Calling attention to attacks against indigenous human rights defenders

Publish Date: 
Thursday, December 13, 2018

On the eve of International Human Rights Day, which is celebrated each 10 December, ESCR-Net members drew attention to the often-overlooked attacks on indigenous rights defenders in an article published in the global news outlet Al-Jazeera.

The authors of the article, Alfred Brownell from Green Advocates and Vicky Corpuz-Tauli of Tebtebba (and current UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples) argue that the prevalence of violence committed against indigenous peoples involved in human rights defense can, in great part, be attributed to the lack of recognition of indigenous land rights. Indigenous lands, they maintain, are considered open for exploitation, their populations are viewed as an inconvenient barrier to investments and their leaders are increasingly persecuted or killed for speaking up on behalf of their communities while governments turn a blind eye. While a select few individuals who defend the rights, lands and environment of indigenous communities achieve international recognition, many who face ongoing threats remain unrecognized, even if they are among the most vulnerable to attacks and reprisals.    

However, the writers argue, it doesn’t have to be this way. Economic development can happen without displacing or destroying indigenous communities and killing their leaders. Companies and governments must do more to respect the rights of indigenous peoples and their leaders.

This idea is closely aligned to the model of work underlining ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity (SOS). The SOS is our mechanism to support human rights defenders under threat and prevent imminent human rights violations, which brings together ESCR-Net members to stand in solidarity with fellow members and close allies when they are attacked for their human rights work.

Attacks on human rights defenders do not occur in a vacuum. They are part of a wider pattern of human rights violations which, according to the SOS Advisory Group as well as other members, is perpetuated by an economic model based on continuous and increasing resource exploitation. This model typically fails to take into account the rights of the communities that are the traditional holders of the land and its resources. In turn, this leads to conflict between local communities and large-scale economic interests, often represented by a conflation of government and non-governmental actors (e.g. corporations, armed groups and organized crime) which often results in violence.

ESCR-Net’s System of Solidarity has shown that attacks on human rights defenders must be seen in the context of the ongoing human rights work that they carry out and the interests they confront. Particularly for activists and advocates that work to promote and defend economic, social and cultural rights, confronting powerful interests, the issues that compel them to action are inextricably linked to the threats they face. Their courageous work to expose and transform deeply unjust systems and structures which rely on violence to sustain themselves, and use violence to silence opponents, must be recognized as doubly valuable; both by challenging injustices directly and by addressing some of the drivers behind attacks on human rights defenders.

As, the writers of the article maintain, human rights defenders are best protected if we support efforts to change the current model of economic development and respect the rights of local communities and their leaders who are affected by that model.

You can read the article referenced in its entirety following this link (in English only).

As part of the System of Solidarity, ESCR-Net participates in the European Union’s Human Rights Defender Mechanism, For more information about the mechanism and how you can access it, please follow this link