On Wednesday, 19 July, Ezequiel Rangel was buried in the cemetery in Guamalito, in the Catatumbo region.
Ezequiel was seen leaving his home around 5pm on Sunday 16 July and later that evening he was seen travelling as a passenger on a motor bike. At 5am the next morning his family received a call telling them that Ezequiel’s body had been found. He had been shot several times.
Ezequiel Rangel was a 35 year old farmer and father of two sons. He had a small farm where he grew coffee, bananas and vegetables. Ezequiel was also the local leader of Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo (Ascamcat) which, in addition to working on issues of rural unemployment and the rights of small farmers, had been active in working to secure the full implementation of the Peace Accords with FARC. This was a particularly sensitive issue in a region which had seen extensive activity by paramilitary groups including the FARC, EPL and the ELN. There had been repeated attempts over the years to smear the members of Ascamcat as having links to the “guerrilla”.
It has been suggested that the killing was linked to programmes, sponsored under point 4 of the Havana Agreement, to replace the growing of coca with legitimate crops. However, this has been disputed by a spokesperson for Ascamcat who said that this programme had not yet started and that Ezequiel has been focused on delivering an education programme about the Peace Accords. While some of Ascamcat’s policy demands may have coincided with some of those espoused by FARC, there is no evidence of any active connection.
According to Ascamcat spokesperson, Pablo Téllez, “Ezequiel Rangel, as a leader, was someone who was totally committed to securing peace”.
“186 community leaders and human rights defenders killed since January 2016”
Just one day after the Human Rights Ombudsman, Carlos Alfonso Negret, announced that 52 community leaders and human rights defenders had been killed since the start of the year, there was yet another killing in Cauca department. According to El Espectador “Ni las alertas, ni las advertencias ni las estrategias de las autoridades han servido para evitar que más líderes sociales sean asesinados en el país”, (Neither alerts, nor warnings nor official strategies have helped to prevent the killing of community leaders and human rights defenders in the country”).
Héctor William Mina was a defender of the rights of the Afro-descendant community. He was a member of the Francisco Isaías Cifuentes Network of Human Rights Defenders, the Human Rights Commission of Marcha Patriotica, and was also president of the Civil Defence Board of the municipality of Guachene, Cauca.
At 11.45 on the morning of 14 July, he was having breakfast in the restaurant in the public park of Caloto, when 4 men surrounded his table, two on each side, and shot him several times. According to eye witnesses, after the attack Hector ran into the interior of the restaurant where people called for help. One man took him to the central hospital on his motor bike. On arrival at the hospital it was decided that he needed to be transferred to the Clínica Valle del Lili but he died from his injuries while en route.
According to the Ombudsman, there have been 186 killings of community leaders and human rights defenders in Colombia since January 2016. This latest killing brings to 53 the number of such killings so far in 2017, while there have been more that 500 instances of threats. Most attacks on human rights defenders occur in the departments of Cauca, Antioquia, Norte de Santander and Córdoba.
Raimundo Mota de Souza, known as Junior, was 38 years old, married and one of a family of 10 brothers in the Quilombola (Afro-descendant) community of Jibóia in Bahia state. On the evening of 13 July, Junior was working in the fields with his brothers. He and one brother were working some distance away from the rest of his brothers and nephews when four men pulled up in a car and opened fire on Junior. He was hit 10 times while his brother had to hide in a ditch to avoid being killed. The 4 men kept firing as they drove off.
Junior was the regional coordinator of the “Movimento dos Pequenos Agricultores na Bahia” (Movement of Poor Farmers of Bahia) and had undertaken courses in community leadership and legal studies so that he could help in the struggle to legally establish the land rights of the Quilombola community.
Following the killing of “João Bigode”, another member of the Quilombola community, in April 2016, Junior had become even more involved in the activities of the community to defend their rights. There has recently been a spate of attacks on members of the Quilombola community, none of which has been adequately investigated. On 16 July, 35 year old farmer Lindomar Fernandes Martins, was shot dead when a group of armed men burst into his home in the early hours of the morning and shot him dead. Brazil is now one of the most dangerous countries in the world in which to be a land rights defender. The government of Brazil has failed to address the scale and consistent pattern of these killings.
Luis Joel was at home with his family on the evening of 12 July, when someone rang at the door. When his sister went to see who was at the door four armed men forced their way into the house, dragged Luis Joel outside and shot him dead. Luis Joel had previously received threats and following his killing his family were told they had 48 hours to leave the area or face the consequences. Luis Joel was married with four children and they have now gone to live in an unknown location.
Thirty-five year old Luis Joel Rivera Perdomo was studying sociology in the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras (Unah). He was also a member of the Student Committee of the Faculty of Sociology and the University Student Movement. He had been an active campaigner on sexual and reproductive rights and was director of a local theatre group, Sombra Roja, which was his great passion.
While police have tried to portray the killing as a dispute between neighbours, there is concern that the killing is linked to the ongoing crackdown on the protest movement in the university. The movement struggles for fair and free access to education, as well as for student participation in the management of the University. Since 2014, when UNAH approved several changes in its internal norms resulting in restricted access to the right to education, the student movement has engaged in widespread peaceful protests.
On 23 June 2017, Roberto Antonio Gómez, father of student and human rights defender Andy Johan Gómez Jerónimo was killed while he was travelling to his house in La Esperanza, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Andy Johan Gómez Jerónimo is one of the students who has been charged with trespassing and deprivation of liberty because of his involvement in the Honduran student movement.
The government of Honduras should initiate a full and independent enquiry to clarify the circumstances of the killing of Luis Joel, and other student leaders, and bring the perpetrators to justice.
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.
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.