PBI highlights Indigenous land defenders at recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva

Published by Brent Patterson on

On September 23, Peace Brigades International co-sponsored a statement with six other NGOs (Franciscans International, OMCT, Protection International, ICJ, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, Action de Carême) that was presented by Maria Josefina Caal Xol, the sister of Bernardo Caal, during a United Nations panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland that focused on the situation of Indigenous defenders.

Bernardo is a leader of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón, a collective of 38 Maya Q’eqchi communities. The resistance was formed to oppose the construction of the Oxec and Renace hydroelectric dams on the Cahabón River and its tributaries.

In retribution for his activism, Bernardo was sentenced in November 2018 to 7 years and 4 months in jail.

Maria Josefina told the UN session:

“Many Indigenous defenders who try to oppose megaprojects are persecuted and criminalized when they demand the protection and defense of their territories, their rivers, their life, their environment and its peoples.

Attacks and crimes committed against human rights defenders are have increased dramatically reaching almost 677 incidents in the first six months of 2020, including 14 murders.

We call on Guatemala to respect and protect Indigenous defenders and to guarantee the investigation and clarification of attacks and crimes against human rights defenders.”

Additionally, on September 24, Peace Brigades International-Switzerland Advocacy Coordinator Kim-Mai Vu presented a statement on the land rights of Indigenous peoples in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Indonesia and Colombia during the dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Kim-Mai highlighted these concerns:

“In Guatemala, the Alta Verapaz Farmers Association has called on the State and the Army to declare States of Site to be able to carry out more evictions of Indigenous communities. This occurs in the context of a strong increased criminalization and murder of Indigenous defenders who defend access to land and the territory.

In Honduras, the Indigenous territory, sometimes an environmental reserve, is the object of 56 mining concessions, 36 hydroelectric and other tourist exploitation. The escalation of conflict is extreme in Triunfo de la Cruz, Garifuna community that defends its ancestral right to the territory recognized by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In Mexico, work on the Mayan Train has begun despite the suspension of the evaluation of the Manifesto of Environmental Impact and the postponement of the Indigenous consultation process. We denounce the recent statements by the President stigmatizing Indigenous defenders opposed to the megaproject.

In Indonesia, we note with concern the progress of the Omnibus Law project, which will promote the deforestation and land grabbing, further displacing Indigenous peoples. We demand that you prioritize and scrutinize the draft law on Indigenous peoples.”

To see the video of Maria Josefina’s statement, please click here. To see Kim-Mai’s presentation, please click here (item #17 at the 34:46 mark).

Peace Brigades International-Switzerland regularly presents statements to the Human Rights Council in collaboration with PBI field projects and has had consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 2014.

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