“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.
The announcement of the ceasefire between the Colombian government and the FARC-EP is a historic moment that we hope will mark a turning point in the history of Colombia. It offers the Colombian people an opportunity to make a break with the endemic violence of the past. The direct reference to the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) in the peace agreement is one more reason to celebrate.
By Renata Oliveira, Former Front Line Defenders Research & Training Fellow for the Americas
At the end of April, my last activity with Front Line Defenders was to accompany Brazilian human rights defender and indigenous leader Tonico Benites to Brussels. Tonico had the chance to meet with several policymakers and diplomats to discuss the challenges faced by indigenous persons in Brazil, particularly his group, the Guarani-Kaiowás. As a Brazilian who comes from a state that has practically decimated its native population, I thought I already knew how bad the situation was.
I returned last week from a visit to Palestine and Israel. Over six days my colleague and I met with brilliant, tenacious, creative and brave human rights defenders who work non-violently on behalf of others in the brutally occupied West Bank or in an increasingly hostile Israel. We were not allowed access to meet with beleaguered human rights defenders in Gaza.
According to the Brazilian Committee of Human Rights Defenders, at least 24 human rights defenders (HRDs) have been killed in the first four months of 2016. This places Brazil at the top of the list of killings of HRDs reported to Front Line Defenders this year.
Last week the government and people of Eritrea celebrated 25 years since independence. No one can deny the courage, resilience and sacrifice of those Eritreans who fought for the independence of their country, yet sadly this very fact prompts the question as to what exactly there is to celebrate 25 years on.
Abdulhadi is two years old and is currently being held with his mother, Zainab Al-Khawaja, in Bahrain's Isa Town Women's Detention Centre. Zainab is one of the best known human rights defenders in Bahrain. She faces three years and one month in prison on several charges, including "destroying public property", for exercising her right to free expression by tearing up pictures of King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa.
When I visited Azimjan Askarov in prison in Bishkek in December 2010 there were some grounds for hope that he would be released. He had been sentenced in September 2010 to life in prison, but the process had been seriously flawed and the Kyrgyz human rights Ombudsman had found that the charges against him were politically motivated. When we met with Azimjan our main concern was that his health was improving following the torture he had been subjected to.
At the end of March, I visited environmental and land rights defender Máxima Acuña de Chaupe at her home in the Cajamarca region of Peru. The next nonfiction graphic novel we are producing is about environmental and land rights defenders challenging and at risk from resource extraction companies. Máxima is confronting Newmont Mining (US) and its Peruvian counterpart, Yanococha Mining, which are trying to remove her from her land to build a huge gold mine, known as Conga.