“If you drive 40 miles inland from Recife you go back in time 150 years.” Those were the words of a human rights defender from the Pastoral Land Commission in Pernambuco, Brazil, as he tried to explain the lawless brutality with which landowners managed their sugar cane plantations. The reach of the state is weak and the level of corruption and abuse of power is high.
Guatemala draws a wide variety of visitors; backpackers, eco-tourists, chocolate and coffee aficionados and even Star Wars fans exploring the Mayan temple featured in the very first movie.
If you Google “Livingston, Guatemala”, your computer screen will fill with stunning pictures of pristine beaches, river and waterfalls landscapes and a colourful town that blends African and indigenous cultures, offering a unique Central American experience.
Santiago Maldonado disappeared while protesting for the right to land. Not for his own, since he was born into a prosperous family in the province of Buenos Aires. Two years ago, on the 1st of August 2017, he was protesting for the right of the Mapuche people to a piece of Argentinian Patagonia.
Sitting in Minsk following a few days of meetings with human rights defenders and others in Belarus led me to reflect on where Europe stands with Eastern Europe. Recent criticism of Tánaiste Simon Coveney promoting trade with Russia in spite of sanctions is only one symptom of a broader weakness and lack of strategy at EU level.
Over the past 11 years I’ve led workshops for human rights defenders at risk in Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Middle East, and East and Central Europe. Many of the HRDs trained at those workshops on Risk Analysis and Protection Planning reported stigmatisation, online abuse, threats and attacks. But earlier this year I received a call for help from a much closer source.
Brutal and corrupt dictatorships trying to use sport to improve their image is nothing new, as TheGuardiannoted in February when it compared club ownership and the Champions League to Mussolini and the 1934 World Cup.
Andrew Anderson recently met with human rights defenders and protesters demanding reform on the streets of Sudan.
“It is a coup, done by the security committee which is NISS, the army, RSF and police. They have suspended the constitution, which means suspending the bill of rights, declared a state of emergency and a curfew. They are going to meet the angry protesters with brutality.”
- Human rights defender, Khartoum 11th April 2018
In October last year, I had the privilege of meeting Damian Gallardo for the first time. It is a name I heard many times since 2013, when he was arrested in the middle of the night in his home in Oaxaca; since then Front Line Defenders – with many others – supported him and his family and campaigned for his release. I met him in what had been his home for five years, a high security prison outside Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco.
Last week I attended the court hearings on case of Oyub Titiev, the head of the Human Rights Center Memorial branch in Grozny who was absurdly charged with drug possession. I first met Oyub Titiev in 2009 after our common beloved colleague Natalya Estemirova had been abducted and assassinated.