News

Philippines: Peasant leader gunned down in Quezon by suspected army member

On 25 February, Gilbert Bancat, 32, a coconut farmer and peasant leader in Quezon, was gunned down in Brgy. Camflora, by an unidentified assailant, thought to be a member of the private army of a landlord in the area. The killer is also thought to be a member of the Philippine Army.

The assailants stood five meters from the victim and shot him twice. An elderly bystander, another coconut farmer, Angel Carabot, was also hit. Both were taken to Lucena Hospital, where Bancat was later declared dead. Carabot is still in a critical condition.

Gilbert Bancat was a peasant organiser of the Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist and had taken part in numerous dialogues with the local landowner in an attempt to negotiate a fair share of the land for local farmers who, because they have no title to the land, are unable to get a fair share of the coconut harvest.

Gilbert had been warned that he should stop supporting the farmers because his name was on an army hit list. Prior to the killing there had been reports of unknown men around the hacienda asking for Bancat’s whereabouts. On 23 and 24 February two unknown men on a motorcycle were seen driving around Bancat’s house. The next day he was shot dead.

Brgy. Camflora is situated within the 385-hectare Hacienda Uy in San Andrés town, Quezon province. Tenant farmers plant coconut trees, bananas, root crops, corn and other vegetables. At least 300 families are affected by the landowner’s attempts to circumvent the agrarian reform programme’s reallocation of at least 350 hectares of land in the Hacienda. At least 82 farmers have been tilling this land for more than six years; one of them has been farming in the area since 1954. Yet, for years, they have been unable to obtain an equitable share in the proceeds of the coconut harvest, as they remain landless because of the landowner’s refusal to include the land in the agrarian reform programme.

 

Pakistan: Prominent human rights lawyer shot dead in Shabqadar

 

On Saturday 04 March unidentified gunmen shot a prominent human rights lawyer dead in what appears to have been a targeted killing, in Shabqadar, near the Afghanistan border.

The gunmen who were travelling on a motor cycle drew up alongside the car and shot Muhammed Jan Gigyani as he was driving through the city. He was critically wounded and died en route to hospital. Gigyani was a prominent human rights lawyer affiliated with the secular Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). He was a senior member of the Charsadda Bar Association and had previously served as the Shabqadar Bar Association president.

Muhammed Jan Gigyani was also affiliated with several small political parties at local level and always spoke out against terrorism and injustice. According to local community leaders “he was a staunch supporter of democracy, human liberty, education and peace”. He had twice stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in the general elections for the Provincial Assembly.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), the banned militant group responsible for many of the recent militant attacks in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Shabqadar, where the lawyer was gunned down, is located near Mohmand Agency and falls in Charsadda district, where suicide bombers killed at least seven people near a court complex on 21 February  in an attack claimed by JuA.

On 15 February, the group also carried out a suicide attack on the headquarters of the Mohmand Agency’s political administration, killing three law enforcement personnel and two civilians.

The most devastating suicide attack carried out by the group was on 13 February at Charing Cross on Lahore’s busy Mall Road. The bombing, which targeted police officials present at a protest, left 13 dead and 85 injured. Pakistani officials say JuA has been planning attacks and operating from Afghanistan.

 

Philippines: Husband and wife who donated land to indigenous community school assassinated

On Thursday, 2 March, Jimboy Tapdasan Pesadilla was contacted by a neighbour to go to his parent’s house urgently. When he got to the house, he found several neighbours outside the house and a team of police inside, taking pictures. His father and mother had both been shot dead.

Ramon Dagaas Pesadilla and his wife Leonila Tapdasan Pesadilla were both active members of the Compostela Farmers’ Association( CFA). The CFA has been vocal in its opposition to major mining projects in the area, and as a result their members have been regular targets for the security forces and thugs hired by the mining companies. Ramon and Leonila had recently donated land for a Lumad community school. This had made them a particular target for attack as the security forces accuse indigenous community schools of fostering support for the New People’s Army (NPA – the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines which has been waging an armed struggle against the government of the Philippines since the 1960’s). Human rights groups have reported an upward trend in human rights violations against indigenous people ever since fighting resumed between communist rebels and government forces following the termination of both parties’ unilateral ceasefires early last month.

These latest killings bring to 18 the number of killings of HRDs and members of peasant communities since the start of 2017.

 

COLOMBIAN HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDER RUTH ALICIA LOPEZ GUISAO SHOT DEAD IN MEDELLIN

On 02 March 2017 Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao was in Medellin visiting her family when she was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen.

Ruth Alicia worked with a group of 12 indigenous and afro descendant communities on a food security project organised by the “Cumbre Agraria”. Both Ruth Alicia and her family are respected community leaders recognised for their sense of social responsibility and their solidarity with the communities in which they have lived.  As a result of this social engagement, in health and education projects, Ruth Alicia and her family had been repeatedly threatened and forcibly displaced by paramilitary groups on two occasions.

 

On 2 March 2017, Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao was visiting family members in the Olaya Herrara neighbourhood in Medellín, Colombia, when she was assassinated by unidentified gunmen. According to witnesses, Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao was shot several times by two men while she was at her brother’s restaurant.

The killing of Ruth Alicia brings to 25 the number of community leaders and HRDs killed in Colombia since the start of this year. In its 2017 Annual Report, which covers the period January December 2016, Front Line Defenders reported 281 killings of HRDs worldwide. Eighty-six of those killings took place in Colombia, which makes Colombia the country with the highest number of killings of HRDs in the world.

The day after the killing Ruth Alicia’s sister received a phone call from someone in the area warning her that there was a rumour going around that the killers were waiting for Ruth Alicia’s sisters and mother to appear at the funeral so that they could be picked off too.

As a result of her social engagement in health and education projects, areas in which paramilitary militias want to retain control, Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao and her family had been repeatedly threatened and forcibly displaced by paramilitary groups on several occasions. The day after the killing, Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao’s sister received a phone call from someone in the area warning her that there was a rumour that the killers were waiting at the funeral of Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao to target her sisters and mother.

The Colombian government signed a peace deal with FARC rebels in November, but this has not made the country safer for indigenous and human rights activists. Instead, 2016 and the early months of 2017 have actually been some of the most dangerous times for activists, which some attribute to the power vacuum in areas historically controlled by FARC as they disarm. Despite all evidence to the contrary the government continues to maintain the position that these killings are neither systematic nor linked to paramilitary activity.

Front Line Defenders condemns the killing of WHRD Ruth Alicia Lopez Guisao which is believed to be linked to  her work in defence of the rights of her community. Front Line Defenders  is also concerned at the increase in  the number of killings of HRDs in Colombia. The government has invested too much effort in questioning whether some of the victims were actually HRDs rather than taking effective action to prevent the killings from happening.

 

Hoy Hace un Año, Asesinaron a Berta Caceres en Honduras

Hoy hace un año, asesinaron a Berta, la defensora de la vida, luchadora de siempre, mujer viento libre, palabra certera y cuidadosa. Una mujer a quien la belleza le importaba en el sentido más hondo del término. Esa que evidencia la vulgaridad de los políticos de oficio, seres humanos que una desea lejos de los poderes de la vida colectiva hondureña, que se desprecian tanto como se desprecia al dictador y su séquito obsceno de abundancia en el epicentro de la miseria.

Desde esta fecha, en la que Berta, semilla de rebeldía fue sembrada, en el que cientos de personas repudiamos el hecho, de que en este país se asesine a quien defiende los bienes comunes, hicieron sentir en las calles y en distintos medios la solidaridad tanto nacional como internacional y con esto lograr frenar el financiamiento del Banco holandés FMO y del banco finlandés Finnfund, principales financiadores del proyecto hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca.

Aunque la exigencia de justicia para Berta no ha cesado, el Ministerio Público no ha logrado dar una respuesta favorable a esta petición, pues quienes ordenaron éste tan terrible crimen continúan en libertad, pese a los hallazgos encontrados de la relación cercana entre los detenidos y la empresa Desarrollo Energético S.A. (DESA), empresa responsable de implementar el proyecto hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca en territorio indígena Lenca sin un verdadero proceso de consulta previa e informada, como lo establece el Convenio 169 de la OIT sobre los pueblos indígenas.

Hoy hace un año, asesinaron a Berta, la defensora de la vida, luchadora de siempre, mujer viento libre, palabra certera y cuidadosa. Una mujer a quien la belleza le importaba en el sentido más hondo del término. Esa que evidencia la vulgaridad de los políticos de oficio, seres humanos que una desea lejos de los poderes de la vida colectiva hondureña, que se desprecian tanto como se desprecia al dictador y su séquito obsceno de abundancia en el epicentro de la miseria.

Desde esta fecha, en la que Berta, semilla de rebeldía fue sembrada, en el que cientos de personas repudiamos el hecho, de que en este país se asesine a quien defiende los bienes comunes, hicieron sentir en las calles y en distintos medios la solidaridad tanto nacional como internacional y con esto lograr frenar el financiamiento del Banco holandés FMO y del banco finlandés Finnfund, principales financiadores del proyecto hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca.

Aunque la exigencia de justicia para Berta no ha cesado, el Ministerio Público no ha logrado dar una respuesta favorable a esta petición, pues quienes ordenaron éste tan terrible crimen continúan en libertad, pese a los hallazgos encontrados de la relación cercana entre los detenidos y la empresa Desarrollo Energético S.A. (DESA), empresa responsable de implementar el proyecto hidroeléctrico Agua Zarca en territorio indígena Lenca sin un verdadero proceso de consulta previa e informada, como lo establece el Convenio 169 de la OIT sobre los pueblos indígenas.

Continuamos demandando al Estado de Honduras la participación activa del equipo legal que acompaña el caso como del COPINH, para que la investigación sea efectiva, además de garantizar el respeto a la integridad física de quienes forman parte del Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras COPINH Y los familiares de Berta Cáceres.

A estas demandas nos sumamos muchas voces desde diversas regiones, hace un año que exigimos justicia y lo continuaremos haciendo por Berta y las luchas del pueblo lenca.

Video coproducido por Front Line Defenders y la IM-Defensoras, con la contribución de la Red Nacional de Defensoras de Derechos Humanos en Honduras en el relato y la narración.

#BertaVive
#COPINHSigue
#JusticiaParaBerta

Colombia: 80 Killings & 49 Attempted Killings of Human Rights Defenders in 2016

In its Annual Report for 2016 entitled, “Human Rights Defenders on the Ropes” (Contra las Cuerdas” Colombian human rights organisation Programma Somos Defensores documents 80 killings of human Rights defenders (HRDs) and 49 attempted killings in the same year in which a peace agreement was finally signed with the FARC.

Ironically even though general levels of violence in the country have decreased by 29% the number of targeted killings of HRDs has actually increased. The corresponding figure for 2015 was 63.

While the level of violence may have dropped in percentage terms Colombia still remains one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a HRD with 317 instances of threats against HRDs, 80 killings, 49 attempted killings, 17 arbitrary detentions, two cases of disappearance, nine cases of arbitrary use of the justice system, 6 instances of digital attacks on human rights organisations and one case of sexual violence.

It is worth noting that of the 80 cases, 34 took place in the provinces of Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander, Nariňo and Valle del Cauca. According to Carlos Guevara of Programma Somos Defensores “The vast majority of these killings took place in rural areas. The victims were mainly local community leaders who did not have a high national profile but who nevertheless played an essential role in defending the rights of indigenous, peasant and afro descendant communities, as well as the rights of women and members of the LGBT+ community.

According to Guevara “ in recent times the killers have taken a new approach. By targeting leaders at the local level they are deliberately trying to fragment and break up the human rights movement while avoiding the political cost of killing a high profile leader”.

Another key point is that more than half of these killings have been carried out by paramilitary groups even though the government tries to maintain that paramilitary groups no longer exist. Despite the fact that 500 HRDs have been killed in the last 10 years neither the government nor the State Prosecutor’s Office has recognised the systematic nature of the killings. Nor have they developed a proper system to document these cases.

Human rights defenders play a vital role in implementing the peace agreement at the local level yet at the moment they are largely unprotected.

You can find the full text of the report in Spanish here

Leader of indigenous Tolupan people assassinated in Honduras

 

According to reports in local media on the morning of Friday, 17 February, José de los Santos Sevilla, leader of the indigenous Tolupán people, was shot dead in his home in the community of La Ceiba in Montaña de la Flor, Francisco Morazán, in central Honduras.

José de los Santos Sevilla, a teacher and community leader, was at home with his family when 5 heavily armed men broke into his house and shot him multiple times. José de los Santos Sevilla died instantly. The National Police have opened an investigation, and a mobile forensic unit as well as a team from the Special Murder Investigations Unit (Unidad Especial de Homicidios) have been sent to the area to carry out an investigation.

The National Commission for Human Rights, CONADEH, has requested protective measures for the residents of Yerba Buena and La Ceiba given the high levels of violence in the area from criminal gangs. The level of violence is such that an estimated 20 children have stopped going to school because of attacks. There is concern that this will lead to another forced displacement of the community.

According to a recent Global Witness report, “For nearly a decade, Tolupan indigenous peoples from northern Honduras have been threatened, criminalised and killed for taking a stand against illegal logging and mining operations which have pillaged their resources without consulting communities. The Tolupan are the most marginalised indigenous group in Honduras, living in extreme poverty in remote rural areas with little access to basic services”.

During her visit to Honduras in November 2015  Mrs Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said “The murders of indigenous leaders defending their lands, including numerous Tolupan, Garífuna, Lencas, Chortís and Pech leaders, are among the most frequently reported cases appearing before the Special Prosecutor for Ethnic and Cultural Heritage, along with cases of injuries, attempted Homicide and violence against indigenous women, “

Quezon – the Philippines: Assassination of Indigenous Rights Defender

On 3 February, 2017 Renato Anglao was travelling back home on his motorcycle with his wife and 5 year old child after buying some school supplies in the town centre in Quezon, Bukidnon when suddenly another motorcycle, with three unidentified men on board, drove alongside and shot Renato Anglao twice in the head. He died instantly. The three men, wearing hoods over their heads, sped off after the incident. Renato was rushed to hospital but was declared dead-on-arrival. Renato’s wife and child, though still in shock, were uninjured.

Renato Anglao was an active member of the TINDOGA, an indigenous peoples’ organisation representing the Manobo-Pulangion tribe in Brgy. Botong, Quezon, Bukidnon. TINDOGA staunchly opposes the entry of agri-business plantations which are encroaching on their ancestral lands. They won back their ancestral land and had secured its legal title two years ago despite moves by Rancho Montalvan, owned by Maramag Vice Mayor Pablo Lorenzo, to introduce a plantation on it.

The members of TINDOGA have been accused of supporting the CPP-led New People’s Army which killed three military personnel in an armed clash on February 1.

Chihuahua – Mexico: Second Indigenous Rights Defender Killed in 2 weeks

Two weeks after the killing of Goldman Environmental Prize winner Isidro Baldenegro Lopez another indigenous and land rights defender Juan Ontiveros Ramos has been killed in the same area. The killing took place at a time when there were hundreds of police in the area monitoring a protest against a gas pipeline.

On 31 January, unidentified armed men broke into the family home of Juan Ontiveros Ramos in Guadalupe y Calvo municipality, beat him and other family members and forcibly took him away. Witnesses heard gunshots immediately after. On 1 February, Juan Ontiveros’ body was found elsewhere in the same municipality.

Just days before Juan Ontiveros had taken part in a meeting with indigenous leaders and representatives of the State Prosecutors office, as well as state and federal officials, to discuss the increasingly dangerous situation in the region.

Juan Ontiveros and members of the community have been campaigning to protect the forests of the Sierra Madre from the depredations of illegal loggers who use criminal gangs to intimidate the community. In 2013 community leaders Jaime Zubías and Socorro Anaya Ramos were killed in similar circumstances. To date there has been no progress in the investigation into their deaths.

You will find further information on the killing of Juan Ontiveros Ramos here