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Human Rights Defenders in the Americas

    August 01, 2017
      The seizure of two opposition leaders in Caracas late last night is a telling sign that the Maduro administration is desperate to silence all forms of criticism as the political and humanitarian crisis in the country approaches breaking point, Amnesty International said.   “The Maduro administration is sending a terrifying message to all people in Venezuela: dissent will not be tolerated in any form,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.   In the early hours of the morning, officers from the Venezuelan intelligence services took Leopoldo López, leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, and Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas from their homes without a warrant. Both men had been transferred to house arrest on health grounds.   “The clock is ticking fast and time is running out for authorities in Venezuela to make a decisive U-turn when it comes to their approach to free expression. The alternative is simply too frightening.”  
    July 28, 2017
      The security plan announced ahead of the elections for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela this Sunday is laying the groundwork for a new wave of mass human rights violations, said Amnesty International.   “Venezuela's ban on protests will do nothing but worsen an already incredibly volatile situation,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.    “Instead of trying to silence the increasing popular anger, authorities must find workable solutions to people's very reasonable demands. Continuing to punish dissenting voices will only sink the country into an even deeper crisis."   The Venezuelan government’s security plan also includes provisions – such as the deployment of military personnel and experts to deal with electoral and military crimes – which are likely to facilitate a new wave of human rights violations.   Since protests began on 4 April, more than 100 people have been killed and more than 1,400 injured, according to official sources.  
    June 09, 2017
    Lolita Chavez Guatemala Indigenous defenders

    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.

    May 04, 2017

    Tweet

    In a landmark decision for environmental defenders in Peru, a Supreme Court ruling on 3 May 2017 marked an end of the trial for land invasion against human rights defender Máxima Acuña Atalaya.

    #MaximaAcuna has prevailed in her struggle against criminalization! https://t.co/WaiaKEc6N7

    — Alex Neve (@AlexNeveAmnesty) May 4, 2017

    What happened?

    In August 2011, peasant farmer and human rights defender, Máxima Acuña Atalaya, and members of her family were accused of land invasion.

    After almost five years of proceedings in relation to the unfounded criminal charges of land invasion, the Supreme Court of Justice has ruled that there was no reason to pursue the groundless trial of Máxima.

    April 12, 2017

    The decision of the Peruvian Supreme Court to postpone the ruling on the case against human rights defender Máxima Acuña is the latest attempt by the authorities to obstruct her legitimate work to defend the environment, said Amnesty International.

    The Peruvian Supreme Court was due to issue a decision today on the spurious charges of land invasion against Máxima Acuña Atalaya. The ruling was postponed until 3 May after the tribunal informed that some of the judges had not had enough time to reach a decision.

    “The case against Máxima is a cowardly attempt by the authorities in Peru to stop her activism to defend human rights and the environment and send a message to other activists,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

    “Effectively forcing her to travel all the way to Lima at her own expense just to be told that the hearing was postponed looks like yet another trick to continue to punish her and her family.”

    “Instead of continuing to harass Máxima and her family with baseless accusations, authorities in Peru must ensure human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.”

    March 15, 2017

    Máxima Acuña has a huge fight ahead of her to ensure that the four lagoons near her community are protected from mining contamination. US mining giant Newmont, and its Peruvian partner, Buenaventura, want to use those lagoons for their proposed Conga mine. Currently, development of the mine is on hold because of fierce community opposition. But the companies, through their subsidiary Yanacocha, aren’t giving up.

    This December, Amnesty members around the world took action for Máxima Acuña and her family in a campaign called, “Maxima is Not Alone” which called on Peru’s Minister of the Interior to protect Máxima and her family from years of abuse. 

    Máxima had this message for Amnesty members: “Thank you to everyone around the world who has stood by my side, worried about the risks I face. I ask that you help me find justice so that I can live in peace and tranquility”. 

    Another way Amnesty members can take action is to call on Canadian investors to use their economic clout to support the important and necessary work of human rights defenders like Máxima. 

    February 27, 2017

    Released: Monday 27 February 2017, 00:01 GMT

    The scandalous lack of an effective investigation to find those responsible for ordering the brutal killing of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres sends a terrifying message to the hundreds of people who dare to speak out against the powerful, said Amnesty International on the first anniversary of the killing on 2 March.

    “Berta’s tragic murder illustrates the woeful state of human rights in Honduras. The message is clear: if your human rights work disturbs those with power, you will be killed,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.  

    “The scandalously poor investigation into Berta’s murder, which has so far failed to identify those responsible for ordering her killing and the lack of an effective mechanism to protect witnesses and other human rights defenders, shows the Honduran authorities’ lack of interest in securing justice.

    February 22, 2017

    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'.

    December 07, 2016
    Peruvian water and land defender Máxima Acuña is one of 10 individuals and communities we're taking action for during Write for Rights on Saturday, December 10th, International Human Rights Day. Join Write for Rights to stand with Máxima! 

    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. 

    October 19, 2016

    The brutal murders of two land rights activists in Honduras last night are the latest tragedies in a seemingly unstoppable wave of deadly attacks turning Honduras into a no-go zone for human rights defenders, said Amnesty International.

    José Angel Flores, 64, President of the Movimiento Unificado Campesino, was shot dead by a group of unidentified men in the department of Colón, northern Honduras, in the afternoon of 18 October.

    Another community leader, Silmer Dionisio George, was also shot in the incident and died at a local hospital hours later.

    “Honduras has turned into a ‘no-go zone’ for anyone daring to campaign for the protection of the environment. How many more activists have to be brutally murdered before the authorities take effective action to protect them, or even be willing to talk about this crisis?” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

    August 13, 2016

    The release of a Mexican environmental activist, and prisoner of conscience, who was unfairly imprisoned nine months ago in what seems to be punishment for his peaceful activism against illegal logging is a triumph for justice and human rights, Amnesty International said.

    Ildefonso Zamora Baldomero was arrested in November 2015 in the Indigenous Tlahuica community of San Juan Atzingo, 80km south-west of Mexico City. He was accused of participating in a burglary in July 2012.

    The criminal charges against Ildefonso Zamora were based on fabricated evidence. A federal judge decided there was no basis to believe he was responsible of any crime and even doubted the crime even existed.

    “Campaigning against illegal logging is not a crime. Instead of prosecuting environmental activists for their peaceful activities, the Mexican authorities should ensure they are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of reprisals,” said Carlos Zazueta, Mexico Researcher at Amnesty International.

    May 06, 2016

    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.

    May 06, 2016

    By Josefina Salomon, 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.

    “Everything happened so quickly, I didn’t have time to think,” said Gustavo. “When the hitman arrived, I covered my face. He was three metres away. I moved as he fired, and the bullet passed my ear. He thought he’d killed me. It’s a miracle I survived.”

    May 02, 2016

    The arrest of four suspects in the murder of human rights defender Berta Cáceres in Honduras raise a number of questions on how the investigation is being handled, said Amnesty International today after Berta’s relatives claimed authorities have kept them in the dark regarding any developments in the case.

    “The blatant lack of transparency in the investigation into Berta Cáceres’ tragic murder, including the fact that her family has been systematically kept in the dark regarding any developments and the refusal to question high ranking officials is putting the whole investigation in jeopardy,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.

    “Authorities must urgently inform Berta’s relatives of the steps they are taking to find those responsible and ensure no stone is left unturned in this quest for justice. Anything less will send the message that human rights defenders can be killed and nothing will be done about it.”

    Read more:

    Honduras: Deep failures in investigation into activist’s killing put many at risk (Press release, 8 March 2016)

    April 20, 2016

    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.

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