photo of woman projected on wall

As temperatures rise, our solidarity action with threatened climate protectors is more important then ever

A photo of inspiring Lenca rights and river defender Berta Cáceres, murdered in Honduras in 2016, is projected outside COP26 in Glasgow. Photo credit: @LouisJWilsonUK/Global Witness

As government delegations at last November’s UN climate change conference debated what action to take to confront our global climate emergency, activists outside projected images of community leaders murdered for their courageous efforts to protect the environment.

More than a thousand environmental and land defenders have been killed since the Paris Agreement was signed, many of them Indigenous defenders. Thousands more defenders have been threatened with death, attacked or unjustly thrown in jail to silence them. Nowhere is the situation more dangerous than in countries of Latin America, with Indigenous, racialized and women defenders at particular risk.

Solidarity action is vital to support those whose efforts protect us all.

Solidarity is important. When Canadians speak out, it carries a lot of weight …

Bertha Zúniga Cáceres, coordinator of COPINH in Honduras

FREE RIVER AND Q’EQCHI’ RIGHTS DEFENDER BERNARDO CAAL XOL IN GUATEMALA

Bernardo Caal Xol is a Maya Q’eqchi’ teacher in northern Guatemala who was chosen by his people to take legal action against the construction of hydroelectric dams that violate Indigenous rights and have dried up water of vital importance to Indigenous communities. To silence Bernardo’s voice of leadership, authorities charged him with crimes he did not commit and sentenced him to more than 7 years in jail, without any evidence.

These injustices continue to be courageously challenged by Bernardo’s family and the communities he represents. Amnesty International Canada is working with them to echo their voices and press for Bernardo’s release so he can continue to defend Indigenous rights and the water that guarantees life for all.

It has been an honor to have your accompaniment. It gives us a lot of hope, a lot of strength and fortitude.

Isabel Matzir, human rights defender and partner of Bernardo Caal Xol

Take Action

Sign our e-action. If you are one of the more than 18,000 people who have already signed, THANK YOU! Now, please be a champion and encourage others to sign too so that we can gather more than 20,000 signatures and increase pressure for Bernardo’s release. Consider approaching teachers or professors in your community explaining that Bernardo is honoured in his community as a dedicated teacher. If you belong to a trade union or have friends who are, encourage sign-ons by union members, explaining that Bernardo has also been an active leader in the union that represents teachers in Guatemala.

Write a letter. It’s a powerful, personal way to put pressure on Guatemalan authorities. Find the instructions here. You may want to mention that January 30 marks 4 years since Bernardo was jailed unjustly for a crime he did not commit.

Organize an online film screening of Water: The Blood of Mother Nature, a powerful 40-minute documentary from Guatemala about the inspiring struggle of Bernardo Caal Xol and the Q’eqchi communities he represents. You can also screen a beautiful 3-minute short in which Bernardo’s teenaged daughter Ni’kte’ explains what is at stake. Then invite viewers to take action. For more information, contact Elena Dumitru via edumitru@amnesty.ca

Create a powerful solidarity message. Take a photo with a sign beside water that is important in your community. Post your photo message, tagging Bernardo’s social media account – so he knows he is not alone. Not on social media? Send your photo message to us via kprice@amnesty.ca so we can share it for you.

Here is a sample post that Bernardo’s family shared with him and publicly to show international support for their cause:

PROTECT THOSE WHO PROTECT US IN COLOMBIA

Beautiful, resource rich, bio-diverse Colombia is arguably the deadliest country in the world to defend the planet. Hundreds of defenders have been killed in the last three years, and the bloodshed continues. The non-governmental organization Somos Defensores (We Are Defenders) reported more than 500 death threats and assassination attempts in the first nine months of 2021 alone.

With the help of Amnesty Canada supporters, a campaign entitled Protect Those Who Protect Us delivered 180,000 calls to Colombia’s Congress last November, requesting action to ensure that authorities comply with obligations to protect defenders from harm.

Members of Congress held a special hearing on November 19 and committed to expedite the creation of a commission to guarantee protection for threatened defenders.  

Meanwhile, the crisis for defenders continues. Jani Silva, leader of the Association for the Integral and Sustainable Development of the Amazonian Pearl Reserve (known by its acronym ADISPA), is amongst those who face constant danger as she seeks to protect a unique and vitally important ecosystem from contamination by oil companies. Jani has had to move away from her isolated home in the Amazonian Pearl to a city where a protection scheme, including regular police patrols around her home, has been provided thanks to thousands of messages of concern sent to Colombian authorities by activists in Canada and around the world.  

The accompaniment of Amnesty International has allowed me to remain alive and for ADISPA to continue to exist. I have no words to express what I feel. If it were not for you and all those who accompany me, I would not be here …

Jani Silva, ADISPA

Jani was planting trees in the Amazonian Pearl reserve in November, thanks to physical accompaniment provided by Peace Brigades International. Death threats from a paramilitary organization have forced Jani to move to a city where protection measures are possible. [Photo courtesy of PBI Colombia]

Take Action

Mark your calendars for DAYS OF ACTION between March 14 – International Day of Action for Rivers, March 22 – World Water Day, and Earth Day – April 22 . Book mark this page. We’ll be sharing more details soon!

Learn More! Read this article written by threatened Colombian environmental rights defender Sandra Ramirez Acuna. On Twitter? RT the tweet below.

FREE GUAPINOL WATER DEFENDERS IN HONDURAS

Known as the “Guapinol 8”, José Daniel Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero, José Abelino Cedillo, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Ewer Alexander Cedillo, Orbin Nahún Hernández, Arnol Javier Alemán and Jeremías Martínez Díaz have been wrongfully imprisoned for more than two years solely for peacefully defending the right to clean water. The defenders belong to the Municipal Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Goods. The committee has mobilized communities in and around Tocoa to peacefully challenge the legality of iron mining concessions awarded to a powerful company in a protected national park. Local people are worried about the impact on the quality of the Guapinol and San Pedro river waters. In December, Amnesty declared the Guapinol defenders to be prisoners of conscience who should be freed immediately.

Take Action

Write a Letter to the Attorney General of Honduras calling for the release of the Guapinol River defenders. Find the instructions here.

Use Social Media to share your call for the Guapinol water defenders to be freed. Be sure to use the hashtag #LibertadParaGuapinol and tag Honduran justice authorities: @PJdeHonduras See a sample tweet below.

TWEET THIS CALL FOR THE RELEASE of the GuapinoL RIVER DEFENDERS

#WaterIsLife & a human right. Peaceful social protest to protect it is NOT a crime. From Canada, I urge the release of 8 arbitrarily detained defenders of the Guapinol River in Honduras. They are prisoners of conscience. @PJdeHonduras the world is watching! #LibertadParaGuapinol

JUSTICE FOR BERTA IN HONDURAS

March 2 will mark 6 years since Lenca Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres was gunned down to silence her leadership of efforts by Lenca communities to stop the damming of the Gualcarque River. Berta’s family and her organization COPINH have campaigned relentlessly to bring to justice those who carried out the assassination – seven men are now in jail for this crime – as well as those who ordered and paid for it. Lack of justice is a green light for more killings in a country of enormous natural resources and equally enormous violence against those who seek to protect them.

There was jubilation last July when a court found David Castillo guilty as a co-author of the assassination of Berta. Castillo is a former military intelligence officer and manager of the company awarded the contract to dam the river. While the guilty verdict was considered a huge step forward, more than 6 months later Castillo is yet to be sentenced for the crime and authorities also have yet to act on evidence that other powerful people connected to the dam were involved in the plot to murder Berta. Meanwhile, COPINH is challenging the legality of the dam contract and financing pledged by banks in other countries.

Take Action

Mark March 2 in your calendar and stay tuned for action you can take around the 6th anniversary of the killing of Berta.

Plan to celebrate Earth Day on April 22 or World Environment Day on June 5 by planting or adopting a tree in a visible place to honour Berta and other environment defenders. Create signage to share their stories. Use the branches of the tree to create an eye-catching display and as the focus for a ceremony or action gathering, when that is a safe option. Take photos to share on social media. Approach local media to cover what you do – read this inspiring CBC story about what activists in New Brunswick did.

SPEAK UP FOR THREATENED FEMINIST WATER DEFENDERS IN CHILE

Environmental defenders with the Women’s Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection in Chile, known as Mujeres Modatima, continue to be threatened as they courageously confront a water crisis and its disproportionate impact on women and their families.

The women of Mujeres Modatima are explicitly anti-patriarchal and their defense of water as a human right has led them to challenge powerful economic interests behind extractivist projects which they say have “dried up entire communities, depriving them of such a vital element”.

In response, women water defenders have suffered smear campaigns, break-ins, attacks and death threats like the one painted on the building where Mujeres Modatima leader Verónica Vilches, President of the Rural Drinking Water Committee (APR), works (see below). The long time water defender has accused agro-industry of water theft.

Scrawled in blood red paint is a threat that reads: “Death, Death Verónica Vilches”

Authorities have done little or nothing to investigate the threats and attacks, and bring the perpetrators to justice. Police have failed to provide protection and have told the women there is nothing they can do.

Take Action

Write a letter in support of the threatened women defenders of Mujeres Modatima. Tell Chilean authorities they must investigate all threats and attacks, bring the perpetrators to justice, and ensure that Mujeres Modatima can protect the right to water without fear of harm to them.

This blog was prepared by Amnesty Canada’s Latin America campaigner Kathy Price.

For more information, email kprice@amnesty.ca