Posts Tagged ‘resource extraction’

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)

Environmental defenders in Alberta, Canada, be warned….oil will get you

July 9, 2019

2019-07-01_thumb

Press Progress blog of 3 July 2019 analyses the agressive tone of Alberta‘s Premier Jason Kenney, who talks of “war” on environmental defenders. Civil liberties groups and human rights organizations are warning that his new “war room” is an attempt to intimidate critics and put a chill on free expression rights in the province. Described as a “fully staffed, rapid response” unit mandated to respond to “all the lies” about the oil industry, the $30 million “war room” is part of Kenney’s so-called “fight back strategy” that aims to wage war against environmental groups. Kenney has also indicated he will launch a public inquiry into the activities of environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation, while Kenney’s energy minister has promised the government will assemble a team of lawyers to launch lawsuits against environmentalists.

“Talk of a war room, focused on targeting ‘offending’ environmentalists, seems determined to send a clear message,” Amnesty International Canada Executive Director Alex Neve told PressProgress. Cara Zwibel, director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Fundamental Freedoms program, agrees the campaign’s stated mission could be “very problematic from a free expression perspective.”

Standing behind Kenney at the press conference was Vivian Krause, a self-described “researcher” who focuses on “the money behind environmental campaigns.” Krause’s research, which is often panned by her critics as a “conspiracy theory,” claims environmental groups funded by the Rockefeller Brothers are secretly working to cap oil production in Alberta.

Also sharing the stage with Krause and Kenney was Tim McMillan, President and CEO of the Canadian Association of Oil Producers (CAPP) as well as Sandip Lalli, President and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. Kenney was introduced at the press conference by Robbie Picard, an oil activist who has been involved with groups like Canada Action and Rally for Resources, but better known for creating the “I Love Oilsands” t-shirts. As Maclean’s notes, Picard is known to be “a bit too enthusiastic in his cheerleading” for the oil industry, as well — in a 2018 appearance on Rebel Media, Picard described environmentalists as “terrorists” who should face “six months in jail” for protesting the oil industry.

Jason Kenney’s ‘War Room’ is a Threat to Free Speech, Say Civil Liberties and Human Rights Groups

Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden

April 11, 2019

Last October, the Public Prosecution Authority of Sweden served Alex Schneiter and Ian H. Lundin, CEO and Chairman of Lundin Petroleum, with suspicion of aiding and abetting international crimes. Also, the company was informed of the prosecution’s intention to seek forfeiture of $400 million in criminally obtained benefits in case of a conviction. The suspects and their company have been given until June 15th to study the case files and to request for additional investigation. The trial is expected to open in the Autumn and may take a year in first instance.

undefinedundefined

The case has the potential of becoming a landmark trial because of the novelty and complexity of the legal issues that the court will have to decide. In particular, with regard to the assessment of the individual criminal liability of the executives of Lundin, the determination of the applicable standards of proof, the question whether a lack of due diligence is sufficient for a finding of guilt, and the limits and overlap of individual criminal liability of corporate directors on the one hand and corporate criminal liability of organisations on the other. The Asser Institute intends to follow the trial closely, starting with the event  “Towards Criminal Liability of Corporations for Human Rights Violations: The Lundin Case in Sweden” on 23 May May 2019, when it will be hosting three subject experts to introduce the case itself, and to delve into the legal dimensions that are expected to make it a landmark war crimes case.

The meeting on 23 May starts at 16:00 at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut (R.J. Schimmelpennincklaan 20-22), The Hague. Netherlands.

The three speakers are:

  • Egbert Wesselink will provide an introduction to Sudan’s oil war, describe Lundin’s role in it, and examine the human rights responsibilities of the company and its shareholders.
  • Dr. Mark Taylor will discuss how the Lundin case sits in global developments regarding the criminal liability of corporations for human rights abuses in the context of conflicts.
  • Miriam Ingeson will give a Swedish perspective to the legal framework of the case and analyse the legal issues that it raises at the intersection between national and international law.
  • Moderator is Antoine Duval, Senior Researcher at the Asser Institute and the coördinator of the Doing Business Right project.

For some background material on the case and its wider context, see www.unpaiddebt.orgwww.lundinhistoryinsudan.com.

For full details, see https://www.ass…events/?id=3070<https://www.asser.nl/education-events/events/?id=3070> .

 

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/

Pacific human rights defenders can do more to deal with extractive industries

March 7, 2019

Patrick Earle, the director of the Diplomacy Training Programme.

Patrick Earle, the director of the Diplomacy Training Programme. Photo: RNZ Pacific

The Australia-based Diplomacy Training Programme offers education and training, as well as capacity-building for NGOs, human rights defenders, and community advocates.

The NGO turns 30 this year, and its director Patrick Earle said it is refocusing its work on the Pacific region. “Because we feel there is a lot of vulnerability. There’s a lot of economic activity. A lot of people see the Pacific as a place they can take things from, and take things from in a way that doesn’t recognise standards of human rights that are accepted internationally,” Patrick Earle said.

Mr Earle said if local people gain better understanding of their rights, and of the responsibilities of governments and companies, they will be in a better position to negotiate better outcomes from local development. Mr Earle said that in the Pacific, people tended to talk about victims of development rather than beneficiaries of development. “So where people aren’t giving their free, prior, informed consent based on both knowledge of their rights but also knowledge of the outcomes of particular forms of development, then we see very negative impacts that can feed into community conflict, that can feed into environmental damage, a whole wide range of issues,.

Mr Earle said that his organisation’s work in human rights in the Pacific was revealing a pattern of issues particularly in the extractive industries. He also mentioned concerns around deep sea mining, concerns about labour in fisheries, and treatment of migrant or seasonal workers. “There’s a wide range of issues, but there’s very little knowledge and awareness of the international standards that people can use to try and shape their development.”

https://www.radionz.co.nz/international/pacific-news/383669/pacific-communities-urged-to-hold-companies-and-governments-accountable

The UN Environmental Rights Initiative interviews Donald Hernández Palma

February 26, 2019

On 26 February 2019 the UN Environmental Rights Initiative (launched in Geneva last year during the UN Human Rights Council). The aim is to ensure that human rights defenders can carry out their activism safely, defend their local environments and the planet. 

However, alarming statistics on killings have been reported over the past few years—especially regarding the targeting of indigenous groups. Latin America has seen the highest number of murders in recent years, accounting for almost 60 per cent of the global total in 2016. In Honduras, 128 defenders are estimated to have been murdered since 2010—the world’s worst rate. UN Environment reached out to Donald Hernández Palma, a Honduran lawyer and human rights defender, for his take on the situation facing environmental and human rights defenders. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/11/28/peace-brigades-international-officially-launches-its-country-chapter-in-ireland/ ]

Donald specializes in criminal and environmental law, with a particular focus on mining. He is a member of the Latin American Lawyers’ Network, which works against the negative impacts of transnational extractive companies in Latin America. Since 2010, Donald has worked for the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development as coordinator of its legal department. He is also the coordinator of the Human Rights and Environmental Department.

Could you tell us a little about yourself, where you come from and how you became part of the environmental advocacy movement?

I am the son of peasant parents who cultivated coffee. I grew up in a remote village in Honduras. I studied in a school that only went up to sixth grade and had to walk almost 20 kilometres a day to go to class. Later, I studied agronomy, a profession I practiced for more than 10 years, in direct contact with peasant families across Honduras. I have directly witnessed the serious subsistence difficulties faced by my countrymen far from government aid.

Since graduating in criminal law in 2007, have been working on environmental protection issues in rural communities. In 2010, I began my work at the Honduran Centre for the Promotion of Community Development, allowing me to work in the defence of human rights for the same populations I had known for many years before.

What situations help explain the kinds of challenges environmental human rights defenders face in Honduras?

Different forms of political and economic corruption in Honduras have compromised – and in some cases denied – local communities’ access to natural resources. Many people have resisted mining, hydro and logging projects, and because of this resistance, have found themselves criminalized and harassed—even killed. Honduras is today considered one of the most dangerous countries for those who defend their land and territories.

What kind of resources are being exploited in your country and how is it affecting land, water, air and biodiversity?

Currently, 302 mining concessions have been approved by the Honduran Government for open-pit mining. Projects are awarded to national and international businesses on thousands of hectares of land, affecting populations that are rarely consulted. Meanwhile, rivers are being appropriated in many regions of the country to generate electricity. Projects are also often granted without consultation to business families, as a payback for favors made for political campaigns.

Also, thousands of hectares of land are being used to plant African palm, transgenic corn and sugar cane for biofuels. This is displacing traditional agriculture, and also causing displacement of populations from their territories to urban centres within and outside the country. Laws have also been passed in Congress to privatize criollo seeds, removing the right of indigenous peoples and peasant peoples to trade their seeds as they have been doing for thousands of years.

What has been done to address these problems?

Organizations like ours do permanent research on the concessions of common goods. This information is very difficult to obtain because it is hidden from the people. There is a law on access to public information that is not respected. We give this information to the affected peoples, whom we also organize and train on human rights and indigenous law, among other issues. We also carry out public protests, present unconstitutionality appeals before the Supreme Court of Justice and carry out legal defence actions when the leaders are criminalized for defending their territory.

What kind of national laws have been enacted? Do international laws help you in any way?

We have a mining law that is highly harmful to the population, a plant breeders’ law that harms people’s rights over seeds, and energy laws that facilitate the implementation of electrical projects that avoid environmental impact prevention processes. In addition, the modification of the criminal code criminalizes public protest. It is precisely international law that allows us to exercise defensive actions in favor of indigenous peoples and peasants, since Honduras has been found not to comply with the international treaties that bind the Honduran state to respect human rights defenders.

Are you working with any NGO groups? 

I am the facilitator at The National Coalition of Environmental Networks and Organizations Honduras (CONROA), a joint space that brings together more than 30 organizations.

Has the newly-signed treaty by 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries, formally called the Regional Agreement on Principle 10, provided any protection on people’s rights in Honduras

Unfortunately, the Honduran state was one of the countries in the region that did not sign this important treaty.

Have you encountered any successes, and is attention increasing on this issue on the ground? 

Unfortunately, an advocate such as Bertha Cáceres, our comrade in this struggle, had to die so that the eyes of the world could return to the terrible situation due to the contempt of the state against those who defend common goods. The visits of the rapporteurs (Michel Fort) and the rapporteur of indigenous peoples have been very important in forcing the Honduran State to respect human rights defenders.

Impunity with Canadian flavor

February 5, 2019

Brent Patterson posted on Rabble.ca on 4 February, 2019 a piece entitled: “Impunity for human rights violations must be challenged from Guatemala to the Wet’suwet’en territories“. It looks at the concept of impunity, especially in the context of indigenous people in Latin America and..Canada. Read the rest of this entry »

Guatemala’s slide into violence passes through killings of human rights defenders

January 29, 2019

….Indigenous citizens, many dressed in colorful traditional clothing, came out partly to protest the Guatemalan president’s recent expulsion of a United Nations-backed commission investigating corruption in the country. Since 2007, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known by its Spanish initials CICIG and funded by the U.N., the United States and the European Union, has worked with Guatemalan justice agencies to target corrupt officials.

In the highly unequal society that is Guatemala, many Maya believe any strengthening of the justice system will protect indigenous rights granted under the country’s constitution and peace accords.

The country’s indigenous people therefore have a strong motivation to lobby for the rule of law. Maya communities bore the brunt of almost four decades of a civil war that ended in 1996, leaving over 200,000 casualties, the majority indigenous Guatemalans, according to the United Nations. Now the mostly Maya organizations and many human rights groups worry that the violence is making a comeback: In just the last year, 26 members of mostly indigenous campesino organizations have been killed.

Guatemala is on the verge of a major human rights catastrophe,” says Jo-Marie Burt, a professor at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, an independent research and advocacy center. According to Burt, the Guatemalan Union of Human Rights Defenders has tallied over 200 attacks against human rights defenders in Guatemala in the last year….Guatemala is close to falling into the violence that gripped the country 30 years ago, which the United Nations and some Guatemala courts say led to a genocide of the country’s indigenous citizens.

One of the killings took place in July, in the province of Quiché, one of the areas hardest hit by the civil war……Hundreds attended her wake and funeral, where a leader of the Campesino Development Committee said the organization would not be intimidated. Indigenous, human rights and international organizations expressed outrage for Raymundo’s murder.

Indigenous scholar and commentator Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj wrote in her column in the newspaper El Periódico, “After having lived through a genocide, we should have learned the lesson that no one in Guatemala, regardless of ethnicity, gender or class, should be killed for thinking differently … or for dreaming of a different future.

According to Velásquez, Guatemala has entered “a new stage of repression”one focused on “assassinating community leaders who defend their territories from invasion by transnational companies bent on depriving indigenous peoples of the resources they have in the soil and the subsoil.

Numerous conflicts over land and mineral rights have surfaced in indigenous communities throughout Guatemala.

…..On Aug. 5, shortly after Raymundo’s killing, the respected sociologist Edelberto Torres-Rivas provided historical context for the attacks on rural leaders in a long opinion piece for El Periódico. …. He went on to warn that “In Guatemala there is a return of those who’ve carried out crimes in the recent past … and if the authorities don’t take care … there could be a reaction.”…..

——-

https://www.npr.org/2019/01/22/685505116/killings-of-guatemalas-indigenous-activists-raise-specter-of-human-rights-crisis?t=1548231003780

https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/attacks-indigenous-rights-defenders-181206094334223.html

https://reliefweb.int/report/guatemala/iachr-expresses-alarm-over-increase-murders-and-aggressions-against-human-rights

https://www.telesurenglish.net

Indigenous human rights defenders up against mining giant BHP

October 8, 2018

 AGM Protest Credit: London Mining Network
AGM Protest Credit: London Mining Network

Independent Catholic News of 4 October 2018 carries the following story on the London Mining Network 12-20 October 2018:

“I am Misael Socarras Ipuana, of the Wayuu People. I live in the north of Colombia, in the peninsula of La Guajira, in the community of La Gran Parada. I am a human rights defender, indigenous communicator, director, cultural expert and leader of my community. I am 48 years old, married according to the traditions of my people to Moncia Lopez Pushaina. I have six children, for whom I struggle daily to give them a better future, free of contamination and mining. We want to be autonomous in our territories, free and able to enjoy Mother Nature without restrictions or fear.”

Misael is one of the five human rights and environmental defenders joining the London Mining Network for a week of action 12-20 October around the annual shareholder meeting of BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company. He will be speaking at events, meeting anti-coal campaigners in County Durham and holding BHP executives to account.

The London Mining Network, which highlights justice, peace and environmental issues related to extractive industries, is supported by religious and missionary groups with experience of the problems in countries where they work. Most of the world’s biggest mining companies, and many smaller mining companies, are listed on the London Stock Exchange, and on its Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

Communities all over the world are rising against mining violence and building alternatives that offer truly-sustainable futures, assert people’s rights and are deeply rooted in custodianship of land and water. This week of action will be an opportunity to explore this resurgence. They call for the UK government to commit to a Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights to end corporate impunity.

As the world’s largest multinational mining company, Anglo-Australian-owned BHP’s AGM is an important moment to build these arguments. BHP’s record of forced displacement, dispossession and catastrophic environmental damage stretches back decades. The company is so powerful it is seldom held to account for this devastation, while indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant communities are hardest hit.

see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/28/2018-latin-america-still-the-graveyard-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/

https://www.indcatholicnews.com/news/35749

How photographer Tom Laffay sees human rights defenders in Colombia

January 20, 2018

While studying at the College of Charleston, Tom Laffay’s political consciousness came not from the classroom but in the fields while working alongside Mexican migrant laborers on a farm in North Carolina. “How they were living in the shadows made me want to know where they came from,” says the St. Ignatius High School alum.
With a background in Latin American studies and photojournalism, Laffay moved to Nicaragua in 2011 and Bogota, Colombia, in 2016. “I’ve never liked the idea of parachute journalism,” says the 28-year-old Laffay, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The Atlantic and Al Jazeera. “I get really invested in a place.” Laffay’s latest project Defender, a portrait of human rights defenders under threat for their work in Columbia, is part of the Cleveland Print Room’s Anthropocene group exhibit, running 19 January to 23 February 2018.

Tom Laffay Defender 2

Cleveland Magazine talked with Laffay about the perilous work of defenders intent on protecting their native environment:

Q: In 2016, the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia signed a peace agreement. Since then, nearly 200 indigenous leaders, environmental activists, LBGTQ leaders and lawyers have been murdered in Columbia. Why?
A:  It’s open season on human rights defenders in Columbia, who are being killed with impunity for documenting blatant oil contamination by companies using water in fuel extraction. With the rebels demobilizing, the country is open for business in areas they couldn’t be involved with before.   

Q: Are you in danger for your associations with the local activists?
A:
There are a lot of extremely talented and brave journalists here. I definitely take precautions and I make calculated risks. You have to really trust the people you’re with. I make sure I’m always in touch with the legal collective I work with and they always know where I’m going to be.

Q: What do you want people to take away from this exhibit?
A: 
These are men and women defending their communities and environment, and their rewards are arbitrary arrests, fake judicial processes and death. The landscape has become so dominated by the oil industry. … Oil extraction comes first and communities are a distant second. ..

https://clevelandmagazine.com/entertainment/museums-galleries/articles/tom-laffay-s-artistic-defense