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Crisis of violence against environmental and indigenous rights defenders

In 2018, 241 HRDs were murdered in Latin America,[1] constituting 75% of the number registered worldwide. Indeed, the killing of HRDs is the most urgent trend in the region, with reports of killings in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela. Threats, physical attacks, and intimidation were also reported in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela.

As countries in Latin America open up to more foreign investment – often for big industry and the extraction of natural resources – more transparency and consultation will be needed. So far, industrial operations in Latin American countries bring quite the opposite, and environmental defenders, indigenous defenders, and those working on land justice are the most targeted of all.

Lawsuits are also an increasingly common tactic, as is holding HRDs in inhuman conditions or without access to communications with lawyers or colleagues.[2]

Indigenous people face bias and stereotyping across the region. In a study of national prosecutions of indigenous peoples under anti-terror legislation, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights raised concerns over the effects of this prejudice – particularly in reference to Chile’s Mapuche community, whose persecution the XpA 17/18 reported.[3]

In Guatemala (at the top of the 3rd quartile), hundreds of criminal charges are currently filed against indigenous leaders and community members, often with private entities pressing charges – evidence that prosecutors are collaborating with companies and landowners.[4] 26 HRDs were killed in Guatemala in 2018 – a 136% increase on 2017.[5]

Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) was particularly targeted; on 2 May, President Morales referred to CODECA as a criminal organisation at a public rally, and five members of the organisation were killed, as well as two other HRDs, between 9 May and 4 June.[6]

Colombia saw a crisis in murders of environmental human rights defenders and indigenous rights defenders; 126 HRDs were murdered in 2018 – a crisis that has continued into 2019 .

In Honduras, a ministerial agreement proposed that the content of environmental permits granted to companies and extractive industries would remain classified for five years, and thus unavailable to the public or civil society – including the type and location of concessions and projects.[7]

Brazil’s state protections programmes are failing,[8] and the new President’s attitudes threaten to exacerbate an existing crisis of activists being murdered in rural areas – a phenomenon that has increased dramatically over the last five years.[9]

 

 

[1] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[2] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[3] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 10 August 2018, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/ipeoples/srindigenouspeoples/pages/sripeoplesindex.asp.x

[4] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 10 August 2018, available at https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/ipeoples/srindigenouspeoples/pages/sripeoplesindex.asp.x

[5] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[6] Front Line Defenders, Global Analysis 2018, 7 January 2019, available at https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/resource-publication/global-analysis-2018

[7] United Nations General Assembly, Visit to Honduras: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, A/HRC/40/60/Add.2, 11 January 2019, available at https://undocs.org/A/HRC/40/60/Add.2

[8] Ruta Pina, ‘Programas regionais de proteção a ativistas funcionam só em quatro estados’, Brasil de Fato, 30 July 2018, available at https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2018/07/30/programas-regionais-de-protecao-a-ativistas-funcionam-so-em-quatro-estados/

[9] Vinícius Mansur, ‘Assassinatos no campo subiram 105% desde 2013, aponta CPT’, Brasil de Fato, 16 April 2018, available at https://www.brasildefato.com.br/2018/04/16/assassinatos-no-campo-subiram-105-desde-2003-aponta-cpt/

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