Human Rights Defenders in the Americas
It’s an all too familiar story. The damming of a river made possible with millions of dollars of public money from Canada. It’s the story of life-changing impacts on the local ecology and on communities who rely on the river for their survival. It’s also the story of their courageous struggle to defend environmental human rights amid deadly attack. Most of all, it’s a story that cries out for attention in both Canada and Colombia in these times of climate emergency.
The massive HidroItuango dam cuts across the Cauca River in a region of Colombia hard hit by decades of armed conflict and horrendous human rights violations.Dam construction in June 2018 - Photo: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP/Getty Images
The dam was promoted as a feat of engineering that would generate nearly a fifth of Colombia’s energy needs.
We count on Urgent Action writers to ask the Honduran Minister of Human Rights to ensure the protection of these endangered people. (UA 64/19 of 10 May)
In September, the minister convened a meeting with Rosalina and other members of COPINH (Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organization) to determine what security measures they would like.
Good news! Protection requested by the community has now been granted to Rosalina and other Río Blanco community members.
“Justice for Berta” is a rallying cry that has echoed across Honduras and around the world since the murder of iconic Indigenous water defender Berta Cáceres.
The Lenca leader was recognized internationally with a prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her efforts to stop construction of the Agua Zarca dam on a river considered sacred and vital to the rights of her people. Back home, Berta got death threats. Then gunmen entered her home on March 2, 2016 and shot her to death.
In a country where impunity for such crimes is the norm - and a green light for more deadly violence - at long last there has been a breakthrough.
On December 2, seven men were sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in jail for their roles in the killing of Berta.
In response to the attacks against human rights defenders who were monitoring protests in Honduras in recent days, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International, said:
“In recent days, Amnesty International has recorded several attacks against human rights defenders who have intervened in the detention of demonstrators and others not involved in the protests in Honduras, as well as the use of tear gas by security forces outside the headquarters of the Committee of Relatives of Detained and Disappeared Persons in Honduras (COFADEH), where demonstrators tried to take shelter. We also observed with alarm the detention of a human rights defender, followed by public statements questioning and stigmatizing the work these people do.”
One year on from the killing of the human rights defender and Rio de Janeiro city councillor Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, Brazilian authorities are still failing to provide their families and society with adequate answers, and their inability to identify those responsible and bring them to justice continues to put other human rights defenders at risk, said Amnesty International today.
“After a year of investigation, the Brazilian authorities’ alarming inability to solve the killing of Marielle Franco sends a message that attacks against human rights defenders will go unpunished,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“The authorities that took office following last year’s elections must bring all those responsible for ordering and carrying out the killing to justice and show that attacks of this nature will not be tolerated in Brazil.”
The approval of laws 5377 and 5257, which the Congress of the Republic will discuss on Wednesday, February 13, would put the human rights of thousands of people in Guatemala at risk, said Amnesty International today.
“These legislative initiatives put at risk the progress of the last decade in the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations in Guatemala. These advances have been possible thanks to the valiant and tireless efforts of the victims, their legal representatives, prosecutors and the people and civil society organizations that defend human rights. These laws would also put in doubt the future of the fight against impunity,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
The possible approval of law 5257, under discussion for the third time, which proposes amending the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations for Development, constitutes a threat to the rights to freedom of expression and association in Guatemala. It would impose excessive controls and onerous requirements for the registration and operation of NGOs in the country.
The Mexican state failed in its obligation to ensure the effective protection of the environmental human rights defender Julián Carrillo, said Amnesty International in the report Caught between bullets and neglect: Lack of protection for defenders of the territory in the Sierra Tarahumara, published today, three months after his death.
“The Indigenous Rarámuri people of the community of Coloradas de la Virgen have for years faced a series of attacks and threats because of their work defending human rights and their ancestral territory,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International.
“The killing of Julián Carrillo is the most obvious and appalling evidence of the Mexican authorities’ failure to comply with their obligation to guarantee effective protection from all types of violence, threats or reprisals resulting from their work defending human rights.”
In response to the killing by armed individuals of nine people, among them Frederman Quintero, social leader and president of a Community Action Committee, in the municipality of El Tarra in the Catatumbo region, Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International said:
“The situation in Catatumbo is a reflection of the ongoing violence across Colombia. Targeted and collective killings are a reminder of the worst moments of the armed conflict. The authorities must take immediate measures to protect civilians and urgently respond to this critical situation.”
“Human rights are being violated constantly in this border region of the country, and the state has not ensured a comprehensive presence in order to protect civilians from the ongoing violence. The Colombian authorities must commit to investigating these events in a timely and impartial manner to guarantee that impunity does not prevail.”
Guatemalan authorities must take immediate and effective measures to protect human rights defenders and launch thorough, impartial and independent investigations into all attacks against them, Amnesty International said today, following the killing of seven human rights defenders in the space of a month.
“Guatemala’s brave human rights defenders are being killed with impunity on a terrifyingly regular basis. The authorities must take urgent action to protect them from these savage and calculated attacks before more lives are lost,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“Instead of stigmatizing and insulting those who dedicate their lives to the defence of their land and the environment, the authorities must publicly recognize the importance of their work and ensure that those responsible for the attacks against them are brought to justice.”
The seven people killed in the last four weeks were all involved in defending their communities’ land, territory or the environment, and they were all members of the Campesino Development Committee (CODECA) or the Altiplano Campesino Committee (CCDA).
Brazilian authorities must prioritize solving the killing of human rights defender Marielle Franco and her driver, Anderson Gomes, and bring all those responsible to justice, Amnesty International said today on the one-month anniversary of her assassination.
“Society needs to know who killed Marielle and why. Every day that this case remains unsolved the level of risk and uncertainty surrounding human rights defenders grows worse,” said Jurema Werneck, executive director at Amnesty International Brazil.
“If the State fails to bring the culprits to justice it sends a message that human rights defenders can be killed with impunity. The authorities must make clear that this is not the case and move swiftly to investigate those who killed Marielle and those who ordered her death.”
Ronal David Barillas Díaz was gunned down on January 9th in Guatemala.
Last month, Amnesty International Canada's Tara Scurr and Kathy Price joined a delegation of Amnesty colleagues from Spain, Sweden, Mexico and the United States for a research and solidarity mission to Guatemala and Honduras. Tara reports from their meetings with human rights defenders and officials in Guatemala.
Fortified with strong, sweet coffee after a pre-dawn flight from Honduras to Guatemala, our delegation listened intently as a full room of international and Guatemalan civil society organizations methodically unpacked the situation facing human rights defenders in Guatemala.
Guatemala is a country rich in minerals such as gold, silver and iron. Companies both inside and outside the country want those riches.
Sometimes the companies don’t ask permission before they start taking the minerals. Sometimes their operations destroy the forests and farmland, and pollute the rivers.
Defenders of water and land need help to protect their right to a healthy environment.
One person they can count on is Rafael Maldonado. He runs an organization called CALAS (the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action).
But not everyone respects the important work that Rafael and members of CALAS do.
They have been threatened in social media posts and in newspaper articles. The threats said they would be killed if they continue their work.
They have been threatened at work too, and even at home. Last November, someone shot and killed a man who worked at CALAS. And last April, someone fired shots outside Rafael’s house.