indigenous rights activists

 

  • Filipino activists stand firm after government adds them to list of terrorists

    The Philippines government recently listed activists and a UN Special Rapporteur as terrorists and has threatened to pull out of the International Criminal Court. CIVICUS speak to Bestang Dekdeken, Secretary General of theCordillera Peoples Alliance on these threats and the drivers behind them.

    1. Tell us more about the recent crackdown on indigenous rights activists in the Philippines and the labelling of them as “terrorists” by the authorities

    A culture of impunity continues to reign in the Philippines, with indigenous peoples experiencing unrelenting human rights violations under the government’s counter-insurgency policy Oplan Kapayapaan, martial law in Mindanao, USA’s war on terror, and the crackdown against political dissenters. The latest in the series of attacks against indigenous peoples and human rights defenders is the recent Philippine Department of Justice’s petition to proscribe the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army (NPA) as terrorist organisations. The petition was pursuant to the National Security Act 2007. It listed around 650 names, including leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, and indigenous rights defenders, alleging that they are “terrorists”.

    The Department of Justice petition is baseless and malicious with intent to vilify, harass and intimidate the people struggling for their democratic rights and indigenous communities fighting for their rights to their ancestral lands and self-determination. It is meant to cripple the growing peoples’ movement in the country and criminalise the legitimate struggles of the people. It is an attack on the legitimacy of people’s organisations such as the Cordillera Peoples Alliance and signals the intensifying curtailment of our fundamental and democratic rights and freedoms. Cordillera Peoples Alliance has been fighting for the defence of ancestral domains and self-determination of Cordillera indigenous peoples for more than three decades, which is an exercise of fundamental rights. The terrorist proscription list also puts at risk the lives of indigenous human rights defenders. It is for these reasons that we are soliciting international support to pressure the Philippine government to immediately dismiss the legal petition and uphold its human rights obligations.

    2. What do you think is driving the crackdown on indigenous rights and against human rights and civic freedoms more generally?

    President Rodrigo Duterte is determined to impose his dictatorship in the country through martial law, and Charter change (constitutional reform) under the guise of a shift to a federal form of government. He is hell-bent at silencing political dissent, especially those against human rights violations and his selling-out of Philippine sovereignty and patrimony in exchange for promises of foreign investments. Hence, there has been a snowballing mass protests against the regime’s total disregard of human rights and an intensifying resistance against the fascist rule of Duterte. Indigenous peoples and human rights defenders have also been strongly opposing the continued onslaught of development aggression in our ancestral lands and natural resources through corporate extractive projects, such as mining, dams and mono-crop plantations, coupled with the militarisation of indigenous communities.

    3. How is civil society responding to President Rodrigo Duterte’s onslaught against human rights?

    The serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the Philippines is galvanising the peoples’ movement to resist the fascist rule of Duterte and to stand up for our fundamental freedoms and democracy. At national level, the Movement Against Tyranny (MAT) was launched in August 2017, aimed at uniting all freedom loving Filipinos against tyranny and to counter the increasing fascism and militarist rule of the Duterte government. MAT opposes fascist measures such as the demonification of human rights victims and defenders as “terrorists”, “drug addicts/pushers/coddlers”, “extortionists” and the use of red-baiting to muddle issues and justify extrajudicial killings and other atrocities. Following the national launch, MAT formations are being established at regional and provincial levels. Series of direct mass actions on specific issues are being held almost on a weekly basis in the past year.

    4. Why has President Duterte threatened to pull out of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and what has been the response in the Philippines? What is civil society is doing to resist this?

    On March 16, the government of President Duterte notified the United Nations Secretary General of its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) in protest of the ICC’s decision to start its probe on the extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s War on Drugs. Withdrawing from the ICC is the latest move of President Duterte to try to evade accounting for the extrajudicial killings in the country and crimes committed against the people. It also further shows his disregard of international bodies that intend to investigate the human rights situation in the country, such as the ICC and the United Nations. It is a fact that a culture of impunity reigns in the country obliging concerned international bodies to conduct their own investigation. The civil society in the country have started expressing concern that Duterte is doing this to continue to act with impunity.

    5. What are three things that need to change for the rule of law and human rights to be respected and for democracy to flourish?  

    Public servants should seriously push for the government’s adherence to national human rights laws and international human rights agreements that the Philippines is a signatory of. The fundamental rights and freedoms of the people, democratic rights, and Philippine sovereignty must not be trampled upon and should be safeguarded by the people in the government instead of allowing tyrannical rule. The government should also put an end to the martial law in Mindanao, its counter-insurgency operations Oplan Kapayapaan, and the Inter-Agency Committee for Legal Action that have been victimising indigenous peoples and human rights defenders and legitimising and systematising political persecution and political extrajudicial killings.

    6. What can the international community and international CSOs do to support Philippines civil society?

    We appeal for solidarity support from the international community and international CSOs to help us put pressure on the Philippine government to uphold its human rights obligations, and put an end to political persecution, criminalisation and harassment of indigenous rights defenders and environmental activists, extrajudicial killings, militarisation of indigenous communities, and plunder of indigenous lands and resources.

    7. How are journalists and media outlets responding to the attempts by the government to restrict or shut them down?

    In light of President Duterte’s attacks on the press and freedom of expression in the country, journalists, media outlets and artists launched a new alliance called Let’s Organize for Democracy (LODI) in 2017. LODI aims to fight attacks against the freedom of expression and human rights violations. LODI and other press media workers have also been actively participating in the activities of the Movement Against Tyranny and mass protests to register their fight and solidarity with the wider Filipino movement for genuine freedom and democracy.

    8. Has there been an impact on civic space from President Duterte’s misogynist and derogatory statements concerning women?

    President Duterte’s misogynist, derogatory and demeaning statements about women have catalysed a wider and stronger women’s movement against violations of women and people’s rights in the country. Duterte’s animosity towards women’s rights further exposed Duterte’s fascism by openly encouraging violence against women and human rights violations with impunity. With this, women’s organisations have gained wide support from various groups, sectors and advocates in denouncing Duterte’s blatant disregard of women’s rights.

     

  • Guatemala: Las autoridades detienen a Jerson Antonio Morales al tiempo que continúan los ataques contra defensores de los derechos indígenas

    English

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS condenó el arresto y la detención ilegal del periodista y activista de los derechos indígenas Jerson Antonio Xitumul Morales por parte de las autoridades guatemaltecas, el 11 de noviembre de 2017.

     

  • India: Rich Land of Poor People

    On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples (9 August), we commend the work of imprisoned lawyer and activist Sudha Bharadwaj, defender of Indigenous communities in India.

     Sudha Bharadwaj

                                                                                                                  Sudha Bharadwaj

     

    By Alina Tiphagne, Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA)

    India’s Adivasi community

    For decades, India’s Adivasis, the collective name for the many Indigenous people in India, have borne the brunt of development-induced displacement. Indigenous communities in India have had their lands taken, livelihoods destroyed, and rights trampled on as a result of business activities and urban expansion. Adivasis make-up about 8% of India’s population and rely on their lands and forests for their livelihood.

    Over the past year, the CIVICUS Monitor has tracked several cases of arrests, intimidation and violence carried out by state authorities on Indigenous people and their allies. Such harassment and brutality are active in the mineral-rich state of Chhattisgarh, central India, which has the highest output of coal in the country and where limestone, dolomite and bauxite are found in abundance.

    In Chhattisgarh, a significant proportion of people are Adivasis from tribal and Dalit communities. Many have been displaced due to businesses seizing land and natural resources, and rampant human rights abuses have been reported in the state. To add to this already complex situation, southern Chhattisgarh is the epicentre of a five decades-long insurgency between the Naxalite Maoist group and the Indian government. The fighting has negatively affected the tribal population, densely forested districts and neighbouring states.

    The work of Sudha Bharadwaj, human rights lawyer and former General Secretary of the Chhattisgarh People’s Union for Civil Liberties, lies at this fraught intersection. Sudha has lived in the state for 29 years, fighting for the rights of Indigenous and working-class people. However, she has been in pre-trial detention for nearly two years after being charged under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, on suspicion of being involved in Maoist terror activities and conspiring to incite public unrest.

    Political Consciousness

    Born in Massachusetts, US, Sudha moved to New Delhi at the age of 11. Her mother, renowned economist Krishna Bharadwaj, founded Jawaharlal Nehru University’s (JNU) Centre for Economic Studies and planning. Sudha spent her childhood years at JNU, where her early political consciousness was formed:

    “One of my early memories of JNU in my childhood was when Vietnam won the war against the US. I remember a lot of singing and celebration in the first quadrangle. That was the kind of atmosphere in which I grew up,” Sudha said in a recent interview.

    At 18, Sudha moved to Kanpur, central India, to study. At this time, Kanpur was at the peak of its industrial boom, with a string of mega textile mills, attracting migrant workers from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Through her work in the National Service Scheme (NSS) and its outreach programs, Sudha became exposed - for the first time in her life - to the appalling living conditions of the workers.

    She was also introduced to Shankar Guha Niyogi, a trade unionist, and decided to join his organisation in Chhattisgarh in 1986. After Niyogi was assassinated at the behest of a local industrialist, the organisation splintered, with some choosing militant ways and others moderate. It was Bharadwaj who managed to unite the workers.

    Women & Workers’ Rights

    Sudha began working in the mining trade union of Chhattisgarh and strove to involve women in the fight for workers’ rights. She felt women experienced issues that were not being addressed and made sure the Women’s Committee discussed all topics, even sensitive ones including alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Other issues affecting working class wives were the threat of their huts being demolished, and the daily struggle for water and electricity.

    After being involved in the struggles of the working classes for decades, Sudha decided to study law in the early 2000s. She soon gained a reputation as a formidable lawyer and became iconic in the pro-people struggle after standing up to corporate giants and big business. She is now a visiting professor at the National Law University and Vice President of the Indian Association for People’s Lawyers (IAPL).

    Much of Sudha’s legal work has revolved around the rights of Adivasi people in India. Since 2016 Sudha has been fighting for the rights of villagers in Ghatbarra, Chhattisgarh, after the government cancelled the rights of villagers and Adivasi people to live in the forest and surrounding areas. It is alleged that the authorities want to make way for a coal mining facility, even though the move would damage over 1000 hectares of land and disrupt an elephant corridor.

    Smear Campaign & Imprisonment

    Becoming a well-known lawyer who fights for the rights of Indigenous and marginalised communities has pitted Sudha against a government sensitive to any criticism.

    In September 2018, Republic TV, a channel known as the ‘FOX NEWS of India’, alleged that Sudha had written a letter identifying herself as “Comrade Advocate Sudha Bharadwaj” to a Maoist called “Comrade Prakash,” stating that a “Kashmir like situation” has to be created. The television presenter also accused her of receiving money from Maoists.

    The Indian Supreme Court ordered that Sudha be placed under house arrest for four weeks. Her home was raided at midnight by police who seized her laptop, pen drives, work papers and mobile phone. In October 2018, Sudha’s bail plea was rejected and she is currently being held in pre-trial detention at the Byculla jail in Mumbai. Recently, a special court rejected an interim medical bail plea filed by her lawyers after an inmate tested positive for COVID-19. The National Investigation Agency accused Sudha of using the threat of COVID-19 as an excuse to seek bail.

    As we observe The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples this year, let us not forget the hundreds of Adivasi community workers, social activists, trade unionists, environmental advocates, human rights lawyers, grassroots doctors and nurses who are languishing in prisons - or have lost their lives - fighting for the rights of marginalised people across India. They have shown immense strength and resilience in fighting an increasingly oppressive regime whilst living through a global pandemic.

    #StandAsMyWitness

    As the Narendra-Modi government continues to target grassroots activists, student-leaders, academics and anyone who is critical of the state - let us not forget Sudha’s words:

    “If you try to be safe in the middle, you will never succeed.”

    We urge you not to be safe in the middle. Join our campaign #StandAsMyWitness and demand justice for imprisoned human rights defenders like Sudha. We ask you to stand with them, so they do not stand alone.

    Human Rights Defenders Alert (HRDA) is a national network for the protection and promotion of human rights defenders in the country and a research partner of the CIVICUS Monitor.

     

  • Indian activist Sudha Bharadwaj spends 900 days in detention

    • 13 February 2021 marks Sudha Bharadwaj’s 900th day in pre-trial detention
    • Questions raised about validity of letters used to incriminate Sudha
    • Indian authorities have limited the number of books she can receive

    February 13 marks 900 days since Indian activist Sudha Bharadwaj was arrested and imprisoned. On this day, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her. 

    Since 2018, Sudha and 15 other activists, writers and lawyers have been arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist). It is alleged that she and the other human rights defenders conspired to incite Dalits at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018. 

    Sudha Bharadwaj was initially placed under house arrest in August 2018 but in October 2018 was moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. There are serious concerns about the validity of evidence against her. This week a U.S. digital forensics firm raised questions about incriminating letters used to implicate Sudha and the other activists. The letters were found on an activist’s laptop which is thought to have been hacked. 

    Sudha’s health continues to deteriorate in prison. The 59 year old suffers from diabetes, hypertension and Ischemic heart disease, making her susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison. Despite underlying health issues, Bharadwaj’s pleas for bail have been quashed by the courts as the National Investigation Agency claims her condition is not serious. 

    Sudha, a lawyer and rights defender, has also been denied books and newspapers in prison. A special  National Investigation Agency court finally ruled last month that Sudha can receive five books a month from outside prison. However, the judge has ordered the Superintendent of Byculla prison to “carefully examine” the books for “objectionable content” before handing them over.

    “The fact that my mother, a lawyer, has been denied access to books and newspapers shows the absolute determination of the Modi government to restrict the liberties of human rights defenders. My mother has been unjustly detained for over two years without trial. We are increasingly worried about her health and demand that she be released immediately to rest at home until her case comes to court,” said Maaysha, Sudha Bharadwaj’s daughter.

    Sudha 900 days in detention

    The treatment of Sudha highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

    In January,  the UN Human Rights office expressed serious concern about the detention of human rights defenders including those in the Bhima Koregaon case. It urged the Indian authorities to immediately release the detainees, at the very least on bail before their court hearing. While in October last year, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, expressed concern over the use of “vaguely defined laws” to silent activists and government critics. 

    “The Modi regime is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges and keep them for long periods in detention. Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. She should never have been arrested but unfortunately her human rights work has put her directly in the firing line of the government,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.

    Sudha Bharadwaj is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS’s global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. People are also encouraged to share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness.

    ----Ends---

     

  • Rights organisation calls for release of activist Sudha Bharadwaj on 2nd anniversary of her arrest

    SudhaBharadwaj

    • CIVICUS urges authorities to drop baseless charges against Sudha Bharadwaj 
    • There are concerns for Bharadwaj’s health in prison during COVID-19 pandemic
    • Bharadwaj is featured in international campaign #StandAsMyWitness calling for release of human rights defenders 

    August 28 2020 marks two years since the arrest and detention of Indian activist and human rights lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj. Ahead of this second anniversary, global civil society organisation CIVICUS calls on the Indian government to immediately release Bharadwaj and drop all charges against her. 

    Bharadwaj has been in pre-trial detention since August 2018, when she was arrested under the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and accused of having links with Maoist terrorist organisations. It is also alleged that she and ten other human rights defenders were conspiring to incite Dalits, a marginalised group, at a public meeting which led to violence in Bhima Koregaon village in the Pune district of Maharashtra in January 2018.

    Sudha Bharadwaj was initially held under house arrest until October 2018, when she was then moved to Byculla Women’s Prison in Mumbai. There are concerns that the 59 year old, who suffers from diabetes and hypertension, will be susceptible to COVID-19 in the cramped prison, where an inmate has already tested positive for the virus. A July medical report found that she is also now suffering from Ischemic heart disease.

    Despite her underlying health issues, last week Bharadwaj’s plea for bail to the Bombay High Court was opposed by the National Investigation Agency which claimed her condition is not serious. The treatment of Bharadwaj highlights the increasingly repressive measures used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to clamp down on dissent and silence human rights defenders.

    UN experts have expressed concerns about the terrorism charges laid against Sudha and about the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act’s vague definition of ‘unlawful activities’ and ‘membership of terrorist organisations’ which have been routinely used by the government to stifle dissent:

    “Sudha is a lawyer and activist who has spent her life defending Indigenous people in India and protecting workers’ rights. However, her human rights activities have put her in the firing line of the Modi regime, which is abusing the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and using it to round-up activists and human rights defenders on trumped-up charges,” said Josef Benedict, Asia-Pacific civic space researcher for CIVICUS.

    Sudha Bharadwaj is one of a group of leading human rights defenders who feature in CIVICUS’ global campaign #StandAsMyWitness. The campaign urges people to call for an end to the imprisonment and harassment of human rights defenders across the world. People are also encouraged to share the defenders’ individual stories on social media using the hashtag #StandAsMyWitness.

    ABOUT CIVICUS

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. CIVICUS has 10,000 members worldwide.

    CIVICUS Monitor is an online platform that tracks the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, association and expression in countries across the world. India’s civic space rating was downgraded from ‘obstructed’ to ‘repressed’ last year owing to its increased restriction of space for dissent and particularly following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election in May 2019.

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