Posts Tagged ‘local communities’

Remembering women killed fighting for human rights in 2017

December 4, 2017

Source: Remembering women killed fighting for human rights in 2017 | AWID

Lassana Koné: an environmental human rights defender in the DRC

May 25, 2015

Koné: We want to support forest dependent communities in the protection of their natural resources and put human rights issues at the heart of forest debates’.

Lassana Koné is a lawyer in Kinshasha, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), working for Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO working to protect the rights of those who live in the world’s forests. The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) did an interview with him on 8 May 2015 in Banjul:

Lassana’s efforts in the DRC are focused on pushing for policy change regarding land reform and forest governance, seeking to secure community land titles.‘It’s a key moment because the Government is in the process of reforming the land tenure act. It is vital that the human rights of communities be enshrined in this process. It gives us an opportunity to ensure that the free prior and informed manner in which communities ought to be consulted according to international law, is finally ensured by national law’.

Lassana works with a number of local communities in advocating for such policies and, in doing so, shines a light on the abuses taking place around communal land and natural resources. He explains that, for the communities raising their voice can be dangerous.

They face a range of opponents to their demands, and these opponents can become threatening. For example many communities are being evicted for conservation projects and can be threatened by national park guards. Others find themselves face to face with powerful proponents of extractive industries. In both cases, foreign companies are usually working together with the government’.

Whist the majority of the organisation’s work in DRC is currently focused on advocacy and dialogue for policy change, they also monitor human rights abuses in forest communities and are litigating a case before the national court regarding the forced eviction of a community to make way for a national park in Kivu region.

We hope to bring a communication before the ACHPR regarding the Sengwer indigenous people of Kenya, who have suffered a massive forced eviction last year from their ancestral lands, when many thousands of families were evicted, with houses and possessions burned, by the Kenyan Government’s Forest Service. There have been some successful complaints with the World Bank and also statements by UN special procedures, but hope for a response at the regional level.’ But Lassana also sees other opportunities for actions from the ACHPR, particularly around the free prior and informed consultations of communities regarding the development and conservation projects. ‘This is something which the ACHPR Working Group on Extractives and the Environment is working on. We hope they will produce guidelines on this issue. But we are also engaging with the regional system in other ways: for this session we produced a shadow report on the situation facing indigenous Batwa people in Uganda, whilst we are also contemplating how to work with the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders regarding the threats towards communities demanding their rights’.

We believe that local initiatives backed up by international support can ensure that forest peoples have their rights protected too’.

Lassana Koné can be contacted at lassana@forestpeoples.org

Cet article existe également en français .

Lassana Koné: Land and environmental rights defender in the DRC | ISHR.

Radio Prague: interesting interview with People In Need Director Simon Panek

March 28, 2014

Since its foundation in the early 1990s, Prague-based People in Need [Člověk v tísni] has become one of the biggest NGOs in Central Europe. Founding member Šimon Pánek has for many years been the organisation’s director, and Ian Willoughby of Radio Prague did an lengthy interview with him on 24 March 2014. The conversation touched on targeting of aid, politics, international perception and plans for the future. It has become a most interesting interview that shows how in two decades a NGO in Central Europe can develop into a serious and mature organisation, still mostly local but with international potential. The transcript of the interview follows below:

I first asked Pánek what for him had been its standout projects of the last 20 years-plus “What was important was one of the very first projects, SOS Sarajevo, a big fund-raising campaign in the Czech Republic and relatively massive humanitarian aid into the besieged city of Sarajevo during the war. That was a formative period for us, for sure.

“The second important period I regard as when we were approached by students from Belarus and Cuban immigrants in the second half of the 1990s with a simple question: did you forget that we are not free yet?

“They said, you got your freedom, you got rid of the Communist regime, but we still have Lukashenko, we still have Castro – it’s a bit unfair to forget that we are in a bad situation.

Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková

(Šimon Pánek, photo: Štěpánka Budková)

“At that time we basically established the second department of People in Need, dealing with human rights, or supporting human rights defenders.

“The third pillar was established again at the end of the 1990s when in the North Bohemian city of Ústí nad Labem the mayor started to build a wall between a Roma settlement and the majority…”

This was the notorious Matiční Street.

“Yes, Matiční Street. And we were shamed. We were sitting around the table – I still remember the day – and one of my colleagues said, if we are able to operate in Chechnya, if we are able to do illegal work and support dissidents in Cuba, Burma, Belarus, we should be able to try to do at least something in such a shameful situation in our own country.

“So we started with social work at that time, and now we are running 10 offices around the Czech Republic with almost 200 employees working in 60 localities, dealing with social exclusion and all other connected things.”

Could we get back to the political activities of People in Need? You were saying that you support the opposition in countries like Cuba, Burma – do you have a kind of neo-conservative approach, where you’re trying to in a sense export democracy to these countries? Neoconservativism has been largely discredited politically, I would say.

“Yes, I absolutely agree that the word democracy was discredited, mainly through the Bush era.

“The push for more democracy with a really very simple approach – the more money I pour on the one side, the more democracy will appear the other – we never shared. We’ve never tried to push or export things.

“What we do is we try to support the people who are there in their activities, their interests.

“We do basically the same thing that same things that were done from Sweden, Britain, France, Germany – to a certain extent from the US as well, but mainly from European countries – during communism for [Czechoslovak] writers, intellectuals, dissidents.

“And I think to say ‘opposition’, it means we are supporting the political opposition – in the vast majority of situations that’s not true. We are supporting student groups that want to discuss the economy…”

But they want regime change.

“Some of them. Or regime improvement. They want to get freedom to travel, they want free access to the internet.

“Of course from the point of view of dictatorships or authoritarian regimes we are breaking some of their laws. But is the law legitimate if it deprives people of free access to the internet in the 21st century? I don’t think so.

“We are basically helping people to get very basic things that you and I can have here on any corner.

“What’s important is that if any change is going to happen and to be sustainable, it’s the destiny of the people there. If they can’t read books by Václav Havel or about the economy, or get access to the internet or even publish what they write, I think it’s unfair.

“We are basically helping them to overcome the obstacles and oppression which, in our opinion, illegitimate, undemocratic regimes are imposing on their own people.”

You mentioned Václav Havel. He was a great supporter of People in Need and of you personally – at one point he said that you could follow him as president some day. What did his backing mean to People in Need, especially internationally in terms of creating your profile?

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

Václav Havel, photo: Filip Jandourek

“Well, of course it was very important to have a person like Václav Havel here. We did not cooperate directly as much as it might appear – it was more of a convergence of the same principles, values and ideas.

“On the other hand, in some cases yes, we were carrying messages from Václav Havel to people in Burma, Cuba, East Timor, Chechnya.

“It was very important for the people to hear that we are coming from the Czech Republic and that Václav Havel is sending his greetings, whatever.

“Because his life was kind of a fairy tale for people living in unfree countries. And a big hope that if a powerless writer can win over a very strong regime, sooner or later freedom will come even to their countries.

“Internationally, yes it helped, probably. On the other hand, I think 20 years of work without any major mistakes or problems, high credibility among people, a few tens of thousands of stable supporters, I mean financial supporters which we have in the Czech Republic – these are important factors as well, of course.”

There are so many crises around the world and there are always fresh ones it seems – how do you decide which ones to target with aid?

“It’s a very good question, but of course it brings us back to the ultimate question – does this really make sense?

“We try to sit around the table and estimate critically if we are able to really make some change, if it’s reasonable in terms of the size of the crisis and in terms of the resources and capacities which we are able to generate here in the Czech Republic.

“If not, we often cooperate with our colleagues from Alliance 2015, which is eight organisations from Europe.

“If we are able to get together a few hundred thousand euros for a crisis, if it’s in one of the countries where the partner organisations are working, we just channel the money through them. Because there is no sense in spending the money on extra offices, cars, flight tickets.

“What we really don’t want to have is more flags on the map. Often less is more. To be focused and to really be able to achieve more and to go deeper in addressing the needs of the people and the causes of the crisis is more important than how many countries we are active in.”

Does the fact that People in Need comes from the Czech Republic influence how you are seen in different parts of the world?

“Absolutely. Coming from a small Central and Eastern European country has some advantages, but also some disadvantages. The disadvantages are that we really had to work hard to get on the mental map of big institutional international donors.

“The advantage is that we are not seen as having any other agenda. Still people coming from the US and strong Western European countries are… seen with greater suspicion.

“We come from a very small state without imperial ambitions, without really big influence. Basically people welcome us and I think they tend to trust us more quickly than NGOs coming from very strong countries with support from very strong governments.”

How would you like to see People in Need develop into the future?

“The last 20 years were interesting in one regard – we never made any plan as to how big we wanted People in Need to be, or how much money we wanted to turn over every year.

“We were always responding to needs which came from outside, humanitarian needs or the big floods in the Czech Republic, or issues connected with social exclusion, mainly of Roma people.

“It’s slightly changing, because we are too big to just respond. We are discussing more and more some new fields.

“The staff is getting older, including us in the management, which is probably good for the stability of the organisation.

“What I’ve seen during the last few years and what I think is extremely interesting and extremely important is that we are kind of materialising into systemic objectives our experience and cumulative knowledge from concrete work with beneficiaries in humanitarian development, social work, education.

“So while continuing with direct work we are more and more dealing with governments, inter-governmental bodies, coming with different suggestions, procedures.

“We are trying in different fields, like debt issues among the socially weak part of the population in the Czech Republic, to bring in education, some system improvements.

“This is a new ambition – not just to help people do concrete things which are making some change, but trying to address the causes, not just the symptoms but the causes of different problems.

“This is mainly in the Czech Republic, because you can hardly address the causes of the wars in Africa from our level. But in the Czech Republic our systemic work, policy work often, is more and more important. We are basically trying to improve how the state, how the system works.” 

Radio Prague – Work with human rights activists abroad like Western support for dissidents under communism, says PiN chief Pánek.

Defending human rights is increasingly dangerous activity in many parts of the world, states latest UN report

January 19, 2014

The most recent report by the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, has been made public and will be officially presented to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. It is the last report by this Rapporteur whose mandate will terminate. The report finds that human rights defenders – especially journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and those who work to promote women’s rights and the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons – face ‘extraordinary risks’. It highlights cases of defamation, attacks, detention, torture and even killings. The report also documents an increased incidence of violations against people and communities opposed to mining, construction and development projects, with protesters attacked both by State and private security forces. Human rights defenders play a crucial role in exposing and seeking accountability for violations by both governments and corporations. Their work is crucial to transparency, good governance and justice for victims,’ commented Phil Lynch of the International Service for Human Rights in Geneva.ISHR-logo-colour-high

The report also documents the worsening ‘use of legislation in a number of countries to refrain the activities of human rights defenders and to criminalise them’, with cited examples including laws to ‘curb the promotion of homosexuality’ and to restrict NGO access to foreign funds. In the last four weeks alone, Nigeria, Russia, Uganda, Malaysia and the Ukraine have enacted or applied laws to criminalise human rights defenders and to silence their critical voice,’ Mr Lynch added.

In addition to documenting violations, the report makes a wide range of recommendations to ensure that human rights defenders are protected and can operate in a ‘safe and enabling environment.

For those too busy to read the whole new UN report [PDF]  here are the

V.    Conclusions and recommendations: Read the rest of this entry »

New report on Guatemala’s failure to protect Human Rights Defenders

November 23, 2013

A report issued on 18 November 18, 2013 by the American Bar Association, Georgetown Human Rights Institute, and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, entitled “Tilted Scales: Social Conflict and Criminal Justice in Guatemala” describes how human rights defenders, civil society organizations, and indigenous community groups in Guatemala operate in a dangerous environment where they live under constant threat.  “The Guatemalan judicial system is being utilized to harass and intimidate human rights defenders, especially in the context of disputes between businesses and indigenous communities over property rights and land use” said Santiago A. Canton, Director of Partners for Human Rights at the RFK Center. “Human rights defenders and indigenous leaders are targeted with threats and violence, and find themselves faced with false criminal charges, while their perpetrators go unpunished.

Attorneys and civil society leaders reported that disputes between indigenous communities and extractive companies resulted from the governments failure to hold culturally appropriate, prior consultations in good faith as required under international law. The report also questions the compliance of multilateral banks and multinational corporations with international standards.  RFK Center President Kerry Kennedy added that “Many defenders report that ex-military officers who committed abuses during the internal armed conflict are now intimidating locals and committing crimes with impunity in the communities where they work.” The authors explain that defenders must contend with widely published derogatory and inflammatory statements against them, in addition to the possibility of being physically attacked or falsely accused of a crime. “Peaceful human rights activists have been labeled as terrorists by prominent commentators, including leaders affiliated with business interests” said Katharine Valencia co-author of the report. The report emphasizes the Guatemalan governments obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights to protect the physical integrity of citizens; guarantee the independence of judicial authorities; thoroughly and impartially investigate allegations of criminal activity; and protect against arbitrary detention and prolonged, unjustified pretrial detention. The report also stresses that prior to the development of projects in indigenous territories, the state must engage in good-faith, culturally appropriate, and fully informed consultations with affected communities. Finally, the report calls upon extractive industries and financial institutions to justly compensate communities that have been displaced or otherwise adversely impacted by business activity, and urges compliance with reparations agreements related to the internal armed conflict.

via New Report: Guatemala Must Immediately Protect Human Rights Defenders – The Paramus Post – Greater Paramus News and Lifestyle Webzine.

Colombia: Assassination of Elver Cordero Oviedo, well-known human rights defender in Córdoba

April 22, 2013

NGOs as well as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) condemn the murder of Ever Cordero, chairman a participatory dialogue process for victims of displacement in the department Córdoba, Colombia. 

Ever Cordero was a community leader who worked to bring about the restitution of lands for victims of the armed conflict. On April 9, 2013, Ever Cordero was traveling toward the urban area of Valencia, in Córdoba, when two individuals on a motorcycle intercepted him and shot him to death. Ever Cordero was going to Valencia to attend ceremonies and marches commemorating the National Day of Memory and Solidarity with Victims.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders issues a text in Spanish:

via Colombia: Assassination of Mr. Elver Cordero Oviedo, well-known human rights defender in Córdoba / April 16, 2013 / Urgent Interventions / Human rights defenders / OMCT.