News

Statement on the death of human rights defender Father Stan Swamy

We are deeply saddened by the death in custody of Fr. Stan Swamy, 84 year-old Jesuit priest and human rights defender, on 05 July 2021, eight organisations said today.

Stan Swamy was repeatedly denied bail, and died at the Holy Family Hospital, in Mumbai, India having been placed on ventilator support the previous day due to breathing difficulties and oxygen level fluctuations. The defender spent 9 months in jail under the anti-terror law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA), denied bail and medical care in jail, and only transferred to a hospital when his condition became critical on 29 May.

Stan Swamy has been a dedicated advocate for the rights of Adivasi people, especially in the State of Jharkhand. He founded the Vistapan Virodhi Jan Vikas Andolan, an all-India platform to secure and protect the land rights of Dalit and Adivasi peoples, and was a prominent advocate against the forced displacement of Adivasi communities, typically occurring in the context of development and the mining of mineral-rich lands. He spoke out against the systemic discrimination and violence directed at the Adivasi community and he notably documented and advocated against the arrest of Adivasi youth, who are frequently accused of being “Naxalites” or “Maoists.” It is this work, that is his legacy, and also the reason for sustained reprisals against him. He has supported and inspired the most marginal and vulnerable communities to seek redress against violence and discrimination. His persecution and eventual arrest are direct reprisal for his peaceful work.

On 08 October 2020 the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in Ranchi, Jharkhand arrested Stan Swamy for alleged links to the violence that took place in Bhima Koregaon on 01 January 2018. 15 other prominent human rights defenders have been falsely accused and jailed in this case. Months prior to his arrest Stan Swamy was interrogated for nearly 16 hours by the NIA ostensibly linked to the case. We stand by Stan Swamy and other defenders accused and held under trial in this case, and believe they are being deliberately targeted for their human rights work. On 09 October, Stan Swamy was transferred 1,700 kilometres away from his home to Mumbai, Maharashtra, and remanded in the overcrowded Taloja Central Jail.

At the time of his arrest Stan Swamy was already suffering from Parkinson’s disease, significant loss of hearing in both ears, and other serious underlying health issues. Initially jail authorities denied him warm clothes and a sipper cup which he needed due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Bail was effectively out of reach due to the UAPA, and courts declined to intervene despite his age, illness, and the threat of Covid-19. On 22 October 2020, a special NIA court denied his interim bail plea filed on medical grounds. This is despite the pandemic and national moves to reduce congestion in prisons, as well as the Supreme Court of India’s own directives in this regard.

Throughout his time in detention Stan Swamy’s health gradually regressed. In the second week of May 2021 the defender’s lawyers again petitioned the court for his release on the grounds that he was suffering from Covid 19-like symptoms. At a hearing on 21 May 2021 Stan Swamy explained to the judge via video-link that when he arrived at the prison, his bodily systems “were very functional,” but over the 7 months he had spent in prison, “there has been a steady, slow regression” of his health. This request for bail was again denied.

Stan Swamy was eventually transferred from Taloja Central Jail to the Holy Family Hospital on 28 May 2021, when his condition had worsened severely. He tested positive for Covid-19 on 30 May. Throughout the month of June he remained in a critical condition, and was moved to the Intensive Care Unit. On Sunday 04 July he suffered a cardiac arrest, and was moved to ventilator support. In the days prior, he had expressed deep concern and worry regarding the bail hearing scheduled for 6 July 2021. The hearing was brought forward to 2.30 pm on 5 July. Stan Swamy died on an hour before his hearing, at 1.24 pm on 05 July.

His death in custody, and the continued incarceration of other defenders is a tragic indictment of India’s human rights record, and of the global community’s human rights commitments. India sits on the United Nations Human Rights Council and the Security Council, which carry specific human rights commitments. The international community, have failed to move beyond rhetoric in holding human rights standards as benchmarks of engagement. The EU’s private diplomatic efforts on his high-profile case, including during the recently-resumed closed-door local human rights dialogue, ostensibly failed.

This must be a wake-up call for the international community to finally put human rights at the centre of all aspects of their bilateral relationship with India. We particularly call on the EU and member States, to implement the numerous commitments undertaken in the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy, and many others. Standing united and without compromises by the EU’s founding values1 will be the only way to secure the release of many other human rights defenders arbitrarily held in India before they meet the same fate as Stan Swamy.

Stan Swamy penned a letter to his friends and colleagues in January 2021 to express his gratitude for the solidarity shown by people, to mark 100 days of him being in custody. “At times, news of such solidarity has given me immense strength and courage, especially when the only thing certain in prison is uncertainty.

We continue to stand in solidarity with Stan Swamy and we call for full accountability for his death. His spirit, courage and kindness will not be forgotten and will continue to inspire.

Signed:

Amnesty International

CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation

CSW

FIDH, in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

International Commission of Jurists

International Dalit Solidarity Network

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Footnotes:

1

Article 2 Treaty on European Union: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”; Article 21(1) Treaty on European Union: “The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.”

Philippines: Urgent Open Letter to Supreme Court and Justice Department, 7 June 2021

7 June 2021

Hon. Alexander G. Gesmundo
Chief Justice
Supreme Court of the Philippines

Hon. Menardo I. Guevarra
Secretary
Philippine Department of Justice

 

Dear Chief Justice Gesmundo and Secretary Guevarra:

Greetings of peace!

We, the undersigned civil society, religious organisations and individuals, are writing to you to express our profound and urgent concern on the recent extrajudicial killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention and threats through red-tagging against human rights defenders, including Karapatan human rights workers, human rights lawyers, trade unionists and public sector unions, and organizers of  community pantries in the Philippines.

The killings of trade unionists Emmanuel “Manny” Asuncion and Dandy Miguel, fisherfolk leaders and couple Ana Mari “Chai” and Ariel Evangelista, urban poor activists Melvin Dasigao and Mark Bacasno, and indigenous farmers Abner and Edward Esto and Puroy and Randy dela Cruz in March 2021 alone are disturbing incidents, following the killings of nine indigenous leaders in Capiz on December 30, 2020. Almost all were killed in the course of police and military operations, using questionable search warrants and the oft-heard “nanlaban” narrative. We note that these were the same reasons given by the Philippine National Police in the conduct of drug war operations in the
Philippines, and we find it deeply disturbing that the  same lines are being increasingly used now in the deaths of activists.

Human rights lawyers, including those who are assisting several petitioners against the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 at the Supreme Court, face threats and physical attacks. Women’s rights lawyer Evalyn Ursua reported that individuals onboard motorcycles are surveilling her and human rights lawyer Angelo Karl Guillen suffered stab wounds after unidentified men attacked him.

Arbitrary arrests and detention using the same pattern of questionable search warrants and through cases perfunctorily filed against human rights defenders without due process were also reported. Karapatan human rights workers Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna and most recently, Renalyn Tejero and Nimfa Lanzanas, were arrested and are currently detained based on these false charges. Along with Lanzanas, trade union leaders Elizabeth Camoral, Esteban Mendoza, Ramir Corcolon, Arnedo Lagunias, Eugene Eugenio and Pol Viuya, and peasant leader Joseph Canlas were arrested in March 2021.

Karapatan’s National Chairperson Elisa Lubi and rights workers Jayvee Apiag and Daisy Valencia, as well as six other Karapatan national officers – Cristina Palabay, Roneo Clamor, Gabriela Krista Dalena, Dr. Edita Burgos, Fr. Wilfredo Ruazol and Jose Mari Callueng – also continue to face judicial harassment. Indigenous people’s leaders and advocates Windel Bolinget, Jong Monzon, United Church of Christ of the
Philippines Bishop Hamuel Tequis and Lindy Perucho are likewise in the same situation.

All above-mentioned defenders and their organizations have been previously red-tagged. More recently, organizers of community pantries especially Ana Patricia Non, universities, journalists, public sector union leaders including unionists from the judiciary and Senate employees, educators from the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and health workers, have been victims of red-tagging by high government officials of the
National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

These recent attacks are the latest in the alarming and ongoing pattern of  criminalization and violence against human rights defenders in the Philippines.

In June 2020, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stated that “[p]ersistent impunity for human rights violations is stark, and practical obstacles to accessing justice within the country are almost insurmountable,” in
its report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

In August 2020, the OHCHR said it was “saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines” with the killings of activists Zara Alvarez and Randall Echanis. Pertaining to the Bloody Sunday incidents on March 7, 2021 in the country, the OHCHR said “[w]e are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and
“red-tagging” of human rights defenders.” United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor called “red-tagging” in the Philippines a context-specific death threat.

We believe that the incidents mentioned, in addition to the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is viewed by UN Special Procedures as “overbroad,” “vague” and with serious concerns on the exercise of human rights and civil liberties; the government’s anti-drug campaign; and the threats to press freedom and freedom of expression as well as against critics and opposition members contribute to pervasive climate of impunity.

We noted with appreciation the statement of the Supreme Court on the attacks against lawyers and judges and the Justice Secretary’s statement regarding red-tagging.

Given the gravity of the situation, we further enjoin you to:

1. Stop the killings, arbitrary arrests and detention, judicial harassment, threats and red-tagging against human rights defenders, trade unionists including public sector unions of court and Congressional employees, teachers and health workers, lawyers, journalists, community pantry organizers and mutual aid or humanitarian initiatives, among others;

2. Conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations into the killings, arrests, detentions, searches and other forms of persecution of human rights defenders. Those responsible must be held accountable;

3. Review and revise rules on the service of search warrants and issuances of arrest warrants against human rights defenders, which appears to be routinely used to judicially harass and arbitrarily detain them;

4. Review and revise rules on the privilege of the writs of amparo and habeas data to ensure that human rights defenders are afforded timely, relevant and comprehensive legal protection from threats to their lives, security and liberty, including red-tagging and gendered threats received by women and queer human rights defenders;

5. Act to repeal the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020;

6. Enact measures protecting human rights defenders and to criminalise red-tagging; and

7. Publicly recognize the legitimate and essential work of human rights defenders.

Sincerely,

1. Action Network Human Rights Philippines (AMP)
2. Action Solidarité Tiers Monde (ASTM)
3. Advanced League of Peoples’ Artists (ALPA), Australia
4. Anakbayan Canada
5. Anakbayan Melbourne
6. Anakbayan Ottawa
7. Anakbayan Sydney
8. Anakbayan Toronto
9. Arren Winton, Newport Australia
10. Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
11. Australian Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
12. Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, NSW & ACT Branch
13. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Australia
14. Bagong Alyansang Makabayan – Canada
15. Beaconsfield Initiative, Montreal,Canada
16. Burt Blackburn, Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church, Australia
17. Canada-Philippines Solidarity Organization (CPSO)
18. Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights (CPSHR Vancouver)
19. Center for Constitutional Governance (CCG), Uganda
20. Center for International Human Rights, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York
21. CIVICUS
22. Dave Kerin, Earthworker Cooperative, Australia
23. Dino Concepcion, Philippine Studies Network Australia
24. Emma Bridger, University of Birmingham, UK
25. FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
26. Fr. Claude Mostowik, MSC, Pax Christi Australia President and National Director
of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart Justice and Peace
27. Front Line Defenders
28. Gabriela Australia
29. Gabriela Australia – Victoria
30. Gabriela Central Coast
31. Gabriela Greater Sydney
32. Gabriela Western Australia
33. George Kotsakis, Convenor, Philippine Caucus for Peace (PCP)
34. Hans Gaasbeek, Foundation Day of the Endangered Lawyer
35. Hong Kong Campaign for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (HKCAHRPP)

36. International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI)
37. International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED)
38. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines
39. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Canada
40. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Europe
41. International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines-Quebec
42. International Service for Human Rights (ISHR)
43. Jack Endacott, Melbourne May Day Organisation, Australia
44. Jones Espino, United Church of Christ in the Philippines Missionary in South Korea
45. Just Associates (JASS)
46. KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives
47. Karapatan Alliance Philippines
48. Kevin Bracken, ILPS Australia
49. Kilusang Maralita sa Kanayunan (Kilos Ka)
50. Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU)
51. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
52. Legal Resources Centre from Moldova
53. Lingap Migrante (Sydney)
54. MADRE
55. Malaya Movement Canada
56. Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)
57. Margaret Williamson, Bena Victoria, Australia
58. MARUAH, Singapore
59. Marion Oke, Glenroy Victoria, Australia
60. May Kotsakis, Co-Chairperson, Philippines Australia Solidarity Association (PASA)
61. Melbourne May Day Organisation, Australia
62. MIGRANTE International, Philippines
63. Migrante Australia
64. Migrante-Canada
65. Migrante Melbourne
66. Migrante Melbourne East
67. Migrante Melbourne North East (Samahang Tatak Pinoy -STP)
68. Migrante Melbourne North West
69. Migrante Melbourne West
70. Migrante North (Sydney)
71. Migrante-Ontario
72. Migrante Perth (WA)
73. Migrante Southwest (Sydney)74. Mining Watch Canada
75. Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman, Hong Kong
76. Netherlands Philippines Solidarity Movement (NFS)
77. Network of Civil Society Organizations for the Observation and Monitoring of Elections in Guinea (ROSE)
78. Odhikar, Bangladesh
79. Ontario Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines (OCHRP)
80. Organisation Tchadienne Anti-Corruption (OTAC)
81. Paloma Polo, Moving Artists International
82. Philippines Australia Union Link
83. Philippine Australia Women’s Association (PAWA)
84. Philippine Caucus for Peace (PCP)
85. Philippine Studies Network of Australia (PINAS)
86. Prof. Gill Boehringer, Co-Chair Monitoring Committee on Attacks on Lawyers, International Association of People’s Lawyers
87. Promotion for Church People’s Response (PCPR) Australia
88. Radyo Migrante- Toronto Canada
89. Raul Diche, Chairperson, Migrante Melbourne West Chapter
90. Shirley Winton, Newport Victoria, Australia
91. Sr. Patricia Fox, Coordinator, Asia Pacific Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines
92. Spirit of Eureka, Australia
93. Steunfonds Filipijnen, Belgium
94. Stichting Ronoylion
95. Stop the Attacks Campaign – Japan
96. Sulong UBC (University of British Columbia, Canada)
97. Support Group for Toyota Motor Philippines Corporation Workers Association in Japan
98. Symone Gaasbeek-Wielinga, President of the Dutch League for Human Rights
99. The United Church of Canada
100. Tranby National Indigenous Adult Education & Training, Australia
101. Warren Winton, Newport Australia
102. World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
103. Xavier Cutillas, President of the Associació Catalana per la Pau – Catalan Association for Peace

Brazil: Impunity fuels the cycle of violence against land and environmental rights defenders in the state of Pará, Amazon region

Pau D'Arco MassacreResisting is the best way to honour their lives. Let us not be shaken.” 

José Vargas Junior

Brazil is one of the most lethal countries in the world for environmental activists and human rights defenders.1 Historically, the state of Pará has registered the highest rates of violence related to agrarian issues in Brazil; located in the Amazon region, it is the most violent state for land rights defenders. The episodes vary from evictions of rural workers, riverside communities or quilombolas; illegal mining, logging and occupation of indigenous areas; destruction of property and assets; physical attacks; arbitrary detention, criminalisation and killings.

This week marked ten years since the killings of environmental rights defenders José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espírito Santo, four years since the Pau d’Arco massacre in which 10 rural workers were murdered and four months since the killing of Fernando dos Santos Araujo, a survivor and key witness of the Pau d’Arco massacre case.

On 24 May 2011, José (Zé) Cláudio Ribeiro and María do Espírito Santo were shot dead in an ambush by gunmen on the road leading to the settlement project where they lived. Both were local leaders of the Praia Alta-Piranheira Agro-extractive Project and had received death threats for years by those opposed to their work denouncing illegal logging and in defence of the forest. Two men, Alberto Lopes do Nascimento and Lindonjonson Silva Rocha were sentenced in 2013 to more than 40 years in prison for involvement in the murders. The farmer appointed as the mastermind of the crime, José Rodrigues Moreira, was sentenced to 60 years in prison in 2016, yet police in Para have made no attempt to execute the arrest warrant; as such José Rodrigues Moreira remains a free man.

On 24 May 2017, in what is now widely known as the Pau D’Arco massacre, 10 rural workers and land rights defenders associated with Liga dos Camponeses Pobres – LCP were murdered on the Santa Lúcia farm by police officers. On 26 January 2021, land rights defender Fernando dos Santos Araújo was killed in his house on the Santa Lúcia farm. He was a survivor and one of the key witnesses against the 17 police officers in the Pau d’Arco criminal case. While investigations into the Pau D’Arco massacre saw some progress, no charges have been brought against those who ordered the operation, while the accused police officers were allowed to wait for the trial in freedom and return to active duty, some of them in the region of Pau D’Arco city. In addition, human rights defender José Vargas Sobrinho Junior , who is the lawyer of Pau D’Arco victims, has been facing a criminal investigation against him, considered by those who accompany the case to be an attempt to prevent justice for the Pau D’Arco Massacre.

In a video statement to honour the defenders on the anniversary of the massacre, Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs said “Defending land and environmental rights should never cost any one their life. Impunity for the murders of human rights defenders makes Brazil a very dangerous place for those peacefully defending the rights of others”.

Impunity in these notorious cases, among others, fuels the targeted violence against land and environmental rights defenders in Pará. The threats and murders of human rights defenders in Pará are endemic to the business practices of mining, logging and cattle ranching in this region, and indeed across the country, because resource extraction and agribusiness are prioritised over the lives of rural populations, indigenous communities and quilombolas.

Today, while Front Line Defenders & the HRD Memorial pay tribute to these land and environmental rights defenders and stands in solidarity with their families and communities, we also renew the call for proper investigations and justice for José Claudio Ribeiro and Maria do Espirito Santo, for the victims of the Pau d’Arco massacre, for Fernando dos Santos Araujo and for all those who have lost their lives in the struggle for human rights.

These could only be stories of death, but they are also – and mainly – stories of struggle.” Read statement by Comissão Pastoral da Terra and civil society in Brazil released on 24 May 2021.

Blog by Michelle Foley, HRD Memorial Coordinator

1 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor. Final Warning: death threats and killings of human rights defenders, available at https://undocs.org/A/HRC/46/35 and 2020 Global Witness Annual Report, available at: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/campaigns/environmental-activists/defending-tomorrow/

Aggressions against human rights defenders in Colombia; January – March 2021

Between January and March 2021, the Information System on Aggressions against Human Rights Defenders – SIADDHH – of HRD Memorial partners El Programa Somos Defensores confirmed 180 aggressions against human rights defenders in Colombia. That is to say, an average of two aggressions per day were committed through different types of violence: assassinations, threats, attacks, arbitrary detentions, prosecutions, forced disappearances and theft of information.

 

Threats are the aggression that reported the highest number of incidents (125), with 9% more than in the same period in 2020. Attacks (16 events) showed an increase of 14% (2 more events). Also confirmed were: assassinations (28 events), forced disappearances (5 events), arbitrary detentions (3 events), theft of information (2 events) and prosecutions (1 event).

 

Every 3 days a human rights defender was killed in the country. The leadership role that registers the highest number of assassinations is indigenous peoples rights defenders, followed by peasant and community leaders.

 

Download the bulletin here (in Spanish)

Oral Statement Delivered on Behalf of the HRD Memorial during the General Dialogue at the 46th Human Rights Council

ORAL STATEMENT

ITEM 3: GENERAL DIALOGUE

UN Human Rights Council

Forty-sixth Session

22 February-23 March 2021

 

Madam President,

We would like to thank the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders for drawing attention to the killings of those who defend human rights.

I deliver this statement on behalf of a coalition of 10 organisations1 who have been recording the increasing yearly toll. At least 331 individuals were killed in 2020 alone for daring to stand up for human rights. As in every previous year, impunity awaits the vast majority of those responsible. Most killings are recorded in Colombia, Philippines, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Afghanistan and Brazil. Around 70% of those killed were fighting to protect their land, territory and environment, many of them Indigenous people. Others were killed in contexts of conflict and repression. As the Special Rapporteur also stresses, these killings are usually preceded by threats and are preventable.2

We invite you to read their stories on the HRD Memorial website. Each one of their deaths is an indictment of the failure of States to live up to their commitment to uphold human rights and create a safe and enabling environment for those who defend them. These individuals should be at the forefront of our protection efforts.

We join the Special Rapporteur in urging states to commit to a true implementation of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and:

Recognise and applaud the key role played by human rights defenders, and stop smearing and stigmatizing them;

Take all necessary steps to counter the prevailing impunity in these cases and bring about real justice;

In consultation with defenders, design individual and collective protection programmes that address their needs;

Ensure that those who defend human rights are enabled to do so in a safe environment without fear of threats, attacks or reprisals.

Thank you

Delivered by Lisa Maracani, Amnesty International, on behalf of the HRD Memorial.

Watch the full session and statement on video (at 1h:56min) here.

HRD Memorial 2020 – overview

On 11 February 2021, Front Line Defenders launched its Global Analysis 2020 report on the situation of human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world, detailing the physical assaults, defamation campaigns, digital security threats, judicial harassment, and gendered attacks faced by HRDs, especially women and gender non-conforming human rights defenders.

The work of the HRD Memorial project was profiled in the report, including the names of the 331 HRDs who were killed in 25 different countries for carrying out their peaceful human rights work in 2020. of these 331 HRDs, 26% were working specifically on the rights of indigenous peoples, despite indigenous peoples only making up approximately 6% of the world’s population. The most at risk group were defenders working on land, environmental or indigenous peoples rights, who account for 69% of the HRDs killed.

Killings took place in 25 countries in 2020:

Afghanistan – 17 HRDs

Bolivia – 1 HRD

Brazil – 16 HRDs

Canada – 1 HRD

Chile – 4 HRDs

China – 1 HRD

Colombia – 177 HRDs*

Costa Rica – 1 HRD

Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – 1 HRD

Guatemala – 15 HRDs

Honduras – 20 HRDs

India – 6 HRDs

Indonesia – 2 HRDs

Iraq – 8 HRDs

Libya – 1 HRD

Mexico – 19 HRDs

Nepal – 1 HRD

Nicaragua – 2 HRDs

Pakistan – 1 HRD

Peru – 8 HRDs

Philippines (the) – 25 HRDs

South Africa – 1 HRD

Sweden – 1 HRD

Syria – 1 HRD

Thailand – 1 HRD

* Additional cases from the last quarter in Colombia are still in the process of verification.

Why are so many HRDs killed in Colombia?

Following the signing of the peace agreement (November 2016) and the demobilization of the FARC and in the absence of any, or at best limited, state presence or apparatus, new and existing armed groups assumed control of territories once controlled by the disbanded groups. Since 2017, these warring factions have competed to control the territories in pursuit of their illicit economic and trafficking activities. HRDs have been left exposed by the failure of the Colombian government to implement crucial elements of the peace agreement. Political leaders have stigmatised defenders who highlight the situation while in some cases the authorities gave withdrawn protection measures from leaders at risk. It has been left to HRDs to push for the implementation of crucial elements of the peace accords and to promote crop substitution programmes to their communities. These defenders, alongside those defending land, environment and indigenous peoples’ rights, are routinely targeted by defenders. Last year saw the added dimension of these armed groups violently imposing quarantines, mobility restrictions and forcing communities to comply as a means to better exert their control and limit the abilities of those opposing their illicit activities. The State’s response was to increase the military’s presence in these territories, which has been counter-productive and ultimately has increased the levels of violence and risk for communities and HRDs. Military personnel have also been denounced for their disproportionate use of force against civilians and HRDs.

Sirley Yesenia Muñoz Murillo from Programa Somos Defensores, Colombia comments at the Global Analysis 2020 report launch press conference.

Note on defenders killed in Canada, Pakistan and Sweden

2020 saw the shooting dead of one Baloch rights defender, Shaheena Shaheen*, in Pakistan, and the death in suspicious circumstances of 2 more Baloch rights defenders, Sajid Hussain and Karima Baloch. Both Hussain and Baloch were living in exile in Sweden and Canada respectively, after receiving threats to their lives in Pakistan as a result of their activism. Sajid, who had been living in Sweden since 2017, disappeared on 2 March and his body was found on 23 April in the Fyris river, north of Uppsala, Sweden. Similarly, Baloch disappeared in Toronto, Canada, on 20 December and her body was found on 21 December in a body of water off Toronto Island. While authorities in both Sweden and Canada have ruled that these deaths were accidental, the families and the human rights community in Balochistan are calling for more thorough investigations into these two drownings. *Shaheena Shaheen was shot dead in her home in Balochistan by her husband of five months, who reportedly wanted her to stop her activism and disapproved of the public profile her work brought her.

Human Rights Defenders – Profile pages

Over the course of the coming weeks and months an individual profile page for each of the HRDs killed in 2020 will be added to the HRD Memorial website.

This is a space dedicated to their memory. To remember and celebrate their human rights work.

If you would like to write one of these HRD Memorial profiles, please contact the HRD Memorial Project Coordinator, Michelle Foley michelle@frontlinedefenders.org

 

 

Inauguration of HRD Memorial monument in Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, Ireland

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson inaugurate a Memorial monument in Iveagh Gardens to commemorate the lives of human rights defenders who have been killed because of their peaceful work.

On Wednesday, 09 December 2020, International Human Rights Defenders Day, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson inaugurated the Human Rights Defender Memorial monument, dedicated to those who have been killed because of their peaceful work defending the rights of others.

The Memorial provides a physical space in the heart of Dublin city to recognise the important work of human rights defenders around the world, and pay tribute to the many brave and inspirational human rights defenders who have been silenced.

Designed by Grafton Architects, the monument is an Ogham garden, comprised of five standing stones, etched with ancient Irish Ogham script, each representing a native Irish tree. The space is enclosed by a crafted metal screen, on which are plaques, bearing the words of those who gave their life for their causes, and a bench encourages passers-by to sit and think about these brave individuals, who stood their ground.

The plaques include the following words spoken by environmental and indigenous peoples rights defender Bety Cariño at a gathering of human rights defenders in Dublin Castle in February 2010. Two months later she was shot dead during a peaceful solidarity procession in Northern Oaxaca, Mexico.

Today we want to live another history: we are rebelling and we are saying enough is enough. Today and here, we want to say that they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them, because despite their threats, despite their slander, despite their harassment, we continue to walk towards a sun which we think shines strongly”.

At the launch in Iveagh Gardens, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said: The Irish government is proud of its partnership with Front Line Defenders in supporting and promoting the work of human rights defenders. This memorial will represent a place where Irish people, and those who visit our shores, can come and pay tribute to human rights defenders worldwide who have lost their lives in the peaceful pursuit of human rights and equality for all.”

Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, Andrew Anderson spoke about the legacies of the defenders: “It is important to remember the peaceful defenders of human rights that the killers have tried to erase, but also to celebrate their lives and achievements. Natalya Estemirova, Floribert Chebeya and Bertha Caceres were murdered because they made a difference, and they continue to inspire a new generation of human rights defenders.”

UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mary Lawlor stated: Between 2015 and 2019 the UN documented the killing of 1323 human rights defenders in 64 countries. It is shocking and unacceptable that human rights defenders have been killed in almost a third of all member States of the United Nations.”

Özlem Dalkiran, a human rights defender from Turkey attended the unveiling and spoke about her colleague and friend Hrant Dink, a human rights defender and journalist who was shot outside the offices of the newspaper where he worked in 2007: By killing Hrant, they couldn’t kill his dreams. On the contrary they helped the seed he sowed to grow much faster.”

The Memorial monument in Dublin’s Iveagh Gardens is the physical form of the HRD Memorial project. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the launch in December 2020 was limited in scale. An international launch is planned for Spring 2021 which will include the voices of the HRD Memorial network partners.

REPRESIÓN CONTRA CODECA: LA PELIGROSA VOCACION DE EJERCER Y DEFENDER DERECHOS EN GUATEMALA

De acuerdo con un nuevo informe de CODECA 14 miembros de la organización han sido asesinados desde enero de 2018, en el contexto de una campaña de amenazas y ataques directos.

La represión es un mecanismo para frenar las luchas de los pueblos que defienden sus derechos frente a los intereses voraces de sectores de poder económico. En Guatemala CODECA es el movimiento social más perseguido y criminalizado en los últimos años.

En menos de dos años (de Enero 2018 a Septiembre 2019) 14 personas defensoras de DDHH integrantes de CODECA han sido asesinadas. En este mismo lapso de tiempo un total de 5748 personas defensoras han recibido diferentes tipos de agresiones. Los casos más frecuentes son criminalización,

amenazas colectivas a comunidades, amenazas directas a la integridad de defensores o sus familias y encarcelamientos. No se cuantifica en este documento las víctimas de las campañas de difamación y estigmatización, estos afectan masivamente a todas las familias organizadas en CODECA.

Todos los casos de represión contra CODECA siguen en la impunidad. Casi siempre, el sistema de justicia en Guatemala es utilizado por los sectores de poder para perseguir y criminalizar a defensores/as y organizaciones que defienden

DDHH. La respuesta estatal a la represión, siempre ha sido nula. El mismo gobierno central de Guatemala es uno de los actores que ha estigmatizado a las organizaciones y a las personas defensoras de DDHH. No hay voluntad política por

parte del gobierno de atender esta problemática.

Como mecanismo de defensa por parte de CODECA ante la represión, se han implementado diferentes estrategias, una de ellas es que se a seguido muy bien la consigna que dice “Ante mayor represión, mayor organización”. Se ha implementado una estrategia de comunicación mediante una red nacional

de comunicadores comunitarios que trabajan redes sociales y una Radio, Radio Victoria la Voz de los Pueblos. A nivel nacional también se ha articulado una red de defensores/as comunitarios para generar mecanismos de apoyo mutuo y respuestas ante la represión.

A pesar de la adversidad, CODECA ha logrado crecer a nivel nacional. Ha fortalecido su lucha por la defensa de los DDHH, la Madre Tierra y el Territorio. Ha avanzado cada vez más en el posicionamiento público de la propuesta de construcción del Estado Plurinacional y el Buen Vivir de los pueblos, mediante

un proceso de Asamblea Constituyente Popular y Plurinacional (ACPP). Una apuesta es lograr que los pueblos y sectores históricamente excluidos sean sujetos/as de derechos, y la Madre Tierra sea concebida y protegida como fuente de vida y no como recurso para ser explotado.

Two Years On, The Death of Santiago Maldonado Opens Old Wounds for Argentina

By Ligimat Perez for Front line Defenders

Santiago Maldonado disappeared while protesting for the right to land. Not for his own, since he was born into a prosperous family in the province of Buenos Aires. Two years ago, on the 1st of August 2017, he was protesting for the right of the Mapuche people to a piece of Argentinian Patagonia.

His body was only found months later, on October 17, but the actual circumstances of his death remain a mystery for many people. The judge in the case, Gustavo Lleral, found that there was no crime: “Maldonado drowned due to immersion in water aggravated by hypothermia. However he omitted to mention that the autopsy had also determined that this was a case of “violent death”.

Various witnesses and family members have stated that this was a case of forced disappearance. They have given evidence that the 28 year-old was arrested by members of the gendarmerie (a military police unit) near the Chabut River where he was seen for the last time during the police clamp down on the protest organised by the members of the “Pu Lof en Resistencia” community.

The case has caused a lot of controversy in Argentina, where it has awoken memories of the forced disappearances that took place during the military dictatorship and intensified the existing political polarisation in the country.

There have been numerous protests, some with the participation of former president Cristina Kirchner. There have also been discussions on television, editorials in the newspapers, posters and paintings with the picture of Santiago in the streets and on social media.

In no way could he be considered a typical human rights defender. El Lechuga, as he was known in the University of Plata where he studied fine art, was a handsome backpacker, who wore dreadlocks and made his living doing tattoos and craftwork. He was a nomad who got involved in many different causes, which inspired the murals he used to paint in the streets.

There was a theme connecting all the work that he did during his life: “He believed that we all have a right to a small piece of the earth where we were born”, says his older brother Sergio Maldonado, who has been leading the campaign and acts as the main spokesperson for the Maldonado family. Some of his murals speak of this, as well as his opposition to the use of pesticides and the rights of indigenous peoples to the land.

Maldonado, who since April 2017 was living in the Patagonian region of El Bolsón, had gone to Cuchamen where he joined the protest of the “Pu Lof en Resistencia” community. Since 2015 the Mapuche people have occupied a piece of the large lot of land bought by businessman Luciano Benetton, of the famous Italian clothing company. The Mapuche consider these their ancestral lands.

The land dispute between the Mapuche and Benetton has been going on for two decades. In 2002, a Mapuche community was accused of usurpation after returning to their ancestral land (625 hectares of the 900,000 that Benetton bought in four Argentine provinces). After unsuccessful attempts to resolve the conflict, they were evicted. The same story was repeated in 2007, and again in 2015.

These years of conflict have not paid off for the Mapuche. Their leaders have been persecuted both in Chile and in Argentina, they have been described as terrorists and their protest on both sides of the border has been criminalized and repressed with an excess of violence which has been the subject of repeated official complaints.

The same pattern of excessive use of force was repeated on the 1 August 2017 in Chubut when the police clamped down on the protest and when Santiago Maldonado was seen for the last time.

Although the death of Santiago remains a mystery, there is no doubt about the struggle that the Mapuche and many other indigenous peoples are fighting today in Latin America in the face of mega projects, monoculture and engineering works that threaten what remains of their ancestral lands.

According to figures from Front Line Defenders, in the last year alone approximately 250 people have been killed around the world for their work in defending the rights of indigenous peoples, the right to land and environmental rights.

“It’s not that Santiago’s life is worth more than another life. It’s just that if his death goes unpunished, you feel that it is setting a bad precedent”, says Sergio Maldonado. “In Argentina there has been a long fight to defend human rights and combat disappearances. This is a step backwards.”