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Farmers face trial amid environmental work

Syamsul Bahri
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Syamsul and Samsir were detained on 10 February 2021 and spent 14 days in prison until they were released on bail by the police on 24 February. In early March, the police handed over the investigation dossier to the Langkat Regency Prosecutor’s Office. The latter had submitted the dossier to the Langkat District Court, which is scheduled to start the trial on 29 March. The prosecutors are expected to read out the indictment on the first hearing. If found guilty under Article 170 (1) of the Criminal Code, they could face up to 5 years and 6 months in prison.

In late 2017, the government granted the Nipah Farmer community the right to manage a 242-hectare land in Kwala Serapuh Village, North Sumatra province, for sustainable use under a social forestry permit. The community has since then been working to rehabilitate mangrove forests in this area. The community is protesting the operation of a palm oil company that owns a plantation on land the community claims the right to manage. 

The accusation filed against Syamsul Bahri and Samsir dates to a case in December 2020 while members of the Nipah Farmer community were working on an environmental rehabilitation project on the land they manage under the social forestry scheme. According to witness testimonies collected by local NGOs, including WALHI North Sumatra, LBH Medan, and Srikandi Lestari, two people arrived at the site on 18 December and took pictures of their activities. 

Syamsul Bahri, the community’s chairman, questioned the two individuals on their intention of visiting the area. Afterwards, one of the individuals walked away and called his friend saying that he was “being beaten up” in a loud voice so that others could hear, before jumping into the river. The Nipah Famer community quickly rescued him with a boat and took him to safety before asking him to clarify the statement he had previously made in the call. The individual then said that he was not being beaten up by any of the community members and his statement was recorded in a video by a member of the community. The man’s friend came to pick him up not long after.

Almost two months later, on 8 February 2021, Syamsul Bahri and Samsir received a letter of summons by the Tanjung Pura Police to appear for questioning on 10 February as suspects regarding allegations brought by one of the men who had filed a report to the police stating that Syamsul and other farmers assaulted him on 18 December 2020. The two were charged under Article 170 (1) of the Criminal Code on group violence. The dubious charges against the pair have raised questions since Syamsul and Samsir had never been questioned as witnesses or asked to comment on the report before. 

Local NGOs who advocate for the case believe the arrest to be based on false accusations against Syamsul Bahri and Samsir and to be a form of criminalization aimed to stifle the community’s work in conserving the mangrove forests and claiming their rights linked to access to land. In a statement to the coalition of NGOs, Langkat Regency Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Edi Suranta Sinulingga denied concerns over criminalization and claimed the police have collected evidence over the assault.

Environmental human rights defenders in Indonesia who work to protect and promote environmental rights and those linked to access to land are increasingly harassed and criminalized when state and economic actors perceive their activities as a hindrance to the implementation of development policies. One of the most notable cases of criminalization occurred in 2017 with the sentencing of environmental activist Heri Budiawan, also known as Budi Pego, to four years in prison for spreading communism in relation to his work to protest gold mining activities in Tumpang Pitu, Banyuwangi, East Java province. 

In 2020, Amnesty International recorded the arrest, attack, and intimidation of at least 202 human rights defenders in Indonesia, including environmental activists who defended their rights to land and a healthy environment. 

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UK: Landmark Supreme Court ruling forces Shell to address abuses in Nigeria

In 2015, 40,000 people from the Ogale and Bille communities of the Niger Delta began legal action against Shell in the UK, alleging serious harm to their human rights and wellbeing © Amnesty International

Court ruled in favour of two Niger Delta communities who are seeking justice for environmental damage caused by Shell ‘The fight is not yet won, but this ruling is an important step towards justice’ - Mark Dummett The UK Supreme Court has today ruled in favour of two Niger Delta communities who are seeking justice for environmental damage caused by Shell. The Court found that the Ogale and Bille communities can bring their legal claims for clean-up and compensation against Royal Dutch Shell plc (RDS) and its Nigerian subsidiary, the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria (SPDC). The

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Indigenous land defender receives protection

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Urgent Action outcome: Indigenous land defender receives protection

Paraguayan authorities opened an investigation and provided protection to Bernarda Pesoa leader of indigenous community.

1st update on UA 160/20


Indigenous land defender attacked

Entrance to the ancestral land of the Ava Guarani Tekoha Sauce community
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Bernarda Pesoa belongs to the Organization of Peasant and Indigenous Women – CONAMURI- and the group of artisans of her community of Santa Rosa. She has participated in activities for the defense of land and environment for the past 28 years along with other members of the Qom people. According to Bernarda, the Qom people were originally forest dwellers and hunter and gatherers for their subsistence, and since the 1970s they have been living on the community land where they now live. They make a living through making artisan products from local plants as well as through small scale subsistence activities breeding animals such as goats, sheep and chickens. Their lands have been affected in recent years by the encroachment of cattle ranchers and private companies who seek to carry out projects that would affect local ecosystems.

Fundación Paraguaya is a private foundation that is developing a project for a eucalyptus plantation on approximately 20 hectares in the community district of San Francisco Asis, in which Bernarda´s community is located. The Foundation says that it reached an agreement with two community leaders of San Francisco. Nevertheless, the community lands of San Francisco pertain to 8 communities and their communal agreements stipulate that that all communities must be consulted about matters that affect their land. Various leaders, including Bernarda, have denounced that in the area where the eucalyptus is to be planted, there are medicinal plants, native trees, native species that they use for their consumption and for making handicrafts. They also highlight the loss of biodiversity, the drying up of the soil by erosion and the effect on the use of water in the area that would come from introducing this monoculture plantation into the native ecosystem. According to the Fundación Paraguaya, the project aims to sell biomass and wood from the eucalypts over the next ten years. 

Community leaders have denounced their concern over the planned eucalypt plantation, including with complaints made and a hearing with the Commission of Natural Resources of the Paraguayan Senate. In addition, it is important to note that the Paraguayan Institute for Indigenous Peoples (INDI), confirmed on 28 October that no process of free, prior and informed consent has been carried out in relation to the eucalyptus plantation planned by Fundación Paraguaya. Paraguay is a state party to Convention 169 of the ILO and has integrated the binding obligations of this treaty into its national legal system, which calls on projects that affect indigenous communities to be consulted to ensure their free, prior and informed consent before any projects go ahead. 

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Water defenders at risk of detention

Landscape of La Esperanza, Intibucá in Honduras
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According to Global Witness, Honduras remains amongst the deadliest countries for land and environmental defenders in the world. In addition to high levels of violence, including threats, intimidation and killings, as well as stigmatization and smear campaigns on social media, many of them also face unfounded judicial proceedings designed to intimidate and harass them and hamper their human rights work. 

The Municipal Committee for the Defence of Common and Public Assets (Comité Municipal por la Defensa de los Bienes Comunes y Públicos, CMDBCP) from Tocoa, North of Honduras, gathers several organisations defending land and environmental rights: the Environmental Committees of Sector San Pedro (13 communities) and Sector Committee Abisinia (14 communities); the Environmental Committee of the Community of Guapinol, campesino groups and the organisations Coordinadora de Organizaciones Populares del Aguán (COPA); Fundación San Alonso Rodríguez (FSAR) and Parroquia San Isidro de Tocoa. 

CMDBCP opposes the operating license issued to the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares in the Carlos Escalera National Park, formerly known as Montaña de Botaderos, in the municipality of Tocoa. On 1 August 2018, local residents set up the “Guapinol camp” to peacefully protest against the license and mining exploitation in the core zone of a protected area of the water sources on which they depend for their survival. They have filled several criminal complaints before local Courts, still pending.

Members of the CMDBCP have faced at least two criminal proceedings since 2018 for defending the Guapinol and San Pedro Rivers. In March 2019, a judge dismissed the charges against 12 of them, accused of “aggravated arson” and “unjust deprivation of liberty”, but the public prosecutor’s filled an appeal. On 13 August 2020 the Court of Appeals of Francisco Morazán revoked the dismissal ordered in March for five of the 12 defenders, which means they could face a new trial and be sent to pre-trial detention once again.

In September 2019, seven other human rights defenders were charged and detained pending trial. After two months in a high security jail, they were transferred in November 2019 to the Olanchito detention centre, where they remain since. (see Honduras: Authorities must guarantee due process for human rights defenders ). Another one has been held at the La Ceiba Penal Center since December 2018. Some of the human rights defenders currently detained have reported preconditions including hypertension and respiratory issues.

Honduras has been facing a serious problem of overcrowded jails for years, the majority of whom are persons in pre-trial detention (not granted with the possibility to defend themselves in liberty). According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (CONAPREV) there are currently 271 detainees in the Olanchito detention centre (where seven defenders from the CMDBCP are being held, despite a capacity for only 160). At the national level, the total capacity installed is for 12909, while the prison population is currently over 21700 inmates. International human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have regularly expressed concern about the conditions of detention in Honduras, which present a risk to the life and integrity of persons deprived of their liberty due to poor infrastructure, lack of hygiene, lack of sanitary facilities and decent places to sleep, negligent medical care, insufficient food with little nutritional value, and poor and inadequate access to water.

In early August, Honduran prison authorities reported a total of 1,121 detainees positive to COVID-19.

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Brazil: auditor calls out meat company JBS's claims over Amazon supply chain

Cattle ranching is one of the major drivers of deforestation in Brazil's Amazon © Gabriel Uchida

Major Amnesty report recently showed firm sourced cattle illegally grazed in protected areas of Amazon Norway-based auditor dismisses JBS claims over good practice JBS needs to ‘ensure its beef supply is actually and certifiably deforestation-free’ - Richard Pearshouse A former auditor monitoring the supply chain of the leading global meat packing company JBS has called out the firm for falsely claiming its operations in Brazil’s Amazon region are deforestation-free, Amnesty International revealed today. In correspondence with Amnesty, the Norway-based independent auditor DNV GL Business

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Brazil: Cattle illegally grazed in the Amazon found in supply chain of leading meat-packer JBS

© Gabriel Uchida

Government data shows steep rise in illegal commercial cattle ranching in protected areas of Brazil’s Amazon Illegal commercial cattle ranching drives land seizures, violence and threats against Indigenous peoples and traditional residents of Reserves JBS urged to implement effective monitoring system by end of 2020 Cattle illegally grazed in protected areas of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest have entered the supply chain of the world’s largest meat-packer, JBS, Amnesty International said today in a 70-page report, From forest to farmland. By failing to effectively monitor for illegally grazed

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Jun 25 2020 3:21PM
“If they can kill Berta Cáceres, they can kill anyone”

Written by Sheila Royce - Country Coordinator Berta Cáceres, tenacious environmental and human rights activist, was shot dead in her own home in Honduras in March 2016. Having campaigned tirelessly to protect indigenous communities on...

UK: shareholder challenges BP over 'glaring' lack of climate change policy

The multinational oil company has been accused of 'greenwashing' its image © JeepersMedia/Creative Commons

Amnesty UK Board member submits written questions to BP’s closed AGM in London next week Global oil giant was responsible for Deepwater Horizon disaster, yet has not updated its human rights policy for past seven years ‘It is shocking that the directors of a global company are so detached from their company’s impact on the world’ - Rebecca Warren A human rights and climate change activist has challenged the oil giant BP over its lack of any reference to climate change in its human rights policy. Rebecca Warren, an accountant and member of Amnesty International UK’s Board, has submitted a

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