Social justice under attack as defenders continue to be criminalised

PBI supports human rights defenders in different parts of the world who push for social justice and respect for the rule of law.  This work often implies considerable risk.  PBI supports many defenders who have been crimianlised for the work they carry out, meaning the legal system is used against them in order to stop their resistance.  

In Mexico and Guatemala, this trend has been particularly prevalent with regards to land, territory and environmental defenders.  These attacks put those fighting for social justice at risk.  If social justice is a global priority, we must ensure defenders are protected and can carry on their important work in the conditions they deserve. 

Mexican President insists that the La Parota Hydroelectric Dam Project will not be restarted

It has recently been reported that on the 20th January 2020 Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reiterated his pledge to respect local opposition to energy and other projects, insisting his government would not restart the controversial La Parota hydroelectric dam.

This project has been opposed by The Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to the La Parota Dam (CECOP) launched in 2003 in the state of Guerrero, Mexico.  Members of CECOP have been victim to different attacks due to their active resistance against the economic project.  

PBI Mexico had accompanied the Tlachinollan Human Rights Center, representing many members of CECOP detained since January 2018.

Although the 16 members of CECOP were released in June 2019 Front Line Defenders states ‘it remains worried about the use of the judicial system, especially pretrial detention and unjustifiably long criminal procedures, as a tool to criminalise and intimidate human rights defenders. Front Line Defenders also remains concerned about the pattern of judicial harassment against indigenous and environmental rights defenders in reprisal for their legitimate human rights activities in the state of Guerrero’.

The members of CECOP were detained as a part of a security operation in 2018 which resulted in 3 people being extrajuducially killed and at least 25 being detained arbitrarily.

In all the cases, there was ill-treatment, and in at least eight of them, torture.

PBI Mexico notes: ‘The situation for people defending land, territory and the environment continues to be seriously concerning and is getting worse’.

PBI Guatemala accompanies Human Rights Law Firm BDH at hearing

On January 27th PBI Guatemala accompanied Human Rights Law Firm BDH, who together with a lawyer from the Comite de Unidad Campesina, are representing three human rights defenders charged with ‘aggravated usurpation’.  The accusation came in the context of an eviction and the judge has postponed debate.

The three defenders were arrested within the context of the eviction of 25 families from their homes in La Cumbre on 1st November 2017.

The Guatemala Solidarity Project explains, ‘The eviction was blatantly illegal for a number of reasons, including that there was no advance notice through the Human Rights office and that it was carried out on a holiday which is against the law.  After 45 minutes the Army commenced burning down houses, all the while forcefully questioning people as to the whereabouts of community leaders, with fraudulent arrest warrants, who had fled into the mountains to avoid arrest’.

Furthermore, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has stated in a report to the UN Human Rights Council that the ‘crime of aggravated usurpation is commonly brought against indigenous land rights defenders’.

She highlights that ‘Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands, subject to criminal charges such as ‘usurpation’ or illegal occupation, and liable to forced evictions and removal from the lands they rely upon for their livelihoods, social and cultural cohesion and spiritual traditions’.

PBI Guatemala has accompanied BDH since 2013. BDH’s work involves fighting impunity and defending criminalised human rights defenders.

These cases illustrate that those defending their land and territory, in the fight for societies built upon foundations of social justice, are continually attacked and threatened, seriously threatening the full functioning of democratic and peaceful social systems.  PBI believes that in order to achieve social justice, these grass roots defenders must be protected, and the rule of law used to defend them, rather than attack them.  PBI will continue to support these defenders in order to achieve social justice across the world.