The Working Group on Extractive Industries , Environment and Human Rights Violations (WGEI) presented a background study on the operations of extractive industries and the realisation and full enjoyment of human rights under the African Charter.
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In 2013, Maya K’iche human rights defender Daniel Pascual spoke out publicly against the widespread attacks against, and intimidation of, those defending the right to land in Guatemala. In doing so, he denounced attempts by Ricardo Méndez Ruiz,founder of the Foundation against Terrorism, an organisation aimed at promoting a pro-military perspective of Guatemala’s violent history, to discredit and undermine his work defending land rights as the Coordinator for the grassroots organisationComité de Unidad Campesina (CUC).
In response, Ruiz pressed charges against Pascual. Since then, Pascual has been fighting criminal charges of libel, defamation and slander that sought to silence his advocacy. On 21 February 2020, the Criminal Court finally acquitted Pascual.
In 2016, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court issued an interim injunction that temporarily suspended the criminal proceedings. When Ruiz appealed the injunction, ISHR filed an intervention that urged the Constitutional Court to consider Pascual’s case within the context of:
- The widespread criminalisation of human rights defenders in Guatemala; and
- The State’s obligation to protect human rights defenders under the American Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), as clarified by the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
The Constitutional Court ultimately dropped the suspension, allowing criminal proceedings against Pascual to resume. However, in a welcome move, the Criminal Court stressed it was crucial that it consider international standards on the right to freedom of speech.
The Criminal Court concluded that Pascual had not committed any crime, but had simply exercised his right to freedom of speech as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the CCPR, the American Convention on Human Rights, and the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression.
‘The Court’s reliance on these regional and international human rights instruments sends a powerful message that national governments and courts must respect international human rights standards,’ said ISHR Programme Manager and Legal Counsel Tess McEvoy.
In welcoming this long awaited decision, Ronaldo Galeano, one of Pascual’s lawyers noted that ‘the decision reflects that the accusations were unfounded and aimed at silencing the voice of a person representing the voices of indigenous and rural communities.’
Guatemala has long been a hostile environment for human rights defenders. Recently, however, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court struck down proposed legislation that would have severely restricted the rights to freedom of assembly and association. According to McEvoy, ‘in this context, we hope that Pascual’s acquittal provides grounds for cautious optimism about the willingness of Guatemala’s judicial system to defend international human rights standards in the face of attempts to restrict fundamental rights of human rights defenders.’
A United Nations Truth Commission found the Guatemalan military had committed acts of genocide against Mayan Guatemalans during the country’s 36-year civil war that ended in 1996.
The passage of a human rights defender resolution by the Third Committee of the GA by consensus, with 85 co-sponsors, is another important step in ongoing work to strengthen the promotion and protection of those who defend rights.
HRC48: Women defenders engaged in the defense of the right to land, territory and indigenous rights demand that the UN and the international community recognise their key role in protecting humanity and the environment.
Futures thinking encourages us to identify small ‘signals of change’ which might help to identify and influence the futures that come to pass. At ISHR we’ve identified and, together with advocates and activists from around the world, helped contribute to a number of small but significant signals of positive human rights change in recent weeks.
The 8th meeting of the Business Network on Civic Freedoms and Human Rights Defenders brought together civil society, private sector and experts to discuss how companies can use their leverage for a positive change in the civic space
On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
The Human Rights Council should not only respond to diverse States and civil society’s calls for the creation of a Special Rapporteur on human right and climate change and to recognise the right to a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment, but also recognise the fundamental role of environmental human rights defenders in addressing climate change and safeguarding biodiversity. ISHR also called on the Council to respond to grave human rights violations in Afghanistan, China, and Nicaragua.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
To date, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ (the African Commission) recommendations to the Kenyan Government on reparations for the eviction of Endorois indigenous people from their ancestral lands in the 1970s remain largely unimplemented. On 13 April 2021, the NGO Forum met to discuss the status of the implementation of the African Commission’s 2010 decision 276/2003 on the rights of the Endorois people.
It's difficult to encapsulate such a complex year in a word, but "interconnected" is one that comes to mind when reflecting on 2020. We are proud to have remained deeply interconnected with defenders and to have supported, protected and amplified their work at the national, regional and international levels. With them, the "essential workers" of our times, we strive for a 2021 full of freedom, equality, dignity and justice.
Building back better requires new sustainable production systems. However, energy transition should not be encouraged at the expense of human rights or harm to local communities. The transition towards renewable energy sources has become a threat to human rights, with increasing attacks to human rights defenders.
16 organisations* share reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines. A shortened version was delivered at the Council. Full written version below.