Would you be a Human Rights Defender in Peru or Paraguay?
By Graham Minter, Country Coordinator for Peru and Paraguay, Amnesty International UK
If you are reading this, chances are you have, like me, taken actions to defend human rights. We are both human rights defenders. If, like me, you live in the UK, you probably feel quite safe about that. Sadly, this does not always hold true elsewhere.
Over the past year we have seen continued attacks and targeting of those standing up for land and environmental rights across the Americas.
In Peru, local communities campaigned to protect their land and water from a large mining project. Sixteen of their leaders were arrested. By simply standing up for their communities’ right to their land and access to water they were charged with abduction and coercion and given prison sentences of more than 30 years. The authorities failed to present any evidence of the alleged crimes and, after a lengthy process, a court finally dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.
In Paraguay, a human rights lawyer, Raúl Marín, faces frequent harassment and stigmatisation because of his work. Police arrested him while he was providing legal assistance to people forcefully evicted from their community. He was arbitrarily detained for a month and has since spent more than two years under house arrest for alleged “obstruction of justice”. Amnesty has found no evidence to support the charges against him.
These are examples of wider abuse and practices happening in Peru and Paraguay. By accusing human rights defenders of criminal acts, the authorities seek to stigmatise them as criminals, while the defenders themselves are diverted from their peaceful human rights work and others are dissuaded from speaking against injustices.
Worse, harassing and intimidating human rights defenders in this way encourages others to feel it is acceptable to attack them physically, issue death threats against them or even to commit murder without facing the consequences.
Defenders of rights related to land, territory and the environment are especially at risk in the Americas where there are many disputes over land ownership and the development of mining and other projects. In Paraguay, land disputes are often dealt with by heavy-handed forced evictions. In Peru, demonstrators are subjected to unnecessary and excessive force by police. In both countries, the internationally-recognised rights of indigenous peoples are too often ignored or overridden.
In a new report, Amnesty International is calling on the authorities in Peru and Paraguay to recognize the legitimate work of human rights defenders working on these issues; stop misusing the justice system to harass and discredit them; identify and drop any unfounded criminal proceedings and charges against them; and tackle impunity by investigating and bringing to justice all those responsible for threatening and attacking them.
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To find out more about Amnesty’s work to support the increased recognition and protection of Human Rights Defenders – please go here www.amnesty.org.uk/defenders
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.