Colombia: Six indigenous leaders killed in four days

In a new report, human rights organisation Amnesty International denounced the increase in killings of indigenous people in Colombia.

Amnesty International states that between April 16 and 20, a spate of attacks by suspected right-wing paramilitaries on indigenous communities led to the deaths of six individuals belonging to either the Kite Kiwe, Awá, Wounaan or Nasa people(s).

On April 19, Gerson Acosta (35), an Indigenous leader of the Kite Kiwe people in Timbío, Cauca, was killed while leaving a community meeting. According to Amnesty International, other indigenous leaders shot and killed included Pedro Nel Pai Pascal (35), Jhonny Marcelo Cuajiboy Pascal (33), and Ever Goyes (35) of the Awá community and brothers Anselmo and Dalmiro Cardenas of the Wounan Indigenous people.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, director of Amnesty International for the Americas, emphasised that the situation indigenous communities face in Colombia is “alarming”. The spate of assassinations “raises serious doubts” concerning the Colombian government’s ability to follow through with peace plans concerning leftist militants, reports Tele SUR.

”These crimes highlight one of the main challenges in the implementation of the peace process. The protection of the communities living in the areas which have been most affected by the armed conflict and the need to guarantee that these deplorable acts (killings) do not go unpunished is vital” says Guevara-Rosas.

The Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Colombia for 2016 highlighted an increase in killings in areas once occupied by paramilitary, group or individual criminal interests, most notably the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, FARC.

Mexico: Journalist and LGBTI rights defender dies amid suspicions of torture


According to the Union of Journalists of Tlaxcala (UPET), on the morning of Sunday, 16 April, the body of 36-year-old LGBTI rights defender and former television reporter, Juan José Roldán, was found dead on a dirt road in the municipality of San Rafael.

The body of Juan was discovered by emergency services who attended the scene following a 911 phone call and showed signs of torture.

The death of Juan comes at a time of heightened danger for journalists working on sensitive issues in Mexico.

According to some media reports, Juan received abusive messages and harassment via Facebook threatening his life.

Police took Juan’s body to the Forensic Medical Service (Semefo) for further tests where an autopsy will determine the exact cause(s) of his death.

Relatives of the journalist identified the body, while the State Attorney General’s Office (PGJE) has begun an investigation to establish the reasons for the young man’s death.

Guatemala: Indigenous peoples’ and land rights defender shot dead in Izabal province

According to media reports, on the morning of Tuesday, 11 April, 46 year old community leader Mateo Tzip Xo, died in hospital from injuries received when he was brutally attacked by several armed men. Mateo was shot in the head, when he and a friend, Hermelindo Chol, were returning home from a fishing trip. Hermelindo was also wounded, but is recovering from his injuries in hospital.

Mateo had campaigned for many years to protect the historic land rights of his people and community in Reserva de Biósfera Sierra de las Minas. Mateo was treasurer of the Comité Comunitario de Desarrollo (Community Development Committee) and it is believed that the attack may have been prompted by his work defending the land rights of the community.

Mateo was also a Guía Principal ( Senior Guide ) in the indigenous community of Maya Q’eqchi’ Nueva Jerusalén, where the killing took place.

The Defensoría Q’eqchi (an NGO set up to defend the rights of the Maya Q’eqchi people) is demanding an investigation into the killing and is calling on the Human Rights Ombudsman to take effective action to protect all the Guías Principales of the Maya Q’eqchi’ people.

Mexico: Second HRD beaten to death in Oaxaca in one month


Taxi driver José Alberto Toledo Villalobos was a human rights defender and campaigner for indigenous peoples’ and land rights in the area of San Pedro Tapanatepec, Oaxaca. He was a leading campaigner against large scale mining projects, which are being proposed for development in the eastern part of the Istmo region. He was also involved in the campaign against the imposition of excessive charges for electricity.

At 08.00 pm on Saturday, 8 April, he was found badly beaten and semi-conscious on the road between San José and the petrol station at Tapanatepec. He had extensive bruises and other injuries and his taxi, which was found nearby, was a complete wreck.

According to witness reports, his taxi was followed by several other vehicles, which pursued him until they finally drove him off the road. The killers then beat José Alberto, leaving him in a critical condition. He was initially taken to a local clinic, before being taken to another hospital because of the critical nature of his injuries, where he later died.

José Alberto had taken part in recent dialogues between local communities and the state authorities to reach agreement on how to de-escalate the conflict over the electricity charges. Despite an agreement with the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE) that there would be no reprisals against the activists, the company continued to harass them with threats and intimidation, while electricity was cut off to the communities throughout the month of March.

José Alberto had reportedly received numerous death threats, telling him to give up his campaign for lower electricity charges or face the consequences. Just a month earlier on 8 March, indigenous community leader Benjamín Juárez José, died in hospital following a brutal beating while in police custody. Front Line Defenders is deeply concerned at  the ongoing attacks on human rights defenders in Oaxaca (and Mexico more generally) and the impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators.

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.