On 18 June 2019, ProtectDefenders.eu, in partnership with the European Union External Action Service and the International Land Coalition, organised a panel at the European Development Days 2019, under the title 'The guardians of the territory - Strengthening international solidarity and support to indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders'.
In this session - which is available in this podcast, participants debated new strategies to defend and increase solidarity to those risking their lives to protect the planet's most precious heritage. As stated by WHRD and Champion of Earth Joan Carling, indigenous communities must be able to fight for their rights without being intimidated or killed, and partnerships with indigenous people are necessary to protect their rights and deliver equitable benefits - “We need political will from States to implement the rights of indigenous peoples and human rights due diligence for the business sector. We are not opposing development, we just want to be treated with equality and respect and to engage into partnerships”.
Environmental degradation driven by political and economic interests aggravates inequality and impacts on communities, which are denied basic rights and face repression. Indigenous peoples and environmental human rights defenders are at the forefront of defending their territories against projects that exploit natural resources and they are under threat – 207 environmental human rights defenders were killed in 2017. Stella Matutina, a courageous WHRD from Mindanao warned about the "ethnocide of indigenous peoples, through erosion of our culture and our right to self-determination. Indigenous peoples undoubtedly are left behind in our unequal world". Also Ariane Assemat, of Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña Tlachinollan in Mexico alerted of the impunity of perpetrators of attacks and killings of land rights defenders "This is a global trend: the world is today deadlier than ever for those defending land rights".
Click to read more about the European Development Days 2019
Sabine Pallas, from the International Land Coalition, stressed the responsibility for international donors and governments to act to ensure that indigenous and environmental rights are protected, and efforts taken to make sure that defending rights and resources is not considered criminal. “We must respect and protect the rights of indigenous communities to engage in participatory consultations for a prior, free and informed consent. But also we must protect their right to disent.”
ProtectDefenders.eu and environmental rights defenders
In this regard, the implementation of ProtectDefenders.eu has focused very much in providing emergency support and assistance to land and indigenous HRDs worldwide. For example, nearly 400 out of the 1,200 emergency grants allocated during the first phase of the EU HRD mechanism were provided to land, indigenous and environmental defenders for them to implement quick security measures, such as physical protection, medical support, legal support, or urgent relocation. Also, ProtectDefenders.eu has funded the work of communities, and human rights groups advocating for land, indigenous and environmental rights across the globe, including in the most oppresive contexts, by providing 60 comprehensive grants for these groups to inmplement innovative projects (such as campaigns, advocacy, or training), or to reinforce or build their sustainability through core-funding, lifeline support or bridge funding. When urgent support in the field has not been enough to alleviate the danger HRDs are facing, ProtectDefenders.eu has accompanied land, indigenous, and environmental HRDs through 50 temporary relocation programmes with the support of host institutions worldwide.
Moreover, the training programme has reinforced the skills and the capacities of more than 3,000 land, indigenous, and environmental HRDs around the world, via comprehensive training programmes on physical security, holistic security, protection mechanisms, advocacy, and by providing ongoing support and physicial accompaniment to the defenders and the communities on their daily activities and actions.
Through the Rest and Refuge Scholarship run by Reporters Without Borders Germany and the Taz Panter Foundation, Palestinian journalist Reham Owda was granted a three-month relocation to Berlin from March until May 2019, with the support of ProtectDefenders.eu Temporary Relocation Programme. During that time, she benefited from psychological support in a peaceful environment, wrote an article for Taz newspaper and participated to their workshop about the political context in Palestine.
After being blocked in Gaza for six years due to the closing of the Rafah Crossing Point, Reham Owda’s relocation to Berlin allowed her to taste “the freedom of movement within European Union countries”, as well as “the democratic life in Germany and the freedom of the press”, she said. She was able to travel across Europe and visit different countries, therefore broadening her cultural, social and political knowledge. She believes that this experience will help her expand her network with other journalists and understand better the safety of journalists in conflict zones.
As a journalist and political analyst in the Gaza strip, Reham Owda worked for different media and newspapers in Palestine, covering political and human rights issues during and after the war of 2014. In this specific region, human rights defenders work under pressure and are subject to psychological trauma due to their work in a conflict zone. More particularly, they are deprived of their rights of assembly, peaceful demonstration, expression and movement.
In early June 2019, ProtectDefenders.eu, in partnership with the Gulf Center for Human Rights, supported the organisation of the UNSR regional consultation with MENA human rights defenders, which took place in Tunis. More than 40 defenders from all across the MENA region and Turkey joined this gathering to provide their inputs from the field and substantial contributions to the upcoming Michel Forst's report on impunity, which will be presented in October 2019 at the United Nations General Assembly.
In the region, governments and authorities remain the main perpetrators of violations against human rights defenders, which aggravates impunity. Also, lack of independence of the judiciary and the use of judicial and criminal processes to hinder the work of defenders are seen as common patterns across all the countries. According to participants, international institutions, and in particular the special procedures of the United Nations, can play a key role in addressing this impunity.
For more than two years, ProtectDefenders.eu has been providing sustained financial and technical support to the oldest temporary relocation program for human rights defenders in Spain, located in the Principality of Asturias, an autonomous region in the north of the country. Since 2001, the Asturian Program for Assistance to Victims of Violence in Colombia (Programa Asturiano de Atención a Víctimas de la Violencia en Colombia - PAV-DDHH) has been hosting trade unionists and human rights defenders from Colombia for a period of six months. In addition, every year since 2005, the Program conducts a mission to the country, which aims to verify the state of human rights in Colombia and to verify the situation of former beneficiaries of the program after their return.
During their stay in Asturias, the human rights defenders participate in 'citizen diplomacy' and advocacy activities for peace before the Asturian and European institutions; and carry out continuous actions for denouncing, raising awareness and promoting human rights within the Spanish society.
In the current period, the program is welcoming five defenders and social leaders in the city of Gijón:
Nixon Gabriel Robledo, human rights defender who provides accompaniment to the victims of the internal armed conflict as a member of the Standing Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in the department of Chocó.
Juan Antonio Niño, lawyer, human rights defender, secretary of the Social Corporation for Community Counseling and Training - COSPACC, member of the Foundation for the Promotion of Social Justice Javier Alberto Barriga Vergel - FUNJAB. He represents victims of serious human rights violations with responsibility of the public force in the department of Casanare, including cases of extrajudicial executions committed by the National Army.
María del Carmen Mayuso, woman human rights defender, founder, survivor and activist of the Patriotic Union movement. For her work of social and political opposition to the privatization of the right to health, she has been the victim of accusations, stigmatization and abusive use of criminal law.
Álvaro Vega, a trade union leader and human rights defender, has been President of the Unitary Central of Workers CUT Sectional Valle del Cauca. In 2013 he was elected member of the National Executive Committee of the CUT and served as Director of Legal Affairs.
Abel Coicue, authority of the Indigenous Reserve of Huellas-Caloto, leader of the Association of Indigenous Cabildos of Northern Cauca -ACIN- and of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia ONIC, is a human rights defender and communicator of the radio station Radio Pa 'Yumat.
The PAV-DDHH is participated and supported by 17 social organizations, including unions, NGOs, solidarity committees and human rights associations. Some have the recognition of the human rights system of the UN and the OAS (Organization of American States). Five of these organizations are in Colombia and make up the Selection Committee. Twelve are in Asturias and make up the Commission of Organizations of Support to the PAV and the people received.
The PAV-DDHH depends on the Asturian Agency for Development Cooperation, is managed by the Soldepaz Pachakuti organization and follows up on the people they receive. In 13 years it has welcomed 90 people, of which 25 were women. According to their profile, 34 were trade unionists, 11 peasant and indigenous leaders and 45 human rights defenders.
With support from ProtectDefenders.eu, Urgent Action Fund supported Haven of Artists in Lebanon, an organization that aims to endorse, encourage and expose the modern underground art scene of Lebanon and the Middle East. Their grant request was to support an artist/activist collective to secure its building and operations as well as organize a staff retreat to address collective security and burnout issues following an increased crackdown against LGBTQI groups by Lebanese General Security. A retreat for a team that has worked for over 8 years without compensation has assisted their collective mental health, and they were also able to install and repaint new doors, locks, security cameras, blankets, permits, and outstanding lawyer fees. "Now we are able to focus all of our energies on capacity building for our target audiences without the looming debt and fear of not making rent due to them."
On 12 June, ProtectDefenders.eu participated at the RightsCon Tunis 2019 panel on the Human Rights Defenders World Summit 2018. A delegation of human rights defenders presented their experience of taking action to defend human rights and the consequences they had to face because of these actions. They have also mentioned the significance of the Summit 2018 had for them and what states, businesses and donors must do to ensure their fundamental role is protected and recognised in the digital sphere and beyond. In relation to this, they have called on the Tech community to join them in the struggle for human rights.
At the end of the HRD World Summit 2018 in Paris, all defenders agreed on a landmark Action Plan, which was presented to the UN General Assembly in December 2018. As participants to the Paris Summit continue to spread this message around the world, this panel was an opportunity to remind the world of the essential work they do and the need to create a safe and enabling environment for all those who actively defend human rights.
The Action Plan calls on Governments, corporations, international financial institutions, donors and others to take practical steps to ensure human rights defenders are recognised and protected, including by adopting national governmental action plans and legislation, and protecting defenders as a key priority in foreign policy, particularly women human rights defenders, LGBT+, indigenous rights defenders and other marginalized defenders who face the most risk and exclusion.
PBI Honduras, within the framework of ProtectDefenders.eu, is providing protective support to LGTBI defenders and organizations in the country. In August, PBI accompanied the Arcoiris Association in San Pedro Sula, where a cultural night and an LGTBI pride march were held. Also, after the murder of Bessy Ferrera - a transgender woman and a member of Arcoiris, PBI Honduras launched a public alert expressing concern over continuous attacks on trans women, in a context where 95% of attacks against them go unpunished.
The months of June, July and August 2019 have been particularly critical for human rights defenders in Guatemala. In the first six months of the year, UDEFEGUA has registered that 12 human rights defenders have been murdered. In addition, at least 361 attacks and 259 acts of criminalization against human rights defenders have been recorded. Before this alarming deterioration in the spaces where defenders carry out their work, PBI Guatemala keeps accompanying human rights defenders under threat and works to maintain the already shrunk space available in the country for the legitimate defense of human rights. With the support of ProtectDefenders.eu, PBI Guatemala has carried out different activities to address the critical situation in the country:
In August 2019, 18 LGBTI human rights defenders from 13 countries across Asia gathered together in Seoul, South Korea to attend a workshop around holistic security, organised by ILGA World - The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and supported by ProtectDefenders.eu.
For four days, human rights defenders from India, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Vietnam shared a safe space to discuss the impact that engaging in the LGBTI movement has on them, talk about burnout prevention, and address threats and needs regarding mental and physical health both from a personal and an organisational perspective.
The workshop was facilitated and designed by Rima Athar (The Coalition for Sexual & Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies, CSBR) and Lin Chew (Institute for Women’s Empowerment, IWE), who provided support and key indications to strengthen both individual activism and the larger LGBTI movement in the region.
Each participant represented their own organisation, working on issues as diverse as sex workers’ rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, interfaith and faith-based advocacy, feminist movement building, digital rights, trans persons’ rights, legal justice, mental health support and counselling and more.
Building upon their work - rooted in feminist praxis for leadership development and movement building - facilitators gave all participants concrete indications on how to address key needs that they had identified during the workshop: practical tools and advices that they could take back home and share with their communities!
In July 2019, OMCT in the framework of the Observatory published a mission report on the shrinking civil society space in Takijistan, ahead of Tajikistan’s review by the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
The report, titled Their last stand? How human rights defenders are being squeezed out in Tajikistan, highlights how the regime of President Rahmon gradually eroded the freedom of association and expression of its critics, including human rights defenders. In particular, it outlines how the authorities have increasingly restricted the legal space for human rights organisations and independent lawyers to provide assistance to victims of human rights violations, including torture.
The report finds that amendments to, among others, the Law on Public Associations - allegedly introduced to combat money laundering, terrorism and financing of terrorism - severely restricted the ability of human rights defenders and others to set up and run civil society organisations without undue interference. At the same time various official bodies were handed tremendous powers to conduct frequent and intrusive inspections of NGOs.
Furthermore, journalists and lawyers have been criminally prosecuted for defending victims, including the 28 years jail sentence for prominent human rights lawyer Buzurgmehr Yorov.
ProtectDefenders.eu is partnering with the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) to improve ACLED’s coverage of attacks on human rights defenders around the world. Nearly 300 new events were added to the ACLED dataset from ProtectDefenders.eu's Index of Alerts, which includes over 3,000 alerts against HRDs of all kinds.
While information from ProtectDefenders.eu spans six years and are recorded across all regions covered by ACLED, only a subset of these fall within the mandate of ACLED, a real-time data and analysis source on political violence and protest around the world.