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Brazil: France 24 report on killing of indigenous and land rights activists

In Brazil, the battle for land is turning increasing deadly. Half the country’s land is owned by just 1% of the population and those calling for reform often find themselves a target. The “Farmers Without Land” Movement says 61 activists were murdered last year in Brazil – up 20% in a year and the highest figure in more than a decade. The violence is centred around the north western state of Amazonas, which has seen a rapid expansion in mining, intensive farming and the lumber industry.

A programme prepared by Patrick Lovett, Jessica Sestili and Laura Burloux.

 

 

 

Brazil: Latest killings of land rights activists in Para and Rondonia

On the evening of the 6th July Ademir de Souza Pereira took his car down to the local car wash. He was talking to the attendant when two gunmen pulled up alongside him and shot him. He tried to run but was hit twice and fell. The killers then took the time to deliver the final shot before escaping. Ademir was a prominent member of the Liga dos Camponeses Pobres (LCP) which advocates for the rights of small farmers and landless peasants.

Ademir, his wife and three colleagues had travelled to the state capital, Porto Velho, for a meeting with a senior official of the Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (Incra) which deals with land reform. Ademiro was shot while his wife was attending the meeting. This killing has brought to eleven the number of killings of land rights activists in the state of Rondônia so far this year. Last year, in 2016, Rondônia led the killings of HRDs in Brazil with 19 killings, mostly involving rural workers or leaders who worked to defend the right to land.

According to Afonso Chagas, a volunteer with the Pastoral Land Commission, Rondônia, Ademir was part of a long-standing occupation called Terra Nossa where six people have been killed in the last two years.

The next day, 07 July, Rosenildo de Almeida was leaving a local church when two men pulled up on a motor bike and shot him dead. Rosenildo was also involved in the land occupation on the hacienda of Santa Lucia in Pau d’Arco. On the 24th May 10 other members of the LCP who were taking part in the same land occupation were shot dead in Pau D’Arco, in what was one of the most brutal killings to date. The arrest of 13 police officers (11 military police and 2 civilian police) to prevent further interference with the crime scene or intimidation of witnesses, underscores the importance of the state taking firm action to investigate links between the police and local large landowners.

These killings are part of consistent pattern of killing of land rights activists and human rights defenders in Brazil. According to the Brazil Human Rights Defenders Network  forty-three human rights defenders have been killed so far this year. These killings take place against a background of police and official indifference and a complete failure by the government either to prevent the killings or to bring the perpetrators to justice. Of particular concern at the moment are attempts by the government to undermine and limit the powers of FUNAI, the indigenous rights agency, which in theory protects the land rights of indigenous peoples. According to one FUNAI official, who spoke recently to  The Guardian  on condition of anonymity, “You have to be careful what you say. Those who position themselves in the defence of indigenous people are strongly attacked.”

Thompson Reuters Foundation: Major new report on the killing of HRDs

Recently the Thompson Reuters Foundation launched an extensive reportage on land conflicts with a focus on the killing of HRDs. Front Line Defenders has worked very closely with them on this project since January, and is quoted  widely across the package.

It includes one long analytical piece on land conflicts / necropolitics, 8 in depth reports on HRDs still fighting, a documentary, and an animation paying tribute to murdered HRDs, built with more than 100 photos from the HRD Memorial project.

The video tribute is playing on the massive 30-story screens in the middle of NYC’s Times Square, and outside London’s Canary Wharf tube station (the UK banking hub). We wanted to create visibility amongst staff headed to work at corporations connected to the violence, and bring the faces of defenders into major business centres.

Politics of Death

What is the 'Politics of Death'? Revealing a wave of global violence driven by big business and global banks. http://www.thisisplace.org/shorthand/politics-of-death/Discover the new lawless frontiers of the 21st Century: Russia, Brazil, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Kenya#LawlessLands

Publié par Place sur lundi 19 juin 2017

 

Discover the new lawless frontiers of the 21st Century: Russia, Brazil, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Honduras, India, Kenya

#LawlessLands Posted by Place on Monday, 19 June 2017

London display: https://twitter.com/neo_chlo/status/875047749699477505

NYC display: https://twitter.com/sallyhayd/status/876547383869493250

Intro to package: http://www.thisisplace.org/i/?id=332eda58-f7c8-4d32-9fa2-48df7de25afd

Full microsite: http://www.thisisplace.org/shorthand/politics-of-death/

It has also gone out as a wire across Reuter’s network (meaning it should get picked up globally / locally) and we’ll be partnering on a film screening and panel in July for which our award finalist Nonhle will join us.

Please share the report using #LawlessLands, and encourage HRDs to do the same. Reuters will help to promote any content, cases, or stories that HRDs and NGOs share.

 

Brazil: According to UN and IACHR one environmentalist or land rights activist killed every week for 15 years

Protest in Brasilia against the killing of indigenous people

In its Annual Report for 2016, Front Line Defenders reported the killings of 281 human rights defenders in 25 countries. Fifty-nine of those killings took place in one country – Brazil. Of those killed in 2016, 49% were working to defend land, environmental or indigenous rights.

This is consistent with a pattern of killing in Brazil over decades.

A recent joint statement by the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) said that, “Over the last 15 years, Brazil has seen the highest number of killings of environmental and land defenders of any country, up to an average of about one every week. Indigenous peoples are especially at risk.” According to a 2015 report by the Brazilian NGO Conselho Indigenista Missionario (Indigenous Missionary Council or Cimi), 390 Guarani-Kaiowá leaders were killed between 2003 and 2014.

That statement is shocking enough, but when you do the math this means a figure of 780 environmental and land rights activists have been killed in that period. The vast majority of these cases are never properly investigated and it is rare for any perpetrator to be brought to justice.

This figure is backed up by research by the Commissâo Pastoral da Terra ( the Pastoral Land Commission, CPT), which shows that “since 1985, 1,833 peasants and leaders of the struggle for agrarian reform have been assassinated in conflicts over land, while during the same period of time large land estates have grown by 375%”.

This is the background against which HRDs, defending the rights of their communities, are routinely killed with total impunity. While the numbers are shocking and grab our attention, what is of equal concern is the response of the Brazilian government. Rather than taking action to protect the rights of indigenous and peasant communities the government is instead actively trying to limit the legal protections they currently enjoy.

According to the UN and IACHR “Against this backdrop, Brazil should be strengthening institutional and legal protection for indigenous peoples, as well as people of African heritage and other communities who depend on their ancestral territory for their material and cultural existence. It is highly troubling that instead, Brazil is considering weakening those protections”.

As noted in the joint statement, “A number of draft laws establishing general environmental licensing that would weaken environmental protection were being circulated in Congress on Friday 2 June.  For example, the proposed legislation would remove the need for environmental licenses for projects involving agri-business and cattle ranching, regardless of their size, location, necessity, or impact on indigenous lands or the environment”.

A recent inquiry by a group of congressmen who are supporters of the agribusiness called for the abolition of FUNAI, the National Indian Foundation, which is the Brazilian government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples.

If killings on this scale took place in one incident it would be called a massacre. But because the victims are poor campesino or indigenous people living in remote rural areas there is tacit acceptance of this climate of violence which is further exacerbated by the violent response of the state itself.

The Brazilian government should be held to account for its failure to take any meaningful action to end this culture of killing or to protect human rights defenders.

Chile: “The bullet that killed Luis Marileo was fired a long time ago”

Comunidad Cacique José Guiñón, Ercilla.

On Saturday 10 June, Luis Marileo and a friend, Patricio Gonzáles, were shot dead in a dispute with Ignacio Gallegos Pereira, the occupier of a large estate and former sergeant with the Carabineros ( National Police). Luis Marileo  was a human rights defender working to protect the rights of the Mapuche people.  According to an eye witness, the two men had entered the disputed land to recover a horse which had escaped. While Gallegos Pereira claims to have been acting in self defence, medical reports suggest that the two men were shot in the back.

While the Spanish empire never managed to defeat the Mapuche and their territorial rights were recognised under numerous treaties, those rights have been consistently undermined both under the Pinochet regime and following the return to democracy. For years, members of the Mapuche people have reported that they have suffered from police violence, torture and ill-treatment, legal persecution, stigmatisation and criminalisation because of their human rights work.

Anti-terror legislation has been used to target Mapuche activists who are routinely smeared as being involved in violent and criminal activity. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has targeted human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, in an attempt to discredit their work to support social organisations and indigenous communities in Chile.

Luis Marileo has a long record of activism defending the rights of the Mapuche people. At the age of 8 he was injured in a police raid on his home. When he was sixteen he was arrested under the anti-terror legislation (the first person to be targeted under this legislation) and spent 7 months in prison, even though he was a minor. He was finally released because there was no evidence to link him to the crimes of which he was accused. In 2013, he was sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison, charged with the murder of landowner Héctor Gallardo, a charge which he always denied. During his time in prison he took part in several hunger strikes to protest at the use of secret witnesses in ordinary civil cases. After three years he was released on provisional liberty.

The killing of Luis Marileo and Patricio Gonzales is consistent with a pattern of entrenched discrimination, defamation and violence against Mapuche activists.

“Ayer fue asesinado Luis Marileo, pero la bala que lo mató fue disparada hace mucho antes, fue disparada desde el momento en que los gobiernos de la Concertación (hoy Nueva Mayoría) y la Derecha, optaron por la criminalización del movimiento, optaron por marcar con fuego las vidas de los niños y jóvenes de comunidad”, publicaba Claudio Alvarado Lincopi.

“Yesterday Luis Marileo was shot dead but the bullet that killed him was fired a long time ago; it was fired when the authorities in Concertación (now called Nueva Mayoría)  and La Derecha decided to criminalise the movement and to mark out with fire the lives of children and young people in the community”, said Claudio Alvarado Lincopi.

Colombia: Failed by the state – HRD shot dead in second attempt on his life

At 7pm on Wednesday, 7 June 2017, Bernardo Cuero Bravo was at home with his family watching a football match on television, when two unknown men arrived at his home in Malambo, Atlántico province. Pretending that they were looking for an apartment that was supposedly for rent in the area, they enticed him out onto the patio where they shot him 4 times in front of his wife. He died instantly.

Bernardo was president of the local Junta de Acción and was also a member of the Asociación Nacional de Afrocolombianos Desplazados (Afrodes). Afrodes represents members of the Afrocolombian community who have been displaced because of the conflict in the region. He was also an active member of the Mesa de Víctimas de Malambo y del Atlántico.

Several years ago Bernardo had survived an earlier attempt on his life. At that time his case was brought to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which instructed the government of Colombia to provide protective measures for him and the other members of Afrodes. He was provided with a bullet proof jacket and a cell phone but a year ago these were withdrawn.

Given the frequent threats to which he was being subjected, Bernardo had repeatedly asked for protection from the state, but this was never provided. Afrodes has lodged numerous complaints about threats against their members in Cali, Cartagena, Bogotá y Soacha.

Guatemala: Police in spotlight over killing of human rights defender

Government officials including the minister and deputy minister of the Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) and senior officials of the National Civil Police (PNC) have attempted a cover up of police brutality that resulted in the death of 27-year-old human rights defender Carlos Maaz Coc.

Amid government claims of civil unrest, and despite the fact that there was little evidence of violence in the area, police deployed tear gas and rubber bullets to restore order which resulted in the death of Carlos in what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration over mining issues in El Estor, Izabal, Guatemala.

Carlos Maaz Coc was a member of the indigenous Maya-Q’eqchi’ people and an environmental and land rights defender. He was part of the Gremial de Pescadores Artesanales – GPA (Artisanal Fishermen’s Guild), which, with several other local organisations, works to protect the Maya-Q’eqchi’ people from adverse health effects caused by nickel mining activities which contaminate and pollute the lands in the El Estor region.

On 27 May 2017, the Guatemalan government unilaterally abandoned negotiations with GPA, which had been organised in an attempt to find a solution to the problems of the community caused by mining activities.

At approximately 3.00pm, the people of El Estor decided to conduct a peaceful demonstration by closing the road that leads to the mining facilities in the department of Alta Verapaz. The Ministry of the Interior ordered the deployment of the National Civil Police to the region. The disproportionate use of force by the riot police (NPC), including the use of rubber bullets, live ammunition, gas bombs and sound bombs, resulted in many injuries and led directly to the death of Carlos Maaz Coc.

Several Guatemalan officials, including the Minister of the Environment, Sydney Samuels, have now publicly denied that a killing took place.

In 2006, the Guatemalan government issued mining licenses to the Compañía Guatemalteca de Níquel – CGN (Guatemalan Nickel Company), owned by the Canadian company HudBay Minerals Inc. The government failed to inform or seek permission from the El Estor indigenous people, a requirement stated in the International Labour Organization Convention 169. The mining in the surroundings of Lake Izabal has caused its contamination by toxic metals, such as nickel, chromium and cadmium. This has endangered the human rights and well-being of the indigenous communities who use the lake for fishing and as their main source of fresh water.

The Guatemalan government has continuously failed to comply with international and national legislation and judicial decisions to respect the rights of indigenous communities.

Front Line Defenders has previously reported on violations against indigenous and land rights defenders in the country. On 4 February 2017, Abelino Chub Caal, an indigenous Maya-Q’eqchi’ defender, was detained and falsely charged with aggravated land grabbing, arson, coercion, illicit association, and belonging to illicit armed groups. He remains in detention as he waits for his case to be judged. On 17 September 2016, shots were fired outside the home of Angélica Choc in El Estor, where she slept with her two children. The next morning, the human rights defender discovered at least four shots had been fired at the wall surrounding her home. Angélica Choc and 12 other plaintiffs sued the company Hudbay Minerals and its Guatemalan subsidiary CGN in Canada in an unprecedented effort to bring justice to their Maya-Q’eqchi’ community.

In 2011, Rodrigo Tot, president of the Agua Caliente community in El Estor and winner of the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize, filed a lawsuit against the government of Guatemala to prove the community’s ownership of the land. Despite the fact that several pages of the official land registry were intentionally removed, the Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled in favour of the communal ownership of land for the Agua Caliente community, thus reaffirming the necessity for the state to seek the approval of local communities before issuing mining permits on their land which could violate their human rights. The government has not complied yet with the decision.

Front Line Defenders condemns the killing of human rights defender Carlos Maaz Coc, as well as the disproportionate use of force by the Guatemalan authorities against peaceful protesters in El Estor. Front Line Defenders is also deeply concerned at public declarations made by authorities denying the killing.

Brazil: 25 killings in a forty day period

On 24 May 2017, Jane Julia de Oliveira, president of the Association of Rural Workers (Associação dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais) in the local community, was shot dead in the municipality of Pau D’Arco in Pará state. According to local media reports the killing took place when police carried out an attack on a camp of participants in a land occupation on the Santa Lúcia estate. Jane and 9 other participants in the occupation were shot dead.

While the police claim that the killings in Pau D’Arco took place during an armed confrontation there is no evidence of armed violence by the LCP members.  There is, however, evidence to suggest that the attack by the police was in retaliation for the shooting dead of a security man on the estate, several days previously. According to local media reports, the police managed to approach the estate without being observed and opened fire on the members of the LCP. According to an eye-witness, several people who had hidden were shot dead by the police after being captured.

Those killed were: Weldson Pereira da Silva; Nelson Souza Milhomem; Weclebson Pereira Milhomem; Ozeir Rodrigues da Silva; Jane Julia de Oliveira; Regivaldo Pereira da Silva; Ronaldo Pereira de Souza; Bruno Henrique Pereira Gomes; Antonio Pereira Milhomem; Hércules Santos de Oliveira. 7 of the victims belonged to one family.

The estate is occupied by a family of alleged “grileiros” whose title to the land is disputed by the farmers. “Grileiros” is a term used to refer to people who have seized control of large tracts of land often using dubious title documents. It is estimated that in Brazil 64% of the land is occupied or owned by 8% of the population. In another land occupation in the same state, the LCP had been able to show that of the 800 acres claimed by the land owner, only 200 acres had been properly documented. The remaining 600 acres were state land which had been illegally occupied. This is a recurring problem across Brazil and is the root cause of many conflicts in which human rights defenders are killed for protecting the rights of their communities.

This latest spate of killings brings the total number of killings in the context of land disputes in Brazil in 2017 to 36, 25 of which took place in one forty day period. On the first of May, the incinerated bodies of 4 farmers were found in their burnt out lorry in Santa Maria das Barreiras, in southern Pará. Two days earlier, on 29 April, the bodies of another 3 farmers were found, again, incinerated in their burnt out lorry. These killings took place ten days after a massacre in north east Rondonia, which shocked the whole country when the bodies of 9 farmers were found.

According to the Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT), which started collecting data on rural killings in 1985, there have been 1,833 such killings up to the end of 2016. These killings are seldom properly investigated and it is rare for anyone to be brought to justice. In a joint statement 29 Brazilian human rights organisations have demanded an independent international investigation into the killings in Pau D’Arco: “Given the visible failure, and inability, of the Brazilian authorities to adequately investigate or punish crimes by its own agents, either in the city or in the country, we are demanding an independent international investigation by international bodies into the circumstances of the killings in Pau d’Arco”. Front Line Defenders echoes this call.

Mexico: Wixarika indigenous people mourn death of leader and brother

According to Mexican daily La Jornada Indigenous community leader Miguel Vazquez Flores has been killed alongside his brother Agustin Flores, as the country’s human rights situation continues to spark national and international alarm just days after the murder of a renowned veteran journalist Javier Valdez.

Miguel Vazquez Flores, president of the Communal Lands Commission representing the Wixarika Indigenous people of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan in the western Mexican state of Jalisco, was murdered with his brother Agustin Florez Saturday 20 May around 6:00 p.m. local time in Tuxpan de Bolaños.

The murders come just days after Mexican journalist and author Javier Valdez — a prominent investigative journalist with La Jornada in Sinaloa, founder of the magazine Riodoce and author of several books — was shot dead in broad daylight in the city of Culiacan.

The high-profile killings coincide with a new survey for 2017 published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a global think-tank, researching political and military conflict(s), that named Mexico the world’s second most deadly conflict zone, second only to Syria.

Vazquez Flores and the Wixarika people have been fighting for decades to reclaim some 10,000 hectares of ancestral land that the group argues is under “irregular possession.”

The people of San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan, where Vazquez Flores was a local leader, took a stand last September, together with some 1,000 Wixarika community members, to reclaim a swath of ancestral land from ranchers in the neighbouring state of Nayarit, reports Tele Sur.

The Wixarika people’s traditional territory spans the major Western Sierra Madre mountain range in the states of Jalisco, Nayarit, Zacatecas and Durango. The traditional culture, shamanic spirituality and the present-day struggles of the Wixarika were showcased in the 2014 documentary film “Huicholes: The Last Peyote Guardians.”

The Wixarika, and their ancient cultural traditions are under threat from foreign mining activities, including an open-cast silver mine which is leaching cyanide into the local water supply. The mine is operated by the Canadian company First Majestic Silver Corp.

According to Tele Sur, San Sebastian Teponahuaxtlan has become one of the most hotly disputed areas in the territorial conflicts in the sierra region, where expanding drug cartels in Jalisco, home to Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara — combined with the war on drugs — contributes to worsening levels of violence.

According to Front Line Defenders annual report, 26 human rights defenders were killed in Mexico in 2016 alone, while Article 19 documented 11 murders of journalists in the same year amid soaring levels of impunity for politically-motivated killings. Front Line Defenders calls on the government of Mexico to bring to justice those responsible for the murder of Miguel Vazquez Flores, his brother Agustin and all other human rights defenders killed because of their peaceful human rights work. They must take action to ensure that those who continue in their struggle to defend the rights of indigenous people are able to do so without fear of retaliation or reprisals.

Mexico: Death of environmental activist raises serious questions for Mexican government

A United States-Mexican citizen described as a much-loved community and environmental activist was found murdered in his home on Thursday May 4 in the municipality of Teocelo, Veracruz.  

The U.S. Embassy confirmed on May 9 the death of 58-year-old Gordon Louis Strom Diaz and declined to comment further out of respect for his family.

According to some media reports, Gordon Strom, also known by close family and friends as ‘‘El Gringo’’ was killed during what appeared to be a robbery on his ranch on the Teocelo-El Zapote highway. There have been many cases in Mexico where the killings of HRD’s have been disguised as random acts of criminal violence.

An employee of Strom discovered his body and reported that his hands and feet were tired and that he had been beaten.

According to the newspaper La Jornada, Gordon arrived in Teocelo six years ago from California and participated in environmental conservation projects such as recycling and water filtration, ran a meditation group for children and adults and advocated for urban gardening and water rights.

Gordon Strom’s wife Yvette told Mexico News Daily that her husband “loved the community of Teocelo with all of his heart,” and always looked for ways to improve the community’s standard of living.

In 2015, Gordon founded the organisation Amigos de Teocelo in the hope that the people of Teocelo could ‘‘have faith and trust’’ in their community. A retired US contractor, Strom was instrumental in persuading the community of Teocelo to get behind a project that sought to repair local roads by hiring a construction firm without first seeking the approval of local authorities.

Yvette Strom said her husband worked tirelessly on various projects in the community and described her husband’s death as senseless

We have little of value in our home, and he was bound, beaten and murdered for a few, valueless things.”

The circumstances surrounding the death of Gordon Strom require a full and independent investigation. The killing of the environmental rights defender highlights the dangers faced by environmental and land rights activists across Mexico.

Mexico News Daily and Associated Press