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Environmental Human Rights: News & Updates

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Colombian President Gustavo Petro has declared a one-month economic, social, and environmental emergency in La Guajira, a desert region in northeast Colombia. This declaration allows for crucial investments in education, health, tourism, and water supply. La Guajira is a major energy source for Colombia, with a coal mining industry and potential for wind farms. The region is also home to the Wayúu indigenous reservation, which has long suffered neglect as energy companies extracted resources without benefiting the Wayúu.

Representing a fifth of the country’s indigenous population, Wayúu communities in La Guajira face extreme poverty, malnutrition, and a lack of access to clean water due to the dry climate. President Petro's initiative aims to develop renewable energy while ensuring wealth redistribution to the indigenous population. Historically, extractive industries have left locals impoverished while generating billions in profits.

The Cerrejón coal mine, a major player in the region, has caused environmental damage, displaced families, and disrupted traditional hunting paths. President Petro's Pact for a Fair Energy Transition prioritizes water for human consumption over irrigation or mining, marking a significant shift in Colombian policy.

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Concerns have been raised about the safety of social leaders and indigenous communities in Colombia. The international community is urged to support the 2016 peace accord, specifically the Ethnic Chapter and the Commission for Security Guarantees, and aid the peace dialogue with the National Liberation Army (ELN). The Colombian government needs to enhance support for indigenous and cimarrona guards within ethnic territories. Authorities must bring perpetrators of violence against social leaders to justice, reform the National Protection Unit, and implement efficient, culturally sensitive protection measures. U.S. policymakers are called upon to denounce abuses publicly and demand protection for at-risk individuals and communities. Two critical cases involve threats against investigative journalist Gonzalo Guillén and lawyer Roberto Mauricio Rodríguez of La Nueva Prensa and anti-corruption activist Alexander Chala Saenz, the Political Chief of the Corporation of retired military veterans for Colombia

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In the small town of Aguanqueterique in central Honduras' Dry Corridor, a once-vibrant soccer field now sits empty due to the migration of young people seeking better opportunities in larger cities or the United States. This migration is driven by a lack of jobs and opportunities in the region. Changing rainfall patterns and persistent droughts have resulted in failed harvests, further pushing people to leave their homeland.

Honduras is at the forefront of climate adaptation. The country focuses on building resilience and adapting to the challenges posed by a rapidly warming world, with water scarcity being a primary concern. Many farmers confirmed that having access to water is essential for their survival and ability to stay in their communities. However, the Central American country is highly vulnerable to climate change. Severe droughts and even powerful storms have caused extensive damage.

Local organizations like Catholic Relief Services are working to assist subsistence farmers in adapting to climate change by providing agricultural tools and techniques. Water is identified as a crucial resource not only for agriculture but also for community well-being, food security, and hygiene. Water issues are deeply connected with the lives of the people in this region, making access to water a critical concern.

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Law enforcement agencies in Atlanta conducted a violent operation to clear a protest encampment in the Weelaunee Forest, resulting in the death of Indigenous Venezuelan activist Manuel Paez Terán. Terán was protesting against the construction of the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, known as Cop City, on the forest land. Despite his death, the authorities continued the clearing operation, using excessive force against protesters. The incident marked the first known instance of state forces in the United States killing an environmental protester. In Central America, similar violence against land and water defenders has been alarmingly common, with governments often using terrorism charges to suppress dissent. The U.S. has historically played a role in promoting economic policies benefiting exploitative industries, while also training and supporting security forces that repress opposition. U.S.-backed police and military training programs have contributed to the rise of elite police units involved in extrajudicial killings. Despite these challenges, activists in both the United States and Central America continue to resist environmental destruction and militarization, advocating for alternatives to the existing oppressive systems.

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Nicaraguan religious leaders are outraged by President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo's self-identification as Christians while their government suppresses dissent and seizes religious properties. The crackdown, which began in 2018, has resulted in deaths, imprisonments, and loss of citizenship for critics. The Catholic Church has suffered under Ortega's regime, with surveillance, intimidation, and threats against clergy and worshippers. Religious freedom has deteriorated, leading to fear and self-censorship. The situation has caused division and suffering in Nicaraguan society, with a lack of reliable information. The sister interviewed fears for her safety but speaks out for the people of Nicaragua and calls for international attention to their plight.

 

 

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On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

Volunteers with the Rapid Response Network (RRN)—together with IRTF staff—write letters in response to six urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see https://www.irtfcleveland.org/content/rrn , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

News Article

For many years, Ohioans have been supporting IRTF's work to advocate for the protection of water sources and the safety of environmental defenders in Central America.  Here in Ohio we heard first hand about the dire situation in Honduras on April 22, 2023 when we hosted Reynaldo Domínguez, an environmental defender from the community of Guapinol. His community members and family have paid a heavy price for their efforts to protect the Guapinol River from contamination caused by an iron oxide mine.  In January and June of this year, two of Reynaldo’s brothers were assassinated. 

The mine is operated inside a national protected area by a Honduran company called Los Pinares, owned by Lenir Pérez and Ana  Facussé. Now living in Miami, Lenir Pérez is under investigation by the FBI, which recently raided his home. The family of his wife, Ana Facussé,  owns the Dinant corporation, which has an ugly history of carrying out violence against campesinos (small farmers). Over the past several years, we have been following and responding to serious human rights violations committed by agents connected to the Dinant corporation:  surveillance, harassment, illegally grabbing campesino farm land, disappearances of community leaders, and even murders.

The Dear Colleague letter to Secretary of State Anthony Blinken (Aug 15, 2023) urges him to ensure that the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa supports efforts by the government of Honduras to protect environmental defenders and investigations into the violent networks associated with the Dinant corporation. Because of Dinant’s access to financing from multilateral development banks (and its involvement in corruption and human rights violations), the US government’s efforts to address root causes of emigration from Honduras are being undermined.

IRTF worked with the Honduras Solidarity Network to urge all 50+ members of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, as well as all US reps from Ohio, to sign this important letter to protect environmental defenders in Honduras. 

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