Posts Tagged ‘resource extraction’

Steven Donziger finally free..!

April 29, 2022

Steven Donziger, the human rights lawyer who took on Chevron, spent nearly a thousand days in jail or on house arrest. Amnesty says it was corporate retaliation.

This article originally appeared on 26 April at Common Dreams:

Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger walked free Monday after 993 days of detention stemming from his decades-long legal fight with Chevron, which deployed its vast resources in a campaign to destroy Donziger after he won a $9.5 billion settlement against the fossil fuel giant over its pollution of the Amazon rainforest.

“It’s over. Just left with release papers in hand,” Donziger wrote on Twitter. “Completely unjust that I spent even one day in this Kafkaesque situation. Not looking back. Onward.”

Donziger’s case has attracted global attention and outrage, with the UN high commissioner on human rights calling his prolonged detention a violation of international law. Lawmakers in the United States have also decried Donziger’s prosecution as an “unprecedented and unjust legal assault.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/14/why-is-the-harvard-administration-so-reluctant-to-speak-up-for-steven-donziger/

“We are relieved that Steven Donziger will finally recover his freedom after almost 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, which included 45 days in prison and over 900 days under house arrest,” Daniel Joloy, senior policy advisor at Amnesty International, said in a statement Monday. “He should have never been detained for even one day, as it has been clear the whole process against him has been in retaliation for his human rights work that exposed corporate wrongdoings.”

“Corporations must not be allowed to continue abusing the U.S. justice system to silence and intimidate human rights defenders or anyone else exposing their wrongdoing,” Joloy added.

…In 2014, a federal judge with ties to Chevron ruled that Donziger was guilty of a “pattern of racketeering activity,” a charge he has denied. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan’s decision was based on testimony from a witness who later admitted to lying.

https://www.salon.com/2022/04/26/human-rights-lawyer-took-on-chevron-is-finally-free–after-993-days-_partner/

Green economy and human rights defenders: Provide data, denounce attacks

April 21, 2022

On 21 April 2022 Christen Dobson, Ana Zbona and Andrea Pelliconi of the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre wrote a piece entitled: “Safe, legitimate engagement between firms, human rights defenders key to a just transition

..Human rights defenders are vital leaders of a just transition to green economies. They are on the front lines of the climate crisis – and they hold essential information on the risks and harms associated with business actions, which can be used by companies and investors to conduct effective environmental and human rights due diligence to create long-term value.

Yet, these defenders are under sustained attack. In 2021, there were at least 615 attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms, with nearly 70 per cent of attacks against climate, land and environmental rights defenders. Since January 2015, we have documented more than 3,870 attacks globally, including killings, death threats, arbitrary detention and strategic lawsuits against public participation.

Indigenous peoples, who are at the forefront of protecting biodiversity and our shared planet, experience a disproportionately high level of attacks. Although they comprise approximately 5 per cent of the world’s population, they faced 18 per cent of attacks globally in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/]

One of the main drivers of this violence is the failure of companies and investors to engage in safe and legitimate consultation with rights-holders and defenders. This failure stands to derail the fast transition to a zero-carbon economy that we urgently need.

If companies and investors do not listen to people highlighting risks related to their operations, investments, supply chains, and business relationships, or if it is not safe to raise these concerns, they will lose out on critical information needed to mitigate harm and achieving a fast and fair energy transition, essential for averting the climate crisis. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/un-experts-urge-eu-to-take-the-lead-on-protecting-human-rights-defenders-in-context-of-business/]

Renewable energy firms guilty too

While companies and investors are increasingly making welcome and necessary commitments to climate action, including promises to achieve net zero by mid-century, many do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals, nor do they assess risks to defenders or engage in consultation with them. See: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/04/07/clean-energy-will-not-automatically-be-good-for-indigenous-land-defenders/

That’s the case even in the sector most crucial to the transition: our 2021 Renewable Energy Benchmark, we found that of the 15 of the largest global renewable energy companies evaluated, all scored zero on their commitment to respect the rights of human rights and environmental defenders.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

We have seen this failure to secure consent from affected communities prior to starting development projects lead to horrific outcomes. On 30 December 2021, police officers in the Philippines raided an Indigenous village, killing nine leaders. Local groups said that those killed were targeted and red-tagged because of their opposition to the Jalaur Mega Dam construction. Indigenous groups had challenged the project for years saying it would destroy their ancestral domain.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, an Indigenous Zapotec community has been raising concerns about wind farm construction not respecting their rights to self-determination and free, prior, and informed consent. Leaders have faced stigmatisation and harassment. In October 2018, a federal court in Mexico delivered a historic ruling in favour of the community, ordering the Mexican authorities to carry out a consultation at a wind farm operated by a state-owned company based in Europe. In October 2020, the community filed a civil lawsuit in Paris against the company.

Engaging with rights-holders and defenders early on is one of the most effective ways of identifying actual and potential human rights and environmental impacts, while also reducing business risks. It is also their responsibility under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

For human rights due diligence processes to be effective, companies and investors can start by making clear they will not tolerate any attacks to defenders related to their operations, value chains or investments, communicating this publicly and to their suppliers and business partners. Companies should also conduct due diligence across their entire value chains, as the biggest risks and harms to people and planet occur in the lower tiers…

Throughout the entire due diligence process, companies should engage in ongoing consultation with rights-holders and defenders, including prior to and at every stage of business activity, and integrate their input into decision-making.

Effective due diligence also involves conducting human rights and environmental impact assessments. The assessments should map potentially affected rights-holders and land and resource conflicts and by informed by rights-holders and defenders’ expertise

This is not just nice to do. Conducting safe and legitimate human rights and environmental due diligence benefits everyone and will ensure companies are more effectively achieving their climate commitments. As the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights says, defenders need to be seen as key partners who can help businesses identify their human rights impacts, rather than being seen as obstacles to be disposed of.

The urgently needed global transition to green economies will only be successful if it is sustainable and just. This means respecting the rights of the people at the forefront of protecting our earth and raising the alarm about harmful business practices.

https://www.eco-business.com/opinion/safe-legitimate-engagement-between-firms-human-rights-defenders-key-to-a-just-transition/

Clean energy will not automatically be good for indigenous land defenders

April 7, 2022

Emily Pontecorvo a reporter for GRIST published on 6 April 2022 a piece about a new report by the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre which states that the renewable energy sector is unprepared for the protection of land rights defenders.

In April of last year, José de Jesús Robledo Cruz and his wife Maria de Jesús Gomez Vega were found dead in the desert in Sonora, Mexico. In July, Fernando Vela, a doctor in Coqueta, Columbia, was shot to death by two men on a motorcycle while he was in his truck. In September, Juan Macababbad, an attorney in the Philippines was shot dead outside his home.

In each case, the victims were prominent human rights defenders, known in particular for defending their communities’ natural resources from mining, deforestation, water contamination, and other threats. These were just three of at least 76 such murders that occured in 2021. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2022/03/02/human-rights-high-commissioner-bachelet-urges-support-for-environmental-defenders/]

Business and Human Rights Resource Centre tracks attacks on people who protest or otherwise raise concerns about business-related human rights abuses. It has documented more than 3,800 attacks, including killings, death threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention, and lawsuits, since January 2015, with 615 occurring in 2021 alone.  [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/13/global-witness-2020-the-worst-year-on-record-for-environmental-human-rights-defenders/ as well as: https://news.mongabay.com/2022/04/more-than-half-of-activists-killed-in-2021-were-land-environment-defenders/]

Our data shows almost the tip of the iceberg,” Christen Dobson, senior program manager for the BHRRC and an author of the new report. “Many attacks are not publicly reported. And so we know the problem is much more severe than these figures indicate.”

According to the report, human rights defenders who spoke out against mining projects consistently experienced the greatest number of attacks over the past seven years. The authors say this is especially concerning considering the expansion of mineral production required by a transition to clean energy. All those batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines are going to require a lot of cobalt, nickel, zinc, lithium, and other minerals.

We’re already seeing this level of attack, and we’re not seeing major producers of transition minerals have strong policies or practices in place about protecting defenders,” said Dobson. “There’s a real risk there and I think it’s an area that we’re very concerned about.

The report urges investors to publish a human rights policy and require that companies begin disclosing human rights and environmental-related risks. But Dobson said that voluntary actions from companies and investors was not enough. She said there was some momentum building behind mandating that companies report on measures they are taking to respect human rights, including legislation proposed in the European Union and Canada.

“It is concerning to see a vast majority of companies and investors, including major renewable energy companies, do not have policies expressing zero-tolerance against reprisals in their operations, supply chains and business relationships,” said Dobson in a statement. “It’s time for companies and investors to recognise the energy transition cannot be effective if it is not also rights-respecting.”

https://grist.org/international/land-defenders-face-violence-and-repression-clean-energy-could-make-it-worse

Ecuador: unique case of mass amnesty for environmental defenders

March 31, 2022

On 30 March 2022 CIVICUS reported on a very interesting case: On 11th March 2022, the National Assembly of Ecuador approved a bill granting amnesty to 268 people who faced prosecution for their defence of land, indigenous and environmental rights, and for their involvement in 2019 protests. The bill was approved by the plenary of the National Assembly with 99 favourable votes out of the 125 parliamentarians in attendance.

Among those benefitted by the amnesty, 153 are land defenders, 43 are environmental activists, 12 are Indigenous leaders criminalised for administering Indigenous justice and 60 others were more generally facing charges related to their involvement in the October 2019 demonstrations. Several defenders, such as Gabriela Fraga, Nancy Simba, Ángel Punina, Javier Ramírez and Jovita Curipoma, were cleared of charges related to resistance against extractive industries. Civil society groups also highlighted the case of Víctor Guaillas, a water defender who had been detained on charges of ‘sabotage’ in 2019, for whom amnesty came too late. Guaillas was one of the 62 people murdered in November 2021 amid a riot in a Guayaquil prison.

Ecuador’s Human Rights Alliance (DDHH) called the move a “historical precedent against the criminalisation and prosecution of rights defenders.” In a statement, the coalition said that this amnesty “means vindicating the right to truth and justice for those who exercise the right to defend human rights” in a context of recurrent criminalisation of these actors.

In a separate but related development, in December 2021 President Guillermo Lasso had made stigmatising statements about social movements and Leonidas Iza, the president of the Indigenous confederation Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas (CONAIE). Iza and former CONAIE president Jaime Vargas were among those facing prosecution related to October 2019 protests, and were both granted amnesty in March 2022.

On 21st December 2021, during a weekly broadcast programme in which he discusses government initiatives, Lasso called Iza “an anarchist” and “a violent man,” and claimed that the Indigenous leader “hates democracy.” The President accused the CONAIE leader of incentivising violence during the October 2019 protests. Lasso also said his government would use all the power of the state to jail “those who want to anarchise this country, disrupt public services, and deepen an economic crisis that has already been affected by the pandemic.”

On 22nd December 2021, the DDHH issued a statement expressing solidarity with the Indigenous movement and Leonidas Iza. The coalition said that Guillermo Lasso’s “violent and contemptuous discourse stigmatises the work carried out by social and political leaders, social and Indigenous movements, and makes unfounded and reckless attacks against Leonidas Iza.”

Lasso repeated his statements in a programme aired on 4th January 2022, calling Iza “an enemy of Ecuadorean democracy.”

On 27th January 2022, Ecuador’s Constitutional Court confirmed the violation “of the rights to prior consultation, to nature, water, a healthy environment, culture and territory, as well as comprehensive reparation measures”, regarding the A’i Cofán Indigenous people of the Sinangoe community in relation to mining concessions that affected their ancestral territory without their free, prior and informed consent. In their ruling, the country’s highest court reaffirmed the state’s obligations in consultation processes on plans and projects that affect Indigenous peoples’ rights and interests.

Indigenous communities and organisations have led the international campaign “Who Should Decide?”. Just days before this court ruling, they delivered more than 365,000 signatures to the Constitutional Court asking the Court to protect the right of Indigenous peoples to decide on the future of their ancestral territories.

International group Amazon Frontlines said that the Constitutional Court ruling recognises “for the first time, the right of Indigenous communities to have the final decision over oil, mining and other extractive projects that affect their lands.” The organisation also evaluated that Ecuador “now has one of the most powerful legal precedents in the world on the internationally recognised right of Indigenous peoples to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.”

See also my earlier: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/02/27/alarming-criminalisation-of-human-rights-defenders-in-latin-america/

https://monitor.civicus.org/updates/2022/03/30/ecuador-amnesty-granted-268-rights-defenders-and-protesters/

100 NGOs join Amnesty International’s call for Biden to pardon Steven Donziger

March 16, 2022
Amnesty International Logotype

For more than two years, human rights lawyer Steven Donziger – currently serving the remainder of a six month sentence on house arrest – has been arbitrarily detained in apparent retaliation for his work to hold Chevron accountable for its deliberate dumping of more than 16 billion gallons of toxic oil waste into the Amazon rainforest. Despite repeated calls from human rights advocates and governmental authorities for Donziger’s release, the Department of Justice has refused to respond or take any action to remedy this human rights violation. Today, over 100 human rights and environmental organizations from around the world joined Amnesty International, Greenpeace USA, Amazon Watch, Global Witness, Rainforest Action Network, HEDA Resource Center, ReCommon, and the Pachamama Alliance to call on President Biden to exercise his clemency powers to pardon Steven Donziger as a way to ensure his immediate release.

In a letter to President Biden, the organizations state: “More than four months since a discerning opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention that found Steven Donziger’s detention to be arbitrary, U.S. judicial authorities have thus far failed to take any action to remedy the situation and implement the Working Group’s call to ensure Mr. Donziger’s  immediate release.”  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/08/17/steven-donziger-speaks-out-himself-about-being-targetted-by-chevron

In a statement in October 2021, President Biden promised the U.S. would “stand in solidarity with, and continue to work tirelessly in support of, the activists, human rights defenders, and peaceful protestors on the front lines of the struggle between freedom and tyranny.”All the while, the administration has failed to side with the brave human rights defenders within the United States and respond to the demand of the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Congress, and the international community to free Steven Donziger. 

Steven Donziger is a human rights defender that bravely stood up against one of the most powerful corporations in the world,” said Daniel Joloy of Amnesty International. “In response, he has endured years of harassment, intimidation, smear campaigns and more than two years in arbitrary detention. President Biden must now listen to the over 100 human rights and environmental organizations calling to pardon Steven Donziger and ensure he is released immediately and unconditionally. Allowing this ordeal to continue only sends a chilling message that corporations around the world can continue attacking human rights defenders without consequences.”

Paul Paz y Miño of Amazon Watch said “Instead of supporting the people of Ecuador who were poisoned by Chevron’s admitted deliberate dumping of billions of gallons of toxic waste, Biden has turned a blind eye to the persecution of a key lawyer who worked to win a historic judgment against Chevron. The U.S. government’s responsibility should be to make Chevron clean up its waste and support efforts to hold the fossil fuel company accountable, not allow the appointment of a private prosecutor with ties to the very same oil company to imprison human rights lawyer Steven Donziger. This travesty has gone on for over two years, and Biden has ignored members of the E.U. parliament, members of the House and Senate, and even the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Well over 100 organizations are now demanding action, and Biden’s lack of action continues to be a dark stain on his alleged claims to respect human rights. Oil companies do not prosecute and imprison people in the U.S. This must end now.”

Chevron’s legal attack on Donziger is not the first, nor will it be the last case of its kind. Right now, the right to dissent is being repressed by both our government and corporations

Annie Leonard, co-Executive Director Greenpeace USA

Simon Taylor, Co-Founder & Director, Global Witness said “I have spent much of the past 25 years seeking accountability of the fossil fuel industry for its gross human rights abuses and other crimes. Amongst the judicial authorities we have liaised with during this time, the Southern District of New York has stood as a beacon in this fight against criminality. Shockingly, just as Biden gears up this struggle, New York’s judicial authorities seem instead intent on destroying their reputation, thanks to their apparent complicity in the unprecedented corporate prosecution and judicial harassment of Steven Donziger. These acts, in my experience, are more what I would expect from one of the ‘Banana Republics’ we have investigated around the world. These are shameful acts. If Biden is serious about tackling the climate crisis, he cannot allow the fossil fuel industry to weaponise the US judicial system to go after its detractors – Biden must act now and release Steven Donziger.”

https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/03/15/100-groups-urge-biden-pardon-human-rights-lawyer-steven-donziger

Human Rights High Commissioner Bachelet urges support for environmental defenders

March 2, 2022
United Nations
Protect the defenders of the planet, UN rights chief urges
Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil.

Poyowari Piyãko, a young activist, poses in his home in the Apiwtxa village, which belongs to the Ashaninka indigenous people, in northern Brazil. © UNICEF/Alécio Cézar

The world must be made a safer place for people working to protect the planet, who sometimes pay with their own lives for their activism, UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday 1 March 2022.  Protecting the environment goes hand-in-hand with protecting the rights of those who defend it, she told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which is holding its annual month-long session. 

Ms. Bachelet revealed how speaking out and standing up for environmental rights can come at enormous cost as activists have been killed or subjected to abuse, threats and harassment.   

At particular risk are people who speak out against deforestation, extractives, loss of cultural heritage or identity, or large scale-agribusinesses and development projects – including those intended to produce clean energy, such as mega dams,she said.  Many environmental human rights defenders are also indigenous peoples, or members of local communities or minority groups – or those representing them.   Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016.  She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people.

Berta Caceres, an environmental activist from Honduras, was assassinated in March 2016. She was recognized posthumously as a UN Champion of the Earth laureate for her tireless campaign for the rights of indigenous people. © UNEP

She said entire communities may face threats and intimidation when someone speaks out on their behalf.  Ms. Bachelet underlined that States have an obligation to respect and protect the rights of environmental human rights defenders, and the communities they represent.  Authorities must also prevent and ensure accountability for attacks.  These actions are in line with a Council resolution adopted last year which upholds the right to a healthy environment, she said.  See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/26/aarhus-convention-gets-new-mechanism-to-protect-environmental-defenders/ and

“In addition, it is critical that States effectively regulate businesses and hold them accountable for human rights violations,” she said, while corporations also have a similar duty, as outlined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights

Ms. Bachelet advised that prior to undertaking any climate project, both governments and businesses must carry out human rights risk assessments.  

If indigenous peoples’ rights are at risk of being adversely affected by such projects, it is crucial that their free, prior and informed consent is obtained,” she said. 

The UN rights chief also reported on some of the global work of her staff.  “All around the world, my Office is committed to supporting States, businesses and environmental human rights defenders in all of their efforts to protect our planet,” she said. 

For example, over 200 human rights defenders in the Pacific region have been trained to help boost sustainable development, business and human rights in the context of climate change.  

In Southeast Asia, OHCHR is monitoring cases of harassment, arrest, killings and disappearances of environmental human rights defenders, while

https://yubanet.com/world/protect-the-defenders-of-the-planet-un-rights-chief-urges/working with governments towards ending punitive measures levelled against activists. 

https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/03/1113022

AFREWATCH wins Business and Human Rights Award 2021

December 14, 2021

At the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights, the 2021 award recipient was announced: AFREWATCH — a small, courageous organization headquartered in Democratic Republic of Congo that focuses on the human rights and environmental impacts of extractive companies in Africa.

Here a 3-minute video announcing the award: https://www.humanrightsandbusinessaward.org/announcement-2021-recipient-of-the-human-rights-and-business-award/. The video features two Advisory Network members announcing the award (Abiodun Baiyewu and Seema Joshi), followed by the Executive Director of AFREWATCH (Emmanuel Umpula) accepting the award.

AFREWATCH researches and reports on abuses by mining and oil companies and by governments; engages with government officials to advocate for improvements in law and practice; presses for extractive companies to pay their fair share of taxes, and helps grassroots community organizations build their capacity.  

For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/fd511ca0-10f0-11ea-8f61-d1d879c27588

https://www.humanrightsandbusinessaward.org/award-recipient/afrewatch/

Documentary film Arica gets attention from United Nations Human Rights Council

September 15, 2021

On 2 June 2021 Davide Abbatescianni wrote in Cineuropa about Lars Edman and William Johansson’s film which documents the devastation caused by a Swedish mining giant in a Chilean desert town

Over 30 years after Swedish mining and smelting giant Boliden shipped almost 20,000 tons of toxic mining waste to the Chilean desert city of Arica, a group of Special Rapporteurs from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) led by Dr Marcos Orellana have made allegations of ongoing human rights abuses, as exposed in Lars Edman and William Johansson’s documentary Arica [+]. The feature was presented at last year’s IDFA and is set to continue its festival run in Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy and Belgium.

Exposure to the waste led to numerous cases of cancer, birth defects and serious diseases. Currently, the Chilean government estimates that around 12,000 people were exposed to the toxins. The UNHRC has advised the Swedish government that “urgent measures should be taken to repatriate the hazardous wastes to Sweden and/or ensure the disposal of the hazardous wastes in an environmentally sound manner”.

Particular criticism is aimed at Boliden Mining, which the body accuses of “intimidating and threatening behaviour” towards human rights defenders – namely, the legal team representing the victims in Arica. They allege that such an approach, adopted by Boliden following the decision by the Swedish court of appeal not to hear the Arica case on the grounds that Boliden’s actions took place too long ago to be tried under Swedish law, was “a deliberate attempt to produce a wider, chilling effect of silencing and intimidating other lawyers and human rights defenders”. The United Nations’ action has been welcomed by victims and campaigners, including community campaigner Rodrigo Pino Vargas, who said: “For over 30 years, we have seen our families and our neighbours suffer the consequences of this Swedish waste. We have buried our children and been forced from our homes. We will not stop until our voices are heard and the damage is repaired. Even when we win in court, we find nothing but broken promises. For the first time, the intervention of the United Nations gives us hope that our human rights will be upheld. The people of Arica demand that immediate action be taken to meet our health needs and that the toxic waste be returned to where it belongs – in Sweden.”

The acclaimed documentary, shot over the course of 15 years, sheds light on a shameful case of modern colonialism. After losing their case in 2018 with a sentence that ultimately sided with Boliden, rejecting the Chilean judges’ verdict on the firm’s responsibilities and decriminalising their misdeeds, another appeal was lost in 2019. As of today, the Swedish Supreme Court has not granted Arica’s victims the right to appeal, and Boliden is threatening to sue their lawyers to make them pay the legal costs, a sum close to $5 million.

Producer Andreas Rocksén commented: “When Lars and William began filming 15 years ago, their intention was to ensure that the voices of the people in Arica, affected by the waste that came from under the soil where they grew up, would be heard. What has happened since has surpassed any expectations: their story is being heard around the world, and yet those same people in Arica are still fighting for justice. We will continue to amplify their voices as best we can and applaud all the different initiatives aimed at seeing their human rights upheld.”

Meanwhile, political pressure in Sweden is mounting as the country prepares to host the Stockholm+50 event, marking 50 years since the first-ever UN Conference on the Human Environment.

Arica was produced by Swedish independent studio Laika Film & Television, and was co-produced by Belgium’s Clin d’Oeil Films, Chile’s Aricadoc, Norway’s Relation04 Media and the UK’s Radio Film Ltd. Its world sales are entrusted to Swiss outfit Lightdox.

https://www.cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/405513

Global Witness: 2020 the worst year on record for environmental human rights defenders

September 13, 2021

Since 2012, Global Witness has been gathering data on killings of land and environmental defenders. In that time, a grim picture has come into focus – with the evidence suggesting that as the climate crisis intensifies, violence against those protecting their land and our planet also increases. It has become clear that the unaccountable exploitation and greed driving the climate crisis is also driving violence against land and environmental defenders.

In 2020, we recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – making it once again the most dangerous year on record for people defending their homes, land and livelihoods, and ecosystems vital for biodiversity and the climate. [CF: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/29/global-witness-2019-worst-year-ever-for-land-rights-and-environmental-defenders/]

As ever, these lethal attacks are taking place in the context of a wider range of threats against defenders including intimidation, surveillance, sexual violence, and criminalisation. Our figures are almost certainly an underestimate, with many attacks against defenders going unreported. You can find more information on our verification criteria and methodology in the full report. Downloads

In 2020, over half of attacks took place in just three countries: Colombia, Mexico and the Philippines.

For the second year in a row, Colombia saw the highest number of killings in 2020, with 65 land and environmental defenders murdered. These took place in the context of widespread attacks on human rights defenders and community leaders across the country, despite the hopes of the 2016 peace agreement. Indigenous peoples were particularly impacted, and the COVID pandemic only served to worsen the situation. Official lockdowns led to defenders being targeted in their homes, and government protection measures were cut.

In Mexico, we documented 30 lethal attacks against land and environmental defenders in 2020, a 67% increase from 2019. Logging was linked to almost a third of these attacks, and half of all the attacks in the country were directed against Indigenous communities. Impunity for crimes against defenders remains shockingly high – up to 95% of murders do not result in prosecution.

In the Philippines, the deteriorating human rights situation has received increasing international condemnation. Opposition to damaging industries is often met with violent crackdowns from the police and military. In our data, over half of the lethal attacks were directly linked to defenders’ opposition to mining, logging, and dam projects.

President Duterte’s years in office have been marked by a dramatic increase in violence against defenders. From his election in 2016 until the end of 2020, 166 land and environment defenders have been killed – a shocking increase for a country which was already a dangerous place to stand up for the environment.

Forest defenders under threat

In instances where defenders were attacked for protecting particular ecosystems, 70% were working to defend the world’s forests from deforestation and industrial development. In Brazil and Peru, nearly three quarters of recorded attacks took place in the Amazon region of each country.

Almost 30% of the attacks were reportedly linked to resource exploitation (logging, mining and large-scale agribusiness), and hydroelectric dams and other infrastructure. Of these, logging was the sector linked to the most murders, accounting for 23 cases. Mexico saw a large rise in logging- and deforestation-related killings, with 9 in 2020.

An unequal impact

Much like the impacts of the climate crisis itself, the impacts of violence against land and environmental defenders are not felt evenly across the world. The Global South is suffering the most immediate consequences of global warming on all fronts, and in 2020 all but one of the 227 recorded killings of defenders took place in the countries of the Global South.

The disproportionate number of attacks against Indigenous peoples continued, with over a third of all fatal attacks targeting Indigenous people – even though Indigenous communities make up only 5% of the world’s population. Indigenous peoples were also the target of 5 out of the 7 mass killings recorded in 2020.

As has been the case in previous years, in 2020 almost 9 in 10 of the victims of lethal attacks were men. At the same time, women who act and speak out also face gender-specific forms of violence, including sexual violence. Women often have a twin challenge: the public struggle to protect their land, and the less-visible struggle to defend their right to speak within their communities and families.

[Defenders are] at risk because they find themselves living on or near something that some corporation is demanding. That demand – the demand for the highest possible profit, the quickest possible timeline, the cheapest possible operation – seems to translate eventually into the understanding, somewhere, that the troublemaker must go. – Bill McKibben

Business is responsible

Many companies engage in an extractive economic model that overwhelmingly prioritises profit over human rights and the environment. This unaccountable corporate power is the underlying force that has not only driven the climate crisis to the brink, but which has continued to perpetuate the killing of defenders.

In too many countries, rich in natural resources and climate critical biodiversity, corporations are operating with almost complete impunity. Because the balance of power is stacked in the favour of corporations, it’s rare that anyone is arrested or brought to court for killing defenders. When they are it’s usually the trigger-men – the ones holding the guns, not those who might be otherwise implicated, directly or indirectly, in the crime.

Governments must stop the violence

Governments have been all too willing to turn a blind eye and fail in providing their core mandate of upholding and protecting human rights. They are failing to protect land and environmental defenders, in many cases directly perpetrating violence against them, and in others complicit with business.

Even worse, states around the world – from the US to Brazil, Colombia and the Philippines – used the COVID pandemic to strengthen draconian measures to control citizens and close civic space.

There is a clear link between the availability of civic space and attacks against defenders – the most open and tolerant societies see very few attacks, whereas in restricted societies, attacks are much more frequent.

The majority of killings took place in states with limited civic freedoms

Data on civic freedoms via CIVICUS Monitor Open Narrowed Obstructed Repressed Closed 0 50 100 150 killings Killings in closed civic spaces are likely to be underreported about:blank

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As the climate crisis intensifies, so too does its impact on people, including on land and environmental defenders. Meaningful climate action requires protecting defenders, and vice versa. Without significant change this situation is only likely to get worse – as more land is grabbed, and more forests are felled in the interest of short-term profits, both the climate crisis and attacks against defenders will continue to worsen.

Governments can turn the tide on the climate crisis and protect human rights by protecting civil society, and through passing legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and profits. Lawmakers have relied too much on corporate self-reporting and voluntary corporate mechanisms. As a result, companies continue to cause, contribute to, and benefit from human rights abuses and environmental harms, particularly across borders.

The United Nations, through its member states, must formally recognise the human right to a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment, ensure that commitments to meet the Paris Agreement integrate human rights protections, and implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

Statesmust ensure national policies protect land and environmental defenders and scrap legislation used to criminalise them, require companies to conduct human rights and environment due diligence in their global operations, and investigate and prosecute all actors involved in violence and other threats against defenders.

The European Commission is currently preparing to publish binding due diligence legislation, including an initiative on Sustainable Corporate Governance. They must ensure this initiative requires all companies doing business in the EU, including financial institutions, to identify and address human rights and environmental harms along their value chains. This legislation must include robust liability regimes and penalties to hold companies accountable for failing to do so.

Finally, companies and investors must publish and implement effective due diligence systems to identify and prevent human rights and environmental harms throughout their supply chains and operations, adopt and implement a zero-tolerance stance on reprisals and attacks on land and environmental defenders, and provide effective remedy when adverse human rights and environmental impacts and harms occur.

People sometimes ask me what I’m going to do, whether I’m going to stay here and keep my mother’s fight alive. I’m too proud of her to let it die. I know the dangers – we all know the dangers. But I’ve decided to stay. I’m going to join the fight. – Malungelo Xhakaza, daughter of murdered South African activist Fikile Ntshangase

Defenders are our last line of defence against climate breakdown. We can take heart from the fact that, even after decades of violence, people continue to stand up for their land and for our planet. In every story of defiance against corporate theft and land grabbing, against deadly pollution and against environmental disaster, is hope that we can turn the tide on this crisis and learn to live in harmony with the natural world. Until we do, the violence will continue.

Those murdered included South African Fikile Ntshangase, 65, who was involved in a legal dispute over the extension of an opencast mine operated by Tendele Coal near Somkhele in KwaZulu-Natal province. She was shot dead in her own living room. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/fikile-ntshangase/

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58508001

Download the full report : Last line of defence (low resolution) (2.3 MB), pdf

Download the full report : Last line of defence (high resolution) (18.1 MB), pdf

Almost 200 international organizations denounce attacks against peaceful resistance to Escobal mine in Guatemala

January 25, 2021

On 21 January, 2021 Ellen Moore in Earthworks reports that more than 190 organizations have denounced an armed attack against Guatemalan land defender Julio David González Arango, a leader in the peaceful resistance to Pan American Silver’s Escobal mine. Julio was shot and wounded on January 16 at his home. Since the attack, two other members of the peaceful resistance have received threatening messages saying they’ll be next. The letter calls on the Guatemalan Attorney General to immediately launch a thorough investigation into the attack and hold the material and intellectual authors of this crime responsible. Julio has led opposition to the Escobal mine for nearly a decade, facing numerous criminalization and defamation campaigns against him by supporters of the mine. Saturday’s terrifying attack is part of a long history of violence against opponents of the Escobal mine since the project was first imposed in 2011. A Constitutional Court order suspended the mine in 2017 pending consultation with the Xinka people. But the threats and defamation campaigns against community leaders never stopped. In early December, a complaint was filed with Guatemalan authorities denouncing threats against Julio. Community leaders report that following the filing of the complaint, threats against them actually increased, including threats directed at Xinka representatives who are participating in the consultation process. 

This is a dangerous time for land-defenders impacted by the Escobal mine, which Xinka leaders say is made worse by Pan American Silver’s ongoing community outreach. For more than two years, the Xinka have called on the company to respect the court ordered suspension and halt all mining activities, including community programs, which they say stoke tensions and undermine their ability to freely participate in the consultation process.

While the Ministry of Energy and Mines (MEM) recently agreed to accept all 59 Xinka representatives in the consultation process, marking the first significant advancement in almost two years, serious obstacles remain. A recent report details a slew of attacks against judicial independence in Guatemala, including allegations of corruption within the Supreme Court. This is significant for the Escobal mine consultation given that the Supreme Court is the main arbiter in the process, responsible for ensuring that the Constitutional Court order is upheld and Xinka rights are respected. Without an independent and impartial Supreme Court, Xinka communities are left in an increasingly precarious and dangerous situation. 

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