Global Witness human rights report notes criminalization of Unist’ot’en land defenders

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Global Witness is an international human rights organization with offices in London, Brussels and Washington.

Each year it produces an annual report on the harassment and killing of land and environmental defenders around the world.

This year’s report – Enemies of the State? How governments and business silence land and environmental defenders – highlights, “In 2018, Global Witness documented 164 killings of land and environmental defenders – ordinary people murdered for defending their homes, forests and rivers against destructive industries. Countless more were silenced through violent attacks, arrests, death threats or lawsuits.”

Its chart on the ‘total number of killings per country’ includes Colombia (24), Guatemala (16), Mexico (14), Honduras (4), Kenya (2) and Indonesia (1).

These are countries where Peace Brigades International has field projects that support at-risk human rights defenders.

Their report highlights, “Guatemala saw a jump from three killings in 2017 to 16 killings last year, making it the most dangerous country per capita in 2018.”

That gives a sobering context for the work of the ten Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project volunteers who last year accompanied members of 11 organizations and 3 human rights defenders working on issues including environmental and land rights.

The Global Witness chart on the ‘number of killings by sector’ include mining & extractives (43), agribusiness (21), water & dams (17), and logging (13).

The report also notes, “Our 2018 world map pinpoints instances in 2018 of physical and legal attacks against land and environmental defenders across continents.”

In what Global Witness has described as “criminalisation” that map notes, “A subsidiary of energy company TransCanada filed a civil lawsuit and injunction against leaders and members of the indigenous Unist’ot’en tribe in November 2018 for their role in protests against the construction of a natural gas pipeline on their land.”

It then explains, “According to CBC news, Freda Huson and Dinï ze’ Smogelgem were accused of ‘acting without lawful authority with the stated purpose of stopping the project’. As a result, the British Columbia supreme court ordered the Unist’ot’en tribe to disband their blockade – allowing the company to access the site. TransCanada is also the company behind the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that has triggered widespread protests.”

The Wet’suwe’ten are protecting their traditional lands (in the central interior of British Columbia) from the 670-kilometre TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline that would bring fracked gas down from Dawson Creek (in northern B.C.) to Kitimat, where it would be converted into a liquid form (for export) at LNG Canada’s proposed processing facility.

190 kilometres of that pipeline would run through Wet’suwe’ten territory.

LNG Canada is a consortium comprised of Shell, PETRONAS, PetroChina, Mitsubishi and the Korea Gas Corporation.

The Unist’ot’en Camp further explains, “On January 7, 2019, militarized RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] descended onto unceded Gitdumt’ten territories of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to enforce a colonial court injunction” that allows Coastal GasLink to begin pre-construction activities for a fracked gas pipeline.

Just days after that RCMP raid, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), which is accompanied by the Peace Brigades International-Honduras Project, posted on Facebook:

“Solidarity with the worthy struggle of Indigenous peoples in Canada! NO to the plunder of the Indigenous territories of the Wet’suwet’en People!”

Those assembled in this photograph, which includes the daughter of slain human rights defender Berta Cáceres, are holding signs that read: “No to the dispossession of Indigenous peoples!” and “Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people in Canada.”

This year’s Global Witness report also provides this update: “Following sustained media attention on the death of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres in 2016, seven men were found guilty of her murder in November 2018. The court ruled that the executives of the Agua Zarca hydropower dam company Desa had ordered Cáceres’ killing because of long delays and financial losses as a result of the protests she led.”

PBI-Honduras began accompanying COPINH, the organization Cáceres led, in May 2016 as it continues to be at-risk following her murder.

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