Human Rights Defenders

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This blog post was written by Noha Yasser, Intern at RWI

Indigenous communities across the Amazon forest are facing a human rights emergency. Around 1500 human rights defenders have been murdered since 2015. The indigenous Human rights defenders in South America are facing threats and considered as the enemies of their countries 

Mining, farming and fossil fuels are the main causes of conflict in the Amazon. Governments in Latin America are failing to take measures in order to prevent violence against the Indigenous people which results in acts of discrimination from the state and its insufficient action to tackle justice.   

Participating in environmental activism work liberally and safely is the right of all individuals living in Latin America. Though, those involved in the protection and security of natural resources, the environment, and indigenous lands, are usually exposed to attacks as a result of their effort in defending human rights.  

What are Human Rights Defenders:

Human rights defenders are the one who promotes or guarantees the implementation of human rights and recognize rights. Human rights defender is characterised by the actions that they take to defend individuals and nature. These actions can be on the long and short terms, and may or may not be associated with the practice of a profession or association; it is fundamental for human rights to be implemented, acknowledged, and protected.  

Among many other responsibilities, human rights defenders implement monitoring, distribution of information, promoting and teaching on human rights. The rights and freedoms of individuals and nature are many and involve all rights, without discrimination, following the values of acceptance, indivisibility, and interdependency. 

Attacks against Human Rights Defenders:

Many cases of outbreaks on environmental human rights defenders result from the context of projects that exploit the natural resources within the indigenous lands without the approval of the affected societies. The legitimate and institutional background in Latin American encourages such projects, and does not involve efficient processes for the protection of the human rights of the societies living on these lands. This can lead to socio-environmental disagreements between groups, businesses and governmental figures and confrontations are more likely to befall against those human rights defenders.  

Over the past decade, the protection of human rights defenders has become an important concern for human rights organizations, indigenous societies as well as the environmental civil society associations. Many defenders are being killed because of their determinations to protect fundamental rights which results in conflicts over land. The percentage of human rights defenders who are being killed is rising dramatically every year, around 80 percent of all violence occurred in the three Amazon territories of Brazil, Peru and Colombia.  

In 2012, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, stressed on the importance of this issue, specifically in Latin America as the most dangerous territory. Forst suggested that the international communities and states should acknowledge the work of human rights defenders in the Amazon, fight stigmatization, and provide freedoms for them.  

Human Rights Defenders in Latin America:

For instance, in Peru the human privileges activists in the country face life threatening challenges and sitituations due to their involvement in the fight for Justice in Society. For instance, female human rights defenders have faced a lot of Harassment and victimization. An example of human rights female Peruvian Human rights activist is Marcela Maruenda, who was convicted after accusing her professor of sexual Harassment. This was done to silence her and other victims who present themselves as human rights defenders and activists. The human rights protectors in Peru, such as activists and journalists, are often harassed and victimized to discredit them. The police have been using excessive force to suppress demonstrators, some of whom have been murdered or maimed. On July 2022, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet visited the country to discuss the protection of human rights defenders. 

In Colombia, the situation of human privileges activists is wanting. An example of the maltreated activists is those who raise concerns about Colombia’s commerce practice and face death threats. For instance, Pedro Turmina, an activist for the Colombian indigenous communities, has been constantly threatened by a firm that wants to grab indigenous Peoples’ land for mining purposes. Additionally, children have also been targeted. For example, a Fourteen-year-old boy David Lopez was attacked and lost his life for participating in demonstrations to protect the indigenous land. In Colombia, the Human rights defenders’ situation is dreadful, and the government should take measures to protect the activists. 

The United Nations has raised concerns over the security of the activists who defend the indigenous communities, journalists, and those who advocate for racial equality. For example, Clement Volume, a human rights defender, stated that the government has been using excessive force during protests, the freedom to hold peaceful demonstrations continues to be infringed, and the violence against political leaders, especially those of African descent, has been on the rise (United Nations, 2022). This has seen many human rights defenders being put into worse situations and even facing death in their attempts to protect human rights. Therefore, the condition of human rights activists in Brazil is dire, and the Brazilian government under Ignacio Lula da Silva should take bold measures to protect human rights activists. 

What could be done to Protect Human rights Defenders?

The Amazon is witnessing a broad abuse of the rights of indigenous communities and attacks on human rights advocates. This condition has developed dramatically due to the high level of conflicts over natural resources. Thus, governments and international communities should do the follow: 

  • Organize direct dialogue with governments and the international community to provide assistance to human rights protestors and human rights work in the Amazon, based on universal human rights that the nations have promised to support.  
  • Increase assistance for indigenous communities in the Amazon territory, with an emphasis on the acknowledgement of indigenous land rights. Indigenous lands are the regions with the lowest amounts of disforestation in the Amazon, thus the latter is an efficient approach to secure better-quality rainforest fortification.  
  • Improve support for the local and international organisations involved in human rights effort in the Amazon territory.  
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