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.
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.
Maya-K’iche human rights defender Lolita Chavez is known to Canadians for her determined and principled stance on the right of Indigenous peoples to determine what happens in their territories. Lolita has spoken to Canadian leaders, investors and the public about the ways in which the Guatemalan government has failed to protect Indigenous peoples and how this leaves them exposed to abuses by corporate actors, such as mining, hydro-electric or logging interests. Most people in the region rely on subsistence farming for their livelihoods and are concerned that these industrial activities would destroy sources of water needed for irrigation and drinking. Lolita organized a community referendum on resource development in Santa Cruz del Quiche, Quiche department and residents overwhelmingly voted ‘NO’ to any form of industrial development on their lands.
Last week, Amnesty International's director for the Americas, Erika Guevara Rosas delivered more than 150,000 solidarity messages to support Peruvian land defender Máxima Acuña.
Activists from Canada, the United Kingdom, Norway, France, Taiwan, Chile, New Zealand, Italy and Peru, among others, wrote to the Peruvian government as part of the global 'Write for Rights' campaign to protect Máxima Acuña and her family from threats of assault and intimidation.
The Minister of Justice and Human Rights, Marisol Pérez Tello was present to receive the 150 thousand signatures and messages that Amnesty International collected in solidarity to tell the Peruvian government that 'Máxima is not alone'.
Máxima Acuña is a water and land defender in Peru. She has survived years of harassment, intimidation and vicious beatings by police and mining company security personnel over her right to defend the environment and her home from a massive gold and copper mine.
Her property shares a watershed with 4 lagoons that, if the company gets its way, would be drained and turned into tailings ponds. She has been forced into court to defend her family’s property rights to the land where they live and grow crops –and she has won. In September, she was beaten severely. It is staggering to comprehend the level of violence she has endured to defend her rights.
By Josefina Salomón, News Writer at Amnesty International
The armed men who burst into the house of Honduran Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres on 3 March had a simple plan: find her, kill her, and leave.
What they didn’t expect, however, is for Gustavo Castro, a human rights activist working with Friends of the Earth Mexico and a close friend of Berta’s, to be in the next room.“I was working on a presentation when I heard a loud bang,” said Gustavo, who is now in Mexico. “I thought something had fallen, but when Berta screamed, ‘Who’s there?’, I knew it was bad, that it was the end.”
When they heard him, one of the armed men rushed to Gustavo’s room. He pointed a gun at his face, shot him and ran.
By Kathy Price, AI Canada's Latin America campaigner
It was a killing that could and should have been prevented.
On numerous occasions, the renowned Lenca Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres had reported receiving death threats as she led David-against-Goliath efforts to stop a big dam project in Honduras that threatened Indigenous lands and rights.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recognized the risks and called on the Honduran government to provide protection measures.
Yet Berta was gunned down on March 3 in her home in La Esperanza, ironically Spanish for “hope”.
The pain of losing such a vital, beloved leader was quickly followed by fear. Berta’s tireless efforts had won her the prestigious 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize.
If someone as celebrated and well-connected as Berta could be murdered at will, then what about others less well-known?
The answer came days later. Community leader Nelson García was shot in the face and killed as he returned from helping victims of a land eviction.
By Tara Scurr, Campaigner, Business and Human Rights
One year ago, Alex Neve and I were sitting in the Hotel Continental in Guatemala City, waiting for reporters to turn up for our press conference. We were about to launch a new Amnesty International report on mining and human rights. We’d been warned by our experienced Guatemalan media handler not to expect many reporters to show up. Imagine our delight when our press conference began and we saw that the room was packed with radio, print and TV reporters, NGOs, and human rights defenders from communities affected by mining. It was standing room only.
By Gloria Nafziger
Refugee, Migrants and Country Campaigner, Amnesty International
I first met Luis and his family shortly after they arrived in Canada sometime in 1993. He was a writer and human rights activist from Colombia. Both he and his wife Diana had been targeted in Colombia because of their work in support of human rights. Shortly after they arrived in Canada they made a refugee claim. We couldn't talk much, because his English was poor and my Spanish was even worse; but from the beginning I considered him to be a compañero. My first vivid memory of Luis is a day in December 2003 when Luis, Diana and their friends from the Mennonite church came to our office to share the good news that just an hour or so earlier their refugee claim had been accepted on the spot at their refugee hearing. There were many hugs and much happiness. Luis and Diana began to plan to begin their new lives in Canada and quickly made their application to become permanent residents.