India – Maharashtra: 16th RTI activist killed since 2010


On the evening of Sunday, 8 April, Suhas Haldankar, a RTI (Right to Information) activist, who had exposed several instances of political corruption in the Kharalwadi area of Maharashtra, was brutally murdered.

Eleven people have been arrested, including a former Congress corporator (elected local municipal official).

Haldankar was going home on his motorbike when he was stopped by two of the accused at a cross roads in the Kharalwadi area. They ridiculed Haldankar for a board he had put up recently, highlighting the lack of basic civic amenities in Kharalwadi. A group of 10-12 people then started throwing concrete blocks at Haldankar, who collapsed and died before he could be taken to hospital.

According to media reports, Suhas was highlighting the poor state of the civic administration in his area and had exposed several irregularities in the functioning of the Pimpri-Chinchwad municipal corporation (PCMC). At least one of the accused is said to be a former member of the PCMC and allegedly belongs to the Indian National Congress.

16 RTI activists have been killed in Maharashtra State since 2010, three of them since the present state government came to power in 2014. Condemning the incident, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) has sent a complaint to the National Human Rights Commission calling on them to monitor the police investigation as “Suhas was a human rights defender fighting for public causes.” CHRI has also urged the Maharashtra State Information Commission to call for all pending RTI applications filed by Suhas to be made public. The central government has been trying to insist that all RTI applications for information should normally abate on the death of the appellant, which in this case would give a victory to the killers.

Currently, there is no law across India to protect whistleblowers who are victimised for exposing corruption. Parliament approved the Whistleblower Protection Act in 2011 but, instead of implementing it, the central government has pushed regressive amendments that will discourage potential whistleblowers from coming forward.

Mexico – Oaxaca: Indigenous leader beaten to death in police custody


On 8 March, indigenous community leader Benjamín Juárez José was violently arrested by municipal police, forced into a police car and taken into custody in Matías Romero prison. Later that night he was transferred to the local hospital, supposedly for treatment. However, the hospital authorities declared in a statement that Benjamín was dead on arrival.

In an apparent attempt to cover up the killing, the local authorities declared that he was alive when he left the prison, but, according to the medical team, he was already dead when he arrived at the hospital. An autopsy is being carried out, but his body showed clear signs of him having been badly beaten, including extensive bruising and a cut on his forehead. He had apparently died about one hour previously.

Local community leaders are demanding an investigation into the circumstances of Benjamín’s death, given that this is the second death in similar circumstances, in this local jail in recent months.

So far there has been no credible investigation into either killing. There have also been other incidents during which detainees were badly beaten while in police custody. According to local police sources, an investigation has been opened into possible excessive use of force.

Local indigenous community leaders have been protesting outside the town hall with red and black crosses, demanding a full investigation into the killing.

Mexico: Newspaper closes down after third journalist killed in a month

Source – The Guardian

When journalist Miroslava Breach was shot dead while taking one of her children home from school, in the city of Chihuahua, she was the third journalist to be killed in a month.  Breach was a reporter for the national newspaper La Jornada and had also collaborated with local newspaper, Norte.

Now Oscar Cantu Murguia, the editor of Norte, has informed readers of his decision to shut down the newspaper in a farewell letter titled “Adios!” that was published on the paper’s front page and online.

Announcing the decision to close the paper, Cantu wrote: “On this day, esteemed reader, I address you to report that I have made the decision to close this newspaper due to the fact that, among other things, there are neither the guarantees nor the security to exercise critical, counterbalanced journalism.”

“In these 27 years … we fought against the tide, receiving attacks and punishments from individuals and governments for having exposed their bad practices and corrupt acts that only played to the detriment of our city and the people who live in it.”

“Everything in life has a beginning and an end, a price to pay,” he went on. “And if this is life, I am not prepared for any more of my collaborators to pay it, nor with my own person.”

He vowed to continue “fighting from other trenches, always contributing and being loyal to my ideals and my city.”

Colombia: According to Ombudsman 156 HRDs and social leaders killed in 14 months

“The body responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights doesn’t have a single peso to protect the people, and if we can’t protect the people, we can’t protect the peace process.” Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, Defensor del Pueblo, (Ombudsman).

A new report entitled “Violence and Threats against Social Leaders and Human Rights Defenders,”  by Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret Mosquera, has documented the killing of 156 social leaders and human rights defenders in the last 14 months. In addition to the 156 killings, there have also been 5 disappearances, 33 attacks and over 500 instances of threats. According to the Ombudsman “one of the main causes of this phenomenon is the attempt by illegal armed groups to occupy the territory from which the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) have withdrawn.”

Those at particular risk are members of afro-descendant and peasant communities in rural areas. as well as human rights defenders. The situation is further complicated by the activities of those elite groups opposed to the peace process, who object to land reform projects and who, in many cases, have links to paramilitary groups. A study carried out in 2011 found that 52% of the farm land in Colombia was owned by 1.15% of the population.

The department of Cauca, which has a high proportion of indigenous people, has been particularly affected, accounting for 30% of the killings. While the departments of Cauca, Cordoba, Antioquia and Norte de Santander all have high numbers of killings,  the problem is widespread with killings taking place in 23 of the 32 departments of the country.

In an interview the Ombudsman said that the bodies responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights in Colombia didn’t have “a peso” to address the findings of the report and if they couldn’t defend the people, neither could they defend the peace process.

The Ombudsman called on the government to provide the resources necessary to confront the issue of killings, adding that, “the government must find a way to work hand in hand with civil society. …… Increased militarisation is not the solution. What is needed is a societal response, working from the ground up, so that there is a local institutional response to this issue. …..The first challenge would be to end the stigmatisation of HRDs and civil society leaders which creates the climate of impunity in which the killings can take place.”

Philippines: Compostela mourns three farmer activists killed in one day

Local members protesting against the killings of farmer activists in Compostela.

DAVAO CITY, — Three farmer activists, including a couple, were all killed on March 27, in Compostela Valley, barely a week before the fourth round of peace talks are set to begin between the NPA and the Philippine government.

The victims were named as Cora Molave Lina (45) and Arman and Arlyn Almonicar, a couple, all of whom were members of Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Laak, Compostela Valley (United Farmers of Laak, Compostela Valley).

According to local reports “Lina had been receiving threats from the military and was summoned many times by the military to visit their battalion camp. She had also been tagged as a sympathiser of the New People’s Army”.

According to a source as reported in Davao Today, ”they lend their vehicle to farmers who will attend forums or mobilisations, just like in January during a peace forum in Laak, Compostela Valley,” the source said.

The forum last January 10 was organized by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Philippine human rights organisation Karapatan pointed to the members of the intelligence unit of the 60th Infantry Battalion based in Laak as the suspected perpetrators of the crime.

Arman and Arlyn were the second couple killed in Compostela Valley this year.

On March 2, Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla were killed inside their house in Barangay Osmeña in Compostela town, Compostela Valley Province.

Ramon and Leonila were members of the Compostela Farmers Association, a local anti-mining group, which reported that they had being tagged as members of a rebel organisation by the military.

The military has denied the accusations.

Second lieutenant Amadeus Celestial, civil military operation officer of the 60th Infantry Battalion told Davao Today, “definitely we do not have any involvement on the case. Our troops are intact and we do not engage in those activities”.

He added that apart from gathering information, the work carried out by members of their intelligence unit facilitates rebels who wish to surrender, “particularly those who have concerns for their safety,” Amadeus said.

Meanwhile, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura in Southern Mindanao condemned the killing of the farmers.

Lito Lao, chairperson of UMA-SMR is quoted as saying that if the killings continue, “this government is in a far worse position than the past regime of Aquino.”

According to Lao a total of 15 farmers and activists were killed in Southern Mindanao under the Duterte administration. Lao believes, “most were perpetrated by suspected military operatives.”

According to Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of Karapatan, a human rights Philippines based NGO, efforts of journalists to report on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines should be lauded, instead of being toned down…we enjoin journalists to report on the increasing number of political killings, illegal arrests, bombing of communities and other human rights abuses of State actors, in relation to the counter-insurgency program and all-out-war of the Duterte regime and the AFP.

Cristina continues, what is needed to solve crimes and sustainably counter the social malaise causing insecurity among Filipinos are political reforms that address landlessness, lack of secure jobs and living wages, accessible social services and utilities, rural development and national industrialisation.

Mexico: Third journalist killed in a month

On the morning of Thursday 23 March, distinguished journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea was shot dead in Chihuahua as she was leaving her home with one of her children. She was shot several times in the head and died on the way to hospital. Miroslava was the third journalist killed in Mexico this month. A sign left at the crime scene said “tattletale”.

Miroslava has worked as an investigative journalist since the 1980’s and was known for her strong support for democracy and human rights. As a journalist, she had paid particular attention to the issue of forced displacement and land rights issues, which particularly affect indigenous communities in Chihuahua. She had also written on the issue of women’s rights in the region and more recently had focused on the role of local drug and criminal cartels and their connections to the political world. For 15 years she had been a correspondent for national daily La Jornada and was has also worked for the news agency El Norte de Juárez.

Miroslava had been an active participant in the campaign to demand action at state and federal level to protect women human rights defenders and journalists. In a joint statement, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression,  have demanded action by the government of Mexico to address the exceptionally high level of impunity for political killings in Chihuahua. According to the statement, “Only then will journalists and human rights defenders have any reasonable hope of being able to carry out their work without the fear of attack”.

“Miroslava denounced organized crime and also acts of corruption in the state Chihuahua, and that work is now our main line of investigation,” said Chihuahua’s governor, Javier Corral, who first met Breach in the 1990s.

In a televised news conference, he called her “courageous,” praised her “acute criticism” of society and the political class, and said the state would honour her with three days of mourning.

According to the National Commission for Human Rights, Chihuahua is the third most dangerous state in Mexico for journalists. The Attorney General’s office has sent a team of experts to Chihuahua to carry out an investigation. In a statement to Congress, journalist César Ibarra said, “ It wounds me deeply that at any moment a friend and colleague can be killed simply for telling the truth. We are not here with a political agenda but rather as fellow reporters to demand justice for our murdered colleagues”.

Front Line Defenders has condemned the killing of Miroslava Breach Velducea and is calling on both the state and federal governments to take effective action to protect journalists and human rights defenders.

Colombia: Leader of Madre Tierra movement in Cauca shot dead

On 20 March Javier Oteca, one of the leading members of the Madre Tierra movement for the liberation of land in Corinto, Cauca, was shot dead. The killing was, allegedly, carried out by workers from the sugar plantations on the Miraflores estate, only yards away from a police and army check point.

Since the beginning of the land liberation movement, the members of Madre Tierra have been the constant target of smear campaigns, threats and physical attacks by workers from local large estates. They have also been attacked by army and police members, who have demolished their houses, destroyed their crops and opened fire on them indiscriminately. Now they are killing them.

Javier Oteca has been an active member of the Madre Tierra movement since 2014. The land liberation movement began in Cauca, because of the lack of access to farming land due to the government’s persistent failure to deal with the issue of land reform.

Javier was one of the most prominent leaders of the Madre Tierra movement, providing leadership and defending the rights of his community. Local community leaders are calling on the authorities to carry out an immediate investigation to bring both the perpetrators and the intellectual authors of this crime to justice, and to ensure that it does not remain in impunity like so many other killings.

The community is also calling on international human rights organisations to expose the wave of violence to which community leaders are being subjected. In a statement  condemning the killing, the members of the “Consejo Regional Indígena Cauca” said, “We are angry that one of our community has been the target of this brutal act of violence simply because he stood up for the collective rights of the Nasa people”.

Brazil: Leading land rights activist shot dead in hospital while recovering from previous attempt on his life

Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement (MST), was killed on Monday 20 March, when gunmen stormed the hospital in Parauapebas in north-eastern Brazil’s Pará state where he was recovering from an earlier attempt on his life.

Video footage from the hospital security system shows the killers arriving on two motorbikes at the hospital where they overpowered the security guards before heading straight to the room where Waldomiro was recovering from surgery.

Waldomiro was a survivor of the April 17, 1996 massacre in the Amazonian State of Pará in which 19 peasants were killed. The policemen who were accused of carrying out that massacre are still awaiting trial. Although Waldomiro had resigned two years ago as one of the regional leaders of the MST in Pará, he was still considered one of the most important activists in the peasant movement in the region.

Brazil has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land rights activists – with 61 killings last year – the highest level since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a Brazilian advocacy group. According to an MST spokesperson, “Impunity has become commonplace, as has the action of criminal militia groups.” The spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, said  that Pereira had been a long-time activist in the struggle for agrarian reform.

Conflicts over territory are common in Brazil where 1% of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land, according to a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.

Thailand: Minority rights defender Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, shot dead in Chiang Mai province.


Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was shot dead on 17 March, 2017 after soldiers apprehended him during an “anti-drug operation” in Chiang Dao district of Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province.  However, there are many questions to be asked about this killing as, according to Human Rights Watch, “Abusive officials have long used anti-drug operations to cover their attacks on activists who exposed official wrongdoing or defended minority rights.”

Chaiyaphum  was a well-known activist from the Young Seedlings Network Camp in Chiang Dao district. He was involved in numerous campaigns to promote the rights of ethnic Lahu and other vulnerable ethnic minorities in northern Thailand, helping them to gain citizenship, health care, and access to education. He also spoke out against abuses by Thai security forces against his community during anti-drug operations.

On 15 March, he was among 19 youth representatives of ethnic minorities who attended a youth activist forum organised by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in Bangkok. Chaiyaphum was also a musician and documentary film maker and was awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’. Several of his short documentaries were broadcast on Thai PBS.

According to the account of the soldiers at the checkpoint, they stopped the black Honda Jazz sedan which was being driven by 19 year old Pongsanai Saengtala. Chaiyaphum was a passenger in the car. The two young men stepped out of the car and, allegedly, there was an argument between them and the military officials. Later Chaiyaphum was found dead from a gunshot wound close to the military checkpoint. The soldiers said that Chaiyaphum escaped from the soldiers, pulled a knife out of the car’s trunk, fought his way past them, and ran into the nearby jungle. Soldiers claimed that they pursued him and when Chaiyaphum was about to throw a hand grenade at them, shot him in self-defense. They have not explained how a detained person obtained the knife or grenade.

Another killing in remarkably similar circumstances took place on 15 February 2017 when 32 year old Abe Moo was also the victim of an extrajudicial killing, committed by military officials under the command of the 2nd Company of the 1st Operation Command, the Taskforce of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment, King’s Guard. The authorities presented the same reasons and circumstances to justify their action, claiming that the soldiers had been conducting a search for drugs and had found drugs in the possession of Abe Moo. They also claimed that Abe Moo attempted to escape and  was shot dead as he was preparing to hurl a grenade at the officials.

The soldier responsible for killing Chaiyaphum Pasae has been arrested and charged with murder.


Colombia: 766 Human rights defenders killed since 1994

The recent Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia expressed concern at the fact that despite an overall decline in general levels of violence, the number of killings of human rights defenders and community leaders has actually increased, with 127 such killings reported in 2016.

The report warns that armed groups are occupying drug territories as the nation’s largest rebel group starts demobilising. The killings have stirred fears that the Colombian government has failed to swiftly fill the vacuum left in remote regions where coca production has sky rocketed and illegal armed groups are now battling for control. Two-thirds of the human rights defenders killed were assassinated by people affiliated with criminal organisations, and most worked in rural areas where the state has traditionally had little presence.

The government of Colombia continues to maintain the position that the violence is sporadic rather than systematic and denies that the violence is linked to paramilitary activity. However, according to U.N. representative Todd Howland “There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring… . It is a really important moment to consolidate the implementation of the accords”.

What the media reports have not highlighted is that, as noted in the report, the Attorney General’s office has itself compiled a list of 766 human rights defenders killed since 1994. “OHCHR takes note of the progress achieved by the Attorney General in the context of dialogue between the Government and civil society known as the National Roundtable on Guarantees, in identifying cases of killings of human rights defenders since 1994. Of the 766 cases identified to date, the Office of the Attorney General must still locate 193 cases in its registry following changes in its information management systems since 2004″.

This startling statistic underlines the consistent failure of Colombian governments to take effective action to protect HRDs. The Peace Accords present the government with a historic opportunity to address this issue. The credibility of the government’s commitment to the peace process will depend on what action it takes.

Front Line Defenders believes however that even this figure is a significant underestimate.