“Governments are not doing enough to protect human rights defenders”: Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur

Published by Brent Patterson on

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In this exclusive interview with Mongabay Latam, Mary Lawlor, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, highlights the reality and dangers faced by human rights defenders including in Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.

Key excerpts from that interview include Lawlor noting:

The situation in Latin America is very serious. We see many cases of defenders working for their lands, for the rights of indigenous peoples and for the environment who become a target because of their human rights work.

Colombia has been the country with the highest number of defenders killed. And it is that these deaths often occur in the context of large companies, extractive mining and business projects that may also be involved in deforestation and illegal activities.

I recently had a meeting with companies involved in harassment in Colombia, of a large coal mine, and from my point of view, having spoken with them, there is no respect for human rights defenders.

I can talk about what is happening in Guatemala, because I was on a mission in that country and I traveled especially to see the situation of environmental rights defenders. I witnessed, for example, a group of women who, every day, for six months, were protesting. In various parts of the country there were protests and the authorities did not know what to do.

I think the best documented case [of companies involved in threats and the murders of human rights defenders] is that of Berta Cáceres in Honduras, in which the DESA company was implicated in his murder and personnel of that company have been involved. Bertha was a woman who defended the Lenca people against the installation of a hydroelectric plant that threatened to affect the water, and she was murdered.

If you look around the world, you see that governments are driven by political and strategic interests that undermine the ideals of human rights defenders.

There is a connection between economic interests and threats that undermine the environment. You cannot separate what happens to environmental defenders from the impact on the way of life of communities and then of course the drivers of corruption that undermine the protection that defenders can be given.

As I am in charge of the Office of the Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights around the world, I can say that in all regions governments are not doing enough to protect human rights defenders. There has to be a clear commitment, laws and policies to protect them and public recognition of their work.

To read the full interview with Lawlor (which is in Spanish), please go to Entrevista a Relatora Especial de la ONU: “Los gobiernos no están haciendo lo suficiente para proteger a los defensores de derechos humanos»

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