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INDIGENOUS PEOPLES FACE DISPOSSESSION

Indigenous peoples face dispossession

Malaysia migrant workers
73
days left to take action

On 5 February 2020, the Selangor Forestry Department placed the notice of the degazetting of Kuala Langat North Forest Reserve (KLNFR) in major newspaper dailies in Malaysia. The notice invited stakeholders in the district to voice their objections to the proposal within 30 days, in accordance with the Public Inquiry Selangor Rules 2014 as well as the National Forestry Act (Adoption) Enactment 1985. The proposed area comprises 97% of the total forest reserve and is home to four Temuan Indigenous settlements: Bukit Kecil, Bukit Cheeding, Busut Baru, and Pulau Kempas. 

Since February 2020, civil society, the public, and Amnesty International members have mobilised against the decision, sending over 45,000 letters to the office of the Chief Minister of Selangor and the Selangor State Forestry Department. In November 2020, a unanimous decision was made in the Selangor state legislative assembly to protect the forest. According to local NGOs, the Chief Minister will decide in late April about the status of the land. 
In Malaysia, the gazetting of a land as a ‘forest reserve’ ensures that the land cannot be used for urban development, agriculture or any kind of activity that would require the forest to be cleared. De-gazetting a forest reserve removes this status of the land and opens it up to commercial activity and the displacement of communities whose land it is. 

According to the community, the land has come under increasing threats from development and logging in the past years. In 2017, the Department of Orang Asli Development (JAKOA) applied for this area to be gazetted as Orang Asli land, which still awaits government action. KLNFR is also a peat swamp forest that functions as an important ecosystem of climate control. According to the Global Environment Centre—an award-winning environmental organisation based in Malaysia—the proposed de-gazettement of KLNFR is not in line with the Selangor State Government's plan in the 2035 State Structure Plan to maintain 32% of the forest area in the State of Selangor. 

Across Malaysia, extensive land development is adversely affecting Indigenous peoples, posing a threat to ancestral lands, traditional ways of life and a wide spectrum of human rights. Indigenous peoples in Malaysia comprise over 67 ethnic groups or about 14% of the country’s total population. They reside in almost every state and territory within the Federation and are afforded special recognition in the country’s constitution. Despite this, they continue to suffer from disproportionate levels of poverty and ongoing social exclusion, in part due to an absence of formal recognition of their land as well as a lack of consultation and free, prior and informed consent on proposals to expropriate their land. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for communities to oppose development once it has started. In their attempt to defend, protect and promote the land rights of Indigenous peoples, human rights defenders face harassment, intimidation, arrest, and even death. 

The Malaysian government voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007, which commits it to respect the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination and the right to free, prior and informed consent. The Malaysian government also ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1995. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that oversees the convention stated that “the use of traditional land is of significant importance to [Indigenous children’s] development and enjoyment of culture”, and that states who have ratified the convention should “closely consider the cultural significance of traditional land and the quality of the natural environment.”
 

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JAILED WATER DEFENDERS WITH COVID-19

Jailed water defenders with Covid-19

Honduras
25
days left to take action

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 which are 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 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. 

On 26 August 2019, authorities detained José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, José Abelino Cedillo, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbín Nahúm Hernández, Arnold Javier Alemán, and Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz. A week later, on 1 September, a court charged them, and a judge ordered their pre-trial detention. After more than two months in a high security jail, authorities transferred them, on 29 November 2019, to the Olanchito detention centre, where they remain since (see Honduras: Authorities must guarantee due process for human rights defenders). Jeremías Martínez Díaz is being held in La Ceiba Penal Center since 5 December 2018. Some defenders currently in jail reported health conditions including hypertension and respiratory issues. To date, several appeals against their detention and habeas corpus petition requesting an alternative measure for both the illegality of the detention and the risk of Covid-19 were declared inadmissible or are yet to be resolved.

Following a visit on 16 April 2020 to the Olachito Penal Centre, the National Mechanism and Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (MNP-CONAPREV) requested a review of the preventive detention of the seven Guapinol defenders. Amnesty International already called on the authorities in August 2020 to free the 13 defenders and allow them to face trial in liberty (see Urgent Action).

In its opinion number 85/2020 at its 89th session, 23-27 November 2020, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stressed that there is no legal reason for the use of pre-trial detention in the case of defenders José Daniel Márquez Márquez, Kelvin Alejandro Romero Martínez, José Abelino Cedillo, Porfirio Sorto Cedillo, Orbín Nahúm Hernández, Arnold Javier Alemán, Ewer Alexander Cedillo Cruz and Jeremías Martínez Díaz and emphasize the current risk they are facing in the context of COVID-19. The Working Group asked for the immediate release and redress of the eight defenders, and to investigate those suspected of criminal responsibility for their illegal detention.
Honduras faces a serious problem of overcrowded jails for years. According to the 2020 MNP-CONAPREV report prisons in Honduras are overcrowded to 166% of their installed capacity with only 45% of the population having a final decision on the merits of their case. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regularly expresses 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 September 2020, Honduran prison authorities reported a total of 1,749 detainees tested positive to COVID-19; in 2021, there are 108 cases reported.

Over the last five years, Amnesty International continuously alerted on numerous killings and other attacks against activists in Honduras, which is one of the deadliest countries in the world to be a human rights defender.

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ATTACKS AGAINST XINCA LEADERS CONTINUE

Attacks against Xinca leaders continue

Guatemala
0
days left to take action

In April 2013, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines granted to the company Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal mining project. After that, the conflict around the mine escalated. On 27 April 2013, security guards at the mine site fired tear gas and rubber bullets on community members protesting outside the mine’s entrance, injuring some of them. For more information, see: Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk (AMR 34/002/2014).

In 2019, the Canadian based mining company Pan American Silver completed the acquisition of Tahoe Resources, adding the Escobal mine to its portfolio. However, mining activities in Escobal have been paralyzed since 2017. After several appeals from the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS), who previously defended the rights of communities affected by the San Rafael mining company, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) of Guatemala ordered a provisional suspension and the completion of a community consultation with the Xinca people. 

Members of CALAS reported reiterated acts of intimidation and harassment against them. For more information see Urgent Action: Smear Campaign against Human rights defenders (AMR 34/6680/2017). Lawyer Quelvin Jimenez, defender of the rights of the Xinca indigenous people, reported that on 23 June 2020 a group of armed people disrupted a meeting of the Xinca Indigenous People authorities, which he also attended, threatening and beating some of the participants (see Urgent Action AMR 34/0733/2019). He has faced smear and stigmatization campaigns on social media, judicial harassment, and received death threats and other forms of intimidation due to his work (see Urgent Action AMR 34/0336/2019). 

According to Amnesty International’s research, human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment. Defenders are also regularly targeted with smear campaigns aimed at stigmatizing and discrediting them by private actors and the Guatemalan authorities. The criminal justice system is regularly misused, defenders are falsely accused and prosecuted trying to keep them silent and break up movements and organizations. 

Those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment are particularly at risk. With continuous threats, intimidation, and attacks against them. For more information, see: We are defending the land with our blood: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala (AMR 01/4562/2016).

The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported more than a thousand of attacks against human rights defenders in 2020, including 15 killings, and 22 attempts of killings. 

Guatemala has yet to adopt a public policy for the protection of human rights defenders, which was ordered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2014 in the judgement Human Rights Defender et al. vs Guatemala.
 

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INDIGENOUS LEADER SHOT

Indigenous leader shot

Southern border with Guatemala, Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico
0
days left to take action

In April 2013, the Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mines granted Tahoe Resources an exploitation license for the Escobal mining project. After that, the conflict around the mine escalated. On 2 May 2013, the government of Guatemala declared a state of emergency in and around San Rafael Las Flores, a town some 90 kilometres from the capital, following a series of violent incidents around the mining operation of Minera San Rafael, a subsidiary of the Canada and US-based Tahoe Resources Inc. Previously, in January 2013, unknown armed men attacked the mine site resulting in the deaths of two security guards and another person, presumed to be part of the group attacking the site. For more information, see: Mining in Guatemala: Rights at risk (AMR 34/002/2014).

In 2019, Canadian based mining company Pan American Silver completed the acquisition of Tahoe Resources, adding the Escobal mine to the portfolio. However, mining activities in Escobal have been paralyzed since 2017. After several appeals from the Centre for Environmental, Social and Legal Action (CALAS), who previously defended the rights of communities affected by the San Rafael mining company, the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) of Guatemala ordered a provisional suspension and the completion of a community consultation with the Xinka people. 

Members of CALAS have also reported reiterated acts of intimidation and harassment against them. For more information see Urgent Action: Smear Campaign against Human rights defenders (AMR 34/6680/2017). Lawyer Quelvin Jimenez, defender of the rights of the Xinca indigenous people, reported that on 23 June 2020 a group of armed people disrupted a meeting of the Xinca Indigenous People authorities, which he also attended, threatening and beating some of the participants (AMR 34/0733/2019). He has faced smear and stigmatization campaigns on social media, judicial harassment, and received death threats and other forms of intimidation due to his work (AMR 34/0336/2019). 

According to our research, human rights defenders in Guatemala carry out their activities in an extremely hostile environment. Defenders are also regularly targeted with smear campaigns aimed at stigmatizing and discrediting them by private actors and the Guatemalan authorities. The criminal justice system is regularly misused, defenders are falsely accused and prosecuted trying to keep them silent and break up movements and organizations. The Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (UDEFEGUA) reported more than a thousand of attacks against human rights defenders in 2020, including 15 killings, and 22 attempts of killings.

Those working on rights related to land, territory and the environment are particularly at risk. Amnesty International has documented continuous threats, intimidation and attacks against them. For more information, see the Amnesty International report “We are defending the land with our blood”: Defenders of the land, territory and environment in Honduras and Guatemala (AMR 01/4562/2016).
 

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INDIGENOUS ACTIVISTS STILL DISAPPEARED

Indigenous activists still disappeared

Honduras
0
days left to take action

The Garifuna communities of Triunfo de la Cruz are part of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña, OFRANEH), an organization that works to protect the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Garífuna communities. On 8 October 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of the Garifuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, founding the Honduran state guilty of violating the right of the community to collective property. Already on 28 April 2006, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights  granted the community of Triunfo de la Cruz with precautionary measures, asking the government of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to protect the right of the community to ownership of ancestral lands.  

Since the start of a total curfew in Honduras on in March 2020, due to COVID-19, Amnesty International has received several reports of serious attacks against human rights defenders, including members of OFRANEH. According to the organization, on 20 April, police officers stifled a protest in Oak Ridge, Roatan island, demanding a boat not to dock at the local port for public health reasons, and on 6 May, police officers threatened a group of young Garifuna people guarding the community of Travesía, Cortés department, with dropping tear gas bombs. OFRANEH also denounced the killing of Edwin Fernández, a member of the organization, on 20 May in the community of Río Tinto, Atlántida department.  

The Civic Council of Popular Indigenous (COPINH) also denounced recent attacks against its members. On 12 May, José Trochez, was detained by the Honduran army while he was doing humanitarian work. On 15 June, members of COPINH received information warning them about an imminent attack against its members and facilities. COPINH also reported that on 21 June, a group of around 60 people showed up in its Utopia facility in La Esperanza, Intibucá department, threatening to take over it. One day later, members of the organization received a digital leaflet in which an unknown group threatened the organization with burning the Utopia facility. These attacks occurred after the organization offered its facilities as an isolation center for people in prison infected with COVID-19. 

Over the last four years, Amnesty International has alerted on threats, intimidation, harassment, and the killings of activists in Honduras, which is one of the deadliest countries in the world to be a human rights defender, including the case of the renowned defender Berta Cáceres in 2016. This situation has not changed. Between June and July 2020, Scarleth Cáceres, activist and defender of LGBTI rights from the Arcoíris Association; Marvin Damián Castro, defender of the territory of the municipality of Pespire, Choluteca and part of the coordination of the Movimiento Ambientalista Social del Sur por la Vida (MASSVIDA), and Yonis David Castillo Lázaro, from the community of Guapinol, were killed. Previously, on 2 April 2020, lris Argentina Álvarez, a land rights defender of the campesino group Cerro Escondido in southern Honduras, was killed during a violent eviction.

The Inter-American Convention on The Forced Disappearance of Persons defines an enforced disappearance as “the act of depriving a person or persons of his or their freedom, in whatever way, perpetrated by agents of the state or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of the state, followed by an absence of information or a refusal to acknowledge that deprivation of freedom or to give information on the whereabouts of that person, thereby impeding his or her recourse to the applicable legal remedies and procedural guarantees”. Honduras ratified the convention in 2005. Honduras also ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 2008, which defines an enforced disappearance similarly.
 

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INDIGENOUS LAND DEFENDER RECEIVES PROTECTION

Indigenous land defender receives protection

Paraguay
0
days left to take action

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

COVID-19 THREATENS INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ LIVES

Covid-19 threatens indigenous peoples lives

Indigenous Child
0
days left to take action

Indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon face a higher risk situation in the context of the pandemic due to lack of access to drinking water, food sources, medical supplies, health services and COVID-19 tests, caused by prolonged conditions of inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

In August (unspecified date), the Government published the Protocol with intercultural relevance for the prevention and care of COVID-19 in Indigenous, Afro-Ecuadorian and Montubio peoples and nationalities in Ecuador, with the objective of "Establishing procedures for inter-institutional, inter-sectoral coordination and among social actors present in the territories of the peoples and nationalities of Ecuador, to provide a coordinated response and with intercultural relevance to the health emergency by COVID-19". 

According to the document, it was prepared by various government officials, with the support of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and "validated" by members of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) and Confederation of Peoples of the Kichwa Nationality of Ecuador (ECUARUNARI). The "Emission with contributions and recommendations from delegates of Communities, Peoples and Nationalities" is dated 24 July 2020.

Indigenous and human rights organizations in the Amazon said this protocol was not adequately consulted with Indigenous communities in the Amazon, does not reflect their demands, and that they have been excluded from the Emergency Operations Committees in charge of implementing it.

After an insufficient response by the state, organizations like the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), Amazon Watch, Amazon Frontlines, Fundación ALDEA and Universidad San Francisco de Quito have led efforts to prevent, identify and treat COVID-19 cases of Indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon through providing tests, culturally-appropriate information, personal protective equipment, hygiene products, basic medicines and creating a website to monitor the pandemic and identify contagion hotspots.
On 19 August, these organizations reported 3,303 infections (2,301 confirmed and 1,002 suspected) and 80 deaths (35 confirmed and 45 suspected) related to COVID-19 among the Indigenous population in the Ecuadorian Amazon, which is 290,000. According to them, all Indigenous nationalities (ethnicities) in the Ecuadorian Amazon have cases of COVID-19. Due to scarcity of tests, the real numbers are expected to be much higher.

On 18 June, Judicial authorities granted precautionary measures to the Waorani People in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, including testing suspicious infection cases, providing medical personnel and supplies, providing humanitarian aid, and limiting company operations near their territory. Nevertheless, Indigenous and human rights organizations told Amnesty that authorities have not fully complied with them.

In addition to the pandemic, on 7 April, an oil spill in the Amazon polluted the Coca and Napo rivers, affecting the environment, water, food and livelihoods of nearly 120,000 people of which 27,000 are Indigenous, mainly belonging to the Kichwa and Shuar nationalities.

On 29 April, a group of Indigenous and human rights organizations filed a constitutional protection proceeding and requested precautionary measures on behalf of the nearly 120,000 people affected by the oil spill. The petition holds responsible the Ministry of Energy and Natural and Non-Renewable Resources, the Ministry of the Environment, the Ministry of Public Health, the state oil company Petroecuador, and the private company OCP. The petitioners reported that the judge in charge of the case endangered guarantees to due process through procedural irregularities.
 

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MAPUCHE SPIRITUAL LEADER ENDS HUNGER STRIKE

Mapuche spiritual leader ends hunger strike

Chile
0
days left to take action

Urgent Action outcome: Mapuche spiritual leader ends hunger strike

On 18 August 2020, the spiritual leader of the Mapuche people, machi Celestino Córdova Tránsito, ended his hunger strike.

1st update on UA 127/20
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