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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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For Years activists in Atlanta have been in the fight opposing the project "Cop City" which aims to tear down a local forest, to build the biggest police training facility in the nation. The predominantly Black, underserved local residents oppose the project. They had hoped that the area--a canopy of trees that serve as a buffer against climate change--would be turned into a municipal park instead of a symbol of oppression.

A week ago, at the site of the protests, 26-year-old environmental activist Manuel Esteban Paez Terán (Tortuguita) was shot dead by an Georgia State Trooper inside his tent. Hearing about it from Panama City, Panama where she lives, Manuel's mother said: “they killed him … like they tear down trees in the forest – a forest Manuel loved with passion.”

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán ¡PRESENTE!

News Article

Nina Lakhani covered in The Guardian the murder of Guapinol defenders Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor condemned the murder and calls for an independent investigation.
ContraCorriente published an important investigation into the economic ties between Lenir Pérez and the State of Honduras. "Lenir Pérez, the businessman who owns the concessions in the Guapinol mine and the Palmerola airport, maintains his power intact despite the official discourse of President Xiomara Castro against these projects. Accused of benefiting from his relations with former president Juan Orlando Hernández to obtain irregular contracts and abuse the human rights of communities, Pérez could maintain privileged access to the new government through the legal work of Pamela Blanco Luque, partner and wife of Tomás Vaquero, Minister of Government, Justice and Decentralization."

News Article

Faced with the escalation of violence in the community of Guapinol in Tocoa municipality in Colón Department, Honduras, the Observatory for Justice for the Defenders of the Guapinol River have expanded their mandate. Originally formed to lead a campaing to “Free the Guapinol 8” (political prisoners), the Observatory, consisting of both domestic and international partners, is now calling for independent investigations and effective protection measures for community residents in Guapinol and for members of the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Public and Common Goods of Tocoa (CMDBCPT).

According to the Observatory, the Honduran government has neglected its obligation to protect the Montaña de Botaderos National Park “Carlos Escaleras.” That neglect has resulted in the recent assassination of two water and environmental defenders on January 12: Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla. In recent weeks, the families of Guapinol have been the targets of slander campaigns on social media and in the press. This social stigmatization comes on top of the threats, criminalization, arbitrary detention and murders they have experienced since 2018. Why? Because they dared to organize publicy against the government’s carving out a slice of the national protected area in order to grant a concession to the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares (owned by the land baron family Facussé) to extract iron oxide. The large-scale industrial mine would contaminate the drinking water sources (two separate rivers) for thousands of families. Those in positions of power have the sole objective of silencing the voices of opposition.

The Observatory calls for an independent investigative entity to take into account the activities of both water defenders assassinated on January 12, as well as the Guapinol community as a whole and the CMDBCPT. The Observatory calls for establishling lines of investigation and hypotheses of the crimes, as required by regional and international human rights standards. The Observatory will also continue working on its original mandate so that the Honduran State complies with the resolution of the United Nations Working Group on arbitrary detention. This would require the government to make full reparations to the eight defenders of Guapinol who were arbitrarily detained for 914 days and ensure that this violation of their human rights is not repeated.

News Article

At the World Economy Forum in Davos, the Colombian government has unexpectedly announced its break with fossil fuels. The minister of mines, Irene Vélez, has stated that the Colombian state will put a halt on any further exploration of oil and gas. The transition from fossil fuels to more green energy generation was a central part of president Gustavo Petro's election campaign. Asked about this decision, Vélez has declared that it "has been very controversial" but that "This decision is absolutely urgent and needs immediate action." But the veracity of this plan is questionable when looking at the fractured congress, bleak economic outlook, and a history of u-turns in policies. 

Criticism of the plan comes from a number of individuals and institutions. Colombia's finance minister always ensured to the international community that the country will remain open for new oil and gas projects. He has stated that the country, which relies on fossil fuels for half of its export revenue, needs the profit generated by the fossil industry. Economic analysts note that this decision will not affect the international demand and will only hurt the country in the long run. Criticism also comes from environmental experts who see the real trouble in cattle-ranching and unsustainable agriculture, the main cause of deforestation. Furthermore, they criticize that the key issues are not addressed and the new project will have no significant impact on the global climate.

President Petro has backed the plan, stating that alternative economies like tourism and green energy will make up for the loss in fossil fuel revenue.        

News Article

A Nevada-based mining firm is suing Guatemala for more than $400 million, the first suit of its kind for the impoverished Central American country. 

The lawsuit which began on June 22 with the consultation process was filed at the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes, a branch of the World Bank, and is based on CAFTA (Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement with the US). It allows transnational corporations to sue for alleged losses of investment. In the recent lawsuit, the Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) mining firm claims that the Guatemalan government has not done enough to protect their investment. A dubious claim seeing how the police oppresses indigenous anti-mining protests. KCA's gold mine, which has been the sight of constant protest, was only in operation for two years, until the courts suspended the project in late 2015 over failure to adequately consult with the habitants of the La Puya area. Furthermore, the mine was the cause of massive environmental damages leading to health issues within the population. Individuals with courage to speak out against the operation were met with threats, violence, persecution and police repression. 

In their defense against KCA's lawsuit, the Guatemalan government brings forward information gathered by activists located in La Puya while ignoring the the interests of the communities. The KCA case also sheds light on corruption within Guatemala's former government as Daniel Kapps was meeting with the Director General of Mining Selvyn Morales in 2011 in an effort to seek a building permit. Shortly after this meeting Morales left his position in the government to work for a mining services company, which KCA immediately hired. Guatemala's government argues that KCA violated environmental norms and failed to obtain its construction license to build its mine, thus not having a right to be reimbursed for their losses. 

Indigenous communities criticize that the Guatemalan government argues on the claims and findings of activists while disregarding the needs and interests of the habitants.