Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders in Ecuador, Argentina, and Beyond

December 25, 2019

Danny O’Brien wrote in Electronic Frontier Foundation of 19 December 2019 that “More Than Thirty Human Rights Groups Protest the Targeting of Digital Rights Defenders”.

…And some human rights defenders are technologists: building tools to defend or enhance the practice of human rights, and calling out the errors or lies of those who might misuse technology against its users. At this year’s Internet Governance Forum in Berlin, civil society groups mourned a growing trend around the world: the targeted harassment and detention of digital rights defenders by the powerful. Digital rights defenders includes technologists who work to create or investigate digital tools, and who work to improve the security and privacy of vital infrastructure like the Internet, and e-voting devices. As the declaration, signed by a coalition NGOs notes:

The work digital rights defenders do in defense of privacy is fundamental for the protection of human rights. When they raise awareness about the existence of vulnerabilities in systems, they allow the public and private sector to find solutions that improve infrastructure and software security for the benefit of the public. Furthermore, their work as security advisers for journalists and human rights activists is of vital importance for the safety of journalists, activists and other human rights defenders.

The problem is not confined to, but is particular pressing in Latin America. As 2019 draws to a close, Swedish security researcher Ola Bini remains in a state of legal limbo in Ecuador after a politically-led prosecution sought to connect his work building secure communication tools to a vague and unsubstantiated conspiracy of Wikileaks-related hacking. Meanwhile in Argentina, e-voting activist Javier Smaldone remains the target of a tenuous hacking investigation.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/08/bloggers-and-technologists-who-were-forced-offline-in-2018/

https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2019/12/over-thirty-human-rights-groups-protest-targeting-digital-rights-defenders-ecuador

Escazú Agreement to protect environmental human rights in Latin America stalling

December 23, 2019

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Despite being signed a year ago, the agreement hasn’t entered into force yet as it requires 11 of Latin America and the Caribbean’s 33 countries to ratify it. Only five have done that so far: Bolivia, Guyana, Saint Kitts, and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Uruguay. A group of 16 countries have signed it but not ratified it: Colombia, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Granada, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Dominican Republic and Saint Lucia. Another group of 10 countries has not signed it: Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cuba, Dominica, El Salvador, Honduras, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela and Chile.

The NGO Global Witness tracks every year the number of people killed because of standing up for their rights and defending the environment. In 2018, the figure reached 164 people, with more than half taking place in Latin America – the most violent region for environmental defenders in the world. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/in-2018-three-murders-per-week-among-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

A recent journalistic project called Land of Resistants, looked at the situation faced by environmental defenders in Latin America. They were subject to 1.356 attacks and incidences of violence between 2009 and 2019, according to the findings. Up to 50% of the attacks were targeted at people from ethnic minorities.

The Escazú Agreement wants to protect environmental human rights in Latin America — but not everyone is on board

Six HRDs from Latin America on PBI’s European tour

November 18, 2019

Whilst the European Union continues to express concern for the increased impact of climate change on the planet, those defending their territories and the environment continue to be attacked for their activism across the world. This alarming trend is present in Latin America where the women defenders of land, territory and the environment are particularly vulnerable. [see e.g. https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/08/06/environmental-human-rights-defenders-more-deadly-than-being-a-soldier-in-a-war-zone/] With this in mind, PBI will be accompanying five women and one man from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Colombia to different parts of Europe in order to exchange experiences and perspectives about protection and self-protection from a holistic perspective. These defenders will share information about their own situation of risk, as well as the cases they are working on.

In memoriam Louis Joinet: a great human rights defender who deserves more recognition outside France

September 25, 2019

Louis Joinet (born in Nevers on He was a French magistrate, independent expert to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and very active in the NGO human rights world in particular with regard to the dictatorships in Latin America (he was named illustrious citizen of Montevideo).

He co-founded the Union of the Judiciary (Syndicat de la magistrature) in 1968.  At the beginning of his career, he was interested in the early stages of computer sciences in order to evaluate the impact of these technologies on the law. He represented France in the Council of Europe. His report will gave birth to the Data Protection Act. He then participated actively in the drafting of the law relating to computers, files and freedoms of 6 January 1978. He was an adviser on human rights to the succesive Prime Ministers of François Mitterrand between 1981 and 1993.

In the UN context he was the author, in 1997, of the principles against impunity of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights , also known as the “Joinet Principles” , which are part of the principles of transitional justice. .

He published his memoirs in 2013 (Mes raisons d’État : mémoires d’un épris de justice, Éditions La Découverte). One of the characters of the French television series Sanctuaire , broadcast in 2015, which addresses in particular the role of France in the attempt to negotiate, in the mid-1980s between ETA and Spain, is inspired by Louis Joinet  (“Avec “Sanctuaire” j’ai voulu faire un film sur une gauche qui se perd” [archive], teleobs.nouvelobs.com, 2 mars 2015).

His wife Germaine Joinet, doctor and activist in various associations, died in 2008.

 

Ciné-ONU and the Goethe Institute screened  “Un certain monsieur Joinet” (52 mn) on 24 October 2012 at the Goethe Institute in Brussels. According to Amnesty International, “the documentary gives an insight into the fifty years of struggle by Louis Joinet for human rights, from the war in Algeria to Pinochet’s Chile, from enforced disappearances to the fight against impunity”.  Language: French with English subtitles. Directed by: Frantz Vaillant. Only the trailer is on the internet and information on how to get hold of the full film is missing.

There is also an interview with him from 2012:

https://www.lemonde.fr/disparitions/article/2019/09/23/la-mort-de-louis-joinet-cofondateur-du-syndicat-de-la-magistrature_6012734_3382.html

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Joinet

https://www.unbrussels.org/invitation-to-the-screening-of-un-certain-monsieur-joinet/

Interview with Guadalupe Marengo (“Guada”) of Amnesty International

August 2, 2019

Guadalupe Marengo: Human Rights Defender at Amnesty International

On 1 August 2019 of Geographical in the UK published an inteview with Guadaloupe Marengo (aka “Guada”), head of the Human Rights Defenders Team at Amnesty International:

..A 2017 Amnesty International report submitted to the UN points to the use of smear campaigns to delegitimise human rights defenders and undermine their work. In particular the report notes the stigmatisation of individuals and communities in Guatemala, Honduras, Peru and Paraguay who are fighting to protect their access to water and land, stating that ‘their work is delegitimised through public statements and false rumours’ and that they ‘face unfair and unfounded criminal proceedings’. In response to this issue, Amnesty International set up its Human Rights Defenders team, which works globally to highlight violence against HRDs and campaign for their rights. Geographical caught up with the head of the team, Guadeloupe Marengo, following a screening of Aruanas, a new drama focusing on environmental defenders in the Amazon. [for Aruanas see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/17/aruanas-human-rights-defenders-in-fiction-series-playing-in-amazon/]. Aruanas is now available at aruanas.tv on vimeo

Aruanas

Aruanas has helped raise public awareness of the dangers faced by those working in human rights

How did you come to lead the Human Rights Defenders team at Amnesty?

I’m Mexican and I’ve been in Britain now for about 24 years. I previously worked with women ex-prisoners here in this country, and then I moved to Amnesty to work mainly on Latin America. For many years I worked researching race-relations and running campaigns on human rights violations. Then, in 2016, I became head of the global Human Rights Defenders programme.

Why did Amnesty deem it necessary to set up the HRD team?

Human rights defenders work at the forefront, so they are the ones that get attacked. Here we are, 20 years on from the UN Declaration, and statistics on how many human rights defenders have been killed, from many human rights organisations, are at least one every other day. So there’s still a lot to do.

Where are the biggest risk areas?

The HRDs who are the most marginalised are those working on sexual and reproductive rights, those working on the climate crisis and those working on Indigenous people’s rights, land rights, and migration in Europe. These are the topics of the moment and because there is an intersectional type of discrimination, depending on where you are, they are even more at risk. In particular, the world is getting far more aware of climate issues, so those in power are actually attacking human rights defenders more. I think we’re at a tipping point, the world is suddenly realising that actually, we need to do something about this. I’m hoping that series such as Aruanas are going to help win more hearts and minds. The fact is Amnesty can’t make a series like that because it’s too expensive. So it’s good that those with the money are trying to contribute positively to humanity.

Who are the perpetrators of this kind of violence?

A combination of businesses with a vested interests and also governments, which should be the ones sending a very clear signal that intimidation of human rights defenders isn’t going to be tolerated. It’s is the mix of those in power – state and non-state actors.

How does Amnesty work to protect HRDs?

What we do is show the world what’s going on. We then approach government and businesses, either lobbying through letters, or through conversations with them, or at the UN. Through our international offices we interview rights workers, we interview victims, we go to the places, we double check the information and then we publish reports.

Are there any HRD cases that stand out to you in particular?

The issue in the UK of the Stansted 15 stands out to me – how the UK accused 15 people who stopped a plane that was going to deport LGBT+ people. One, for example, was going to be deported to Nigeria – she was a lesbian, her ex-partner was waiting and was going to kill her. The UK accused the 15 of terrorism-related offences for stopping the plane. I couldn’t believe the UK was doing that. Some of the 15 were given community service. Two were given suspended sentences and they are appealing that because even though they didn’t go to prison, the charges stand.

What are your goals for the time you are head of the HRD team?

One thing I would like to do is work more in coalition with other charities, to open up to others and ensure that we’re all working together towards campaigning instead of in silos. We have more in common than we don’t. If we all work together on these issues, I think we will have more impact.

https://geographical.co.uk/people/development/item/3308-guadalupe-marengo-amnesty-international

In 2018 three murders per week among environmental human rights defenders

July 30, 2019

Taking a stand for environmental justice and protecting natural resources is a dangerous pursuit. A new report from the UK-based NGO Global Witness showed that 164 environmental human rights defenders worldwide were killed for their activism in 2018. That averages to just over three murders per week. And that’s an underestimation.

Global Witness said the true number was likely “much higher, because cases are often not documented and rarely investigated. Reliable evidence is hard to find or verify“. Also, murder is not the only way to quash dissent. Global Witness said, although killings are at a disturbing level, companies and governments were increasingly using other tactics like criminalization, non-lethal violence, harassment and threats, as the Guardian reported. One common tactic is for governments to label activists as terrorists. “Deaths were down last year, but violence and widespread criminalization of people defending their land and our environment were still rife around the world,” said Alice Harrison, a senior campaigner at Global Witness, as the HuffPost reported.

“The drop in killings masks another gruesome reality, ” said Harrison. “Our partners in Brazil and many other countries have noted a spike in other forms of non-lethal attacks against defenders — often attacks so brutal they’re just shy of murder.” [See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

The bulk of the murders took place in Asia or Central and South America. In fact, more than half were in Latin America and most of the victims were indigenous or rural campaigners standing up for their communities against mining, hydrocarbon development, damming and agribusiness. The mining sector was responsible for one-fourth of the murders.

The Philippines replaced Brazil as the most murderous country, with 30 victims, followed by Colombia with 24, India with 23 and then Brazil with 20. It’s the first time since the annual list began in 2012 that Brazil did not top the list, according to the Guardian. The number of reported murders there dropped from 57 the year before to 20 in 2018.

Guatemala had one of the highest numbers per capita and the sharpest increase with a five-fold increase, bringing the total number to 16 deaths in 2018, which Global Witness attributed to new investments in plantations, mining and energy projects, according to US News and World Report. “In general, the surge in killings is because Guatemala is witnessing a major setback with regard to democracy and human rights,” said Jorge Santos, executive director of the non-profit Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala, to Al Jazeera. His group has documented machete attacks and armed militias opening fire on indigenous people campaigning for land rights in areas that are home to mining operations, oil palm plantations and displacement of the Maya Q’eqchi’ community.

For the role of international financial institutions in al lthis see my post of roday: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/30/uncalculated-risks-attacks-on-human-rights-defenders-in-name-of-development/

https://www.globalwitness.org/en/press-releases/spotlight-criminalisation-land-and-environmental-defenders/

https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-activists-killed-2639511189.html?rebelltitem=3#rebelltitem3

https://www.euronews.com/2019/07/30/more-than-160-people-killed-for-defending-the-environment-campaign-group

https://timesofoman.com/article/1694919/World/Asia/Philippines-authorities-respond-to-Global-Witness-report

See also: Download the full report: Enemies of the State? (PDF, 3.8MB)

The ‘Van Boven Principles’: short video

July 23, 2019

This short video dates back to 17 November 2015 but is now available as UN VIDEO. It is a short version of a full-length documentary film on Theo van Boven who was head of the UN Human Rights Division in the late seventies/early eighties when in Latin America hundreds of thousands were tortured, killed and disappeared. Theo was one of the few courageous UN leaders to speak out:  “It is inexplicable and indefensible for the United Nations not to react urgently to situations of gross violations of human rights”.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/07/new-book-on-theo-van-bovens-crucial-role-in-the-development-of-the-un-human-rights-system/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/12/16/theo-van-boven-reflects-on-70-years-united-nations/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/05/theo-van-boven-honored-with-film-and-debate-in-geneva-side-event-14-march/

https://videos.un.org/en/2015/11/17/the-van-boven-principles/

Inter-American Commission and Oxfam sign cooperation agreement on human rights in Latin America

March 5, 2019

On 4 March 2019 it was announced that Oxfam and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) signed a cooperation agreement on February 25, 2019 to promote and protect human rights in Latin America and the Caribbean, with special emphasis on economic, social, cultural and environmental rights and on the crucial role of human rights defenders. The agreement is for five years, to implement a plan including projects on research and the exchange of information linked to the situation of human rights in the region, the protection of human rights defenders and the provision of joint training processes targeting civil society organizations.

Cooperating with the IACHR offers Oxfam a great opportunity to strengthen democracy in our countries and to weakening the current pattern of closing spaces for civil society,” said Simon Ticehurst, Oxfam’s Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.

We are very excited about signing this agreement. The excellent work Oxfam does to find lasting solutions to poverty is extremely interesting for the IACHR and for its Special Rapporteurship on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights. Based on that, we will be developing high-impact joint projects to fight that scourge,” said IACHR Executive Secretary Paulo Abrão.

Over the past year, the IACHR has expressed its concern about the lack of guarantees for the exercise of human rights in several countries in the region. The Commission has also held hearings on issues like Central American migrant caravans, legal proceedings on the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras, and the growing safety problems faced by defenders in Latin America.

In the context of this new deal, Oxfam will join forces with the IACHR to ensure the exercise of human rights.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/20/human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america-under-constant-attack/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/

http://www.oas.org/en/iachr/media_center/PReleases/2019/057.asp

Human Rights Defenders in Latin America under constant attack

February 20, 2019

Some 50 human rights defenders from Latin America held a meeting at the Journalists Club in Mexico City to exchange strategies and analyse the challenges they face in the most lethal region for activists. Special rapporteurs on indigenous peoples, displaced persons and freedom of expression attended the meeting. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Some 50 human rights defenders from Latin America held a meeting at the Journalists Club in Mexico City. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

We’re in a very difficult situation. There is militarisation at a regional level, and gender-based violence. We are at risk, we cannot silence that,Aura Lolita Chávez, an indigenous woman from Guatemala. (Chávez was a finalist for the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 2017, and winner of the Ignacio Ellacuría Prize of the Basque Agency for Development Cooperation that same year). She has received death threats and attacks that forced her to seek refuge in Spain in 2017.

Latin America, the most lethal region for human rights defenders according to different reports, especially activists involved in defending land rights and the environment. Some 50 activists from Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United States and Uruguay participated in the International Meeting of Human Rights Defenders and Journalists in Mexico City from 15-18 February under the slogan “Defending does not mean forgetting.”

Guests at the meeting were United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz from the Philippines; UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, Cecilia Jiménez-Damary from the Philippines; and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Edison Lanza from Uruguay.

The human rights defenders identified common threats such as interference by mining and oil companies in indigenous territories, government campaigns against activists, judicial persecution, gender-based violence, and polarised societies that often fail to recognise the defence of human rights.

Evelia Bahena, an activist from the southern Mexican state of Guerrero, told IPS about “the suffering and destruction” at the hands of “companies that make profits at the cost of the lives of others.”

A number of reports have focused on the plight of human rights defenders in the region. In the report “At what cost? Irresponsible Business and the Murder of Land and Environment Defenders 2017”, published in July 2018, the international organisation Global Witness stated that of the total of 201 murders of human rights defenders in the world in 2017, 60 percent happened in Latin America. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/global-witness-report-2018-on-environmental-defenders-bad-but-2017-was-worse/]

Brazil recorded the highest number of homicides of activists of any country, 57. In Mexico, the number was 15, five times more than the year before, while Nicaragua recorded the highest murder rate of activists relative to its population, with four killings, according to the British-based organisation.

The “Global Analysis 2018”, produced by the international organisation Front Line Defenders, also depicts a grim outlook, counting 321 human rights defenders killed in 27 countries, nine more than in 2017. Of that total, 77 percent involved defenders of the land, the environment and indigenous people. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/]

For Ana María Rodríguez, a representative of the Colombian Commission of Jurists, difficult conditions persist in her country, where 20 human rights activists have been murdered so far in 2019. “There are delays and non-compliance with the peace agreement,” which have contributed to the defencelessness of human rights activists, according to the lawyer.

The rapporteurs present at the meeting, on unofficial visits to Mexico, listened to the accounts given by activists and recalled that governments in the region have international obligations to respect, such as guaranteeing the rights of indigenous people, displaced persons and journalists, as well as protecting human rights defenders…In her October report on Mexico, the special rapporteur criticised the violation of rights of indigenous people, especially the right to prior consultation on energy, land or tourism projects in their territories. [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/16/human-rights-defenders-journalists-in-mexico-in-1919-2-killed-2-released/]

For his part, Lanza, the IACHR special rapporteur, said the recommendations of the joint report released in June 2018 with David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, should be the starting point for the measures to be adopted by the Mexican government.,,

Front Line Defenders says record number of activists killed in 2018

January 9, 2019

In 2018, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work – the highest number ever on record – according to data collected by Front Line Defenders. More than three-quarters of these, 77% of the total number of activists killed, were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega-projects. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/annual-reports-2017-by-front-line-defenders/]

Front Line Defenders reports that the murders of HRDs were not isolated events, but were preceded by judicial harassment, threats and physical attacks. At least 49% of those killed had previously received a specific death threat, and in an additional 43% of killings there had been general threats made to HRDs in the area. In the vast majority of cases, HRDs did not receive the necessary protection and support from state authorities from the time they reported threats to the time they were murdered.

According to the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018, in addition to the threats experienced by male colleagues, WHRDs face gendered and sexualized attacks from both state and non-state actors, as well as from within their own human rights movements. Such violations include removal from public or high-ranking positions in NGOs, trade unions, and political societies; smear campaigns questioning their commitment to their families; sexual assault and rape; militarized violence; and the harassment and targeting of their children. In Saudi Arabia, authorities arrested, sexually assaulted, and tortured WHRDs who led the successful campaign for the abolition of the driving ban in 2018. Despite these attacks and the ongoing threats to stay silent, WHRDs in Saudi Arabia, as well as their family members, have publicly reported and condemned the abuses and are receiving unprecedented national, regional, and international visibility for their activism.

In addition to physical attacks and torture, the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2018 highlights the continuing trend towards restrictive legislation aimed at stifling the powerful work of HRDs and WHRDs, including:

  • A Digital Security Act in Bangladesh carrying a 14-year sentence for using digital media to “cause damage to the state”;
  • Retrospective legislation in Xinjiang province, China, legalising the use of “re-education” camps for the minority Uyghur population, including HRDs;
  • Anti-terror legislation in Nicaragua widening the definition of terrorism to include those accused of damaging property, leading to dozens of arrests of protesters now facing terrorism charges and 20 years in prison.

Front Line Defenders Digital Protection Team responded to a high number of reports from Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Honduras, Iraq, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela in 2018. According to the Global Analysis, authorities around the world frequently used phone and email surveillance to target LGBTI+ defenders, WHRDs and environmental activists in particular. The report notes that in Tanzania, Pakistan, Russia, Malaysia, Nicaragua, Turkey, and many countries in MENA, governments claimed that HRDs were threatening “national security” as an excuse for censoring and blocking NGO websites.

Despite the severe and sometimes life-threatening risks faced by HRDs and WHRDs, Global Analysis 2018 highlights a number of major success achieved by HRDs and WHRDs in 2018, including:

  • The critical and leading role played by HRDs in securing The Escazu Agreement, now signed by 24 states in Latin America and the Caribbean, which stipulates a participatory approach to environmental projects and the mitigation of conflicts;
  • The monumental vote for reproductive rights in Ireland, secured through the extensive, decades-long campaigning of Irish WHRDs in the face of defamation, smear campaigns, and threats;
  • The Coalition of Women Leaders for the Environment and Sustainable Development in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who successfully campaigned for a province-wide decree in Equateur protecting women’s land and forest rights.

In response to attacks against HRDs in 2018, Front Line Defenders is working with HRDs to promote their security with a range of protection programming. In addition to risk management and digital protection trainings, advocacy at the national, international, and EU level, emergency relocation, Front Line Defenders provided nearly 550 protection grants to activists at risk in 2018. Front Line Defenders also works with HRDs to devise visibility campaigns to counteract the defamation and smear campaigns that put them at risk.

https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018