and saw her divorce her husband. At 36, Jo’s main sources of income are farming and being an administrator of a Facebook group. But she has found a different family. Of the Rak Ban Haeng Conservation Group’s 1,400 members, 70 per cent are women. …….

Early last year, Ban Haeng villagers received a note that the government was planning to annex the forest the community had been relying on as a source of livelihood, and turn it into a national park. The villagers have submitted a letter of objection, stating that people are living in the area. Jo is positive that no one will get evicted. Unlike the Ban Sap Wai case, she said, the people of Ban Haeng had clear proof of the village’s history – a namesake temple that dates back to 1851….

https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/health-environment/article/3048456/thailands-female-land-rights-defenders-activism

Rural women in South Africa win landmark case in court

January 30, 2020

Kim Harrisberg for the Thomson Reuters Foundation reported on 29 January 2020 that an elderly black women in South Africa won property rights in a landmark ruling. Two weeks ago I wrote about Sizani Ngubane and her struggle for land rights for women [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/01/07/more-about-mea-finalist-sizani-ngubane-from-south-africa/] and this is a similar case:

Facing destitution when her marriage broke down, 72-year-old Agnes Sithole went to court – with the help of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) – to challenge a sexist law – and won not only a share of her husband’s property but a legal victory that will protect some 400,000 other black South African women. Under South African law, married couples own all their assets jointly and both must consent to major transactions.

But for black women married prior to 1988, the husband owned all matrimonial assets and could sell them without consulting his wife – until Sithole’s landmark High Court win this month which overturned the discriminatory law. “This is a major judgment for South African women,” said Aninka Claassens, a land rights expert at the University of Cape Town, responding to the ruling against sections of the Matrimonial Property Act of 1984 and amendments made in 1988. “If you haven’t got property rights as a woman, you are more vulnerable to stay in an abusive marriage. This case changes these rights,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Traditionally, women are regarded as inferior to men in Sithole’s KwaZulu-Natal province, said women’s land rights activist Sizani Ngubane, who has campaigned against evictions and abuse of women in rural areas for more than 40 years. Male-dominated tribal authorities hold great sway over rural communities, with the Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini controlling 2.8 million hectares of land, an area the size of Belgium, under an entity called the Ingonyama Trust. Ngubane, nominated as one of three finalists in the 2020 Martin Ennals Award, said this month’s Durban court ruling was significant.

This will make a difference in terms of women’s land and property inheritance,” said Ngubane [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/11/26/breaking-news-mea-has-3-women-hrds-as-finalists-for-2020/]. Ngubane has gone to court to challenge the Ingonyama Trust, which she said only leases land under its control to men, with widows being evicted from their homes when their husbands die. Despite the legal victory, women’s rights experts were wary of celebrating too soon…….For Ngubane, such grassroots work is critical in improving the lives of rural South African women. “We know the courts can protect women,” she said. “The biggest challenge for us is changing attitudes of men on the ground who believe that women are children. We are so much more than that.”

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-safrica-land-women-trfn/elderly-black-women-in-south-africa-win-property-rights-in-landmark-ruling-idUSKBN1ZS1FV

Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2019 is out: 304 HRDs killed

January 14, 2020

The most dangerous and deadly sector of human rights defenders remains land, environmental and indigenous rights, according to the Global Analysis report 2019 by Front Line Defenders. 304 people across 31 countries were targeted and killed last year and the document starts by listing their names.

Front Line Defenders said this was due to “the profit driven exploitation of natural resources, combined with corruption, weak governments and poverty“. Speaking to RTÉ News, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, Andrew Anderson, described the scale of the killings as “horrific” ..almost one person a day is being killed around the world because they are working “peacefully to defend land rights, environmental rights” and to “hold the powerful to account”.  “The true scale of the problem is probably much higher” he said.

In the cases for which the data is available, the report found:

  • 85% of those killed last year had previously been threatened either individually or as part of the community or group in which they worked
  • 13% of those reported killed were women
  • 40% of those killed worked on land, indigenous’ peoples and environmental issues

Last year saw mounting pressure on activists defending LGBTI rights, as well as women’s rights and migrants’ rights. Female activists faced online smear campaigns, trolling and defamation to intimidate, shame or harass in order to push women activists out of online spaces. The statistics show that 13% of human rights defenders killed in 2019 were women. The report also notes some positive developments, including the male guardianship system being revoked in Saudi Arabia, women from the Sulaliyat tribe in Morocco being able to inherit and own land, and Sudan removing a law where women could be arrested if found dancing, wearing trousers or mixing with men who were not their relatives.

With massive protests in Iran, Hong Kong and Chile, Front Line Defenders said that 2019 was characterised by waves of public uprisings of “remarkable magnitude”, which demanded change of how people are governed. However, it said there were restrictions on freedom of expression and authorities often invoked “security” as a justification to ban all peaceful demonstrations Physical assaults, defamation campaigns and digital attacks were major issues.

Internet shutdowns, restricting access or blocking communication tools, such as social media, were common. Messaging app WhatsApp, which is popular for organising and communications, became a “serious threat” when it was used against human rights defenders in a number of cases.

As the role of human rights defenders ranged from organising and mobilising to monitoring and documenting human rights violations, the human rights organisation said it provided more than 620 protection grants to activists at risk in 2019.

For last year’s report see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/

https://www.rte.ie/news/ireland/2020/0114/1107280-front-line-defenders/

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2020/jan/14/300-human-rights-activists-killed-2019-report