Authorities in Peru and Paraguay are using vicious smear campaigns, forced evictions and unfounded criminal charges against land and environmental activists who dare to speak out about human rights issues, Amnesty International said in a new report released today.
“Those who bravely stand up to defend their land and the environment are frequently targeted because of their work. These attacks have a devastating impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as that of their families and communities,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.
“The authorities in Peru and Paraguay must immediately stop misusing their criminal justice systems to persecute human rights defenders, obstruct their work and scare them into staying silent. Instead of criminalizing people for defending their land and natural resources, both States must take timely and effective measures to protect them.”
A Recipe for Criminalization: Defenders of the Environment, Territory and Land in Peru and Paraguay documents how authorities use harassment, stigmatization and intimidation tactics to undermine and obstruct community efforts to protect their land or water resources.
The majority of the threats and attacks that Amnesty International has documented against human rights defenders in the Americas in recent years have been directed against communities or organizations dedicated to defending rights related to land, territory and the environment.
The report reveals how authorities in Paraguay subject community leaders to smear campaigns, forced evictions and unfounded judicial processes, to block them from carrying out their peaceful human rights work and to dissuade others from speaking against injustices. It also documents how Peruvian authorities stigmatize human rights defenders, as well as several alleged instances of the police using unnecessary and excessive force against people demonstrating against mining projects.
The report highlights emblematic cases, including that of Raúl Marín, a Paraguayan human rights lawyer who faces frequent harassment and stigmatization because of his work. Police arrested Raúl on 13 January 2016, while he was providing legal assistance to people forcefully evicted from the urban community of San Lorenzo. He was arbitrarily detained for a month and has since spent more than two years under house arrest for alleged “obstruction of justice”.
Raúl, who also faces two charges for “trespassing” from 2015, has denounced several obstructions of his right to an adequate defence, including being denied access to his case file for months. Having examined the case against Raúl, Amnesty International did not find any evidence that supports the charges against him. The organization is concerned that Paraguayan authorities are misusing the law to obstruct Raúl’s work on behalf of families and communities whose human rights have been violated.
The report documents another emblematic case in Peru, where police arrested 16 community leaders who were campaigning to protect their land and water resources from the Conga mining project in the northern Cajamarca region on 26 April 2013. The public prosecutor’s office charged them with abduction and coercion, and sought prison sentences of more than 30 years.
Amnesty International found that the prosecutors based their case on contradictory and second-hand testimony and failed to present any evidence of the alleged crimes during the public hearings that the organization attended. On 28 March 2017, a court dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.
Amnesty International calls on the authorities in Peru and Paraguay to publicly recognize the legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders working on issues related to land, territory and the environment; stop misusing the justice system to harass and discredit them; identify and drop any unfounded criminal proceedings against them; and investigate and bring to justice all those responsible for threatening and attacking them.
Both States should also incorporate gender and ethnicity considerations into public policies to protect human rights defenders; and take measures to combat the structural causes of the violence against them, including impunity, stigmatization and discrimination.
Published on AI on April 26, 2018
Human rights and environment
In recent years, the recognition of the links between human rights and the environment has greatly increased. The number and scope of international and domestic laws, judicial decisions, and academic studies on the relationship between human rights and the environment have grown rapidly.
Many States now incorporate a right to a healthy environment in their constitutions. Many questions about the relationship of human rights and the environment remain unresolved, however, and require further examination.
As a result, in March 2012 the Human Rights Council decided to establish a mandate on human rights and the environment, which will (among other tasks) study the human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and promote best practices relating to the use of human rights in environmental policymaking.
Mr. John Knox was appointed in August 2012 to a three-year term as the first Independent Expert on human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. His mandate was further extended in March 2015 for another three years as a Special Rapporteur.
The resolution 16/11 adopted by the Human Rights Council on 12th of April 2011 entitled “Human Rights and the environment” requested the Office of the High Commissioner “in consultation with and taking into account the views of States Members of the United Nations, relevant international organizations and intergovernmental bodies, including the United Nations Environment Programme and relevant multilateral environmental agreements, special procedures, treaty bodies and other stakeholders, to conduct, within existing resources, a detailed analytical study on the relationship between human rights and the environment” (para.1).
See also the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes
Human rights and climate change
In its 5th Assessment Report (2014), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) unequivocally confirmed that climate change is real and that human-made greenhouse gas emissions are its primary cause. The report identified the increasing frequency of extreme weather events and natural disasters, rising sea-levels, floods, heat waves, droughts, desertification, water shortages, and the spread of tropical and vector-borne diseases as some of the adverse impacts of climate change. These phenomena directly and indirectly threaten the full and effective enjoyment of a range of human rights by people throughout the world, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development.