Colombia: Six human rights defenders killed during the first week of 2019

Six human rights defenders, Maritza Quiroz Leiva, Wilson Pérez Ascanio, José Rafael Solano, Wilmer Antonio Miranda, Jesús Adier Perafán, and Gilberto Valencia were killed in violent attacks in Colombia during the first week of 2019.

Maritza Quiroz Leiva was a woman human rights defender, deputy of the Victims Committee of Santa Marta (Mesa de Víctimas of Santa Marta) and the leader of a group of Afro-Colombian women who have been victims of enforced displacement in rural areas. She advocated for the rights of all victims of the Colombian conflict, especially regarding situations of enforced displacement, which she suffered herself, and of the Afro-community that she was a part of.

At 3am on 7 January 2019, Maritza Quiroz Leiva was killed by unidentified armed men who broke into her rural property in San Isidro, in Sierra Nevada, Santa Marta. Before the armed men entered her house, Maritza Quiroz Leiva asked her son Luis Camilo Bermúdez Quiroz to hide under the bed, from were he heard the shots. He ran to a police station as soon as the killers left.

Wilson Pérez Ascanio was a human rights defender, social leader, and member of the Movement for the Popular Constituent (Movimiento por la Constituyente Popular, MCP). On 5 January 2019, he was shot by unidentified armed men on a motorcycle in Hacarí, Norte de Santander. He was transferred to a nearby hospital in La Playa de Belén, but died in the early hours of 6 January 2019.

José Rafael Solano was a human rights defender, president of the Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal) and social leader. At 5pm on 4 January 2019, unidentified armed men shot him dead in front of his house, between the municipalities of Zaragoza and Caucasia, in Bajo Cauca, Antioquia. His family witnessed the crime.

Wilmer Antonio Miranda was a human rights defender and member of the Cajibio Peasant Workers Association (Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos de Cajibio), of the National Asociation of Peasant Reserves (Asociación Nacional de Zonas de Reserva Campesina), the National Coordination of Coca, Amapola and Marijuana Cultivators (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores de Coca, Amapola y Marihuana), and the Social and Political Coordination Patriotic March in the Cauca region. At 6pm on 4 January 2019, he was shot by four unidentified men, dressed as civilians, and died immediately.

Jesús Adier Perafán was a social leader and citizen inspector of the Caicedonia municipality, as well as the founder of the Courage Caicedonia (Coraje Caicedonia) political organisation and president of the Community Action Board (Junta de Acción Comunal) of the Valle del Cauca neighbourhood. On 1 January 2019, he was shot at repeatedly while he was at the grocery store by unidentified armed men, who subsequently escaped on motorcycles. Jesús Adier Perafán was taken to the Santander de Caicedonia Hospital, where he died of his gunshot wounds. The investigations are facing difficulties due to the lack of witnesses to the attack.

Gilberto Valencia was a human rights defender, social leader, peace-builder and cultural manager of the Suárez municipality in Cauca, who worked to disseminate the terms of the Colombian Peace Agreement through music. He was also the leader of the “Los Herderos” group, and won an award in 2015 for his social enterpreneurship. He was shot dead during a New Year’s Eve celebration with his family and friends in the municipality of Suárez, Cauca. A lone gunman, believed to have been known to Gilberto Valencia in the context of his social work, is understood to have carried out the attack with an altered firearm.

Colombia has seen an increase in violence against human rights defenders since the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC-EP. Two years on, the State has failed to implement most of its obligations, including establishing an integrated presence in rural regions. This has has led to a number of illegal armed groups fighting for control of the areas previously occupied by FARC-EP, which puts human rights defenders at an increased risk.

Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned about the wave of killings of human rights defenders in Colombia, which witnessed more killings of defenders than any other country worldwide in 2018. The epidemic has already reached extremely worrying heights during the first week of 2019. Front Line Defenders is noticing a pattern of killings against defenders in the country, which often feature armed attacks by unidentified armed men.

Philippines: at least six persons killed in security clampdown, including HRDs Jesus “Dondon” Isugan, Reneboy Fat and Jaime Revilla

Source Karapatan

Initial reports from several sources state that at least six persons were killed during a security clamp down on 27 December, including HRDs Jesus “Dondon” Isugan, son of peasant organisers Delia and Dominador Isugan; habal-habal drivers Reneboy Fat and Jaime Revilla, who are also community organisers; and Demetrio Fat, cousin of a peasant organizer. The six were reportedly killed as the PNP and AFP served search warrants in their homes, alleging their possession of firearms.

Sixteen others have been reportedly arrested, including peasant organizer Margie Baylosis, cousin of Joey Baylosis, also a peasant organizer who was arbitrarily arrested with 5 others in Mabinay, Negros Oriental. According to relatives of Margie Vailoces, no search warrants were shown by the police and military to those in the home of the Vailoces family. Firearms were also planted in their residence. Confirmation on the arrests of other peasant organizers will continue, but copies of said search warrants used to justify the arrests are not being shown by the police.

These killings and arrests are reportedly being conducted in line with Pres. Duterte’s orders to destroy the communist movement, including those in its so-called legal fronts, and the police crackdown against crime. These violations come after the massacre of nine farmworkers in Sagay, Negros Occidental; the killing of Atty. Benjamin Ramos in Sipalay, Negros Occidental; the arrest of peasant leaders including Ricky Canete in Sagay City; the relentless threats, villification and harassment against development and human rights workers; and military operations in communities.

Colombia: Assassination attempt against Lidia Gómez and killing of indigenous and campesino human rights defenders

13 December 2018

Source Front Line Defenders
Between 21 November 2018 and 7 December 2018, six indigenous and campesino human rights defenders were killed in Colombia. On 8 December 2018, the Awá leader and woman human rights defender Lidia Gómez suffered an assassination attempt. All of these defenders were working to protect their economic, social and cultural rights in the regions of Cauca, Nariño and Norte de Santander.

Lidia Gómez is the current leader of the Awá indigenous peoples’ Alto Cartagena reserve. As one of the leaders of the Cawamari indigenous organisation, she defends the human rights of indigenous communities in the region that are being violated by the actions of guerrilla and paramilitary groups that seek to control the territory.

Around 1 a.m. on 8 December 2018, a number of unknown armed individuals fired shots at the house of Lidia Gómez, in the municipality of Ricaurte, Nariño. Even though five bullets entered the house, the defender and her husband were not harmed.

The regional office of the Ombudsman in Cauca opened an investigation; nonetheless, there has been no response from specialised protection organs such as the National Protection Unit (Unidad Nacional de Protección, UNP), whose mandate include the protection of human rights defenders and social leaders at risk.

The attack against Lidia Gómez took place six days after the assassination of the Awá indigenous leaders and human rights defenders Héctor Ramiro García and his son Braulio Arturo García, in the indigenous reserve Palmar de Imbí, Ricaurte, Nariño, on 2 December 2018. On 4 December 2018, Lidia Gómez had publicly requested special protection guarantees for her people, due to the high level of violence that they have been facing. Héctor Ramiro García was the founder of the Camawari indigenous organisation, and his son Braulio Arturo García had recently been chosen as a leader to his people.

On 1 December 2018, human rights defender and indigenous authority Aldemar Trochez was found dead near Caloto, Cauca, less than 100 meters from a military checkpoint, with a gunshot wound in the head. Days before, a threatening pamphlet was circulated in the region. It was targeted at the indigenous authorities in Cauca, who were accused of “working with the public forces”.

Furthermore, on 7 December 2018, the indigenous authority Edwin Dagua Ipia, who worked with youth leadership in the region of Caloto, Cauca, was also killed.  He had previously received a series of threats against him, which prompted a request for protection to the Colombian government in July. The Ministry of Interior condemned the murder of Edwin Dagua Ipia, and initiated a coordination with the local indigenous authorities for the deployment of a judicial commission to the region.

In the region of Norte de Santander, two campesino human rights defenders  were killed in the end of November. On 21 November 2018, Alba Edilma Cuevas was attacked by unidentified armed men on Cúcuta, Norte de Santander, who fired at the defender at her house. Alba Edilma Cuevas had denounced threats against her, due to her work as a social leader at the Agualasal path Communal Action Council (Junta de Acción Comunal de la vereda Agualasal).On 29 November 2018, José Antonio Navas was assassinated in Tibú, Norte de Santander, by unknown armed individuals who attacked him at his house. He was a campesino leader at the El Catatumbo Campesino Association (Asociación Campesina de El Catatumbo), a director at the El Líbano path Communal Action Council (Junta de Acción Comunal de la Vereda El Líbano) and a member of the Campesino Guard.

The killings of José Antonio Navas and Alba Edilma Cuevas were reported in the End of Mission Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders on his visit to Colombia.

All these defenders were indigenous or campesino human rights defenders, and nearly all of them were attacked in their homes, by unidentified armed persons. These recent trends demonstrate the existence of a pattern of killings that has not been properly addressed by the authorities so far.

Human rights defenders working in Colombia have been increasingly targeted since the signing of the Peace Accords, with alarming numbers of assassinations and attacks perpetrated especially against those who work on indigenous and campesino rights. This presents a major risk to defenders living in remote areas, who are often more vulnerable to attacks, and, in the absence of appropriate state protection, are left to operate in an extremely hostile environment.

Front Line Defenders strongly condemns the killing of human rights defenders Alba Edilma Cuevas, José Antonio Navas, Aldemar Trochez, Héctor Ramiro García, Arturo García, and Edwin Dagua Ipia; as well as the assassination attempt against woman human rights defender Lidia Gómez, as it believes that these attacks are linked to their legitimate human rights work. Front Line Defenders expresses further concern at the pattern of increasing violence and impunity that human rights defenders face in Colombia.

Mexico: 161 personas defensoras de DH asesinadas en sexenio que termina, sembradores de esperanza: Red TDT

161 personas defensoras de DH asesinadas en sexenio que termina, sembradores de esperanza: Red TDT

  • El Informe Desde la Memoria… la esperanza, documenta 159 a las que se sumaron dos en noviembre con lo que totalizan 161 en el sexenio, más 40 periodistas.
  • Como Red TDT, a lo largo de este sexenio documentamos como el Estado mexicano no ha sido capaz de responder a la crisis de violencia contra las personas defensoras de derechos humanos.
  • Guerrero, Oaxaca y Chihuahua los estados más peligrosos para ejercer la defensa de derechos humanos

CDMX | 29 Nov 2018 | La defensa de derechos humanos no es un privilegio en sí misma como acusan furibundos sus detractores. Tampoco es algo dispensable, algo que debamos desear que se extinga, como opinan otros. La defensa de derechos humanos es una opción por la vida y la libertad. En ese sentido podemos afirmar que las personas defensoras somos facilitadoras de la esperanza, porque desde nuestras trincheras diversas luchamos por la dignidad y la justicia. Eso es lo que nos une: la esperanza.

Resulta pavorosamente contradictorio que teniendo esta noción de esperanza, hoy estemos aquí para hablar de las 161 personas defensoras y 40 periodistas asesinadas de manera impune entre diciembre de 2012 y noviembre de 2018. Esto demuestra de manera contundente que el sexenio que termina fue letal para las voces disidentes: datos dolorosos, que se vuelven vidas desgarradas para un país que se ostenta democrático y que, oficialmente, no se encuentra en guerra.

El mensaje es claro: se busca inhibir la lucha por la justicia y por los derechos. Pero ¿Está cifra inaceptable significa que ya no hay lugar para la esperanza? ¿significa que debemos huir, escondernos y tratar de proteger nuestra vida a cambio de lo que nos une como pueblos, como colectividades: como personas?

De ninguna manera

Como Red respondemos a esta realidad con convicción de esperanza y de memoria. Eso nos han enseñado pueblos, comunidades y víctimas. Hoy estamos aquí para conmemorar la esperanza y retomar la estafeta de las tantas luchas que nuestra sociedad requiere. Hoy estamos aquí para decirles a nuestras compañeras y compañeros que su muerte no es ni será inútil. No lo permitiremos.

Por eso queremos dejar constancia clara de la impunidad que el Estado ha ofrecido a estas víctimas. Según solicitudes de información hechas a Procuradurías/Fiscalías, solo el 3% de los casos de personas defensoras asesinadas se encuentran judicializados. Las investigaciones por asesinato de personas defensoras, activistas, líderes sociales suelen ignorar su actividad como causa del asesinato.

Como Red TDT, a lo largo de este sexenio documentamos como el Estado mexicano no ha sido capaz de responder a la crisis de violencia contra las personas defensoras de derechos humanos. Su respuesta se ha limitado a la acción del Mecanismo de Protección para Personas Defensoras y Periodistas operado por la Secretaría de Gobernación, que tiene solo medidas reactivas y no obedece a las necesidades específicas de las personas beneficiarias. Este año, incluso, el Fideicomiso que dota de recursos al Mecanismo se quedó sin recursos, colocando en mayor situación de riesgo a 727 personas defensoras y periodistas.

La situación tiene matices importantes:

  • Por lo menos 42 de 159 personas defensoras asesinadas pertenecían a un pueblo indígena, entre los que se encuentran: yaqui, rarámuri, wixarika, purépecha, nahua, zapoteco, mixe, mixteco, tzotzil, triqui.
  • Según la documentación los estados más peligrosos para defender los derechos humanos son: Guerrero (28% de los casos), Oaxaca (20%) y Chihuahua (11%).
  • El 40% de las personas asesinadas eran defensores/as comunitarios/as, es decir, ejercían su derecho a defender derechos humanos en su comunidad o entorno más cercano. Gran parte de estos se enfocaban en la defensa de DESCA y Tierra y territorio.

El Saldo de este sexenio es de más de 37 mil personas desaparecidas y casi 120 mil asesinadas, 8 feminicidios diarios, una crisis migratoria sin precedentes, más de 500 conflictos socioambientales, así como casos emblemáticos de violaciones graves de derechos humanos (Tlatlaya, Ayotzinapa, Nochixtlán) y de corrupción en las altas esferas de gobierno (Casa Blanca, Odebrecht, Estafa Maestra).

La lucha de todas estas personas fue interrumpida de forma violenta, pero no así sus ideales y sus convicciones, no sus sueños ni la memoria de su lucha justa por un mundo diferente.

Ahí está la esperanza.

En todas esas personas que durante y ahora tras estos 6 años persisten en la defensa de derechos humanos, en este servicio por la vida. La esperanza está en los aprendizajes, logros y siembras de aquellas personas que aunque ya no están, continúan presentes en su espíritu combativo y digno.

Para más información y contacto:
Quetzalcoatl g. Fontanot
cel 551796 6731


Front Line Defenders and the HRD Memorial Network have documented more 1000 targeted killings of peaceful human rights defenders (HRDs) since 2014, according to a new joint report, Stop the Killings, which analyses lethal attacks on activists in six countries. Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines collectively account for more than 80 percent of all documented murders of HRDs. In Colombia alone, nearly 100 human rights defenders have been killed already this year.

Front Line Defenders Executive Director, Andrew Anderson, talks here about why the killing of HRDs is such a critical issue.

The killings are not random. According to Front Line Defenders, the targeted elimination of peaceful activists defending human rights has become an epidemic. In its 2017 Annual Report, Front Line Defenders reported the killing of more than 300 HRDs in 27 countries. Two-thirds of those killed were defending the environment, land and indigenous peoples’ rights, often in remote, rural areas with little access to protection, documentation, reporting, and justice. Based on available data, a mere 12 percent of murders resulted in the arrest of suspects.

“In each of the countries where death tolls are soaring, economic corruption and collusion between state and business have resulted in political system designed to keep elites on top and the disenfranchised silent,” said Jim Loughran, Head of the HRD Memorial Project at Front Line Defenders. “For decades, the governments of Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the Philippines have been using the same tired and disingenuous excuses to justify their inaction – terrorism organised crime, drug gangs. They peddle the myth that with increased arms they will be able to fix the situation. This simplistic and dangerous analysis ignores corruption as the root cause of violence.”

Stop the Killings includes a chapter on each of the six countries written in collaboration with at-risk activists on the ground, who on a daily basis face severe threats for documenting and advocating against the rising violence. Despite social and political differences, each of the six countries suffer the violent repression of peaceful dissent and justice systems co-opted by corporate interest.

The report also calls out the hypocrisy of Western governments who ostensibly support democracy and human rights, but continue to provide direct financial and security assistance to some of the most repressive regimes in the world.
“In all of the countries featured in this report there has been extensive funding, training and the provision of weaponry, surveillance equipment and technical support to the police, intelligence and military forces implicated in the killing of HRDs,” said Andrew Anderson,Front Line Defenders Executive Director. “Corrupt dictators and populist authoritarians have been emboldened to attack not just HRDs but the very idea of universal human

Among the key drivers of killings and violence against HRDs detailed in the report are:

 smear and defamation campaigns against HRDs, who are accused of being “anti-
state,” “anti-development,” and violent or destablising forces;

 economic policies which prioritise the ruthless exploitation of natural resources over
the protection of the environment and the land;

 refusal to recognise and protect rights of campesino communities and
indigenous peoples;

 lack of effective systems to document and investigate attacks on HRDs and provide

 collusion by the state and/or its agents in the killing of HRDs.

For further information, contact:
Erin Kilbride

The HRD Memorial (, developed by a coalition of national and international human rights organisations, collects case data and commemorates human rights defenders (HRDs) who have been killed since 1998, the year the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted by consensus. For the first time ever, the HRD Memorial website and database begins to give a true picture of the scale of killings of HRDs. The HRD Memorial aims to be not just a memorial and database, but also a celebration of the life, work and achievements of the HRDs who have been killed because of their peaceful human rights work.

Brazil: The Dom Tomás Balduino Documentation Centre – CPT, documented the killing of 66 HRDs in 2016. In 2017, there was an increase in the number of mass killings, such that of the 70 killings recorded that year, 28 HRDs, forty percent, were killed during a massacre.

Colombia: Although the peace agreement between the government and FARC rebels brought with it the lowest rate of killings among the general population in the last 30 years, the number of killings of HRDs increased dramatically. The situation in 2018 has not improved – nearly 100 HRDs were killed in the first half of 2018.

Guatemala: Defamation campaigns against HRDs, the absence of protection for HRDs and the failure to adequately investigate attacks has created a situation in which HRDs are killed with impunity. In its Annual Reports for 2014 to 2017, Front Line Defenders reported a combined total of 45 HRDs were killed in Guatemala. Nineteen HRDs have been killed so far this year; nine were members of the same human rights organisation, CODECA.

Honduras: From 2014 to 2017,Front Line Defenders documented a total of 64 HRDs killed in this four year period. In contrast to the figure for 2016, the number of HRDs killed in 2017 was significantly lower; however, this is linked to the international outcry over the killing of Berta Cáceres rather than a real improvement in the human rights situation.

Mexico: From June 2016 to May 2017, there were 1,442 attacks on HRDs in Mexico, which translates into 4 attacks per day. In the states of Chiapas and Oaxaca alone, two HRDs are attacked each day. In the period 2013-2018 there
were 144 killings of HRDs, 31 in Oaxaca alone. In 2017, 48 HRDs were killed; 58% fell into 4 main categories: HRDs defending freedom of expression and journalism ; HRDs defending the rights of indigenous peoples; HRDs defending territorial/land rights; HRDs defending the right to a decent standard of living . Twenty-seven
HRDs have been killed in the first 6 months of 2018.

The Philippines: Extrajudicial executions remain the gravest threat facing HRDs in the Philippines where HRDs have long been targeted: 474 HRDs were killed during the Arroyo presidency (2001-2010), and 139 during the Aquino presidency (2010-2016). This is continuing into the present. In its 2017 Annual Report , Front Line Defenders reported the killing of 60 HRDs in the Philippines, making it the country with the highest number of killings of HRDs outside of the Americas and nearly doubling the figure from the previous year.

Blog: “What is happening now across the world is nothing less than a systematic attack on peasant communities and indigenous peoples”.

BLOG originally published by the Rights and Resources Initiative in  conjunction with a new report by the UN special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

“What is happening now across the world is nothing less than a systematic attack on peasant communities and indigenous peoples”.

Andrew Anderson

Executive Director

Front Line Defenders

Versión en Español

FRONT LINE DEFENDERS has documented 821 human rights defenders (HRDs) who have been killed in the four years since we started producing an annual global list in cooperation with national and international NGOs. Seventy-nine percent of this total came from six countries: Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines. The vast majority of these cases have never been properly investigated, and few of the perpetrators of the killings have been brought to justice. Political and economic power across these countries is controlled and manipulated by an entrenched elite, with close links to the army and the security services, who block reform initiatives to protect their own interests, and are often behind targeted attacks on HRDs who expose their corruption or oppose their exploitation.

According to the Carnegie Endowment for Democracy, “It is no longer possible to think of corruption as just the iniquitous doings of individuals, be they street-level bribe payers, government officials, or business executives. Corruption is the operating system of sophisticated networks that link together public and private sectors and out-and-out criminals—including killers—whose main objective is maximising returns for network members. Corruption is built into the functioning of such countries’ institutions.”

The lethal combination of entrenched violence, state indifference to attacks against HRDs, and the lack of investigations into complaints, creates a situation in which HRDs are killed with impunity. An analysis of the work done by those killed is instructive: of those killed in 2017, 67 percent were engaged in the defence of land, environmental, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and nearly always in the context of mega projects linked to extractive industries and big business.

It is important also to note that those who are killed are predominantly those activists who come from poorer or more marginalized backgrounds. The level of discrimination and racism faced by Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized communities is an important part of the context. The contempt and hatred of corrupt elites for those they consider to be their inferiors is a factor in the use of extreme violence against those who get in their way.


Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities are routinely marginalized in Brazilian society.

Their lands and territories are usurped by land grabbers, farmers, and by the state itself. While a number of laws protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples came into effect following the introduction of the 1988 Constitution, the fact remains that after more than 25 years, there is still much to be done to implement these rights, especially with regard to access to and recovery of land.  Even the limited progress achieved to date is under threat from government proposals to reduce the amount of Indigenous Peoples’ land and to undermine the work of FUNAI[1] and INCRA[2] (the bodies responsible for protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples) to demarcate and grant titles to Indigenous Peoples’ land.

The violence against Indigenous Peoples in the state of Maranhão, which is home to the Gamela people, is typical of the crisis across the country. There are currently some 376 communities in the state of Maranhão that are experiencing rural violence and conflict. In 2016 alone, 196 incidents of violence against rural communities were reported. Maranhão was the state with the highest number of murdered Indigenous Peoples in 2016. In Bahia, the Tupinambá Indigenous Peoples suffer all kinds of prejudice and physical and cultural violence. Death threats are constant and their leaders are persecuted, attacked, and imprisoned.

The failure of the state to acknowledge or address the issue of attacks on Quilombola (Afro-descendant) and Indigenous Peoples and their leaders indicates that there is a real risk of these Indigenous Peoples being further marginalized in order for their lands to be appropriated to facilitate the exploitation of their natural resources. The Indigenous Peoples of Brazil and their leaders are more at risk now than at any time in their recent history.


In Colombia most of the HRDs killed were working in defence of the right to land or to protect the territory of Indigenous Peoples.

At particular risk are members of ethnic minorities, peasant communities, Indigenous Peoples, people of African descent, or members of local community action boards in rural areas. These murders are committed in places where the presence of the state is limited and people cannot fully exercise their human rights. In terms of the official response, state officials need to take into account the impact of a killing not just on the immediate family of the HRD, but also on the broader community. As a result of killings, and the general climate of violence, communities are displaced, families are broken up and lose their means of earning their livelihood.

The departments with the highest number of killings of HRDs are Cauca, Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Nariño, Córdoba, Bogotá, Putumayo, Norte de Santander, Risaralda, Bolívar, Chocó, Meta, Huila, and Arauca. Ninety percent of these territories have been historically affected by the armed conflict. Despite the peace process, abuses such as the targeted killing of members of Afro-Colombian communities and Indigenous Peoples, collective forced displacements, confinement of communities to certain areas, forced recruitment of children into paramilitary groups, sexual violence, and the use of anti-personnel mines persist in these areas.


The ruling elite in Guatemala use their entrenched political and economic power to exploit the natural resources of the country for their own benefit and to block any initiative for reform.

Peasant communities and Indigenous Peoples who defend their right to the land or who campaign to protect the environment from the devastation caused by large scale mining projects are the target of smear campaigns and direct attacks. Indigenous Peoples who insist on their right to free, prior, and informed consent are particularly at risk. This has provoked acts of aggression and violence across the country, in which HRDs have been killed.  In January 2017, 72-year-old Sebastián Alonzo was shot dead when unidentified gunmen opened fire on a peaceful demonstration against a proposed major hydroelectric scheme.

There have also been numerous instances of criminalization of HRDs, such as the case of Professor Abelino Chub Caal. On June 6, 2017, the judge of the Criminal Court of First Instance of Puerto Barrios ruled that Abelino should remain in detention even though both the defence and the prosecution had agreed that no evidence had been found against the HRD to justify the charges of aggravated land grabbing and arson. Abelino works with 29 communities in Sierra Santa Cruz, Izabal, whose land, environmental, and cultural rights are threatened by mining interests.


Since the 2009 military coup in Honduras, the perpetrators of violations against defenders of environmental, land, and Indigenous Peoples’ rights are often influential landowners or logging companies.

Quite apart from the violence linked to repression of the protests against alleged election fraud, Honduras has continued to be one of the most dangerous countries in the Americas generally for HRDs, especially those who work for the protection of the rights to land and territory, or the protection of the environment. HRDs working on these issues are smeared as being anti-development and an obstacle to the exploitation of the economic resources of the country. They are targets of defamatory campaigns, orchestrated both by state and non-state actors to discredit their work. They are frequently intimidated, threatened, and attacked.

In June 2017, members of the Honduran Civic Council of Peoples and Indigenous Organisations (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras – COPINH) were the target of an armed attack when they were driving back from a meeting. COPINH is an indigenous Lenca organization representing 200 Lenca communities in the western Honduran states of Intibuca, Lempira, La Paz, and Santa Barbara. It has defended communities and their natural resources from logging, dams, mining projects, and other mega projects that would destroy their way of life and the environment. There have been continuing attacks, threats, and intimidation against COPINH members and supporters, which have intensified following the murder of Berta Cáceres on March 3, 2016.

The case of Berta Cáceres encapsulates the many problems that HRDs face in Honduras. Berta Cáceres, General Coordinator of COPINH, was killed in March 2016 by armed men who broke in to her home in La Esperanza, Intibuca Department. Berta Cáceres was an internationally-recognized leader of a campaign against the environmental and health impacts of the building of the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River. Berta had reported 33 death threats to the authorities and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had called on the government to intervene to protect her. Police did not investigate any of the threats against her prior to her assassination. In May 2017, the authorities detained five men for their alleged participation in Berta’s killing, including an army major and the official responsible for social and environmental affairs of the company contracted to build the Agua Zarca dam. The prosecutor maintained that the killing formed part of a conspiracy by the company.

In September 2017, a sixth person was detained and in March 2018, Honduran authorities arrested Robert David Castillo, executive president of Desarrollos Energéticos Ltd (DESA), as the alleged intellectual author of the killing of Berta. However, the investigation has been marked by numerous irregularities. According to local media, the case file, which contained evidence against various suspects, was stolen from the judge’s vehicle on September 29, 2017. Although the Supreme Court of Justice announced that it had copies of the case file, the manner in which the government handled the incident was heavily criticized. The International Advisory Group, in its report into the killing of Berta, concluded that senior business executives and Honduran officials had coordinated her murder, underscoring the extent of criminal collusion between the state and private enterprise.


Serious human rights violations against Indigenous Peoples and communities in Mexico occur in three main areas: violence in the context of mega projects on ancestral lands and territories authorized without the due process to ensure free, prior, and informed consultation and consent; in the context of title claims affecting their land; or the lack of due process in criminal cases against HRDs.

Indigenous Peoples have repeatedly denounced the granting of state concessions to private companies in violation of their right to prior consultation. As a result of the struggle for their lands there have been repeated attempts to criminalize the work of defenders of Indigenous Peoples’ rights, who are portrayed as obstacles to the economic development of the country. In both 2016 and 2017, 37 percent of the HRDs killed were indigenous activists.


During an Indigenous Peoples’ Summit in Davao City in the Philippines on February 1, 2018, President Duterte stated that Lumads (Indigenous Peoples of the Philippines) should leave their ancestral domains as he would broker investors, particularly in palm oil or mining, to invest in these lands.

“We’ll start now, and tomorrow I will give something to you. Prepare yourselves for relocation,” came his cryptic warning. Lumad leaders are concerned that the harassment their communities experience is due to this plan. In the past two decades, nearly 500,000 hectares in Mindanao have been swamped with large-scale mining, agribusiness, and energy projects.

Now the move is towards the ancestral lands of Indigenous Peoples, which are rich in natural resources, offering developers the potential for large profits. In one incident in December 2017, eight Lumad people were killed in what was initially presented as an armed confrontation with the army, but according to an independent investigation conducted by the Philippine church and human rights groups, was in fact a mass killing.

The main target of the attack was Victor Danyan, killed because he was vocal in his community’s claim to a contested piece of land. It appears that Victor was deliberately targeted to silence dissent in the area. Victor was chairman of Tamasco, a tribal group formed in 2006 to reclaim 1,700-hectares of ancestral land that was planted with coffee. The organization was also protesting against coal mining operations on their ancestral land.

Army claims of having been the target of an armed attack have been discredited by the evidence collected by Dr. Benito Molino, a forensic expert who said “at least 300 empty and live shells from M14 and M16 rifles were recovered from various sites where soldiers apparently fired their weapons.” He concluded that, “there was no clash—all the shooting came from the army”.

What is happening now across the world is nothing less than a systematic attack on peasant communities and Indigenous Peoples. In their insatiable greed for wood and oil and gold the corrupt elites, who have no ambition beyond their own enrichment, risk not only destroying the lives and culture of Indigenous Peoples, but also destroying the environment on which our collective future survival depends.

[1] Fundação Nacional do Índio

[2] Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária

Colombia: Stunning visualisation of killings of social leaders between January 2016 and July 2018

Published on Jul 25, 2018

Visualización geográfica del asesinato de líderes sociales en Colombia entre enero de 2016 y Julio de 2018, a partir de datos recolectados en sitios Web de diversos medios de comunicación, tomando como base la información publicada por el programa Somos Defensores y el portal Verdad Abierta Herramientas: vue.js y d3.js con interacción en el navegador. Data visualization project that shows the geographic location of the murder of social leaders in Colombia between January 2016 and July 2018, based on data collected from news websites and the information published by “Somos Defensores” and “Verdad Abierta” Tools: vue.js and d3.js so it is an interactive infographic to be used in the browser Created by Pacarina Media Lab
Music by Paul Kraemer.

India: Dalit activism: the “God of Small Things” and endemic discrimination

God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy’s 1996 novel drew international attention to the plight of India’s Dalit community, Formerly known as “untouchables,” Dalits suffer endemic discrimination and are systematically denied access to public spaces and resources. Over a decade after the book’s publication this situation has worsened, as has that of Dalit human rights defenders (HRDs.)

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, has said that “Indian authorities have proven themselves unwilling to protect minority religious communities and other vulnerable groups from frequent attack.” According to the National Crimes Records Bureau, crimes against Dalits occurred every 15 minutes on average in 2016, an increase over 2015 figures. Tallies by NGOs and news organisations suggest that the upward trend has intensified throughout 2017 and 2018. Dalit women are particularly vulnerable to abuses. Conviction rates for crimes against Dalits are extremely low in certain regions; the state of Maharashtra, for example, stands at less than 5%. Photojournalist Sudharak Olwe’s ongoing case study of crimes against Dalits in this state found that in most incidents, “the victim was involved in either emancipatory work for his community or struggling to make his life better.”

The spike in abuses may in fact be a response to Dalits’ increasing assertion of their rights, according to Dalit HRD Asif Shaikh. In March of this year, a Supreme Court judgement claimed that a law which offers significant legal recourse for Dalits was used “as an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance”. Nationwide protests, referred to by Al Jazeera as a Dalit Spring, followed. Though they began peacefully, demonstrations were met with violence; 11 people were killed.

In May, Sachin Walia was shot dead. His brother Kamal is a leader in the Bhim Army, an organization that works for Dalit emancipation through education. A month after Sachin’s killing, five Dalit HRDs were arrested and may face life in prison for allegedly inciting caste violence. Urgent action appeals have been issued for dozens of other violations of Dalit HRDs’ rights.

Violence against Dalits is often framed as nothing new, which may actually be fuelling the increase in abuses. It is more important than ever to support the empowerment of this community, remembering Dalit leader BR Ambedker’s words: “ rights are protected not by law but by social and moral conscience of the society. If social conscience is such that it is prepared to recognise the rights which law proposes to enact, rights will be safe and secure.”


Global Witness Annual Report: The world is deadlier than ever for land and environmental defenders, with agribusiness the industry most linked to killings

It has never been a deadlier time to defend one’s community, way of life, or environment. Our latest annual data into violence against land and environmental defenders shows a rise in the number of women and men killed last year to 207 – the highest total we have ever recorded. What’s more, our research has highlighted agribusiness including coffee, palm oil and banana plantations as the industry most associated with these attacks

Download the report in full: At What Cost? (PDF, 3MB)

Read online: photos and stories of defenders around the world

Hear the voices of environmental and land rights defenders – click below

Hernán Bedoya, from Colombia, was shot by a paramilitary group 14 times for protesting against palm oil and banana plantations that were expanding over his community’s territory and clearing the forest.

In the Philippines, after protesting the expansion of a coffee plantation, a community near Lake Sebu was attacked by military forces, leaving eight dead, five wounded, and forcing 200 to flee.

And in Brazil, farmers assaulted the indigenous Gamela community after they attempted to protect their land from logging, severely injuring 22, including children.

But it’s not just defenders in these countries who are being threatened, attacked, or killed for fighting to protect their land and way of life. Countless people around the world are under threat for standing up to the might of large corporations, paramilitary groups, and even their own governments.

The data we have painstakingly gathered and presented in this report and the case studies included are almost certainly a sizeable underestimate, given the many challenges in identifying and reporting killings. Yet even as it stands, it shows that the risks defenders face every day continue to grow, and governments and business have a very serious case to answer.

The global movement

Of the 207 defenders murdered last year, a vast majority of them hailed from Latin America, which remains the most dangerous region for defenders, accounting for 60% of those killed in 2017. Brazil saw 57 murders alone – the worst year on record anywhere in the world.

But not a single region was immune to the growing number of attacks on its defenders. The Philippines saw 48 defenders killed, the highest number ever in an Asian country. And in Africa, 19 defenders were reported killed, 12 of whom were in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Defenders 2018 - Country Killings


You can find the English Spanish and Portuguese versions of the report here

Global Witness

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Colombia: 19 Social Leaders Killed in 1 Month, 100 in 2018

Source Telesur

Various human rights and social organizations have demanded that the Colombian Government implement effective measures to prevent the wide-scale killing of social leaders.

From June 1 to July 3, some 19 social, community, Indigenous and Campesino leaders and activists have been killed in Colombia, multiple national and international organizations have reported.

Leonedis Sierra Ortiz, a 25-year-old community activist from Antioquia, Luis Cuarto Barrios Machado, a 55-year-old president of the citizen control oversight of Palmar Varela and Hector Santiago Anteliz, a 52-year-old member of the  Community Action Board (JAC), are among the victims.

Since the beginning of 2018, 100 social leaders have been killed in the Latin American country, as was reported by the Institute of Study on Peace and Development (Indepaz), in June.

Various human rights and social organizations have demanded that the Colombian Government implement effective measures to prevent the wide-scale killing of social leaders.

Social and political leaders were supposed to be protected by the peace agreement signed in Havana, in 2016.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spoke out against the high incidence of deaths.

“We condemn the homicide of Hector Santiago Anteliz, 52-year-old, president of the JAC of San Jose, Teorama, in Norte de Santander. In 2018, we have documented 9 defenders’ homicides in this department.