Injustices against defenders of territories, and violations of peoples’ collective rights and human rights, are committed daily around the world.
Friends of the Earth International works to respond rapidly to violations and mobilise internationalist support for threatened peoples and communities, according to their needs and wishes. From 2020 to 2021, we have supported defenders in all corners of the world, from Palestine to Colombia, Mozambique to Honduras, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Brazil.
On 10th December, Human Rights Day, we take stock of the situation and call for ongoing internationalist solidarity with defenders.
Where are we at the end of 2021?
Since the economic crisis of 2008, the world has witnessed a resurgence of conservative ideology and a rise of neo-fascist, authoritarian power. This rising right-wing populism seems to defy traditional forms of politics, media and knowledge itself. Leaders like Bolsonaro in Brazil, Duterte in the Philippines, and previously Trump in the US – to name but a few – have dismantled regulations, imposed newly draconian laws and boosted the power of transnational corporations, at the expense of democracy, stability and human rights.
The continued expansion of the neoliberal economic system has meant more privatisation, commodification and financialisation of nature and public goods worldwide. Where environmental regulation has been stripped back, transnational corporations have waded in to extract as much as they can from our natural world and from people. This profit-driven model is at the root of the systemic crises we face: in climate, biodiversity, food, water, livelihoods.
In the face of these crises, people across the world are organising to defend their territories and their rights. They are bringing proposals to change the system in favour of the environment and human emancipation.
The devastating reality is that the rapid rise of authoritarianism around the world and the rampant activities of transnational corporations have caused a serious escalation of political violence and attacks on those who try to defend the environment and peoples’ rights. In 2020 alone, Global Witness recorded 227 lethal attacks – an average of more than four people a week – linked to the exploitation of natural resources. In Latin America, over a third of these killings were indigenous people.
On top of this, the health emergency unleashed by Covid-19 has been used to strengthen authoritarianism and repress indigenous peoples in many countries. In Brazil, Colombia, The Philippines and elsewhere, the government have used lockdowns as a way to militarise and control territories, making it very easy for them to violate human rights with total impunity. With the pandemic not over yet, this situation is set to worsen in the coming years.
What role does internationalist solidarity play in defending human rights and the environment?
Internationalist solidarity is the possibility to accompany struggles against injustice in any part of the world, feeling them as our own causes. We, as individuals, can play an important role in the transformation of our societies. Solidarity means standing up against all forms of oppression, such as patriarchy, racism, colonialism and state violence, even when they impact us only indirectly.
Struggles for environmental justice – which include defending water and public services, community forest management, building food sovereignty and energy sovereignty, and promoting agroecology – require our solidarity today more than ever.
We can organise as movements, to demand social, environmental, economic and gender justice and to defend peoples’ sovereignty. Together, we can raise our voices to denounce injustice, and also support those who suffer oppression and persecution in concrete ways.
Struggles in focus 2020-2021
Over the last two years, our grassroots environmental network has supported struggles around the world, including in Costa Rica, Bolivia, South Africa, Uganda, the Brazilian Amazon, and farmers in India.
Our main support has been in Honduras, Colombia, Palestine and Mozambique:
Landgrabbing and disappearances in Honduras
The indigenous Garifuna community of Honduras has been suffering systematic attacks for several years now, typically from banana and oil palm companies and more recently from land grabbers for housing and tourist developments. Garifuna peoples have not been consulted about any of the projects developed by these companies, despite their legal right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
OFRANEH is the Afro-Indigenous Garifuna Peoples’ organisation of Honduras. Their long-standing democratic and legitimate commitment to defending the territory, and their ongoing public denunciation of rights violations, has made them targets to attacks.
On 18 July 2020, four members of OFRANEH were abducted from their homes by armed gunmen in police uniforms. In August 2020, we called for their safe and sound return.
To the date, the Garifuna leaders have not been found.
Seven months after their disappearance, OFRANEH launched the Garifuna Committee for the Investigation and Search for the Disappeared of Triunfo de la Cruz (SUNLA). Their coordinator Miriam Miranda, called it “a means to seek truth and justice in this country”.
The backdrop of this and countless other atrocities is a country where the government supports transnational corporations to dispossess and exploit territories, and uses their armed forces to silence any resistance. For example, the repressive use of Honduran state forces to defend the Petacón hydroelectric megaproject, and legal persecution of social leaders from the Reitoca community who are trying to defend their lands and rivers.
Friends of the Earth International stands in solidarity with women, peasants and indigenous peoples in Honduras, including the Garifuna peoples, peasants of Guapinol, the Tocoa Committee for the Commons (Comité de Bienes Comunes de Tocoa) and the Agrarian Platform (Plataforma Agraria).
Peoples’ uprisings in Colombia
Three decades of neoliberalism in Colombia has stripped back public services and left more than 21 million people living in poverty, almost half of the population. The government has also failed to comply with the peace agreements signed with the FARC in 2016, and are pursuing a strategy of systemic violence and oppression against social movements, organisations and defenders of peoples’ rights, human rights and territories.
In December 2020, we joined CENSAT Agua Viva (Friends of the Earth Colombia) in categorically condemning the systematic violence inflicted by the government and urgently called for redoubling internationalist efforts to coordinate and organise in support of the Colombian people.
In May 2021, we reiterated this call and showed solidarity with the National Strike and mobilisations against President Duque’s tax reform bill. Our film Colombia in flames against neoliberalism sought to raise awareness of and show solidarity with the peoples’ struggle.
Food sovereignty struggles and human rights in Palestine
For decades, Israeli occupation has denied Palestinians access to and control over their land, borders and natural resources. The occupation is the source of profound human and environmental rights violations against the Palestinian people, including pollution, destruction of livelihoods, land and water grabbing, discriminatory planning laws, forced evictions and displacements.
We have stood in solidarity with PENGON (Friends of the Earth Palestine) and the Palestinian people for many years. In May 2021 we condemned the ongoing Israeli attacks and urgently called on global leaders to use their diplomatic means to put a permanent end to the occupation.
Early in October 2021 we put the focus on the struggle for food sovereignty in Palestine, through a webinar with PENGON, La Via Campesina and local farmers’ union UAWC (the Union of Agricultural Work Committees). The webinar brought forward first-hand accounts of the how difficult it is to access land for farming and produce sustainable food in both Gaza and the West Bank, and sought to deepen understanding of the environmental, social, economic and gender impacts of the Occupation.
On 19 October, the Israeli Defense Minister issued a military order declaring six Palestinian civil society organisations “terrorist organisations” – including UAWC. Then, on 7 November, the Israeli Defense Forces classified these same organisations as “unauthorised,” paving the way for further prosecution. This represents the latest in an ongoing string of unsubstantiated allegations against Palestinian human rights organisations by the Israeli government. We joined hundreds of organisations across the globe to denounce this injustice and launched a call for action on 29 November, International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.
Dirty energy in Mozambique
The gas industry is ravaging fishing communities in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique. Since the discovery of natural gas off the coast of the province in 2010, several transnational corporations including French oil giant Total moved in to claim their stake. The Mozambique LNG project has fuelled human rights violations, poverty, corruption and violence, and will have severe consequences for a country already vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as the two catastrophic cyclones in 2019.
The oil industry has forced over 550 families from their homes and cut off their access to the sea, which they relied on for fishing and food. Over 820,000 people have also been displaced by fighting between the armies of Mozambique and Rwanda, insurgents and mercenaries. While the government and gas industry insist that the cause of the violence is religious, the reality is much more complex.
In June 2020, we called on the Mozambican, UK and French governments to stop funding gas exploitation in the country, and demanded a strong and effective international binding treaty to hold corporations accountable for human rights violations.
After a deadly attack in March 2021, Total claimed ‘force majeure’, pausing its project indefinitely and pulling staff from the area. It has since not paid any compensation to community members and has stated that it will not be fulfilling its payment obligations to contractors, including local businesses.
In the same month, the UK government announced the end of overseas fossil fuel financing – a move which came too late for the Mozambique LNG project, which they had already agreed to fund in July 2020. Though it is heartening that at COP26 several countries involved in the Mozambique gas industry committed to ending overseas fossil fuel financing after 2022, this should not get them off the hook for the destruction they are already funding. The pause on the LNG is an ideal opportunity for countries to cancel their current financing agreements, and for Total to make much-needed reparations to communities.
In December 2021, Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland take the UK government to court for their decision to fund the LNG project. The case is supported by Justiça Ambiental (Friends of the Earth Mozambique).
Where do we go from here?
These injustices and struggles for environmental justice are happening all around the globe, including in Europe, where there has been a recent increase in violations of defenders’ rights. For example in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Neretvica River Community suffered various attacks and intimidations as they resisted the construction of a hydropower dam on their river’s vital waters.
As we stand in solidarity with those who defend their territories, environment and rights, we call for national and international level regulations to ensure that peoples’ rights are recognised and that governments and companies are held accountable.
At the national level, governments should put in place environmental regulations which limit over consumption. They should develop protection mechanisms for defenders, and uphold communities’ rights to free, prior and informed consent by involving them in decisions about what happens on their territories.
At the international level, we are fighting for a UN Binding Treaty which would oblige transnational corporations, their supply chains and their investors to comply with international human rights law, environmental law and labour standards. This treaty would mean that transnational corporations can no longer avoid accountability by operating outside of national-level legislation; they would be held accountable in an international court.
The treaty would crucially establish the right to reparation, information, justice and guarantees of non-repetition of any human rights violations, and include specific provisions ensuring legal protection for those who defend peoples’ rights and nature from corporate interests.
Main photo: Struggles in the Jordan Valley. © Hamza Zbeidat, PENGON.