December 2017

Colombia – Statement by Minister of Defence undermines peace process and casts doubt on government’s commitment to protecting human rights

Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas talks during an interview with Reuters in Bogota, Colombia, May 18, 2016.REUTERS/John Vizcaino

The recent interview with Colombian Minister of Defence Luis Carlos Villegas, in which he said that the vast majority of killings of human rights defenders in Colombia were due to “problems in their personal lives, such as quarrels with their neighbours or romantic partners or their involvement in illegal economic activity is a denial of reality and amounts to nothing less than an calculated smear campaign against human rights defenders.

Sr Villegas has also stated that apart from killings carried out by members of the ELN and the FARC, only 50 community leaders and HRDs were killed in 2017.

The Minister’s statement is a convenient work of fiction which bears no relation to the harsh reality of life for HRDs in Colombia. The state’s own Human Rights Ombudsman has stated that 204 community leaders and HRDs have been killed in the last two years, while the Attorney General, Nestor Humberto Martinez, has identified “systemic criminality” in the assassination of social leaders — something the government has always denied, despite the evidence presented in numerous human-rights reports.

In its Annual Report for 2016 Front Line Defenders reported 86 killings of HRDs, the vast majority of which have never been fully investigated. In its report for the first six months of 2017, Front Line Defenders partner organisation, Programa Somos Defensores, documented 52 cases of killings of HRDs in the first six months alone of 2017. The Front Line Defenders Annual Report for 2017 which will be launched in January 2018 is likely to report a similar level of lethal violence.

While the Minister maintains the official line that there is no pattern of organised paramilitary activity the facts tell a different story. On 31 July 2017, Front Line Defenders reported a fresh wave of threats from members of Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia (AGC), a paramilitary group operating in the municipality of Barrancabermeja, among others. The group circulated a pamphlet naming several rights groups and five defenders known for their work in the Colombian peace process.

The paramilitary group accused them of colluding with the government and the Farc rebels “against the interests of the Colombian people.” AGC stated that their communities would soon find them “chopped up in plastic bags.” Lest there be doubt about the possibility of gruesome attacks, the group added, “for your knowledge this is not a threat, it is a declaration of war. We are already in the area. You and your family know that.”

The Minister’s statement is a political smokescreen designed to relieve the pressure on the government from the international community to deal with the issue of the killings of HRDs.

“Front Line Defenders welcomes the fact that the State Prosecutor has initiated an investigation into the Minister’s statement but believes that the government of Colombia must immediately disassociate itself from the Minister’s comments and reiterate it’s full commitment to human rights and the protection of human rights defenders, as an integral part of the peace process”. said Andrew Anderson, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

At a time when the Colombian peace process is entering a critical phase, one of the key elements in guaranteeing the successful future implementation of the agreement is the restoration of trust in the institutions of state and in particular the criminal justice system and the security apparatus.

“At best the Minister’s statement shows a lack of understanding of the risks faced by human rights defenders in carrying out their peaceful human rights work. At worst it shows a cynical willingness to misrepresent the reality in which HRDs are attacked and killed on an almost daily basis”, said Anderson.

The prevailing climate of almost absolute impunity for these attacks on human rights defenders continues because of the lack of political will to address the systemic flaws in the state’s response to endemic violence, which the Minister, as the person in charge of the armed forces of the state, has a direct responsibility to address. Minister Villegas no longer has any credibility.

Andrew Anderson is Executive Director of Front Line Defenders



Colombia: Community leader murdered for standing up to palm oil

Hernan Bedoya – photo courtesy of Frontera Invisible



Author: Taran Volckhausen

Colombian community leader Hernan Bedoya, who defended collective land rights for Afro-Colombian farmers as well as local biodiversity in the face of palm oil and industrial agriculture expansion, was shot dead allegedly by a neo-paramilitary group on Friday, Dec. 5.

Bedoya was owner of the “Mi Tierra” Biodiversity Zone, located in the collective Afro-Colombian territory of Pedeguita-Mancilla. The land rights activist stood up to palm oil, banana and ranching companies who are accused of engaging in illegal land grabbing and deforestation in his Afro-Colombian community’s collective territory in Riosucio, Chocó.

According to the Intercelestial Commission for Justice and Peace in Colombia (CIJP), a Colombian human rights group, Bedoya was heading home on horseback when two members of the neo-paramilitary Gaitánista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AGC) intercepted him on a bridge and shot him 14 times, immediately killing him.

According to Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation (PARES), 137 social leaders have been killed across Colombia in 2017. Other observers have found lower numbers, but most track over 100 killed over the course of the year.

As one of more than an estimated 8 million people afflicted by five decades of armed conflict in Colombia, Bedoya had returned to his land with family in 2012 after being displaced by the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary group in 1996.

Following his return to the community, Bedoya fought alongside non-governmental organization to push back against powerful palm oil, banana and cattle interests. He wanted to ensure that the collective Afro-Colombian territory was protected from ongoing “invasions” that were cutting into his community agricultural lands and destroying protected areas set aside for their rich biodiversity.

Bedoya allegedly began receiving threats from illegal armed groups beginning in 2015. According to CIJP, the Colombian state, through the National Protection Unit (UNP), had given Bedoya a cell phone and a bullet-proof vest in an attempt to protect his life.

In June, CIJP denounced an industrial agricultural company for “destroying primary forests and resources for illegal industrial agriculture,” also claiming that their the group’s lawyer had singled out Bedoya’s biodiversity reserve as a target for parcelization and development.

“They are cutting the forests, destroying subsistence crops and causing displacement when they take over the family farms to plant plantain and palm oil projects,” said CIJP to local media.

On Thursday, 25 social leaders from Bajo Atrato and Urabá regions in Choco and Antioquia, who had received death threats or had relatives who were murdered, met in Bogotá to demand guarantees that they would be able to return to their territories. In order to protect their identities, the leaders wore masks to the press conference.

Social leaders from Bajo Atrato and Urabá wore masks to their meeting in Bogotá. Photo courtesy of Contagio Radio

The activists said they know of plans to kill several other land rights leaders in the region: Miguel Hoyos, Eustaquio Polo and María Ligia Chaverra, as well as two local communal leaders.

You can read the full article here



Money and Mining: the human cost of extracting wealth from the global south

Source The Ecologist

Authors: Hannibal Rhoades, Tatiana Garavito and Sebastian Ordoñez

Community leaders from Colombia, the Philippines and Uganda have been in London challenging attendees of the Mines and Money Conference.

Protesters confronted by armed police. Leandro Taques. Cachoeira Escura, Minas Gerais, Brazil.
London Mining Network

Environmental and Human Rights Defenders (EHRDs) from the frontlines of mining struggles in the Philippines, Colombia and Uganda travelled to London to expose the true costs of the UK’s extensive ties to the global mining industry and oppose the Mines and Money Conference.

The annual Mines and Money brought together more than 2,000 mining company representatives and investors hoping to cut deals that expand one of the world’s deadliest, most polluting industries.

Keynote speeches were delivered by Arron Banks, the Brexit financier, and Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader.. They provided advice on how mining companies can most ably exploit the political and economic climate post-Brexit, especially with regards to extracting wealth from the global south.

Mining-affected communities

The delegation of frontline defenders formed part of a week of creative action called Rise, Resist, Renew: Alternatives to Mines and Money. The action was designed to highlight London’s role in the expansion of global mining destruction, reminding UK citizens that deals struck here often mean displacement, destruction and death for communities living on mineral-rich lands around the world.

The express aim of Mines and Money, which took place last month, is to match-make big money with big mines, helping finance flow to new and undeveloped projects – it advertises itself as the event where ‘deals get done’.

The mines that result are getting bigger, deadlier and more prone to catastrophic disasters. Mining is currently the world’s most deadly industry for the people who stand in the way of mining projects, and for those who lose lands and livelihoods to its operations.

As a hub of global mining finance and power, London is a logical location for the conference. Many of the world’s biggest mining companies are listed on the London Stock Exchange and conduct their business through London. Still more companies are listed on the city’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM).

British high street and investment banks, pension funds and insurance companies invest hundreds of millions of pounds a year in mining projects across the globe, connecting working people’s earnings in Britain with the struggles of mining-affected communities around the world.

Government officials

The mining industry also enjoys deep and longstanding connections with the UK government, which often gives UK-based mining companies diplomatic support overseas, even when their activities are opposed by local people.

Just 101 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) collectively control over $1 trillion worth of Africa’s most valuable resources, according to a 2016 report from War on Want. They are enabled by the UK government’s power and influence.

The report highlights a pattern human rights abuses, forced migration and ecological destruction that is characteristic of neo-colonial extraction pervasive throughout the global south. This further demonstrates the UK’s role as a safe haven for the mining industry.

Around the world, the operations of UK-linked mining companies are facing staunch resistance from communities seeking to protect land, water and livelihoods from the impacts of mining. This resistance is rendered invisible at Mines and Money, which presides over panels on ‘responsible’, ‘sustainable’ mining without seeking contributions from affected communities.

Throughout the week of the conference, the delegation of EHRDs from Colombia, the Philippines and Uganda shared their experiences of the impacts of UK-linked mining projects in their territories, and of their resistance, with the UK public, NGOs and government officials.

Frontline defenders

Camila Mendez from youth collective COSAJUCA in Cajamarca, Colombia, shared her experience of Cajamarca’s recent popular consultation on mining, in which 98 percent of residents who turned out voted to ban AngloGold Ashanti’s planned La Colosa gold mine. Throughout the week, Camila called on the UK to support popular consultations, even as Colombia’s Central government seeks to restrict them.

“We are living in a mining dictatorship”, says Camila. “Our government needs to stop pushing mining and recognise the constitutional right of citizens to participate in popular consultations on the future of their territories. If Colombia is to have peace we must have environmental justice.”

Filipino human rights defender and Coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, Enteng Bautista, shared the violence environmental defenders opposing mining operations face in the Philippines as a result of mining interests, including those of British companies.

“The real risks are for those in the communities themselves”, says Enteng. “In the province of Batangas, Canadian and British mining interests are aiming to open large open cast gold mine operations near the town of Lobo. The local community strongly opposes the mine, which threatens an environmental disaster for farmers and fishing communities. Since August this year three local anti-mining activists have been killed and five environmental defenders were illegally arrested in Batangas.”

Resource speculation

The delegation of frontline defenders also took the opportunity while they were in London to share the alternatives to contested mining-based development, both in their territories and globally.

Alice Kazimura from the Buliisa Women’s Development Association, Uganda, joined campaigners via video link to share her community’s experiences of resisting the operations of Tullow Oil, an Anglo-Irish oil company registered on London’s Alternative Investment Market.

Alice’s community, Kakindo, is developing alternatives to the extractive mining-for-development model pushed by governments worldwide. “We are promoting alternative sources of energy, such as solar energy, so that we reduce dependence on fossil fuels and the need to extract more oil and gas”, says Alice.

“We have also been having practical women’s exchanges and experience sharing on the methods used for agro-ecological farming. These are farming methodologies suitable for a small piece of land and we are doing economic activities like weaving, which bring women together…creating safe spaces for women to deliberate on their own issues and do women’s movement building.”

Finite planet

The delegation of frontline defenders and their UK allies repeatedly stressed that minerals and metals are finite, so a future beyond extractivism is inevitable.

Rather than looking to a future of increased extraction to satisfy the minority economic interests behind extractive projects and over consumption in economically richer countries, we need to challenge an economic growth model that drives needless resource speculation, inequality, injustice, forced migration and climate change.

This journey starts, in part, by bringing the nexus of extractive power to account in safe havens like London. “We are here (in London) and wherever the mining companies go, we will go, to tell them we are against extractivism”, says Camila Mendéz.

“Through this visit we sent a clear message to global mining industry: when people come together in defence of their land and environment, there is nothing that can stop them. We cannot have infinite economic growth on a finite planet, there are many alternatives to the current development model, and we must explore them and implement them now!”

These Authors

Hannibal Rhoades is Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at The Gaia Foundation, a UK-based organisation working internationally to support indigenous and local communities to revive their knowledge, livelihoods and healthy ecosystems. Tatiana Garavito is a racial justice activist, an intersectional feminist and a co-founder of Organising for Change. Sebastian Ordoñez is the senior international programmes officer for War on Want.


Philippines: Human rights defender Father Marcelito Paez shot dead

On 4 December 2017, Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez, coordinator of the Rural Missionaries of Philippines in Central Luzon, was shot dead in Nueva Ecija.

Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez was a former parish priest in Gumbia and the regional coordinator of Rural Missionaries of Philippines in Central Luzon. In the 1980, he was the a leader of the Central Luzon Alliance for a Sovereign Philippines (CLASP), and campaigned for the removal of US military bases in Philippines. He was also an anti-nuclear activist.

On December 4, at around 8pm, Fr. Marcelito “Tito” Paez was shot while driving his vehicle in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija. He was shot by unidentified assailants riding a motorcycle. He was taken to San Leonardo Hospital where he died at 10.45pm. Earlier that day, Fr Marcelito “Tito” Paez assisted in facilitating the release of peasant organiser and political prisoner Rommel Tucay, who was detained at the provincial jail in Cabanatuan city.

The climate of impunity that prevails in the Philippines has resulted in the serious deterioration in the situation for human rights defenders in the country. Defenders of economic, social and cultural rights, including land and environmental defenders, are among the most targeted groups. Filipino NGO Karapatan reported there have been 98 victims of extrajudicial killings between July 2016 and September 2017. On 28 November 2017, HRDs Elisa Badayos and Eleuterio Moises were shot and killed in the Negros Oriental province.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the killing of Father Marcelito “Tito” Paez which it believes was solely motivated by their legitimate and peaceful activities in the defence of human rights in the Philippines.

Nicaragua: Another Indigenous Community Leader Killed by Colonos

Source IC Magazine

Ya Basta! A phrase known for its political and revolutionary connotations throughout much of the Spanish-speaking world, translates roughly into English as, ‘Enough is Enough!’

It is a statement of finality; a concrete call to action; a heightened call for awareness; and an official call of duty to end cultures of violence and impunity against Indigenous Peoples.

His name was Felipe Perez Gamboa. He was 24 years old.

According to Mark Rivas, who has aided in representing the Moskito Council of Elders at the United Nations, Gamboa was a leader of much distinction among the young people of the community of La Esperanza on the traditional Indigenous frontier region of Moskitia – located on the northern Caribbean coast of colonial Nicaragua and home to the largest tropical rainforest, second only to the Amazon, in the western world.

For his part, Rivas credited Cejudhcan Derechos Humanos – a local NGO whose founder, lawyer Lottie Cunningham, and staff, have been on the receiving end of death threats for their ongoing human rights work in the region –  with originally disseminating and confirming the tragedy to the larger community.

The traditional Indigenous frontier regions of Moskitia have been terrorized by mounting acts of deadly colonial violence, stemming from the expanding agricultural frontier and the rigidly nationalist agenda, since 2015.

IC first began reporting on the escalating tragedies in the traditional Indigenous regions in June of 2016.

Readers may refer to previous analyses here and in other outlets concerning the role of the Ortega government, neoliberalism, and the fraudulent banner of ‘Christian Socialism’ the fallen Sandinista leader still attempts to hang over his tenuous authoritarian rule.

As of right now, we can do no more than reach out to the Indigenous rights community in the rest of Latin America, and across the world, with the simple message, made famous by the Zapatsista, that ‘Enough IS Enough’.

It’s time to end this culture of impunity surrounding deadly violence against Indigenous Peoples – in this instance, those who are protecting the last bastions of a biodiverse, climate mitigating rainforest.


Intercontinental Cry (IC) is a non-profit newsroom that produces public-interest journalism centered on Indigenous rights and the environment. A project of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (a US-based 501(C)(3) founded in 1979), IC is led by journalists and academics of Indigenous descent.

Amnesty International New Report: States worldwide failing to prevent killings and disappearances of human rights defenders


States around the world are failing in their duty to effectively protect people who defend human rights, leading to an escalation in preventable killings and enforced disappearances, Amnesty International said in a new report.

The organisation’s new report, Deadly but Preventable Attacks: Killings and Enforced Disappearances of Those who Defend Human Rights, highlights the growing risks faced by human rights defenders – people from all walks of life who work to promote and defend human rights.

The report includes testimonies from friends, relatives and colleagues of human rights defenders, including environmentalists, LGBTIQ and women’s rights activists, journalists and lawyers, who have been killed or disappeared. Many described how victims’ pleas for protection had been repeatedly ignored by the authorities and how the attackers had evaded justice, fuelling a deadly cycle of impunity.

“We spoke to families of killed and forcibly disappeared human rights defenders all over the world, and kept hearing the same thing: these people knew their lives were at risk,” said Guadalupe Marengo, Head of Amnesty International’s Global Human Rights Defenders Programme.

“Their deaths or disappearances had been preceded by a string of previous attacks, which authorities turned a blind eye to or even encouraged. If states had taken their human rights obligations seriously and acted diligently on reports of threats and other abuses, lives could have been saved.”

Amnesty International’s new report brings together stories from around the world to illustrate the rise in preventable attacks on HRDs and highlights a chilling pattern of impunity. Cases include:

Berta Cáceres, a Honduran environmental and Indigenous activist who was shot dead in 2016 after years of threats and attacks.

Xulhaz Mannan, an LGBTIQ activist who was hacked to death in Bangladesh, along with his colleague, in 2016. Over 18 months later, justice is yet to take place.

Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, founder of a human rights organization in Burundi, who was shot in the face and neck in 2015. Months later, while he was recovering abroad, his son and son-in-law were killed.

The “Douma 4”, four Syrian activists who were abducted from their office by armed men in December 2013 and have not been seen since.

Pace of attacks increasing
When the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, the international community committed to protecting them and recognizing their crucial work. But Amnesty International’s report shows that championing human rights continues to be highly dangerous work, with thousands of human rights defenders killed or forcibly disappeared by state and non-state actors in the two decades since.

According to the NGO Front Line Defenders, at least 281 HRDs were killed globally in 2016 alone; this number has almost doubled since 2015. The true figure is likely to be much higher, as many defenders killed or forcibly disappeared may not be identified as such.

Amnesty International’s report reveals the motives behind these attacks are multiple and layered. Some people are attacked because of their occupations (for example, journalists, law professionals, trade unionists), for standing up to powerful actors violating human rights, for sharing information or raising awareness.

Others are at heightened risk of attack both for what they do and who they are, facing discrimination and violence. These people include those defending the rights of women; sex workers; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people; Indigenous peoples and other minority groups. Others are attacked in context-specific situations, for example during conflict or where communities are in the grip of organized crime and violent crackdown.

“Although the motives behind these attacks may vary, what lies behind them all is the desire to silence anyone who speaks out against injustice or challenge powerful interests. This silencing has a ripple effect in the wider community, creating a cycle of fear and undermining everyone’s rights,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

Impunity increases risk
When threats and attacks are not properly investigated and punished, the resulting climate of impunity erodes the rule of law and sends the message that HRDs can be attacked without consequences.

“My mother deserves justice and it’s imperative we shed light on the conspiracy that took place. It’s fundamental if we are to prevent further killings” said Bertha Zúniga, daughter of Honduran environmental and Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres (the founder of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras – COPINH – who was killed last year), said: “Prior to my mother’s death, there was a clear alliance between business interests, private security agents, state officials and organised crime. As these parties were complicit in my mother’s death, a thorough investigation is proving more and more difficult. My mother [Berta Cáceres] deserves justice and it’s imperative we shed light on the conspiracy that took place. It’s fundamental if we are to prevent further killings.”


We owe it to all those who have bravely defended our human rights at the cost of their lives to protect those who are continuing to advance their vital work

Amnesty International is urging all states to prioritize the recognition and protection of human rights defenders. Authorities must publicly support their work, and acknowledge their contribution to the advancement of human rights.

They must take all necessary measures to prevent further attacks on them, and bring to justice those responsible for attacks by effectively investigating and prosecuting killings and enforced disappearances.

Crucially, governments should send a clear public message that these human rights violations will not be tolerated.
“The brutal attacks documented in this report are the logical end point of a disturbing trend, where instead of standing up for human rights defenders many world leaders are putting them at increased risk through smear campaigns, the misuse of the criminal justice system or by falsely portraying them as opposed to national interests, effectively signalling contempt for the human rights of us all,” said Guadalupe Marengo.

“To reverse this dangerous narrative, states need to publicly recognize the key role that human rights defenders play. We owe it to all those who have bravely defended our human rights at the cost of their lives to protect those who are continuing to advance their vital work.”

This report is part of Brave, Amnesty International’s campaign launched last May calling on states to recognize the work of human rights defenders, and to ensure they are able to carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment.

Philippines: Karapatan lodges 25 cases of EJE’s with United Nations Special Rapporteurs

Source The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights advocate group Karapatan yesterday filed a second batch of complaints before the United Nations in connection with cases of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) allegedly perpetrated by state security forces of the Duterte administration.

In two separate letters dated Dec. 2 submitted to UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing Agnes Callamard and UN special rapporteur on human rights defenders Michel Forst, Karapatan called for the immediate investigation of 25 cases of summary killings committed “in line with the intensifying counter-insurgency program of the administration of President Duterte.”

“From one counter-insurgency program to another, cases of extrajudicial killings against peasants, indigenous peoples, Moro, workers, women and youth continue to be committed with impunity under the murderous Duterte regime,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said in the letter.

“We allege that state security forces are primarily responsible for these killings that are all in the context of a government program that makes no distinction between armed and unarmed civilians, thus providing a pretext for the arbitrary tagging of individuals, groups and movements as ‘enemies of the state’,” she added.

Karapatan submitted its first batch of complaints before Callamard and Forst in April of this year concerning 47 cases of EJKs under the Duterte administration.

Karapatan said that from July 2016 to October 2017, it has documented 104 victims of EJKs under Duterte’s counter-insurgency program. The group said this is on top of 20 incidents of forced evacuations and 17 cases of aerial bombardment.

“Duterte’s recent pronouncements and direct orders on the crackdown on progressive groups and on attacks against human rights defenders, political dissenters and ordinary folks embolden state forces to further violate people’s rights,” Karapatan’s new letter of complaint read.

Just last week, Duterte said he ordered the police and the military to shoot armed members of the communist group New People’s Army, adding that his office is already preparing an executive order declaring the NPA as terrorist group.

Duterte also said he would slap Callamard if she probes the EJKs in line with his administration’s war on drugs.

In its letter, Karapatan said Callamard and Forst, who are both under the Geneva-based Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), must hasten their investigation on the EJK cases in the Philippines as “most, if not all, of the perpetrators of human rights violations under the administrations of former Presidents Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and president Benigno Simeon Aquino III have not been brought to justice.”

The group attached to the letters documentation of each of the 25 EJK cases. The group said most of the victims were peasant leaders and members of various human rights advocate groups.

Among them were Carolina Arado, 52, a member of a progressive farmers’ group in Compostela Valley staunchly opposing the entry of large-scale mining corporations in the province.

Karapatan said Arado was killed by armed men believed to be members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ (AFP) 46th Infantry Battalion-Philippine Army on July 13, 2017 inside her residence in Mabini town. Arado’s husband Carlito and their four children were wounded from the incident.

The group also documented the killing of Daniol Lasib, 58, a barangay councilor and member of the B’laan tribe in Matanao, Davao Del Sur.

Karapatan said on May 26, 2017, Lasib was on his way to Dalapo medical clinic to visit his confined daughter when five gunmen fired at him and his companion. Lasib sustained 11 gunshot wounds, majority on his head, which caused his immediate death. His companion survived.