Intl. Human Rights Defenders Day: Role of business in protecting civic freedoms & human rights defenders

Male activist, demanding justice after the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping

The International Day of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), offers an opportunity to remember defenders, working for corporate accountability, that have experienced threats and attacks in 2016, in most instances because of their work. 2016 has been marked by a strong shift towards divisive politics, and we are continuing to see rising hostility and backlash around the world towards individuals and civil society organizations seeking to protect and promote human rights and an associated deterioration of civic freedoms. Global Witness stated on a recent UN panel, that in the first six months of 2016, 63 environmental and land rights defenders were killed in Latin America alone.The role of regressive companies in contributing to attacks and closing civic space has also been confirmed through our data collection, which will be highlighted through a dedicated portal on this topic in early 2017, and which so far found over 100 cases of attacks and harassment in 2016, specifically against defenders confronting business.

Parallel to this trend of attacks and restrictions, the past year has also seen increasing attention and acceptance of the idea that businesses are responsible for the protection of human rights, including civic freedoms, and cooperation with human rights defenders. The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders’ latest report eloquently explains the role of business in this space. Businesses are increasingly realizing that a safe environment for human rights defenders and an effective investment and operating environment for business are closely intertwined.  Progressive businesses themselves have already started taking steps in the right direction and sharing their experiences of doing so.

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10 December 2016

Commentary: Donors & protection groups need to find new ways to protect human rights defenders, emphasising role of non-state actors

Author: Iva Dobichina, Open Society Foundations & James Savage, Fund for Global Human Rights, in Guardian (UK)

"We must find new ways to protect human rights defenders", 10 Dec 2016

Human rights activists take part in a protest following the murder of Honduran environmental campaigner Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty

Human rights activists take part in a protest following the murder of Honduran environmental campaigner Berta Cáceres. Photograph: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty

In 2018 we will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders...[b]ut despite the declaration, the settings in which defenders work are becoming more contested and volatile – not less. Around the globe, a tectonic shift towards autocratic and semi-authoritarian rule by law, and the pernicious influence of corporate, criminal and fundamentalist non-state actors, has put human rights activists on the defensive and let rights violators go on the offence...Most security and protection approaches involve some level of interaction with the state as primary duty bearer and guarantor of human rights. The crackdown on civic activism in recent years seemingly support this assumption. Yet closer inspection of the drivers – including development, trade and security imperatives, and the rise of fundamentalism – exposes a growing confluence of interests and actions between state and non-state actors. Donors and protection groups must adapt to this profound change in the political context...International groups and donors should look at how homegrown and long-term approaches to movement-building, community inclusion and active participation offer effective and sustainable models for collective protection and defence of civil society space. We might also seek allies from those powerful political and economic interests that may not be as homogenous or monolithic as we think.


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5 December 2016

What Happens In Colombia Doesn’t Stay In Colombia

Author: Katie Redford, EarthRights International on Huffington Post (USA)

Federal judge tells Chiquita it must face human rights allegations in the U.S. After years of litigating against Chiquita on behalf of Colombian villagers terrorized by Chiquita-sponsored death squads, a federal judge denied the company’s latest attempt to get rid of our case and escape justice. We will now be moving forward with discovery, to trial, and (we expect) to justice for our clients.  The legal decision is important for the farmers, workers and labor organizers who endured killings, disappearances and violence without remedy, and for those of us who have worked so hard supporting them.  Chiquita has thrown one obstacle after another in our way in order to avoid facing these villagers in court. Most recently, the banana giant argued that the case should be heard in Colombia...[T]his case sends a clear message that companies cannot escape justice in the United States by forcing victims and survivors to litigate in countries where those defenders are threatened. The judge discussed the grave and dangerous context in which human rights and environmental defenders do their work in Colombia, and cited these risks as a key factor in his determination to allow the case to proceed in the U.S...

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2 December 2016

Brazil: 6 Guajajara Indians are cruelly murdered for defending their traditional lands against loggers & other non-indigenous people in Maranhão

Author: Survival Intl.

Brasil Jose Dias Guajajara killed_credit_CIMI_

“Brazil: Six Indians murdered as land conflict deepens”, 2 December 2016

Six Amazonian, of the Guajajara tribe in the north-eastern Amazon, were killed between September and November 2016. Their bodies were then brutally dismembered...[They]...are the latest victims of the land conflict which has engulfed the area...The Brazilian NGO CIMI said of one of the men: “He was fighting to defend the indigenous territory against illegal logging, and he made those who live off this activity angry.” The Guajajara have reported a constant stream of death threats from outsiders who are stealing their land and resources. A powerful and violent logging mafia operates in the region, supported by...local politicians. Five Guajajara were murdered earlier this year. They were from Arariboia indigenous territory, where...the “Guajajara Guardians” are putting their lives on the line to expel loggers and save their uncontacted Awá neighbors from extinction... Plans to drastically weaken indigenous land rights and cut and freeze funding to FUNAI, the body charged with protecting tribal lands, are currently being debated by Brazilian politicians...

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29 November 2016

Egypt: Parliament passes restrictive NGO Law

Author: Mada Masr (Egypt)

Update: Egypt’s Parliament passes new NGO law, 29 November 2016

Egypt’s Parliament hastily approved a new NGO law on Tuesday, just a day after the State Council concluded it has no indications of unconstitutionality. Various human rights organizations and political parties released a statement [attached below] criticizing the draft ... It has been clear for some time that the state is seeking to severely restrict the space for human rights work, with a war being waged in the form of numerous travel bans on rights defenders and the reactivation of the NGO foreign funding case, which was dormant since 2011…

The law drafted by Parliament introduces a new national authority […] whose mandate will not be limited to monitoring foreign organizations, but will also include the monitoring of any NGOs who receive foreign funding, and verifying that these organizations are spending the money they receive in approved ways. The authority, [which includes representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, justice, interior and the General Intelligence] must also be notified about locally sourced funding…

The penalties in Article 87 of the new law range from one to five years imprisonment, in addition to a fine of between LE50 thousand and LE1 million. Crimes considered punishable by five-year sentences include cooperating with a foreign organization to practice civil society work without obtaining permits, and conducting or participating in field research or opinion polls in the field of civil society without prior approval.

Joint statement by 22 CSOs on draft law

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4 November 2016

Thai Supreme Court clears labour rights researcher Andy Hall in one defamation case; conviction in another related case stands

Author: Mike Ives, New York Times

"Thailand Court Clears U.K. Labor Activist of Defaming Fruit Company", 3 Nov 2016

Thai Supreme Court clears labour rights researcher Andy Hall in one criminal defamation case; separate conviction in another related case stands

A British labor activist who accused a Thai fruit company of abusing migrant workers was cleared of a criminal defamation charge by Thailand’s highest court on Thursday.

But a separate conviction against the activist, Andy Hall, stands, and Mr. Hall said…that he would appeal it and sue the company, Natural Fruit, as well as Thailand’s attorney general and others.

“I feel very uncomfortable because as human rights activists, we want to spend our time doing productive, forward-moving work, and not sitting in court,” Mr. Hall said by telephone. “But this company will not stop its harassment, and the government is not doing anything to stem the harassment.”

Rights groups and the United Nations have objected to the prosecution of Mr. Hall, who lives in Thailand. He has been caught up in the country’s legal system since 2013, when he contributed to a report by a Finnish advocacy group that accused Natural Fruit of violating the rights of migrant workers from Myanmar…

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25 October 2016

UN Special Rapporteur urges Russian Govt. to investigate & take action on imprisoned indigenous rights defender's case

Author: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

[UN Special Rapporteur's letter to Russian Govt. regarding Sergey Nikiforov's case]

...Concern is expressed at the alleged unwarranted charges and sentencing of Mr. Nikiforov, which appear to be directly related to his activities in defence of human rights, including land and environmental rights. We express further concern at the allegations that the sentencing of Mr. Nikiforov is related to his and the Ivanovkoye village’s public opposition and legitimate voicing of concern about the environmental and human rights impacts of the mining project of Petropavlovsk mining company...We also express our concern about the alleged irregularities of Mr. Nikiforov’s trial...Please provide information on the legal grounds for the charges and the sentencing of Mr. Sergey Nikiforov...Has the affected population living in Evenki ancestral territories been provided with adequate information about the project, including its impact on their environment and human rights?...Please provide information on the measures put in place to ensure that the human rights defenders, including environmental activists, in the Russian Federation are able to carry out their legitimate work in a safe and enabling environment, without fear of threats or acts of intimidation and persecution of any sort...Please indicate if the Government has provided any guidance to business enterprises in the Russian Federation on their expected human rights due diligence process...[W]e urge that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.

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19 September 2016

Peru: Campesina leader Maxima Acuña allegedly attacked by mining firm's guards; includes company response

Author: TeleSUR

"Peru: Maxima Acuña and Partner Attacked by Mining Firm's Guards", 18 Sep 2016

Peru's internationally-renowned environmentalist Maxima Acuña and her partner were severely hurt Sunday morning in an attack by alleged hitmen hired by the mining company they are fighting against, reported Acuña's daughter. At around 9.30 a.m. local time, “people hired by mining firm Yanacocha illegally broke into the property and started damaging the lot with various tools,” said Ysidora Chaupe, daughter of Acuña and Jaime Chaupe. “When Maxima and Jaime approached them and demanded they stop invading the property, the mining firm's security staff violently attacked Maxima and Jaime, hitting Maxima in the head and body with a weapon, leaving her seriously hurt,” she added...Acuña's husband, who was badly injured, managed to report the attack to the police at around 12 p.m. But the police did a routine check, leaving both campesinos in critical condition and in urgent need of medical attention. Acuña won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for stopping Yanococha, a subsidiary of U.S.-based mining giant Newmont, from constructing an open-pit gold mine...In Peru alone, 61 activists were killed in the past 10 years, according to the human rights organization Global Witness.

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16 August 2016

Guatemala: Human rights lawyer, whose work includes mining case, targeted by armed men at his home

Author: Nina Lakhani, The Guardian

“Human rights lawyer's home ransacked in Guatemala in latest string of attacks”, 15 Aug 2016

…Armed men posing as police officers have forced their way into the house of one of Central America’s most prominent human rights lawyers, in the latest episode of an escalating wave of intimidation against legal officials. At least a dozen men ransacked the house of Ramón Cadena Rámila, Central America director of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists, on Monday morning…Cadena, who has played a key role in high-profile human rights cases including the suspension of a lawyer representing former military dictator Efraín Rios Montt, was not at home at the time of the raid…Cadena is involved in the La Puya community’s battle to stop a huge American gold mine amid arguments surrounding the legality of the mining concessions and the violent persecution of community activists…


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7 July 2016

Unknown Assailants Abduct, Murder Activist Lesbia Yaneth Urquia in Honduras


…Another Indigenous activist has been murdered in Honduras, with local activists reporting Wednesday night that a woman identified as Yaneth Urquia Urquia was found dead near a garbage dump with severe head trauma. Urquia was a member of The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, the group founded by Berta Caceres, who was assassinated in March. According to La Voz Lenca, the communications arm of COPINH, Urquia was an active member of the activist group and fought against the building of hydroelectric power plants on Indigenous land. The news comes four months after Berta Caceres, the founder of COPINH, was assassinated in her home…

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4 July 2016

Luxembourg: Tribunal finds Luxleaks whistleblower guilty of theft & violation of professional secrecy laws

Author: Simon Bowers, Guardian (UK)

"LuxLeaks whistleblower avoids jail after guilty verdict", 29 Jun 2016

A former employee of PricewaterhouseCoopers [PwC] has been convicted of theft by a court in Luxembourg following an unprecedented leak of controversial tax deals granted to many of the world's largest corporations...

In 2014, Deltour won widespread praise for helping bring to light hundreds of controversial tax deals granted in previous years by the Luxembourg tax office. The revelations, known as the LuxLeaks, helped lay bare the tax arrangements of companies including Burberry, Pepsi, Ikea, Heinz, Shire Pharmaceuticals and others...

PwC also gave evidence at trial, pressing for a conviction. The accountancy firm insisted Deltour was a thief, not a whistleblower. He was accused of costing the company huge sums, though PwC told the court it sought only a symbolic €1 in damages...

In a statement, the whistleblower said his sentence ignored the public interest. It was, he said, "detrimental to citizen's information and the good functioning of the democracy"...


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