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Six HRDs assassinated in one week in Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala

At a time of populist right wing anti human rights rhetoric, when respect for human rights is under threat, human rights defenders (HRDs) are increasingly at risk. In its Annual Report Front Line Defenders reported the killing of 281 human rights defenders in 2016 – 215 of them in the Americas. In this last week alone Front Line Defenders has received reports of the killing of 6 HRDs in Guatemala, Colombia and Mexico.

On 6 January Olmedo Pito García was shot dead by unknown gunmen when he was travelling home from work. Olmedo was a member of the Movimiento de los sin tierra (Landless Rights Movement) and was an active campaigner for the land  rights of the indigenous community.

On 7 January Aldemar Parra García, president of the Asociacion Agricola de El Hatillo, in the province of Cesar in Colombia, was shot dead by two gunmen travelling on a motor bike which had been seen scouting out the area on previous days. Aldemar was one of a  group of local activists protesting against contamination caused by mining projects in the area.

On 13 January 53 year old community leader Edmiro León Alzate was reported missing in the province of Antioquia, Colombia. The next day his body was found on the side of the road. He had been shot dead. Edmiro was one of the community leaders who had been defending the community’s access to water and campaigning to protect water sources in advance of the development of a major hydroelectric project in the area.

In 2005 Mexican environmental rights defender Isidro Baldenegro Lopez won the Goldman Environmental Prize for North America. Isidro Baldenegro was recognized internationally as a champion of indigenous land rights. On Sunday 15 January he was shot in the home of a relative and died later from his injuries. According to local media reports the murder suspects are linked with known assassins of other indigenous environmental activists in the region.

On Tuesday, 17 January, protesters led a peaceful demonstration against a hydroelectric plant in Guatemala. But the event ended in death after paramilitaries shot and killed 72-year-old activist Sebastian Alonso. The groups have been protesting the project for five years, with little acknowledgement from government officials. Violence has dogged the dam project; in 2014, two people died in disputes over the project.

Colombian human rights defender Emilsen Manyoma was last seen with her husband, Joe Javier Rodallega, boarding a taxi in Villa on Saturday 14 January. On Tuesday, 17 January 2017, their bodies were found in the neighbourhood of el Progreso in Buenaventura. Emilsen Manyoma was the leader of the Comunidades Construyendo Paz en los Territorios (Communities Building Peace in the Territories, CONPAZ) in Buenaventura. CONPAZ is an initiative of communities and organisations that live in territories where the armed conflict is taking place.

Repressive governments think that HRDs can be killed with impunity and that there will be few if any real consequences. As human rights standards are being rolled back in Poland and Hungary and the President of the Philippines is threatening to include HRDs in his “harvest” of killings, the human rights movement needs government champions who will combat this dangerous trend by re-stating their commitment to the human rights which have been built up at such cost over the last 60 years.  Governments should condemn every killing of a HRD as with every killing the prospects for building more just and equal societies are lessened.

Champion of indigenous land rights Isidro Baldenegro Lopez assassinated in Mexico

Isidro Baldenegro López, 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize Winner, North America (Mexico), holding his Ouroboros statuette, waves to the enthusaistic crowd, San Francisco, April 18, 2005.

In 2005 Isidro Baldenegro Lopez won the Goldman Environmental Prize for North America. Isidro Baldenegro was recognized internationally as a champion of indigenous land rights. On Sunday 15 January he was shot in the home of a relative and died later from his injuries. According to local media reports the murder suspects are linked with known assassins of other Indigenous environmental activists in the region.

Baldenegro’s courageous efforts have made him a national and international hero. He brought world attention to the beautiful, ecologically crucial old-growth forests of the Sierra Madre as well as the survival of the Tarahumara.

You can read the full profile of Isidro Baldenegro Lopez here

The frightening issue that could destroy Colombia’s peace deal

A man waves the Colombian flag during a Nov. 30 demonstration to demand the immediate endorsement of the revised peace deal between the government and FARC guerrillas. (Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images)

After a half-century of war, peace has come to this long-troubled region of Colombia, and the change has been terrifying.

Nick Miroff, Latin American Correspondent The Washington Post

On Christmas Day, gunmen assassinated a rural activist from the leftist Marcha Patriótica party as he rode home on his motorbike. A member of the group was ambushed along the highway here in early November. The mutilated body of another activist turned up two weeks later in the same area. Read More >

Irish President Launches First Global Record of Killed Human Rights Defenders

24/11/2016 : Pictured was President of Ireland Michael D Higgins (centre) and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson with an international committee of human rights defenders and NGO representatives at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial in Dublin. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.
24/11/2016 : Pictured was President of Ireland Michael D Higgins (centre) and Front Line Defenders Executive Director Andrew Anderson with an international committee of human rights defenders and NGO representatives at the launch of the Human Rights Defenders Memorial in Dublin. Picture Conor McCabe Photography.

The HRD Memorial aims to document, for the first time ever, all killings of human rights defenders since 1998, the  year the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders was adopted. Carlos Guevara is a Colombian human rights defender with more than a decade of  experience fighting for justice in one of South America’s most dangerous countries for HRDs. Read More >

Front Line Defenders report finds police in Bangladesh refusing to investigate death threats against human rights defenders in Dhaka

People think the only problem is that we’re being killed – that ‘extremists’ are murdering activists. But no one talks about the government arresting us, making new laws to silence us, and refusing to protect us when we tell them about the death threats.” – LGBTI rights defender, Dhaka

avatar-1577909_960_720Since 2013, at least 14 HRDs have been murdered in Bangladesh. Multiple HRDs who have been physically attacked and the families of those who have been killed reported that in the six months prior to the attack police denied a request for protection. Police routinely tell HRDs to “just leave the country” when they report death threats. Four months before he was hacked to death in his home, police told HRD Niloy Neel “we can’t help you, you’re a blogger.”

Instead of properly investigating the killings of HRDs, the government has released statements criticising the activists’ writings rather than the attackers’ crimes. In lieu of proper protection, surviving activists working in at least 10 different rights areas – including gender equality, LGBT issues, and indigenous peoples’ rights – have been forced to reduce their work and cut ties with colleagues.

Front Line Defenders found that at least 40 LGBTI activists have gone into hiding or stoppedcommunicating with colleagues in an attempt to survive. Forced to change phone numbers, apartments, and social media profiles, HRDs report a severe breakdown in activist networks as a result of the government’s inaction. Read More >

Guatemala: Remembering Adolfo Ich Chamán

On 27 September 2009, human rights defender Adolfo Ich Chamán was brutally killed. Seven years later, his wife Angélica Choc is still struggling for justice.

Adolfo Ich Chamán was a respected Mayan Q’eqchi’ community leader and the President of the Community of La Uníon in the El Estor region of Guatemala. Before being killed, Adolfo was leading his community in the struggle against a Canadian mining company destroying their territory. He was speaking out against the human rights violations committed by the company and the negative impact of the mine in his community.

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Brazil: One Step Forward, Many Steps Back

By Renata Oliveira, Former Front Line Defenders Research & Training Fellow for the Americas

At the end of April, my last activity with Front Line Defenders was to accompany Brazilian human rights defender and indigenous leader Tonico Benites to Brussels. Tonico had the chance to meet with several policymakers and diplomats to discuss the challenges faced by indigenous persons in Brazil, particularly his group, the Guarani-Kaiowás. As a Brazilian who comes from a state that has practically decimated its native population, I thought I already knew how bad the situation was. However, Tonico’s first-hand testimony about the persecution of his people shocked me.

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Brazil Tops List for Killings of HRDs in 2016

By Mary Lawlor

According to the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders, at least 24 human rights defenders (HRDs) have been killed in the first four months of 2016. This places Brazil at the top of the list of killings of HRDs reported to Front Line Defenders this year. The Committee, formed by several NGOs and civil society representatives, has denounced this escalation of violence to the United Nations (UN) and the Organisation of American States (OAS), highlighting the fact that that violence against HRDs includes death threats, harassment, stigmatisation, the undue use of the judicial system against HRDs, surveillance and even murder.

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LGBTI defenders in Honduras: doubly at risk

In the evening of 24 January 2016, Paola Barraza’s heard voices outside her home calling to her. When she opened the door, a group of men shot her five times. She died shortly after as a result of her wounds.

Paola Barraza is a trans woman and member of Arcoíris, an organisation which works for the lesbian, gay, trans, bisexual and intersex (LGTBI) community in Honduras. This was not the first time Paola was attacked; in August 2015 unknown men had already tried to kill her. She was shot numerous times and she was seriously injured as a result of the attack.

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