Posts Tagged ‘land rights defender’

World Environment Day: seven stories of human rights defenders

June 9, 2019

Amnesty International marked 5 June – World Environment Day – by focusing on environmental human rights defenders, who often face the gravest risks to protect their homes and communities. Being an environmental human rights defender has deadly consequences, making it among the deadliest types of activism. According to the NGO Global Witness, in 2017 almost four environmental defenders were killed each week for protecting their land, wildlife and natural resources. In 2017, 207 environmental activists were killed. The vast majority of them hailed from South America, making it the most dangerous region in the world. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

Amnesty highlights the stories of seven environmental activists from the Americas who remind us of why we need to stand up for Earth’s defenders.

BERTA CÁCERES, COPINH (HONDURAS)

Berta Cáceres cofounded the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras, COPINH) in 1993 to address the growing threats posed to the territorial rights of the Lenca communities and improve their livelihoods. For more on her case see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/berta-caceres/

JULIÁN CARRILLO AND THE COLORADAS DE LA VIRGEN COMMUNITY (MÉXICO)

Julián Carrillo was a leader of the Coloradas de la Virgen community. His job was to take care of the territory, the water, the forest and the wildlife. He had publicly denounced logging and mining by landlords in their ancestral land, as well as violence by criminal armed groups against his community. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/11/07/reprehensible-says-un-about-mexican-killing-of-human-rights-defender/%5D

PARAGUAY: AMADA MARTÍNEZ, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

Amada is an Avá Guaraní Indigenous environment defender from the Tekoha Sauce community.

In the 1970s, the construction of the Itaipú Binational hydroelectric plant, in the border between Paraguay and Brazil, forcibly displaced her community from its ancestral territory, putting their survival at risk. Since then, she has defended the right of her community to have a territory in which they can thrive in harmony with nature and has denounced the serious impacts of hydroelectric projects on nature and Indigenous Peoples’ lives. On 8 August 2018, a group of armed men threatened to kill her. Amada was leaving the community in a taxi along with his seven-year-old son, his sister and two young nephews, when the vehicle in which they were traveling was intercepted by a pickup truck with the logo of the hydroelectric plant. Amada Martínez believes that the threat against her was due to her work defending Indigenous Peoples rights and the environment.

PATRICIA GUALINGA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

“We are united and we will continue our struggle to defend Mother Earth.”

Patricia is an Indigenous leader of the Kichwa people of Sarayaku community. She defends her people’s rights to their territory and to live in a healthy environment in the face of damaging oil activities there. Patricia is also protecting the Amazonian environment and promoting sustainable development. In 2012, the Indigenous Sarayaku community achieved a historic victory for Indigenous Peoples against the Ecuador government after reporting an oil concession that had installed explosives on their territory without consulting them. In the early hours of 5 January 2018, an unknown man made death threats to Patricia and attacked her at her home in Puyo, in the east of Ecuador., The man shouted, “Next time we’ll kill you, bitch!” before fleeing. Patricia and her family had to leave their home after the attack because the property owner “was terrified that something would happen to her.”

NEMA GREFA, INDIGENOUS DEFENDER OF THE ENVIRONMENT AND TERRITORY

 

Nema is defending the Amazon environment and her people’s right to protect their territory from the possible negative effects of oil activity. After being legally recognized as President of the Sápara nationality of Ecuador in January 2018, her appointment was challenged by a group of people who Nema says are supportive of oil activities on the Sápara territory. Nema’s appointment was revoked in April 2018 as a result. Later that month a video was shared on social media featuring a man armed with a spear, identified by Nema as belonging to the group who had challenged her appointment, issuing her with a death threat: “Those present here are united in rejecting her and are thus going to kill Nema Grefa; she has no territory.” One year on, the Attorney’s Office has yet to open in investigation into the death threat. On 19 October 2018 Nema was finally recognized as president but still faces serious threats to her life. In April this year, despite the Ecuadorian authorities’ promises to protect her and her family, unknown individuals forcibly broke into her home to steal two computers containing sensitive information on her human rights work.

SALOMÉ ARANDA, INDIGENOUS ENVIRONMENTAL AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS DEFENDER

Salomé is an Indigenous leader from the Kichwa people who is defending the Amazonian environment and the right of women in her community to live in a healthy environment, free from sexual violence. Salomé is the Women and Family Leader in Moretecocha commune, Pastaza province. Salomé has publicly denounced the possible environmental impacts of oil operations in the Villano River basin, Pastaza province, and the sexual abuse of Indigenous women that have occurred in this context. In the early hours of 13 May 2018, a number of unidentified individuals attacked and threatened her and her family at home. Despite making a formal complaint, the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office has yet to make any significant progress in this investigation. The authorities have not even offered her protection measures to address the risk facing her and her family.

MARGOTH ESCOBAR, ENVIRONMENTAL AND INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ RIGHTS DEFENDER

Margoth has devoted her life to defending the environment and Indigenous Peoples’ rights. In August 2015, Margoth was physically attacked by police officers at a protest and national strike called by the social and Indigenous movements in Puyo, Pastaza province. She was held on pre-trial detention for more than a week despite poor health caused by her injuries. She was charged with “attack and resistance”, which she was eventually acquitted of. In September last year Margoth’s house was set on fire, destroying all her belongings. On 1 October 2018, the Puyo Fire Brigade Commander stated that the fire at Margoth’s house had been intentional. Margoth lodged a criminal complaint with the Pastaza Provincial Attorney’s Office to investigate the attack, yet no progress has been made in her case. Margoth refused to join the country’s witness protection program because of her previous experience at the hands of the police: “I didn’t want to join the victim and witness protection system because I have no faith in the current government, I have no faith in the independence of the legal system in Ecuador, nor in the military or police forces.”

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/06/why-we-need-to-stand-up-for-earth-defenders-this-world-environment-day/

 

 

FORUM-ASIA: human rights defenders face severe risks in Asia

June 4, 2019

The latest report by the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) found that human rights defenders in Asia are at high risks. “In Asia, we are witnessing more and more human rights defenders being subjected to increasingly severe forms of violations, particularly killing, simply for defending human rights,” said Sejin Kim, Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA.

The report titled “Defending In Numbers: Resistance in the Face of Repression exposes 688 cases of human rights violations affecting 4,854 people across 18 different countries in Asia, and analyses current and emerging trends of violations against human rights defenders, including journalists, civil society organisations, advocates and their family members, throughout 2017-2018.

Besides that, the report also reveals that “violations have become more extreme, and the safe space in which human rights defenders can work have increasingly shrunk”. State and non-state actors openly threatened these defenders, something which played a key role in creating a dangerous climate for them. In fact, according to the report, there were 164 cases where physical violence was used against human rights defenders, and 61 of these cases resulted in death. The majority of these cases occurred in the Philippines (48 per cent) and India (25 per cent). Concerningly, most of the perpetrators of these killings remain unknown, a reality which perpetuates impunity in the region…. In the period under review, a staggering 327 cases of judicial harassment were recorded across 17 countries which include the (arbitrary) arrest and detention of human rights defenders; the misuse of the law and the passage of repressive laws aimed at criminalising human rights defenders; and the denial of a fair trial.

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Although threats and harassment endanger all defenders, but certain groups are particularly targeted like prodemocracy defenders, who are vocal critics of state repression; and land and environmental rights defenders, who are targeted by state and non-state actors competing to access natural resources and/or implement mega-development projects. Women human rights defenders, who challenge gender norms and power structures, also ranked high among the most affected groups. Gender-based violence, including online attacks and harassment, were common tactics used against women human rights defenders.

Human rights defenders face severe risks including killing in Asia, says FORUM-ASIA

Misconceptions about indigenous peoples and their defenders explained

May 22, 2019

In a piece of 21 May 2019, called “4 common misconceptions about indigenous peoples and local communities explained”, Lai Sanders of the Rights and Resources Initiative points to common misconceptions re indigenous peoples who have a ‘juggernaut role’ in the global fight against climate change. Why are they conspicuously absent from many national and international agendas, as well as from societal discourse at large? At the recent UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, six indigenous activists and leaders from across the world spoke to the often unrecognized and under-appreciated contributions made by their communities for the betterment of society, and to address some of the most widespread and harmful misconceptions about Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The following interviews (excerpts) come with beautiful portrait pictures.

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Indigenous Peoples and local communities customarily own over 50 percent of the world’s land, yet only have secure legal rights to 10 percent. “One of the most generalized misconceptions is that society, especially decision-makers, sees us as a people almost without rights,” says Levi Sucre, head of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests (AMPB) and an indigenous native of Costa Rica

Rayanne Maximo Franca. Photo: Rights and Resources Initiative

Rayanne Maximo Franca left her community at 17 to attend college in Brasilia, where she was one of a handful of indigenous students. Now 27, she is a seasoned organizer with the Indigenous Youth Network of Brazil and a representative of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus. “Every day, being indigenous in a society that is so prejudiced, so racist, so discriminatory,” she says, “the fact that people affirm themselves as indigenous—in the society we live in today—is already an act of activism. It is already an act of self-defense.”

For Emberá activist Dayana Urzola Domicó, youth coordinator for the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC) the erasure of indigenous identities and narratives from mainstream culture is also a major issue. “… we are not those Indigenous Peoples who look beautiful in museums. We are not of the past. All those things that are articulated in the care of Mother Earth, of you as a person, your territory, your thought, your law of origin—those things are still alive. We are still here.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Indigenous Women and Peoples Association of Chad describes how Mbororo pastoralist communities, who are indigenous to Chad, use their nomadic lifestyles to conserve the natural environment: “We use one place to stay for two days, and another place for three days. That allows the natural resources to get regenerated in the natural way.”

Joan Carling, co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group for Sustainable Development, grew up in the mountains of the Philippines’ Cordillera region, where she spent her childhood playing in the forests. An indigenous Kankanaey, she has fought at the forefront of environmental justice for two decades. “Indigenous Peoples have been engaging in the climate change process because we believe we have something to contribute,” she says. “We have the solutions. We have the resilience. We have the knowledge that has been accumulated through time. Our elders know how to read the rivers, the behavior of animals. They use this to predict what’s happening in the environment.”

This traditional knowledge, explains Maximo Franca, is what has kept the world’s remaining forests standing. “It maintains biodiversity, it maintains the fauna, the flora, the animals… everything that the nature has, we are maintaining. And we are countering climate change.

..The struggle to dispel a particularly harmful narrative—that Indigenous Peoples are blindly opposed to development projects, or an impediment to economic progress—is a universal one. “The biggest misconception about Indigenous Peoples is that we are anti-development,” says Carling. “That comes from the western view of development, that mining, dams, agribusiness are good for the people. But look: It has caused a lot of inequality. It is unsustainable. It has severely destroyed nature. It has severely polluted our lands and resources.

…Echoes Sucre on environmentally destructive projects: “In the short term, it looks like a development; but in the medium and long term, it will be the destruction of humanity.”

2017 and 2018 have been among the deadliest years on record for environmental defenders, particularly indigenous and community activists, who are increasingly being targeted, harassed, criminalized, and even murdered for defending their lands from exploitation. “They are not fighting for their ego, or to get economic benefits,” says Ibrahim. “They are fighting for the identity, the survival of the peoples—the protection of the planet.

For Rukka Sombolinggi, the head of AMAN, the largest indigenous organization in Indonesia and the world, learning about the struggles of indigenous communities outside her own was like “baptism by fire,” she recalls. “Twenty years ago, I realized that Indigenous Peoples were facing criminalization. Land grabbings were happening everywhere. The eviction of Indigenous Peoples—from protected areas, from national parks, from protected forests, from wildlife sanctuaries—took place in Indonesia. Today, that is still happening.”

For Carling, the issue of criminalization is deeply personal: less than a year ago, she was falsely labeled a terrorist by the Philippine government alongside hundreds of other human rights activists. Though her name was later struck from the list, the threat remains.

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Increasingly, governments, multilateral institutions, and other important stakeholders are heeding the urgent call to action to protect those who defend the world’s forests and lands. New campaigns, projects, and funds are underway to support initiatives to strengthen Indigenous Peoples’ and local communities’ rights to their lands. And the next generation of young indigenous leaders is joining the fight: “In Colombia, there is so much conflict that you have two options,” says Urzola Domicó. “One is that they kill your family and you are left without anything, and you die with your family. And the other option is that you go out and see how to defend your people, your nation.”

Profile of Alfred Brownell, Liberian human rights defender for more than 20 years

May 20, 2019

Under the title “This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias” Front Page Africa on Line published on 3 May 2019 an extensive profile of Alfred Brownell.

Twenty-two years ago Alfred Brownell could see a problem. The government of his country, Liberia, was awarding contracts for the exploitation of natural resources without consulting local communities; forest and mineral resources were being taken away with no questions asked. “It was at a time when a very notorious company called OTC and many other companies were cutting down the forest for timber and no benefit was going back to the people,” Brownell says.

Then a law student in the capital, Monrovia, Brownell challenged President Charles Taylor and his government on the operations of OTC – the Oriental Timber Company. The company was later found to be involved in arms smuggling, Taylor is in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity – and Alfred Brownell has just been awarded the African Goldman Environmental Prize for 2019 at a ceremony in San Francisco. see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/13/winners-of-the-2019-goldman-environmental-prize/]. Brownell’s organisation, Green Advocates, has become a household name in Liberia as a champion of customary rights to land and natural resources for indigenous communities. He is helping thousands of people around the country to fight multinational companies and regain their rights.

Sowing seeds

In 2003 when the war to oust Taylor was raging in Monrovia, Brownell had just graduated with a degree in Environmental Law from Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana, the previous year. Green Advocates was still an idea and Brownell had no money – only a vision.. The Fund for Global Human Rights gave Green Advocates its first seed money in 2003 of $10,000 after Brownell returned to Liberia following the ouster of Taylor and Green Advocates began operations from a tiny office in Monrovia. “We did not have a bank account; we were not a formal organisation,” recalls Brownell.

“The Fund for Global Human Rights had a lot of confidence in me. They awarded me the grant even without a formal structure in place.” John Kabia works for The Fund for Global Human Rights as programme officer for thematic initiatives. He has worked closely with Green Advocates over the years and says that the lack of a track record meant that the Fund was taking a risk, but it was a risk worth taking. “We feel at the Fund that our very reason for being is taking those smart risks, because that is the only way you can identify and support new and emerging actors and new ideas,” he says.

He says it is convenient for international donor organisations to support groups they already know. The threshold for approving support is set very high, making it difficult for small and emerging groups like Green Advocates to gain recognition and support to advance their work. However, seed funding can provide an organisation the necessary credibility and opportunities it needs to attract support from other funders and partners. “Often times if people are given the opportunity and investment to turn their ideas into reality, you’d be amazed by what they can do. I think the example is Alfred and Green Advocates,” he says. “Seeing how Alfred and the communities have mobilised and successfully pushed for major policy and legal reform is impressive. I think that type of smart risk-taking is what many other donors and development partners should be taking on.”

But for such risks to be sustainable, Kabia noted that it is critical for seed funding not to be a one-off, short-term support. “Change doesn’t happen overnight,” he says. “Long-term and capacity-building support needs to accompany an initial seed grant in order for promising organisations to thrive and reach their full potential.”

Big concessions, big government

Back in 2003, Liberia was just emerging from conflict and Brownell knew that the country lacked expertise on land and natural resources governance.

“It was sad to see a country with a natural-resource-endowed economy [where] its lawyers were not learning anything about natural resources or environmental laws,” says Brownell. “I said we have to use the law to help our people.”

“When I graduated, we worked to set up Green Advocates to provide support to the poor, marginalised, vulnerable, who had no voice. To focus our effort on creating policies to protect people through advocacy and campaigning for regulations.”

In 2005, Brownell partnered with over a dozen other local organisations and took on the transitional government of Liberia headed by the late Charles Gyude Bryant. It was the first post-war challenge to the government of Liberia by rights groups. The government had awarded contracts to a Chinese company for the shipment of iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of the citizens. A subpoena was issued by the Supreme Court of Liberia to stop it, but the government defied the court and shipped the ore anyway.

After successfully challenging a government contract to ship iron ore from the port of Buchanan against the wishes of local people, Brownell and Green Advocates began to expand their work. Both the government and the companies that profited from concessions to exploit Liberia’s natural resources began to see them as a threat. Green Advocates was involved in massive public sensitisation about land rights across the country, and started taking on companies as huge as the US tyre and rubber multinational Firestone, the Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby and Golden Agri-Resources, the world’s largest oil palm conglomerate – not to mention the government of Liberia itself.

One of the biggest cases involved Firestone, Liberia’s largest and oldest rubber concession-holder. For 75 years it had dumped all its waste into the Farmington River in the community of Owens Grove. That blatantly violated Liberian laws prohibiting the discharge of waste into the water system. Green Advocates filed complaints that led Firestone to create a waste treatment facility after almost a century of operations. The organisation also partnered with other rights groups in a US lawsuit that accused Firestone of using child labour. After six years of litigation Firestone won that case, but significantly the judge ruled that companies can be sued in the US for human rights abuses outside the country. In addition, Firestone was forced to introduce reforms that addressed the root causes of child labour in its plantation. This included reducing the quotas for workers, to prevent them having to bring their children to work, and building more schools within its concession area.

Doing it for the people

By this time Brownell was at odds with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who had become president in 2006. As Africa’s first elected female head of state she had won admirers around the world; in 2011 she shared the Nobel Peace Prize. But her international eulogists turned a blind eye to some dubious actions at home: by 2010 her government had awarded massive amounts of land to agriculture companies through a ‘backdoor’ scheme, despite agreeing to landmark land reform.

“You’re talking about 300,000 hectares of forest land without consulting the people” says Brownell. “There was no mapping or surveying to know where the land was, who grew what on the land or what the cultural impact was on the people.”

Brownell says that Green Advocates’ first grant from the Fund for Global Human Rights, and the organisation’s ongoing support over 16 years, has given other funders confidence to provide revenue that has supported other projects. For instance, Green Advocates has also gone on to establish the Alliance for Rural Democracy and the Natural Resources Women Platform, and was key to the formation of the Mano River Union Civil Society Natural Resource Rights and Governance Platform, which now covers eight west African countries.

The fight gets real

As Brownell was fighting to help communities understand their rights to the land and push companies to reform and make policies that would benefit the local population in the concession areas, he also faced a battle of his own. A battle for personal safety.

Brownell and his staff came near death on several occasions while on their many trips in rural areas. On one occasion, in Tarjuwon, Sinoe County, people had complained that Golden Veroleum Liberia had decided to construct an oil mill on a site that was used for annual religious worship. They resisted and Green Advocates was called in to help. Brownell and his colleagues went to Sinoe to see what was happening. On their way to the area, the team came under attack from militia that Brownell believes were working for the company.

The men, dressed in company security uniforms, had set up a roadblock. They were ex-combatants armed with machetes and sticks, according to Brownell. Brownell and his colleagues resigned themselves to death – until the intervention of the town chief.

“I had given up and was just praying to God. I had no idea how we were going to get out of there because we were completely surrounded by these men,” he says.

“We knew that the attack against us in Tarjuwon was not just the company. We think the government was also very complicit in those attacks to try to eliminate us,” he says. Brownell says the Liberian government has been behind several attacks, and felt his organisation was standing in the way of its development objectives. The government did not take kindly to Green Advocates trying to enlighten people on their right to the land and natural resources.

Francis Colee is head of programmes at Green Advocates and has worked on several court cases on land rights issues brought against the Liberian government. He says the government sometimes brands the organisation as anti-development, but its focus is to ensure good investment that protects the rights of people and not alter their livelihood.

“We have argued that it is good that we have investment, but we have also argued that we need to ensure a delicate balance between the protection of human rights, the environment and the investment,” says Colee.

“In most cases, what we have seen is that the project-targeted communities end up becoming worse off than they were before the coming of the investment.”

In 2016, the government accused Brownell of refusing to help give testimony in the trial of the Dutch businessman Guus Kouwenhoven, the former head of the Oriental Timber Corporation – Brownell’s first case. The Green Advocates office in Monrovia was raided and ransacked by plain-clothes police officers. Some of the staff were arrested. The police even went to his home and arrested his uncle when Brownell himself could not be found.

“It was a ploy to get me. They use the criminal justice system to threaten people,” he says.

“They made Liberia very unsafe for me when they started threatening me and so I was forced to flee with my family to come [to the US]. President Sirleaf has directly threatened me, in my face, ‘I will charge you with sedition’.”

In a strongly worded letter to the president of Liberia, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders condemned the attacks on Brownell, and through the support of the Fund for Global Human Rights and other groups he fled the country with his wife and children. He now serves as an associate research professor at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Green Advocates’ work in Liberia continues, even with Brownell in the US, through support from a team of dedicated local activists and Green Advocates staff.

Land rights at last

Despite the challenges, Green Advocates has helped ensure Liberia passed sweeping land reform legislation in 2018. Local communities now have the exclusive right to possess and use land for different purposes, and to lease it.

But there is still a long way to go in terms of actual impact on land rights despite these reforms, says Simpson Snoh, who represents the Alliance for Rural Democracy, a Liberian non-governmental body working closely with Green Advocates. Green Advocates is in the process of taking the message to the people, and helping to translate laws into action.

“After years of securing rights for its community partners,” says Brownell, “Green Advocates is currently exploring options for translating these rights into economic opportunities to address not just the bread-and-butter issues these communities face, but a business and development model that can co-exist with nature.”

Snoh says that with funding, local organisations can move quickly to help communities that are facing serious human rights abuses from multinational companies and governments. This is because community-based groups best understand the needs of the communities more and what the issues are.

Brownell echoes Snoh’s sentiments. He believes that international funders should be able to bet their money on local organisations like Green Advocates, just as The Fund for Global Human Rights did when the organisation was still just an idea. He feels Green Advocates has been able to enlighten the people on their basic human right – the right to own land.

“The government’s perception that there was free land or open spaces where they could give concessions to companies was a complete false assumption. All these years the government had lied,” he says.

“The future of Liberia is never ever going to be with massive foreign investment through transnational corporations coming to Liberia. Liberia’s future comes from its own people.”

This article is part of an editorial partnership with the Fund for Global Human Rights.

This Liberian lawyer has withstood presidents, multinationals and militias

 

Profile of Putla: a 75-year-old indigenous rights defender in Cambodia

May 16, 2019

….if you drive two and a half hours West of Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, you reach a community consisting of five small villages with a total population of around 1,350 people. They are the last members of the indigenous Souy people, who until recently, lived peacefully on their ancestral land. This is where the indigenous rights defender Putla has lived most of her life – except when she was forced to move away by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Today, she is a 75-year-old woman whose skin has been tainted by the sun and from a hard life. She is a tiny woman, not more than 150 centimeters tall, and often dresses in the Souy people’s traditional black cloth. Putla is a woman who looks fragile at first sight – but this impression only lasts until she starts to speak, or until you look into her eyes. She has a strong and crisp voice, and her eyes reflect the hardships that she has endured in her life. She is a very warm woman who often finishes her tirades with heartfelt laughter. Read the rest of this entry »

Report “Indigenous World 2019” launched on 24 April in NY

April 24, 2019

On 24 April 2019, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues in New York, IWGIA released The Indigenous World 2019, an extensive yearbook presenting a comprehensive, global overview of the developments indigenous peoples experience. The book documents an increasing trend towards the harassment and criminalization of indigenous peoples and communities. It also highlights the rising tensions between states and indigenous peoples, shrinking civil society space, loss of land rights and lack of access to justice for indigenous peoples to enjoy their rights.

“Indigenous peoples make up 5% of the world’s population, yet they represent 15% of the world’s poorest, and in 2017, half of the approximately 400 environmental and human rights defenders killed. The numbers for 2018 are as-yet-unknown, but this troubling trend hasn’t seemed to stop,” Julie Koch, IWGIA Executive Director, says. “We need to do more to protect, learn from and support indigenous peoples and their traditional, sustainable practices as key actors in ensuring a safer and more equitable world.”

In 2018, there has been an increase in the documentation and reporting of illegal surveillance, arbitrary arrests, travel bans preventing free movement, threats, dispossession and killings of indigenous peoples. We have witnessed instruments meant to protect indigenous peoples being turned against them, through the use of legislation and the justice system, to penalize and criminalize indigenous peoples’ assertion of their rights. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/08/08/9-august-international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples-un-experts-see-increasing-murder/]

The intensification and exploitation of natural resources is leading to a global crisis for indigenous peoples’ rights,” Koch says. Many indigenous peoples live in the Earth’s last remaining biodiversity hotspots and are often called the “guardians of the forest”. Several studies have shown that tree cover loss is significantly reduced on indigenous land compared to non-indigenous controlled land.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/07/15/documenting-the-killings-of-environmental-defenders-guardian-and-global-witness/

Tensions are rising between states and indigenous peoples

What ‘Jokowi 2.0’ means for human rights in Indonesia

April 21, 2019

In anticipation of the final result of the Indonesian presidential election on 22 May, which seems to have been won by sitting President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo (now with a senior Islamic cleric Ma’ruf Amin as his vice president), Asmin Fransiska, Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir, and Lailatul Fitriyah give in EconoTimes of 21 April 2019 their views on what that means for human rights:

Asmin Fransiska, Lecturer in Human Rights Law, Universitas Katolik Indonesia Atma Jaya

In 2014, Jokowi won the presidential election by promising to respect, protect and fulfil human rights. For four and a half years the Jokowi government failed to keep this promise. Jokowi should use his second victory to keep his promises.Indonesia’s 2017 Universal Periodic Review by the UN , shows that the government must address a number of human rights issues, for example, violence carried out by security forces, especially in remote areas, such as Papua, and cases of torture, and violence against women, children and minority groups.

…..As a first step, Jokowi and his new vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, must evaluate the Attorney General’s performance who for four years failed to bring human rights criminals to justice as recommended by the National Human Rights Commission….

Jokowi needs to balance the priorities of infrastructure development with environmental protection and corruption eradication. These two things are a prerequisite for development that values human rights. Indicators of human rights-friendly development include environmental preservation, protection of indigenous peoples and vulnerable communities, and high public participation in the development process from the beginning to the end.

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Abdil Mughis Mudhoffir, PhD Candidate in Politics, University of Melbourne, Lecturer in Sociology, Universitas Negeri Jakarta

In my opinion not much will change in terms of civil liberties protection in Jokowi’s second term if the constellation of power supporting the Jokowi government remains the same. …..The existence of retired generals allegedly involved in human rights violations as well as those connected with mining companies in Jokowi’s circle of power will hinder efforts to resolve not only past atrocities but also agrarian conflicts. The number of land conflict victims from agriculture, mining and infrastructure development activities will likely increase. State repression and civilian violence against discussions, film screenings and meetings that criticise the business relationships of people around Jokowi as well as those advocating for the interests of marginalised groups will continue.

Meanwhile, civil society efforts to prevent the military from intervening in civilian matters will continue to face challenges. The case of Robertus Robet, an activist and academic who was recently arrested during a rally for singing a song that criticised the military, for example, is likely to be left unresolved but will serve as a warning. The use of identity politics will still be dominant given that the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) and Gerindra seemed to gain significant votes and will remain in opposition. Moreover, they also have strong candidates, such as current Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, Sandiaga Uno or other PKS officials for the 2024 presidential election. The two parties will likely continue using religious identity narratives that will reproduce and sharpen polarisation in society to consolidate their power. As before, Jokowi’s camp will also respond to the attacks using similar narratives, with minority groups taking the brunt.

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Lailatul Fitriyah, PhD Candidate in Theology, University of Notre Dame

……..In other words, in the context of human rights, voters choose Jokowi on the principle of ‘the best of the worst’. Jokowi was elected because he did not have any record of human rights abuse, that’s all. Another aspect of Jokowi 2.0 era, which human rights activists will closely monitor, is his running mate, Ma’ruf Amin. Ma’ruf Amin’s popularity does not come from his commitment to inclusiveness, but his traditional support base as the senior cleric of the Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation. In the long term, Ma’ruf Amin must serve not only his Muslim base, but also other segments of Indonesian society, especially those from marginal groups.

Ma’ruf should change his perspective. In his role as an Islamic scholar, he has alienated minority groups, including, Syi’ah, Ahmadiyah and LGBTIQ. As Vice President, Ma’ruf must act as a public official with the obligation to protect the rights of all Indonesian people, irrespective of race, ethnicity, sexuality or religion/non-religion. For Jokowi’s second term, the sacrificing of minority rights to gain popular votes will no longer be acceptable. Jokowi should protect minority groups who, although they had lived within the structure of systemic violence under his first term, have shown they still trusted him for a second term in office.

See also my recent: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/16/82-year-old-father-magnis-in-indonesia-tough-words-for-a-good-purpose/

https://www.econotimes.com/Jokowi-wins-Indonesias-election-polls-indicate–what-does-that-mean-for-human-rights-1527148

Important legal victory for land rights defenders in UK Court

April 11, 2019

Vedanta building in India
Image copyright VEDANTA

On 10 April 2019, BBC and others reported on a landmark judgement in the UK that could have big implications for others cases in which human rights defenders seek compensation from multinationals. Nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers have won the right to sue mining giant Vedanta over alleged pollution, the UK Supreme Court has ruled. The landmark judgement means other communities in developing countries could seek similar redress in the UK.

Zambian villagers have been fighting for the right to seek compensation in British courts for several years. Vedanta had argued that the case should be heard in Zambia. The UK Supreme Court disagreed, saying that the case must proceed in the UK, due to “the problem of access to justice” in Zambia. The case relates to allegations by villagers living near the huge Nchanga Copper mine, owned by Konkola Copper Mines (KCM), a subsidiary of UK-based Vedanta. Vedanta said: “The judgment of the UK Supreme Court is a procedural one and relates only to the jurisdiction of the English court to hear these claims. It is not a judgment on the merits of the claims.

Martyn Day, senior partner at law firm Leigh Day, which is representing the Zambian villagers, said: “I hope this judgment will send a strong message to other large multinationals that their CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility]. policies should not just be seen as a polish for their reputation but as important commitments that they must put into action.

[In 2015, Zambian villagers accused Vedanta of poisoning their water sources and destroying farmland. Leaked documents seen by the BBC appeared to show that KCM had been spilling sulphuric acid and other toxic chemicals into the water sources. …In India’s Tamil Nadu state, a Vedanta-owned copper smelting plant was closed by authorities in May 2018.]

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/23/human-rights-council-recognises-vital-role-of-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

‘Belgrade Call” presses governments to protect rural human rights defenders

April 9, 2019

On 9 April 2019 the International coalition: ‘Belgrade Call to Action’ urges governments to address rural repression”

The “Belgrade Call to Action” presses governments and members states of the United Nations to act upon the deteriorating conditions for civil society and the growing human rights violations targeting human rights defenders in the context of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. The Civil Society Partnership for Development Effectiveness (CPDE), CIVICUS, Action for Sustainable Development, Civic Initiatives and the Balkan Civil Society Development Network initiated the launching of the action agenda on 8 April 2019, while civil society organizations worldwide are gathered in Belgrade, Serbia for the 2019 International Civil Society Week.

The People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) finds the Belgrade Call to Action timely and relevant especially to land rights defenders including farmers and Indigenous Peoples groups who brave repression for their opposition to state-sponsored and corporate-backed development ‘aggression’ projects.

According to Sylvia Mallari, global co-chairperson of PCFS, the Belgrade Call to Action lays down practical measures for UN member states and international organizations to address the shrinking space of and foster an enabling environment for civil society organizations and human rights defenders, which would significantly advance the Agenda 2030 and its SDGs.

We hope that the Belgrade Call to Action will push the governments of these countries to undertake appropriate measures that will put an end to the phenomenon of peasant killings and promote genuine agrarian reform to uplift farmers from their dire conditions,” Mallari stressed.

………

We hope that through the Belgrade Call to Action, rural repression will end and land conflicts will be addressed. We appeal to the member states of the UN and the international community to support and adhere to the Belgrade Call to Action,” Mallari said.

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/WO1904/S00064/belgrade-call-to-action-to-govts-on-rural-repression.htm

Human Rights Council recognises vital role of environmental human rights defenders

March 23, 2019

The ISHR reports that on 21 March 2019 the UN Human Rights Council has adopted a strong consensus resolution recognising the critical role of environmental human rights defenders in protecting vital ecosystems, addressing climate change, attaining the sustainable development goals (SDGs) and ensuring that no-one is left behind. [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/].

The resolution meets many of the civil society demands ISHR expressed in a joint letter along with more than 180 groups (see reference below). By formally acknowledging the important role of environmental human rights defenders, the Council highlights the legitimacy of their work, helps counter stigmatisation and can contribute to expanding their operating space. Though the resolution falls short in some key areas, its adoption by consensus is a positive step towards better protection of environmental human rights defenders. It must now be followed by implementation at the national level by all relevant stakeholders, including States, UN agencies, businesses and development finance institutions….

The resolution was led and presented by Norway, on behalf of 60 States from all regions. In particular, many Latin American States strongly supported the resolution, which is significant given the dangerous situation for defenders in many of those countries. The consensus on the protection of environmental human rights defenders is a welcome sign of unity by the international community in recognising their vital contribution to a biodiverse and healthy environment, to peace and security, and to human rights.

We now look to States, business enterprises and development finance institutions to take rapid and decisive steps to address the global crisis facing environmental human rights defenders’, said Michael Ineichen, Programme Director at the International Service for Human Rights. ‘This means States need to create protection mechanisms which guarantee the security of defenders. States must also ensure that businesses put in place specific policies and processes allowing for the inclusion of human rights defenders and their concerns in due diligence processes’, Ineichen said.   

Key points of the resolution:

  • Expresses alarm at increasing violations against environmental defenders, including killings, gender-based violence, threats, harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns, criminalisation, judicial harassment, forced eviction and displacement. It acknowledges that violations are also committed against defenders’ families, communities, associates and lawyers;
  • Recognises that the protection of human rights defenders can only be achieved through an approach which promotes and celebrates their work. It also calls for root causes of violations to be addressed by strengthening democratic institutions, combating impunity and reducing economic inequalities;
  • Pays particular attention to women human rights defenders, by stressing the intersectional nature of violations and abuses against them and against indigenous peoples, children, persons belonging to minorities, and rural and marginalised communities;
  • Urges States to adopt laws guaranteeing the protection of defenders, put in place holistic protection measures for and in consultation with defenders, and ensure investigation and accountability for threats and attacks against environmental human rights defenders; and
  • Calls on businesses to carry out human rights due diligence and to hold meaningful and inclusive consultations with defenders, potentially affected groups and other relevant stakeholders.

While the resolution was adopted by consensus, the unity came at the price of a lack of specificity in certain areas. For instance, the resolution does not clearly recognise all of the root causes of the insecurity facing environmental human rights defenders, as documented by UN experts, nor comprehensively name the perpetrators or the most dangerous industries. It also fails to clearly spell out the human rights obligations of development finance institutions, and to detail the corresponding necessary steps to consult, respect and protect the work of environmental human rights defenders. 

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc40-council-unanimously-recognises-vital-role-environmental-human-rights-defenders

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc40-states-should-defend-environmental-human-rights-defenders