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Front Line Defenders recently issued an appeal on behalf of murdered indigenous leader and human rights defender Chief Sabino Romero Izarra. In this guest post the Latin American Mining Monitoring Programme (LAMMP) explain the circumstances of his murder and the determination of his daughter Zenaida to continue his struggle.
While some in Venezuela are mourning the death of Hugo Chavez, the indigenous Yukpa people are mourning the death of their leader, Chief Sabino Romero.
Throughout Chavez's mandate the rights of Venezuela’s Yukpa peoples were not high on his agenda. The Yukpa people are one of many indigenous groups who live in the mountains of Perija – part of an imposing range of mountains in the north-west of Venezuela in the Zulia state, near the border with Colombia. The Yukpa are at risk of disappearing: in the last decades they have lost more than 90% of their ancestral territory.
On 3 March 2013, Yukpa Chief and land and indigenous rights defender Mr Sabino Romero Izarra was shot and killed while travelling on a road in the Sierra de Perijá, Zulia State. His wife sustained injuries as a result of the attack.
Why was he killed? Because he defended the rights of the indigenous Yukpa people who were opposed to large scale mining projects on tribal lands.
His is the latest in a series of killings and attacks in many countries on human rights defenders who have had the temerity to challenge corporate interests on behalf of their community, their people or their environment. . Almost inevitably wherever you find large scale mining, logging fishing or oil exploration projects you find conflict between the interests of those large corporate bodies who see as their only responsibility the need to protect their company's share price and the interests of the local communities who have lived on the land for generations. I have to ask - why is this conversation always so entirely polarised?
It was a little strange to hear the phrase “they don't like it because they want to be perceived as Robin Hood,” during a discussion in Spanish on attempts to close down independent community groups in the barrios of Caracas.
The start of the new year has seen a dangerous turn for the worse for human rights defenders in the Americas. In the last 2 weeks alone, Front Line Defenders has documented a number of cases of killing, attempted killing, attacks and death threats to human rights defenders throughout the region.
Front Line Defenders is extremely concerned about the apparent increase in violence and intimidation against human rights defenders in the Americas region. As the region continues to deal with the legacy of the past and makes strides towards justice and accountability, it is more important than ever to ensure the safety and security of human rights defenders working on the front lines of securing political, social, cultural, economic and other human rights for the people of the region.
You can read more about these cases on the Americas page at www.frontlinedefenders.org and you can stay updated on news about human rights defenders around the world by signing up for the Front Line Defenders e-bulletin via the website.