Worrying situation of human rights defenders worldwide

During 2016 more than 280 human rights and environmental activists were murdered in 25 countries, marking a growing radicalization of violence towards them. The murders that occurred during the first weeks of 2017 have ratified this worrying trend. From FUNDEPS we join the widespread demand for a change in the situation of those who have seen their rights vulnerable due to the protection of the environment, the territory, the rights of indigenous peoples, among others.

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“On March 2, 2016, gunmen stormed the house of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in the middle of the night and shot her dead. Cáceres had spent several years attempting to stop the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the land of his community in Intibucá, in western Honduras, which endangered a vital and sacred water source for the indigenous Lenca people. Less than a year before his death, he had delivered a poignant address to a crowded auditorium when he was awarded the Goldman Environment Award of 2015 for his exceptional courage in the field of environmental activism”

So begins the latest report by Global Witness, an organization that exposes the hidden links between the demand for natural resources, corruption, armed conflict and the destruction of the environment. The reason for this report is to expose the situation of human rights defenders in Honduras, identified by the report as “the deadliest country in the world for environmental activism”. The appalling levels of violence and intimidation suffered by rural communities are documented as opposing the imposition of dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land, projects controlled by rich and powerful elites, including members of the political class. The root causes of these abuses are widespread corruption and failure to provide adequate consultation to those affected by these projects.

According to Global Witness’s research, since the coup d’état of 2009, 123 land and environmental activists have been killed in Honduras; Many others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned. Throughout 2016, human rights defenders from all regions of the world have faced attacks because of their work to improve and defend the human rights of their communities. They have been persecuted by both state and non-state actors who sought to discourage, discredit and disrupt their non-violent activities.

According to FrontLine Defenders in its latest report of late 2016 the number of murders in 2016 was an increase over the previous year’s figure. About 281 people were killed in 25 countries. 49% of these defenders worked to defend the environment, the territory and the rights of indigenous peoples. Some of the cases occurred when local defenders launched campaigns against multinational corporations and resisted the occupation of their land and forced relocations, which were often carried out without adequate consultation or compensation.

In addition to the above, ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union’s defense mechanism, recognized that human rights defenders throughout the world are frequently subjected to harassment and false criminal accusations aimed at paralyzing, Intimidate and delegitimize their activities for human rights. They have difficulties in developing their work in increasingly restrictive environments in which the right to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly; they do not exist. Permits are permanently revoked by human rights NGOs, bank accounts are seized and their right to access foreign funds is violated. An increasing number of States have also developed a systematic pattern of obstacles to the freedom of movement (through the use of travel bans) of human rights defenders, with the clear intention of isolating them.

The murder of the defenders impacts in a way that goes even further than their own death. They affect the entire human rights community. Organizations that have been in charge of investigating the situation of defenders around the world have often come across that their killings have usually been framed in previous protests against multinational companies. It also highlights the role of complicity of governments in these attitudes that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people throughout the world.

Land rich in natural resources in Central and South America, Africa and Asia continue to be a source of conflict between the extractive industry and indigenous peoples in the context of projects frequently financed by international financial institutions (IFIs) or by Western and Chinese companies. The lack of checks and balances on human rights issues within these institutions, often accompanied by the abovementioned complicity of the current government, has resulted in intimidation of the local population and other more serious things, Has led them to consider that their concerns have not been adequately addressed.

So far this year 2017, new murders have been visualized to defenders. Isidro Baldenegro, an indigenous ecologist, defender of forests in the Tarahumara sierra, Mexico, was killed during the month of January. Two weeks later Juan Ontiveros Ramos, Mexican defender was brutally beaten along with other members of his family and taken to the force. On 1 February, the activist’s body was found. Likewise, on Tuesday, January 17, demonstrators led a peaceful demonstration against a hydroelectric plant in Guatemala. But the event ended with death after the paramilitaries killed and 72-year-old activist Sebastián Alonso.

From FUNDEPS we join in the widespread demand to prevent this type of behavior against environmental and human rights defenders from being perpetuated in 2017. Our work has been closely related to the monitoring of projects financed by international financial institutions, as well as Also a good part of those projects that have counted on Chinese financing. We emphasize the need for civil society to continue with its control tasks on this type of projects, while ensuring respect for the rights of those who exercise this type of task.

More information


Gonzalo Roza – gon.roza@fundeps.org