Land Rights Now mobilizations to occur in advance of Human Rights Day in Guatemala, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chile, Colombia, and elsewhere
Amsterdam November 20 – The evidence is clear that Indigenous Peoples and local communities are the best guardians of the world’s forests and biodiversity hotspots. Yet in every corner of the world, communities defending their homes and the planet are met with physical violence and unjust legal prosecution. The murder of leaders in Brazil and Colombia made headlines this month, as did the NGO Global Witness’ report of the 164 land and environmental defenders who were killed in 2018. Yet hundreds more are intimidated, branded as criminals, unjustly imprisoned, or physically attacked. UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz has called the criminalization of land rights defenders “a global crisis.”
“The resistance will continue, even if they kill me, even if they imprison me for however many of years. The people who depend on the river for their livelihood, who drink its water, they will continue to resist,” says Bernardo Caal, an indigenous Q’eqchi leader from Guatemala currently serving seven years in prison for defending the river his community relies on against a hydroelectric dam.
This December, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and their allies will mobilize in advance of Human Rights Day to demand an end to the physical and legal violence. From 2-9th December, they will come together as part of the Land Rights Now campaign to call for global solidarity to support justice for criminalized land rights defenders, including the following spotlight cases:
- Guatemala, where despite recognition from the Constitutional Court that the company Ocex S.A. and the Guatemalan state failed to consult communities on a hydroelectric project, Q’eqchi indigenous leader Bernardo Caal has been sentenced to 7 years and 4 months in prison for his defense of the Cahabón river, one of the biggest in the country.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo, where Pygmy Indigenous leader Kasole Kalimbiro has been imprisoned on false charges for advocating for the rights of his community, which was forced from their lands to make way for a protected area. The community continues to face reprisals from local authorities.
- The Philippines, where five members of the Compostela Farmers Association (CFA) have been in prison awaiting trial since 2017 on false charges of terrorism. The CFA brings together Indigenous Peoples and farmers working together to protect their land, livelihoods, and environment from mining project in Mindanao. Mining projects in this area have already intensified the impacts of the super-typhoons and deadly landslides that hit the island with devastating regularity.
- Chile, where Colla indigenous woman leader Ercilia Araya from the Pai-Ote Community in Northern Chile has been subject to years of legal harassment for defending her community’s lands and water from a Canadian mining company.
- Colombia, where in the region of Cauca, Colombia—a hub of indigenous culture and resistance—the UN has catalogued 52 murders of Indigenous Peoples this year alone. The government’s failure to implement the peace accord and recognize indigenous, community, and Afro-descendant rights across the country has communities vulnerable to the violence plaguing Colombia’s rural lands.
A new policy brief will highlight the root causes and impacts of criminalization around the world. The Land Rights Now mobilization complements the launch of a new Global Initiative to prevent the criminalization of Indigenous Peoples spear-headed by Tauli-Corpuz and fellow long-time indigenous rights activist Joan Carling, Co-Convener of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for Sustainable Development. It will document and raise awareness of the global criminalization crisis and support efforts to combat criminalization in key countries.
- Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Joan Carling, Co-Convener of the Indigenous Peoples’ Major Group for Sustainable Development
- Diel Mochire Mwenge, indigenous pygmy leader and Provincial Director of the Integrated Program for the Development of the Pygmy People (PIDP), Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Jay Apiang, Karapatan, Philippines
- Noli Villanueva, Compostela Farmers Association, Philippines
- Julio González, environmental activist with the Madreselva Collective, Guatemala
- Rony Morales, member of the Union of Peasants Organisation in Verapaz, Guatemala
- Ercilia Araya, indigenous Colla and leader of the Pai-Ote Community, Chile
- Jose Aylwin, acting co-director of the Observatorio Ciudadano (Citizen’s Watch), Chile
What: Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world will march, organize events, and hold press conferences to demand an end to the violence and criminalization they face for defending the lands on which all humanity depends.
Communities from spotlight cases in Guatemala, the Philippines, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chile, and Colombia are calling for global solidarity to support their demands to end criminalization, free unjustly imprisoned land rights defenders, and recognize indigenous and community land rights.
A new policy brief will highlight the root causes and impacts of criminalization around the world.
When: 2-9 December, 2019
Why: Indigenous Peoples and local communities manage many of the world’s great forests and biodiversity hotspots. As recognized in the latest IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, recognizing indigenous and community land rights leads to reduced deforestation, lower carbon emissions, higher carbon storage and greater concentrations of biodiversity.
Because communities steward many of the world’s remaining intact ecosystems, their lands are prime targets for environmentally destructive agriculture, mining, logging, and other large-scale projects. When communities stand up to defend their homes and protect the planet, they are often met with physical violence, killings, and threats; as well as unjust legal persecution. At the root of this legal and physical violence is entrenched racism toward Indigenous Peoples and communities and insecure land rights. Indigenous Peoples and local communities customarily manage over half the world’s land, but only have legally recognized ownership to 10 percent.
The criminalization and violence toward communities often follows typical patterns, according to Tauli-Corpuz. It beings with smear campaigns and hate speech to paint communities as “obstacles to development,” or even as terrorists and criminals. Arrest warrants on trumped-up charges often follow, typically targeting indigenous leaders as governments and companies leverage justice systems to legitimize false accusations. When physical violence follows, there is widespread impunity for perpetrators.
To learn more about the mobilization or any of the cases, or to schedule an interview, please contact Jenna DiPaolo Colley at firstname.lastname@example.org or +1 202-412-0331.
Land Rights Now is an international alliance campaign co-convened by the International Land Coalition, Oxfam, and the Rights and Resources Initiative that aims to secure indigenous and community land rights worldwide. Since its launch in March 2016, over 800 organizations and thousands of individuals from all corners of the world have joined the campaign. Read more about the campaign in our flagship report Common Ground or visit: www.landrightsnow.org