In the environmental fight, human rights are defended in Latin America

In the environmental fight, human rights are defended in Latin America

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By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

Last year's murders, recorded in the report "On Dangerous Ground", represent 59 percent more than those of 2014.

"The environment becomes the new arena where human rights are defended," Billy Kyte, Global Witness campaign manager for land and environment defenders, told IPS.

"Many activists are treated as if they were enemies of the state, when they should be treated as heroes," he said.

The increase in attacks is due, in part, to the increase in demand for natural resources, which fuels conflicts between residents of wealthy and remote areas and industries such as mining and wood, as well as agro-industry.

One of the most dangerous regions for environmentalists is Latin America, where 60 percent of murders occurred in 2015. In Brazil, specifically, 50 environmental defenders lost their lives, the highest number of victims registered that year in the world.

Most of the murders in the South American giant occurred in the states of the Amazon, with great biological diversity and where the intrusion of haciendas, agricultural plantations and illegal logging led to an increase in violence.

The report notes that criminal gangs "terrorize" local communities at the behest of "logging companies and corrupt officials."

The last murder was that of Antônio Isídio Pereira da Silva. The leader of a small farming community in the Amazonian state of Maranhão had suffered several assassination attempts and received death threats for defending his land from illegal logging and other land grabbers. Despite the complaints, he was never protected and the police did not investigate his death.

Indigenous communities, who depend on the rainforest for their living, endure most of the violence. Almost 40 percent of the murdered environmentalists belonged to some original people.

Eusebio Ka’apor, a member of the Ka’apor people in Maranhão, was shot dead by two armed and hooded men who were traveling on a motorcycle. The reasons for his death: to patrol and prevent illegal logging on his ancestral lands.

Another village leader told the indigenous human rights organization Survival International that the loggers had told them it was better to hand over the wood than to let "more people die."

“We don't know what to do because we don't have protection. The State does nothing, ”lamented the leader Ka’apor.

Thousands of illegal logging camps were set up in the Amazon to extract valuable timber such as mahogany, ebony and teak. An estimated 80 percent of Brazil's timber is illegal, accounting for 25 percent of that circulating illegally in world markets, most of which is sold in the United States, Britain and China.

“The murders that go unpunished in hard-to-reach mining villages or in the deep jungle increase with the influx of the choices consumers make on the other side of the world,” Kyte said.

He also denounced a "growing collusion" between corporate and state interests and a high level of corruption as responsible for the attacks against environmental defenders.

A reflection of this is the current case of corruption involving the mega-project of the hydroelectric plant in the Brazilian town of Belo Monte, which went ahead despite concerns about its consequences on the environment and local communities, which, in addition, was used to generate 40 million dollars for political parties.

Even in the face of the possibility of a public scandal, Kyte noted, environmental legislation continued to weaken in Brazil.

The new interim government, led by former Vice President Michel Temer, has proposed an amendment that would reduce the process of granting environmental licenses for infrastructure and the development of megaprojects in order to recover the troubled Brazilian economy.

Currently, Brazil has a process that consists of three stages, in each stage a project can be interrupted for environmental reasons.

Known as PEC 65, the amendment proposes that companies only submit a preliminary environmental impact statement. Once this stage is completed, the projects cannot be delayed or canceled for environmental reasons.

The weakening of important human rights institutions also poses a threat to the environment and its defenders.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) is facing a serious financial deficit that could lead to the loss of 40 percent of its staff by the end of July, with serious consequences for the continuation of its work.

In fact, it has already suspended visits to countries and could be forced to interrupt its investigations.

Many Latin American countries stopped contributing to the IACHR due to discrepancies with its investigations and conclusions.

In 2011, the commission asked Brazil to "immediately suspend the license" to the Belo Monte project in order to consult and protect indigenous groups.

The Brazilian government's response was to break its ties with the IACHR by withdrawing its financial contribution and calling its ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), within the framework of which the commission operates.

“When the IACHR announces that it has to cut 40 percent of its staff and when the states have already withdrawn from the Inter-American Court, do we really have an international community?” The United Nations High Commissioner asked in May ( UN) for human rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, at the Human Rights Council.

“Does it exist when the threads that form it are pulled and the fabric, our world, falls apart? Or are they just fragmented communities with conflicting interests, strategic and commercial, operating behind the scenes with feigned adherence to laws and institutions? ”He insisted.

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on states to defend and financially support the IACHR, "a strategic partner and inspiration for the entire UN system."

Global Witness urged the Brazilian and Latin American governments to protect environmentalists, investigate the crimes committed against them, expose the corporate and political interests behind their persecution, and formally recognize the rights of indigenous peoples.

Kyte highlighted, in particular, the need for international investigations that expose the murders of environmentalists and point to those responsible, and highlighted the case of Berta Cáceres, the indigenous environmentalist from Honduras, whose murder attracted international attention and generated outrage around the world. .

In March, Cáceres, who opposed the Agua Zarca hydroelectric plant, was killed in her home by two men from the Honduran army.

One person denounced that the environmentalist was on a black list handed over to units of the Honduran army and trained by the United States.

Translated by Verónica Firme


IPS News

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