By Kathy Price, campaigner responsible for work on human rights defenders in Latin America
From November 5-12, an Amnesty International mission is visiting Guatemala and Honduras to send a clear message: land and water defenders need protection NOW.
My colleague, Tara Scurr, and I will join Amnesty International campaigners from Sweden, Spain, USA and our regional office in Mexico to meet with human rights defenders, victims and government authorities, as well as Embassy staff representing the European Union, Canada and the US.
We’ll be handing over more than 40,000 petition signatures from Amnesty supporters across Canada to urgently call on the governments of Honduras and Guatemala to address this crisis. These signatures communicate a strong message of concern from Canada that we hope will have an impact, together with the signatures gathered in other countries.
Honduras: The toll grows
It’s been 20 months since gunmen in Honduras entered the home of beloved Indigenous land and water defender Berta Cáceres (right) and shot her dead. Her family is still waiting for those who planned and carried out the killing to be brought to justice.
Meanwhile, death threats and attacks continue against others, like Berta’s daughter, Bertita (right), who dares to speak up for the rights of Indigenous peoples affected by hydroelectric and other resource extraction projects in Honduras. According to respected international lawyers conducting an independent investigation into the killing of Berta, there have been 174 separate attacks on her organization alone.
The toll of lives lost, of courageous voices silenced, continues to grow in Honduras. Indeed, Honduras is one of the deadliest countries in the world to speak up for the environment and the rights of Indigenous peoples whose survival depends on it.
Guatemala: Defenders under attack
The situation is no less dangerous in neighbouring Guatemala.
During the first 6 months of 2017, more than 230 attacks were recorded by the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala.
Indigenous defenders like Aura Lolita Chávez (right) and Rafael Maldonado (right) who denounce the human rights impacts of mining, hydroelectric or forestry projects are particularly vulnerable, facing extreme aggression when they aren’t being arbitrarily detained and defamed by false charges.
Women defenders in both countries are often targeted with sexualized threats, in a climate of massive insecurity.
Bringing your voice to Central America
Against such a troubling panorama, increased international attention is vital to ensure courageous defenders of land and water can carry out their legitimate work without fear of violent reprisals.
In addition to increasing international attention, we’re also honoured to bring with us more than one hundred beautiful solidarity messages, handcrafted with love by activists in Timmins, Kitchener, Vancouver, Regina, Ajax and countless other communities. We will share these messages with the defenders we meet so they know they are not alone, that people in Canada are standing with them and making their support visible.
You can travel with us via Twitter in the days to come: Tara (@AIBHRGuatemala) and Kathy (@KPriceAmnesty).
To support our collective efforts to protect land and water defenders, add your voice to our petition action to authorities in Guatemala and our petition action to authorities in Honduras.
Thank you and stay tuned to our ongoing campaign for land and water defenders under attack!