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Afro-Descendant & Indigenous: News & Updates

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A Colombian conservationist who saved a rare species of parrot from extinction, a young feminist activist in Afghanistan, and two poets in Myanmar who used words to protest against the military coup were among 358 human rights defenders murdered in 35 countries last year. As in previous years, most killings took place in the Americas and in the Asia-Pacific region. Colombia, where activists are routinely targeted by armed groups despite the 2016 peace accord, remained the most dangerous country to be a human rights defender, with 138 deaths recorded. The majority of those killed, 59%, worked on land, environmental and indigenous rights, where their activities disrupted the economic interests of corporations and individuals in mining, logging and other extractive industries.

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Please see a summary of the letters we sent to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia, Guatemala, and Honduras, 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. IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) volunteers write six letters in response to 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.

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For our last installation of this year’s Black History Month series, we at the Quixote Center are highlighting the life and work of Honduran Garifuna activist Miriam Miranda. Miriam Miranda is a Honduran Garifuna human rights activist and land defender. As the head of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH)—which defends the rights of Garifuna communities—Miranda has worked to stop land theft by the tourism industry, to reclaim ancestral Garifuna land, promote sustainability, and support community leadership development for youth and women. In 2015, Miriam received the Óscar Romero Human Rights Award, alongside fellow Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated less than a year later. In 2016, Miriam received the Carlos Escaleras environmental prize for her 30 years of activism defending Garifuna communities.

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Mayan indigenous communities in eastern Guatemala are waging an ongoing struggle for the defense of their lands and resources, in the face of encroachment by mining, power and oil corporations. These struggles have resulted in protests on behalf of the affected communities and against the Guatemalan government's repression of activists and indigenous inhabitants, and have now reached the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

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Confrontations between Indigenous Guard land defenders and FARC rebel dissidents are escalating. According to a 2021 report by INDEPAZ, at least 611 environmental defenders have been killed since the signing of the peace agreement in Colombia in 2016. Of these, 332 were Indigenous, the report said, and 204 of the killings took place in Cauca, Colombia. This year so far, 12 Indigenous people  have been killed in Cauca, according to Juan Camayo Diaz, coordinator of Tejido de Defensa de la Vida, an Indigenous human rights organisation in the province. The situation in the region is “one of the most concerning in Colombia”, said Juan Pappier, a senior Americas researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Today many of the municipalities in the region face even higher levels of homicides than immediately before the peace process. That’s a tragedy that requires an urgent re-think of the government’s security and protection strategies,” Pappier told Al Jazeera.

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The Maya Q’eqchi’ community of Agua Caliente is nestled in the mountains surrounding Guatemala’s Lake Izabal, in the sacred Valle del Polochic. Located in the municipality of El Estor, Izabal, Agua Caliente is also known for its abundant deposits of nickel. These riches have for decades made El Estor a target of looting by multinational corporations seeking to exploit and profit from the land and resources. This case against a particular Fénix nickel marks the first time the Guatemalan state has faced judgement in an international court for violating the ancestral land rights of Indigenous communities. The court’s ruling could force the Guatemalan government to finally recognize the Q’eqchi’ people’s collective rights to their ancestral lands and their right to protect their natural resources from exploitative megaprojects—including the destructive open-pit Fénix nickel mine that stands on the banks of Lake Izabal.

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For 8 years, residents of Azacualpa, Honduras, have been fighting the illegal destruction of their 200-year-old Maya-Chorti cemetery by the mining company MINOSA. Now, the cemetery has been destroyed completely, violating a sentence made previously by the supreme court to stop all exhumations and destruction of the cemetery.

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