Latin America,

 

  • HONDURAS: ‘We must address the roots of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources’

    Edy TaboraCIVICUS speaks about the criminalisation of environmental, land and territorial defenders in Honduras with Edy Tábora, director of the law firm Justicia para los Pueblos (Justice for the Peoples) and coordinator of the group of defence lawyers of eight defenders of the Guapinol river who were recently released from detention.

    Why were the Guapinol defenders criminalised?

    The case of the eight Guapinol comrades deprived of their freedom is one of the most revealing expressions of the conflicts around mining and energy and the dispossession of land and natural resources in Honduras. Along with that of Berta Cáceres, the Guapinol case is one of the most significant ones.

    Berta’s case, which culminated in her assassination, was the first in a new wave of criminalisation surrounding dispossession projects following the 2009 military coup. Her case displayed all the typical elements: stigmatisation, surveillance, rupture of the social fabric, criminalisation. The same pattern can be seen in many parts of Honduras.

    After the coup, there was a privately conducted exploration of mineral deposits and businesspeople realised there was a lot of money to be made here. In the case of Guapinol, the process kicked off with the granting of an iron oxide mining concession – one of the largest in the country – to Los Pinares, a holding company registered in Panama, owned by an extremely wealthy Honduran family. Its mining business was developed jointly with the US company Nucor.

    Nucor claims to have withdrawn from the project in late 2019 due to the conflict triggered by the criminalisation of the Guapinol defenders, but there is no evidence of this and we do not believe it to be true. Los Pinares is simply the mining arm of a company whose power comes from airport concessions at home and abroad. It is a company with high-level political connections, and with so much power that in 2013 it succeeded in getting the National Congress to change the delimitation of the core zone of a national park.

    On 22 April 2013, the day before a new mining law came into force, applications were submitted for the two mining concessions related to the Guapinol case, both located in the core zone of the Montaña de Botaderos National Park. This had been declared a national park in 2012, as part of a ‘friendly settlement’ with the relatives of Carlos Escaleras, a social leader and environmental defender active in the 1980s and 1990s, who was assassinated for defending this mountain. The statute of the national park, which bears the name of Carlos Escaleras, prohibited the granting of mining concessions in its core zone and even its buffer zone.

    However, in 2014, engineers began to arrive on the mountain to collect information and check how deep down metal was deposited. People noticed this, began to demand an explanation and organised in the Municipal Committee of Public and Common Goods of Tocoa.

    In June 2016 they began to file complaints; some were filed by the Guapinol defenders who ended up in prison. They requested information from the institutions in charge of granting mining permits but only obtained some information in November 2019, after three years of back and forth. Tired of not getting answers, in June 2018 people started protesting at the Municipality of Tocoa Colón. It was then that systematic surveillance by the national police and Los Pinares security began.

    In August 2018, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise held press conferences in which it complained to the government about an alleged loss of 20 billion dollars caused by ‘vandals’ protesting in various parts of Honduras.

    Criminalisation was a nationwide strategy, but the criminalisation of the Guapinol comrades was the most serious case. On 8 September 2018, the Public Prosecutor’s Office presented the first accusation against 18 comrades for the crimes of usurpation, damage and usurpation of public space. Los Pinares appeared in the hearings as the accuser. Fourteen comrades were put on trial and all their cases were closed, but the fact that they were accused enabled the illegal eviction, in October 2018, of the Camp for Water and Life, one of many set up around Honduras. This was one of four charges brought by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as part of the strategy to criminalise resistance movements against mining and energy projects.

    In January 2019, in response to a complaint filed by Los Pinares, the Public Prosecutor’s Office filed another indictment against 32 people, including eight Guapinol comrades. The nature of the charges changed: it was no longer about usurpation of public space but about organised crime. Human rights defenders were now treated as taking part in organised crime, with charges including criminal association, theft, damage, unjust deprivation of liberty and aggravated arson. The case was assigned to the Specialised Court for Organised Crime, which meant it was transferred from local to national jurisdiction, in violation of the right to be tried by one’s natural judge. 

    Of the 32, a first group voluntarily submitted to trial in February 2019 and was kept in prison for only 10 days before the accusations against them were dismissed. The Guapinol eight, however, despite having voluntarily submitted to trial, were subjected to arbitrary detention from 26 August 2019 until 24 February 2022, when they finally regained their freedom.

    What did civil society do to secure their release?

    During the pandemic, Guapinol was one of the most high-profile cases globally. Not even the pandemic could stop our comrades’ defence. We quickly moved our activities online, and by late April 2020 we were already filing habeas corpus writs for our comrades’ right to health, alongside international organisations. Even under these conditions, we managed to set up discussions with important organisations, and three months after the pandemic began, we restarted our advocacy work, which meant that by the time the trial started, the case had become very well known around the world.

    Initially the case was promoted by the Coalition Against Impunity, which brings together more than 50 Honduran civil society organisations (CSOs). Later, many CSOs joined a kind of international support group for the case.

    First, we publicly denounced the violence and criminalisation against the Municipal Committee. Second, before our comrades were imprisoned, we documented the irregular granting of concessions for natural resources. Third, alongside several Honduran CSOs, we organised our comrades’ legal defence. A working group was then organised including national and international CSOs to support the defence. A lot of advocacy work was done, both nationally and internationally, to convince the public that this was a very important case and to counter the company’s account of the violence allegedly committed by our comrades.

    Documentary and testimonial work was crucial to expose our comrades’ real activism. We had many meetings with international CSOs. Canadian, US and European organisations and academics reported on the concession and the legal process. International CSOs filed amicus curiae – friend of the court – briefs with Honduran courts. We participated in multiple forums with national and international organisations.

    Many actions converged to create a powerful wave of demands for our comrades’ release. CIVICUS’s and Amnesty International’s campaigns, for example, allowed us to reach wider audiences. When the trial came, the case was widely known, and less than 24 hours after the end of the trial, in which our comrades were convicted with two thirds of the court’s votes, the Supreme Court of Justice annulled the whole process and ordered them to be released.

    This was an unprecedented decision, surely motivated by the strength of the demand for their freedom and by the evidence presented, both in and out of court, which demonstrated that our comrades were innocent and that they fight for a just cause that is of great interest to humanity.

    Are there other cases like the Guapinol case in Honduras?

    There are many defenders criminalised for defending land, including some from the Garífuna people, a marginalised minority, but they are not in prison. Many comrades were also imprisoned for defending democracy in the aftermath of 2017’s electoral fraud: around 30 people were imprisoned in maximum security prisons, but they are currently free. Most pending cases are being closed as a result of an amnesty issued by the National Congress in February 2022.

    In that sense, the Guapinol case was an exception, because this amnesty did not apply to them. What’s important about this case is that we managed to close the process by defending ourselves even with the highly questionable tools offered by the Honduran judicial system.

    However, there were other cases at the same time as Guapinol, such as that of the Indigenous comrades of the Lenca people in the department of La Paz, who were accused of forced displacement. They were imprisoned for more than a year for a crime that is the craziest thing I have ever heard: they were accused of displacing landowners. The Public Prosecutor’s narrative uses the made-up concept of ‘reverse racism’, according to which Indigenous peoples can also commit discrimination against minorities within their communities – the minority in this case being the landowners.

    Do you view Guapinol as part of a pattern of criminalisation against environmental defenders?

    We have detected patterns of criminalisation by sector in the cases we have monitored. For example, between 2011 and 2016 one of the most criminalised sectors was the student movement mobilised in defence of public education. Some 350 students, mostly university students, were criminalised.

    In the case of environmental defenders, we were able to document several patterns of criminalisation. Again and again, prosecutions were initiated only a few days after pronouncements by companies or employers’ organisations. The behaviour of the police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office has also been similar in all cases, with an initial focus on eviction and accusations changing over time following the same pattern. The narrative peddled by companies is always the same as well, often because they share the same lawyers.

    Criminalisation follows different patterns depending on the interests affected. The crimes people are accused of when challenging mining interests differ from those used to dispossess communities of land for the construction of tourism megaprojects or the plantation of African palm in the Atlantic zone, and from those used against peasants claiming access to land and crops.

    However, all the groups criminalised over the past 15 years have something in common: their resistance to the project, promoted since the 2000s, of handing over natural resources to private companies. Land grabbing was politically supported the state following the coup: from that moment on, national regulations were made more flexible to facilitate dispossession and the national police and the security forces of the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the judiciary were placed at the service of the private sector, which used them to criminalise land rights defenders.

    Has there been any improvement in the situation of environmental defenders since the new government came to power in January 2022?

    The new government brought several positive changes. First, while we had already achieved the closure of several emblematic cases, it decreed an amnesty that resulted in the closure of most legal proceedings against defenders, although there are still some cases pending.

    Second, the new government has put an end to the state’s stigmatisation of land struggles, which used to make use of information obtained by state security forces. And third, for the time being the government has not tackled conflicts with violence. People who protest are not being repressed.

    In recent years state violence was deployed to manage social protest, private violence was reflected in the assassination of defenders, and hybrid violence was seen in the area of surveillance. Over the four years of the current government we may no longer witness violent management of social protests, but there is a chance that state violence will be replaced by private corporate violence.

    What are the challenges ahead?

    The challenge right now is to address the causes of criminalisation. We have worked to defend and support our comrades criminalised by the state and private companies, but we have never been able to address what’s at the root of the conflict: the handing over of natural resources. Preventing the criminalisation of defenders is a big step, but we must address the issue of concessions, which in fact continue. Approved projects are waiting to be implemented. If we don’t seize the moment to address this problem, then when the government’s political colour changes, private companies will come back stronger and criminalisation will intensify.

    Moreover, social movements are worn out after 12 years of resistance against the handing over of natural resources. There must be accountability, reparations for victims and guarantees of legal security for defenders to be able to do their work. The hostile legal framework for exercising rights and defending human rights that has been established in recent decades must be reversed.

    Civic space in Honduras is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Learn more about the Guapinol case on itswebsite and follow@Edy_Tabora on Twitter.

     

  • Honduras: Adoption of Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights

    Statement at the 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

    Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights -- Outcome Adoption for Honduras


    Thank you, Mr President.

    The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, CIVICUS and RedLad welcome the government of Honduras’ engagement with the UPR process. However, our joint UPR submission documents that since its previous review Honduras has not implemented 19 of the 30 recommendations it received relating to space for civil society, and has only partially implemented eight.

    As detailed in our submission, Honduran legislation restricts workers’ freedom of association. Additionally, the enjoyment of this freedom by activists working on politically sensitive issues is limited in practice, often as a result of the intervention of non-state actors. There was positive change in the legal framework for civil society, but the work of CSOs continued to be undermined by extra-legal factors. Action by indigenous people’s rights, environmental and land rights defenders, as well as students and LGBTQI+ HRDs, is also hampered through criminalisation, criminal prosecution, harassment and surveillance. Although Honduras established a protection mechanism for HRDs and journalists, it failed to ensure its effectiveness. Persistently high levels of violence make Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world for HRDs and journalists.

    As also documented in our submission, the 2019 Criminal Code maintained the crimes of slander and insult, which continued to be used against journalists, and the right to access information enshrined by law continued to be restricted by the so-called Law of Official Secrets.

    The exercise of freedom of peaceful assembly remained subjected to de facto and legal barriers. Peaceful demonstrations, particularly by student, indigenous, peasant and environmental movements, were often arbitrarily dissolved with excessive force, typically leading to people being arrested or injured, and occasionally resulting in fatalities. A legal vacuum persists regarding the accountability of the security forces for abuses committed against peaceful protesters.

    We welcome recommendations made to Honduras in this cycle to address these concerns and we call on the Government of Honduras to take proactive measures to implement these recommendations to create and maintain, in law and in practice, an enabling environment for civil society. We further call on the States who made such recommendations to ensure follow-up on their implementation.

    We thank you.


     Civic space in Honduras is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor

     

  • La sociedad civil de América Latina y el Caribe presiona por un acuerdo vinculante sobre acceso a la información y derechos ambientales

    English

    CIVICUS conversa con Andrés Nápoli, abogado especializado en derecho ambiental y Director Ejecutivo de la Fundación Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (FARN). Fundada en 1985, FARN es una organización de la sociedad civil dedicada a impulsar el desarrollo sustentable. Con énfasis en la participación ciudadana, FARN promueveuna ciudadanía ambiental inclusiva, el desarrollo y la implementación de herramientas para mejorar la transparencia de las políticas públicas y el acceso a la información en materia ambiental. Además construye y lidera redes y alianzas en espacios colaborativos y estratégicos de conocimiento.

    Hace unos días se desarrolló en Buenos Aires una nueva ronda de negociaciones en pos de la adopción de un tratado sobre desarrollo sostenible para América Latina y el Caribe. ¿Cuáles serían los contenidos de este tratado, y qué rol está desempeñando la sociedad civil en el proceso?

    Este es un acuerdo de negociación que se conoce como “acuerdo por el principio 10”, en referencia al principio 10 de la Declaración de Río sobre el Medio Ambiente y el Desarrollo (1992), que garantiza el acceso a la información, a la participación en la toma de decisiones en materia ambiental y a la justicia de todos los actores afectados.

    A partir de esa declaración y de un proceso similar que se dio en Europa y que ya a fines de los ‘90 resultó en la Convención de Aarhus, diez países de América Latina y el Caribe iniciaron negociaciones en la Conferencia de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Desarrollo Sostenible, conocida como Río+20, que tuvo lugar en Río de Janeiro en junio de 2012. Lo que buscaban era un acuerdo, un instrumento regional, para garantizar el acceso a la información sobre medio ambiente y que los ciudadanos tengan la posibilidad de participar en procesos de toma de decisiones que puedan afectar su calidad de vida o el ambiente y tener acceso efectivo a procedimientos judiciales y administrativos, por ejemplo para reparar daños.

    Durante varios años el proceso fue avanzando mediante una serie de reuniones de puntos focales, hasta que finalmente en el año 2015 se dio inicio al proceso de negociación. Los países involucrados actualmente son 24. El proceso es apoyado, en calidad de Secretaría Técnica, por la CEPAL (Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe), un organismo que integra el sistema de las Naciones Unidas y que ha tenido un rol muy activo.

    El proceso tiene una característica muy peculiar: sigue el modelo establecido en la Convención de Aarhus, que tenía el objetivo de consolidar los procesos democráticos en Europa del Este y que para ello contempló la incorporación activa de la sociedad civil. Así, el proceso actualmente en curso en nuestra región también establece mecanismos para la participación activa de la sociedad civil, la que cuenta con representantes en el Comité de Negociación que integran los representantes de los países. La sociedad civil cuenta con dos representantes electos por sus pares que debaten e intercambian ideas en la mesa de negociación del Convenio. Pueden incluso proponer texto para incorporar en el instrumento, el cual es incorporado si obtiene el apoyo de al menos uno de los países.

    ¿Cómo fueron seleccionados los representantes de la sociedad civil? ¿Ha trabajado la sociedad civil en alianzas o redes?

    Los representantes de la sociedad civil (a la que en este proceso se denomina “público”) fueron electos en una votación realizada por medios electrónicos y en la que participaron los miembros del público que se encontraban inscriptos en el proceso al inicio de la negociación. Resultaron electos como titulares las representantes de la sociedad civil de Chile y Jamaica. En mi caso resulté electo como miembro alterno, junto con otros cuatro representantes de diversos países de la región.

    Los representantes de la sociedad civil establecimos una red por medio de la cual desarrollamos nuestra tarea de manera articulada y conjunta. Contamos además con diferentes voceros en el proceso de negociación, como así también con el asesoramiento de expertos de países de la región y de Aarhus.

    ¿Ha habido desacuerdos importantes entre sociedad civil y estados en el curso de las negociaciones?

    El proceso de negociación debería terminar a fines de este año, y si eso no se consigue habría alguna reunión más el año que viene. Se está negociando un texto propuesto por la Secretaría Técnica y sobre la base del cual se ha ido avanzando. Las negociaciones están entrando en su fase final.

    Pero ha habido muchas idas y vueltas, y hay cosas importantes que aún no están definidas. Un tema en que la sociedad civil ha venido insistiendo, y sobre el cual hay una decisión cada vez más firme, es que el acuerdo debe tener carácter vinculante, vale decir que debe obligar a los países que formen parte del mismo. En tal sentido, entendemos que un acuerdo basado en derechos no puede admitir otro carácter. No queremos que este proceso sea una nueva declaración de principios, o una suerte de Ley Modelo: queremos un acuerdo que obligue a los países a establecer e implementar ciertos mecanismos efectivos de participación y acceso a la información en materia ambiental, como así también un amplio acceso a la justicia para reclamar la protección y tutela del derecho a gozar del ambiente.

    Varios países se han pronunciado a favor de esta posición: entre ellos se cuentan Chile, Costa Rica, Panamá y Paraguay; también Argentina se expresó en ese sentido en la última reunión. Otros países sin embargo todavía no se han pronunciado en ese sentido, pero negocian el acuerdo como si fuera a adoptarse un mecanismo de carácter vinculante.

    Sin embargo, nosotros creemos que hay ciertos países que no están negociando de buena fe el acuerdo. Ante todo, aún no se han pronunciado sobre si van a firmar el documento, ni sobre si aceptan que se trate de un acuerdo vinculante. Además, varios de esos mismos países negocian el acuerdo buscando bajar sistemáticamente los estándares de protección de derechos a establecer en el acuerdo, en algunos casos incluso fijando estándares más bajos que los que establecen sus propias legislaciones nacionales.

    Estos intentos de bajar los estándares y garantías llevaron a que se generaran muchas discusiones que han prolongado por demás los plazos de las negociaciones y al mismo tiempo han generado un creciente malestar en los representantes de la sociedad civil.  Esto se ha visto muy claramente en temas de acceso a información pública, donde se han establecido numerosas barreras que tornarán mas dificultoso al ciudadano acceder a la información en poder del estado.

    De hecho, en la última reunión en Buenos Aires se planteó la posibilidad de que la sociedad civil abandonara el proceso si esta actitud persistía. Pero esto fue más que nada un llamado de atención para los negociadores: como sociedad civil trazamos un límite a la discusión, por debajo del cual ya no estaremos dispuestos a permanecer.

    Esperamos que en la próxima reunión, que se va a hacer en Chile cerca de fin de año y en la cual se van a abordar las cuestiones referidas al acceso a la justicia, los estándares de los países se mantengan elevados. Caso contrario, va a ser muy difícil que aquellos países que ya tienen buenos estándares en sus legislaciones mejoren su cumplimiento.

    ¿Por qué es importante la participación de las sociedad civil? ¿Qué diferencia hace su presencia en estos foros?

    La participación de la sociedad civil es muy importante no solo porque legitima los procesos de negociación; también permite que haya mayores niveles de apertura y transparencia. Lo que es más importante, la sociedad civil trae a la mesa de negociaciones muchos de los temas que los estados no están dispuestos a tratar, aporta una perspectiva que va más allá de los intereses estrechos de los estados y al mismo tiempo busca que se eleven los estándares exigidos de protección de derechos. Cuando hay transparencia y la atención pública está puesta en estos procesos, es mucho más difícil para los estados negarse a abordar estas discusiones.

    Un ejemplo de los temas que se han impuesto por la impronta de la sociedad civil es el de la situación por la que atraviesan los defensores ambientales y de derechos humanos en la región y la necesidad de establecer garantías para que puedan llevar a cabo su labor sin sufrir amenazas y atentados, que a muchos les han costado la vida.

    América Latina es la región del mundo con mayor cantidad de asesinatos de activistas ambientalistas. Nosotros creemos que el Acuerdo por el Principio 10 debe contener mecanismos que posibiliten la prevención y la protección efectiva de los defensores ambientales.

    Hay incontables conflictos ambientales abiertos en toda América Latina y el Caribe, asociados a muchísimas violaciones de los derechos humanos, y por el momento no hay mecanismos institucionalizados de negociación entre los estados y las comunidades afectadas. El acuerdo por el Principio 10 puede ser una muy buena herramienta para canalizarlos.

    Como lo muestran numerosos informes publicados recientemente por CIVICUS, PWYP, Global Witness y Front Line Defenders, la sociedad civil que se ocupa del medio ambiente y los recursos naturales enfrenta amenazas crecientes. ¿Qué se puede hacer frente a estas amenazas?

    Efectivamente, América Latina es la región más problemática en materia de garantía de los derechos de los defensores ambientales. Un caso emblemático ha sido el de Berta Cáceres, pero lamentablemente no se trata de un caso único sino que ha habido centenares de defensores asesinados en Brasil, Colombia, Honduras, Perú, Paraguay, México, Nicaragua y Guatemala, entre otros países. En la mayoría de estos procesos están involucradas grandes inversiones, tanto en la lucha contra las mega represas hidroeléctricas como en el avance de la frontera agropecuaria o de la explotación minera. En esos contextos, los defensores ambientales, que son los que trabajan codo a codo con las comunidades afectadas, ven peligrar sus derechos e incluso su integridad física y su propia vida.

    Frente a esto se requieren garantías y salvaguardas fuertemente expresadas por los estados, pero no solamente cuando suceden los ataques sino a manera de prevención, para garantizar el ejercicio legítimo del derecho a defender derechos que están expresando estos defensores ambientales. Muchos de nosotros tenemos la suerte y el privilegio de trabajar desde las capitales, pero los defensores ambientales están junto con los grupos de poblaciones afectadas cuando suceden, por ejemplo, las ocupaciones de tierras por parte de las empresas extractivas o cuando ocurren los desplazamientos del territorio de las poblaciones que lo habitan, que es cuando ocurren las peores violaciones de derechos humanos. De ahí la necesidad de que haya instrumentos internacionales y políticas activas de prevención y protección para estos defensores.

    ¿Qué tendencias, positivas o negativas, observa en materia de participación de la sociedad civil en procesos de toma de decisiones?

    Hay una tendencia que yo creo que es irreversible: la discusión entre estados, con exclusión de la sociedad civil, no ha dado muchos resultados ni tiene mucho futuro. Sin embargo, estos procesos no son lineales; muchas veces se avanza en algunos espacios mientras que se retrocede en otros. Este proceso es un buen ejemplo de que la participación activa de la sociedad civil dentro del proceso puede ser virtuosa y que los acuerdos son posibles; también muestra que se requiere de tiempo, conocimientos y, sobre todo, se requiere ganar confianza.

    Al mismo tiempo, estos procesos ponen en evidencia que muchos países “hacen como que” participan, “hacen como que” informan, pero esto es ficticio. Muchos países garantizan los derechos en sus legislaciones pero fracasan en su implementación. De ahí que nuestras luchas se centren en garantizar el efectivo cumplimiento de los derechos.

    ¿Qué recursos necesita la sociedad civil para fortalecerse y responder mejor a los desafíos que enfrenta?

    Sobre este punto volvería a referir otra vez al tema con que iniciamos esta conversación: las negociaciones por el Principio 10. Este es un proceso abierto para toda la sociedad civil de América Latina y el Caribe, de modo que quiero hacer un pedido directo a toda la sociedad civil, no solamente a organizaciones sino también a personas individuales, profesionales en diversas áreas, para que se informen y tengan una participación activa en este proceso. Eso se puede hacer de manera muy sencilla, para lo cual hay primero que registrase en el proceso en www.cepal.org/es/register/p10. La idea es que el proceso pueda crecer cada vez más a través de una buena comunidad de participantes que contribuya a consolidarlo.

    En términos de fortalecimiento de la sociedad civil, es muy importante que cada uno atienda a los temas que son de su interés y especialidad, pero que también podamos entre todos elegir temas para trabajar en conjunto. El trabajo colectivo fortalece cada uno de los reclamos y cada una de las luchas. En este sentido la sociedad civil siempre tiene elementos para aportar y para construir agenda. Esta agenda no se realiza en el corto plazo: hay que sostenerla en el tiempo. Por eso es bueno trabajarla en forma colectiva, de modo que el día en que uno no puede sostenerla, otro pueda hacerlo en su lugar y que el proceso no se detenga.

    En relación con los derechos que defienden organizaciones como la nuestra, ningún resultado de interés público y de interés colectivo se obtiene en el corto plazo. Se requiere continuidad en el tiempo y, por lo tanto, trabajo colectivo. Apostamos a que estas luchas por los derechos humanos, el desarrollo sostenible y un medio ambiente sano se consoliden en instrumentos internacionales y formen un círculo virtuoso, en la medida en que cada vez más ciudadanos se movilicen, se informen y participen en el proceso de toma de decisiones, y que en ese proceso se generen más y mejores mecanismos institucionales y legales que garanticen esos mismos derechos de movilización, acceso a la información y participación a nivel tanto nacional como internacional mayores serán los resultados que se obtendrán en estos procesos.

    El espacio cívico en Argentina es clasificado en elCIVICUS Monitor en la categoría “estrecho”.

    Visite elsitio web o el perfil deFacebook de FARN, o siga en Twitter a @farnargentina o a @andresnapoli.

     

  • Latin America | The Escazú Agreement: a light of hope for those standing up for the environment

    By Natalia Gomez Peña, Advocacy & Network Engagement Officer, CIVICUS

    In Latin America, environmental activists risk their lives as a consequence of the vital work they do. In a significant step toward their protection, States in Latin America and the Caribbean have adopted a regional agreement known as the Escazú Agreement to fight against the spiral of violence against environmental defenders.

    Read on: International Service for Human Rigths 

     

  • MEXICO: ‘Alliances, public debate & diversification of voices are indispensable in the struggle to expand rights’

    CIVICUS speaks with Verónica Esparza and Rebeca Lorea, respectively lawyer and researcher and Public Policy Advocacy Coordinator at Information Group on Reproductive Choice (GIRE, Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida), about the significance of recent Supreme Court rulings on abortion rights, and sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico. GIRE is a feminist and human rights organisation that has been active for almost 30 years to ensure that women and others with the capacity to bear children can exercise their reproductive rights.

    Veronica Esparza y Rebeca Lorea From left to right: Verónica Esparza & Rebeca Lorea

    What is the situation of sexual and reproductive rights in Mexico?

    Currently, women and other people with the capacity to bear children do not find optimal conditions in Mexico to decide about their reproductive life: there are a high number of pregnant girls and adolescents, affected by a serious context of sexual violence that the state continues to fail to remedy; obstacles to access services such as emergency contraception and abortion in cases of rape; the criminalisation of women and other pregnant people who have abortions; daily obstetric violence during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum; and women who die in childbirth from preventable causes.

    The structural failures of the health system are compounded by the fact that the majority of people in Mexico are employed in the informal sector, which limits their access to social security and therefore to benefits such as maternity leave and childcare. Women, who continue to play the biggest role in household and care work, bear the brunt of this lack of access to services, which particularly affects those who experience multiple discriminations, such as girls and adolescents, Indigenous women and people with disabilities.

    What does GIRE understand reproductive justice to mean, and how do you work to advance it?

    GIRE understands reproductive justice as the set of social, political and economic factors that give women and others who can get pregnant power and self-determination over their reproductive life. To achieve this, it is essential for the state to guarantee these people’s human rights, taking into account the discrimination and structural inequalities that affect their health, rights and control over their lives, and for it to generate optimal conditions for autonomous decision-making.

    It is no longer sufficient to understand reproductive rights in terms of legally defined individual freedoms, while ignoring the barriers that limit the effective access of certain populations to these rights. Reproductive justice is a more inclusive analytical framework because it links reproductive rights to the social, political and economic inequalities that affect people’s ability to access reproductive health services and effectively exercise their reproductive rights.

    GIRE has worked for almost 30 years to defend and promote reproductive justice in Mexico, making visible the normative and structural obstacles that women and others with the capacity to bear children face in fully exercising their human rights, and promoting change through a comprehensive strategy that includes legal support, communications, the demand for comprehensive reparation for violations of reproductive rights, including non-repetition guarantees at both the federal and local levels, and the collection of data to feed into our work.

    Our priority issues are contraception, abortion, obstetric violence, maternal death, assisted reproduction and work-life balance. While we focus on sex and gender discrimination faced by women and girls in Mexico, our quest for reproductive justice recognises that these variables intersect with other forms of discrimination, such as class, age, disability and ethnicity. In addition, we recognise that the discrimination faced by women and others with reproductive capacity affects not only them, but also their communities, and particularly their families.

    What is the significance of the two recent Supreme Court rulings on reproductive rights?

    In the struggle for legal, safe and free abortion in Mexico, the National Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) has played a fundamental role. Since 2007 it has issued several rulings recognising access to abortion as a human rights matter.

    In April 2018, the SCJN granted amparos – constitutional protection lawsuits – to two young female rape victims in cases that GIRE had brought forward. The two women had been denied abortions by public health services in Morelos and Oaxaca despite the fact that this is a right for victims of sexual violence. The Court stated that this denial constituted a violation of the women’s human rights and that health authorities are obliged to respond immediately and efficiently to these requests, so as not to allow the consequences of the rape to continue over time. This implies that health authorities cannot implement internal mechanisms or policies that hinder or delay the realisation of this right. With these rulings, the SCJN reaffirmed the legal obligation of health service providers to guarantee access to abortion in cases of rape.

    On 15 May 2019, in another case promoted by GIRE, the SCJN granted an amparo to a woman who had been denied an abortion despite the fact that continuing her pregnancy could cause her serious health complications. With this ruling, the SCJN recognised that the right to health includes access to abortion and ruled on the particular reproductive health service needs of women, highlighting the serious consequences of denial of termination of pregnancy for health reasons.

    On 7 July 2021, the First Chamber of the SCJN ruled on another case joined by GIRE, of a young woman with cerebral palsy and severe limitations on her ability to carry out tasks essential to daily life, which were aggravated by a precarious economic environment. As a result of a seizure, her family had taken her to a hospital in Chiapas, where they were informed that she was 23 weeks pregnant. The pregnancy had been the result of rape when she was 17 years old. A request was made to terminate the pregnancy, but the hospital director rejected the request on the grounds that the 90-day gestation deadline established by the state penal code had passed. The SCJN pointed out that this time limit ignored the nature of sexual aggression and its consequences on women’s health, and reflected a total disregard for the human dignity and autonomy of a woman whose pregnancy, far from the result of a free and consensual decision, was the result of an arbitrary and violent act.

    Finally, in September 2021, the Plenary of the SCJN analysed two pieces of legislation that had a negative impact on the right to choose by women and others with the capacity to become pregnant. First, it analysed an action of unconstitutionality (148/2017) on the criminal legislation of the state of Coahuila, which the Attorney General’s Office had considered to be in violation of women’s human rights for classifying abortion as a crime.

    In a landmark ruling, on 7 September the SCJN unanimously decided that the absolute criminalisation of abortion is unconstitutional; it became the first constitutional court in the region to issue such ruling. The SCJN pointed out that, although the product of pregnancy deserves protection that increases as the pregnancy progresses, this protection cannot disregard the rights of women and other pregnant persons to reproductive freedom, enshrined in article 4 of the Constitution. In other words, it ruled the absolute criminalisation of abortion to be unconstitutional.

    This ruling had several implications. Firstly, the Congress of the state of Coahuila will have to reform its criminal legislation to decriminalise consensual abortion. Secondly, it establishes a precedent, meaning that the central arguments of the ruling must now be applied by all judges in Mexico, both federal and local. From now on, when deciding future cases, they will have to consider as unconstitutional the criminal laws of all the federal entities that criminalise abortion in an absolute manner. In addition, the congresses of the states where voluntary abortion is still restricted and punished now have a set of criteria endorsed by the SCJN to act to decriminalise it.

    In the same week, the Court also analysed actions of unconstitutionality (106 and 107/2018) on the recognition of the ‘right to life from conception’ established in the Constitution of Sinaloa. These actions had been promoted by a legislative minority and the National Human Rights Commission. Unanimously, the SCJN considered that the states do not have the competence to define the origin of human life and the concepts of personhood and right-holding status, which is the exclusive domain of the National Constitution. Furthermore, it considered that personhood cannot be granted to an embryo or foetus and then be used as the basis for the adoption of measures restricting the reproductive autonomy of women and other pregnant persons; this is unconstitutional.

    Based on precedents set by both the Supreme Court and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the SCJN established that the main efforts of the state to protect life in gestation as a constitutionally valuable good should be directed towards effectively protecting the rights of women and other pregnant persons, guaranteeing the rights of those continuing pregnancies they desire, providing the necessary conditions for dignified births, without obstetric violence, and eradicating the causes that provoke maternal deaths.

    What are the prospects for achieving legal, safe and free abortion in all of Mexico in the near future?

    In Mexico as in the region, there have been several successes over the past decade in the struggle for access to legal, safe and free abortion, although many barriers and challenges persist.

    In our country strong stigma still prevails around abortion, based on the idea of motherhood as women’s inevitable fate. This idea continues to permeate all state institutions and laws, and forms the basis for not only the social but also the legal criminalisation of abortion, which particularly affects women and other pregnant persons living in situations of violence, economic marginalisation and lack of access to reproductive information. It also sends the strong message that the state plays a role in reproductive decisions that should belong to the private sphere.

    In most of Mexico, as in Latin America, voluntary abortion is still considered a crime. For decades, feminist activists, collectives and organisations have pushed for the repeal of these laws, pointing out that consensual abortion is part of the reproductive life of women and others with the capacity to bear children, and that criminalisation does not inhibit its practice but rather means that in certain contexts it will be carried out in an unsafe manner.

    From the 1970s onwards, Mexican feminists have raised the issue of access to abortion as a matter of social justice and public health and as a democratic aspiration. Despite the forcefulness of their arguments, it took 35 years to achieve – and only in Mexico City – the decriminalisation of abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy. That victory was replicated more than a decade later in three states: Oaxaca, Hidalgo and Veracruz.

    In the short term, achieving decriminalisation at the national level is complicated because each of the 32 federal entities has its own penal code, so it would still be necessary for each state to reform its penal and health legislation to stop considering abortion as a crime and then recognise it as a health service and provide public institutions with the human and financial resources to ensure access.

    In practice, in recent years both the narrative and the reality of abortion in Mexico have changed due to the increasing prevalence of abortion pills. A few decades ago, clandestine abortion – that is, abortion performed outside the law – was considered to be synonymous with unsafe abortion, but this is no longer the case. Now there are safe abortion support networks, and in contexts of legal restriction, during the first weeks of pregnancy women and others with the capacity to gestate are able to have an abortion with pills at home, without the need to resort to a health institution.

    The victory of the Argentinian women’s movement in December 2020 has shown that alliances, public debate and the diversification of voices are indispensable in the struggle to expand rights. The exponential increase in safe abortion initiatives is an expression of the achievements of the women’s movement’s struggle for human rights and reproductive justice. The Green Wave, the movement whose distinctive colour became synonymous with the struggle for abortion rights in Argentina, has spread in Mexico and although access to legal, safe and free abortion throughout the country is still a long way off, in recent years the issue has started to be discussed in various legislative bodies, even in states with highly restrictive legal frameworks.

    What kind of additional support would Mexican civil society need from its peers in the region and globally to achieve its goals?

    Social support for the causes we feminist human rights organisations defend is indispensable to obtain achievements such as the SCJN ruling of 7 September 2021. The dissemination of our work and the amplification of our voices is also extremely valuable. Local, national and regional networking to share experiences and good practices has also proven to be a tool from which we all benefit. Similarly, connections with other struggles through reflecting about their intersections can strengthen human rights movements.

    Civic space in Mexico is rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with GIRE through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@gire_mx on Twitter. 

     

  • MÉXICO: ‘Buscamos incidir en las políticas públicas del próximo gobierno para contribuir a solucionar los problemas del país’

    English

    En el marco de nuestro informe temático 2018 sobre “Reimaginar la Democracia”, estamos dialogando con líderes, activistas y especialistas de la sociedad civil sobre su labor de promoción de las prácticas y principios democráticos, los desafíos que enfrentan y los logros alcanzados. En esta oportunidad, CIVICUS conversa con Emanuel Johansen Campos, Coordinador de Fondos a la Vista de Alternativas y Capacidades, A.C. una organización de la sociedad civil (OSC) mexicana dedicada a fortalecer las capacidades de incidencia de la sociedad civil organizada, promover la inversión social estratégica y fortalecer la participación ciudadana en los asuntos públicos.

     

  • MEXICO: ‘Human rights defenders constantly put their freedom and their lives at risk’

    AntonioLaraCIVICUS speaks with Antonio Lara Duque, a human rights lawyer with the Zeferino Ladrillero Human Rights Centre (CDHZL), about the situation of Indigenous rights defenders in Mexico, and specifically about the situation of Kenia Hernández, a criminalised and unjustly imprisoned woman Indigenous leader.

    CDHZL is a civil society organisation in the state of Mexico that accompanies the struggles of Indigenous communities, native peoples and collectives who are seeking a dignified life by claiming and exercising their human rights.

    Who is Kenia Hernández, and why is she detained?

    Kenia is an Indigenous Amuzga young woman. She is 32 years old. She is the coordinator of the Zapata Vive Libertarian Collective, which promotes peaceful resistance against the neoliberal development model. She is a lawyer by training, a self-identified feminist and is dedicated to defending human rights, and specifically to defending people imprisoned for political reasons, looking for missing people with the goal of finding them alive and giving legal support to female victims of violence.

    Kenia was arrested on 18 October 2020 under accusations of attacks on a public thoroughfare and robbery with violence. She was charged with serious crimes to ensure she could be kept in the most terrible maximum-security prison for women in all of Mexico.

    On 15 March 2022 the trial court in Ecatepec, in the state of Mexico, will determine whether she is guilty or innocent in one of the five criminal cases against her. All these cases were fabricated with the sole purpose of isolating her and preventing her from continuing mobilising, as well as to send a signal of exemplary punishment to all those people she managed to bring together into a nationwide movement that questioned the private management of highways.

    Is Kenia’s case part of a broader trend of criminalisation of Indigenous defenders in Mexico?

    Indeed, Kenia’s case reveals that the Mexican state has a clear policy of a ‘pedagogy of punishment’, for two reasons.

    First, it sends a signal to the people who protest, and particularly to those who protest against the privatisation of highways, that they should no longer resort to public demonstrations as a form of social mobilisation, because if they do, they will bring upon themselves an unjust and cruel imprisonment such as the one experienced by Kenia.

    Second, Mexican state officials are trying to subdue and bend the will of Kenia, to punish her for protesting, but also to weaken her convictions, to subdue the energy and strength she puts into protest, to let her know who is in charge and who must obey. As she has not submitted to them, they continue to keep her in prison. They know that if she is released she will go back to her activism.

    Both situations are seriously worrying, because they seek to reverse decades of social struggles and opening of democratic spaces.

    What is civil society, and specifically CDHZL, doing to secure her release?

    CDHZL is dedicated to disseminating, promoting and defending the human rights of peoples, organisations and human rights defenders. We defend the environment, land and territory, the human right to water and Indigenous culture. And we focus particularly on the protection of human rights defenders, since in Mexico these are people who constantly put their freedom and their lives at risk.

    Part of our work consists in providing legal defence to human rights defenders who are unjustly criminalised and imprisoned for the peaceful defence of their rights. In its 10 years of existence, CDHZL has helped around 250 people regain their freedom.

    We hope that soon Kenia will be another of them. Mexican civil society has given a lot of visibility to her case, putting her criminalisation on the public agenda and involving key people, in particular Mexican senators, to convince relevant decision-makers to stop criminalising Kenia. We have also tried to bring her case to the international arena, pointing out the punitive policy of the Mexican federal government.

    Through its large team of lawyers, CDHZL has sustained a legal defence in the five legal processes against Kenia, with all that they entail: dozens of hearings, challenges and trials of guarantees, some of which we won. But clearly this is much more than a legal struggle, as high-ranking officials are determined to keep Kenia in prison at all costs.

    Has there been any improvement in the situation of Indigenous defenders under the current leftist government?

    We expected improvements in the situation of Indigenous peoples and human rights defenders and collective rights more generally, but unfortunately there continues to be a generalised disdain among the federal government, regardless of its leftist leanings.

    The government has been unable or unwilling to tune in to the most heartfelt demands of Indigenous peoples. Aggressions against human rights defenders have continued, including disappearances, murders and imprisonments. When it comes to imprisonment, Kenia’s case is one of the most shocking examples of the misuse of the criminal justice system against a human rights defender under a government that claims to be the architect of a ‘fourth transformation’ – a process of profound change supposedly comparable to those of independence (1810-1821), reform (1858-1861) and revolution (1910-1917).

    What kind of regional and international support does Mexican civil society need in its struggle for human rights and civic space?

    Undoubtedly, international observation, very poorly accepted by the current government, would help recover democratic spaces for social protest and the free expression of ideas.

    Appeals to the Mexican government can help sensitise the authorities to the importance of respecting human rights and those who defend them beyond political party affiliations.

    International mediation and good offices will undoubtedly be a key tool to strengthen civil society in the defence of human rights, particularly in processes where the life and freedom of human rights defenders and Indigenous peoples’ rights are at stake.

    Civic space in Mexico is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with CDHZL through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram pages, and follow @cdhzloficial on Twitter.

     

     

  • New Report: Civic Space in the Americas

    People’s rights to organise, speak out and take action are being extensively violated in a large number of countries in the Americas. This is according to new research by global civil society alliance CIVICUS, the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC), the Charity and Security Network, the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy (REDLAD) and the Rendir Cuentas initiative. Our findings are based on data from the CIVICUS Monitor, a new research collaboration to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘For the government, these fraudulent elections were a total failure’

    CIVICUS discusses the recent elections in Nicaragua, characterised by the banning of candidates, fraud and repression, with a woman human rights defender from a national platform of Nicaraguan civil society, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

    Nicaragua elections Nov 2021

    What was the political context in which the 7 November presidential election took place?

    The context began to take shape in 2006, with the pact between the leaders of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), Daniel Ortega, and the then-ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), led by former president Arnoldo Alemán. The aim of the so-called ‘Alemán-Ortega pact’ was to establish a two-party system dominated by both leaders, which did not work out for both: it resulted in a complete restructuring of the political system, including a reform of the constitution and the modification of election dates, which allowed the FSLN – which had failed to win the presidency on several occasions – to win the 2006 election with 38 per cent of the vote, never to leave power since.

    Once in power, the FSLN carried out several constitutional and electoral law reforms ordered by Daniel Ortega, in collusion with legislative, judicial and electoral institutions, to impose a constitution tailored to its needs and to allow himself to be re-elected indefinitely.

    Since the most recent package of electoral changes, carried out in May 2021, the electoral stage was already set so that the current government would win the election. The changes gave the FSLN control of the entire electoral structure, gave the police the power to authorise or ban opposition political rallies and took away funding for candidates.

    Already in December 2020, the National Assembly had passed a law to neutralise opposition candidacies: under the pretext of rejecting foreign interference in Nicaragua’s internal affairs, it prohibited the candidacies of people who had participated in the 2018 protests, labelled by the government as an attempted coup d’état financed by foreign powers.

    All these laws were applied by state institutions in a way that resulted in the banning of all democratic candidates who could in any way be viewed as positioned to defeat the FSLN candidate. The result was an election lacking all real competition.

    Was there any attempt to postpone the election until the proper conditions were met?

    First, in the context of the 2018 protests, which were heavily repressed and resulted in hundreds of deaths, several groups, including the Nicaraguan Bishops’ Conference, proposed holding an early election to resolve the crisis. Some also considered the possibility of forcing the resignation of the president due to his responsibility for the systematic human rights violations committed in the context of the 2018 protests.

    But Ortega refused to call an early election, and instead challenged the alleged ‘coup perpetrators’ protesting against him to get the people’s vote in the 2021 election. In the meantime, instead of proceeding with the electoral reform that had been demanded for years, he set about preparing the ground so that no one could challenge him in the elections.

    With the 2021 electoral process already underway, and in view of the fact that there would be no real competition, voices from civil society recommended suspending and rescheduling an election that would be clearly illegitimate and lacking in credibility, but this call was not echoed.

    How do you assess the election results?

    Clearly the overwhelming majority of Nicaraguan citizens viewed these elections as illegitimate, since only about 10 per cent of eligible voters turned out to vote. Some of those who did vote are government supporters, while others – such as members of the military and police and public servants – were compelled by fear and their work circumstances.

    These claims are supported by polling data from various civil society groups inside and outside Nicaragua, such as Coordinadora Civil, Mujeres Organizadas and Urnas Abiertas. On election day, some of these organisations did a quick poll on the ground, twice – morning and afternoon – and documented. through photos, videos and testimonies by some election observers invited by the government, that the majority of the population did not turn out to vote.

    From civil society’s perspective, these elections were a complete failure for the government, as they gave us all the elements to demonstrate at the international level that the president does not meet the minimum conditions of legitimacy to remain in office. It is not only Nicaraguans who do not recognise the results of these elections: more than 40 countries around the world have not recognised them either. The government conducted a fraudulent election to gain legitimacy, but it failed to do so because no one recognises it at the national or international level.

    What is the outlook for Nicaraguan civil society following the election?

    The panorama has not changed. What awaits us is more of the same: more repression, more persecution, more kidnappings, more political prisoners, more exiles. At the same time, this unresponsive and unaccountable government is completely incapable of solving any of Nicaragua’s problems, so poverty, unemployment and insecurity will also continue to deepen.

    In response, we can do nothing but sustain resistance and try to break the chains of fear, because fear is what this illegitimate government rules through.

    What kind of international support does Nicaraguan civil society need?

    Nicaraguan civil society needs all kinds of support, from support for building and strengthening alliances to amplify our voices, so we can publicise the political situation in Nicaragua and demand action in international forums, to financial and in-kind support to equip us with the tools with which to do our work, sustain our organisations and provide protection for human rights defenders who are being persecuted and attacked.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated as ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Nicaragua is currently on ourWatch List, which includes cases in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place. 

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘María Esperanza’s case is part of a growing process of criminalisation of social protest’

    CIVICUS speaks with Ana Lucía Álvarez, Nicaragua officer of the Mesoamerican Initiative of Women Human Rights Defenders (IM-Defensoras), about the case of María Esperanza Sánchez, unjustly imprisoned in Nicaragua since March 2020, and the ongoing campaign for her release.

    IM-Defensoras is a network of activists and organisations from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua that seeks to provide a comprehensive, regional response to the increasing violence against women human rights defenders in Mesoamerica. Founded in 2010, it seeks to empower and connect women defenders involved in various organisations and social movements to strengthen networks of protection and solidarity among them and to increase the visibility, recognition and impact of their human rights work.

    Ana Lucia AlvarezEntrevista

    How long has María Esperanza been in prison, and why?

    María Esperanza was captured on 26 January 2020. She is an activist who for a long time accompanied relatives of political prisoners. I believe she began her activism and her organisation after the citizens’ uprising of April 2018. She was already being persecuted, so she was staying in a safe house. The police illegally and arbitrarily raided the house, without a search warrant, and arrested her. She was accused of trafficking narcotics, psychotropics and other controlled substances to the detriment of public health. Her trial is being handled by lawyer Julio Montenegro, who specialises in cases of criminalisation of protest and judicial prosecution of activists and human rights defenders. 

    Do you consider María Esperanza’s case to be part of a broader attack on civic space in Nicaragua?

    There is definitely a growing process of criminalisation of social protest in Nicaragua. The first upsurge in criminalisation came after Operation Clean-up, which ended around August 2018. This was a pseudo-military operation carried out by police and para-police forces to dismantle any organisation of territorial protection that the population had built through barricades in neighbourhoods and roadblocks around the country.

    Once Operation Clean-up was over, the criminalisation of those who had taken part in the civic struggle began. More than 800 people became political prisoners, before being released in 2019 by unilateral decision of the government through the Amnesty Law.

    María Esperanza had already been persecuted, harassed, put under surveillance and threatened before she was imprisoned for her human rights work. Her arrest and trial, like those of so many others, were plagued by irregularities. Violations of due process are systematic. In Nicaragua, the justice system is totally co-opted. It has collapsed and is under the control of the presidential couple: President Daniel Ortega and his vice-president and wife, Rosario Murillo.

    How has the situation of civil society changed since the 2018 wave of protests?

    More than 350 people were killed in a span of six months during the 2018 protests. The symbolic and emotional weight of that death toll in a country that has experienced civil wars, dictatorships and armed uprisings has been tremendous. In Nicaragua there has never been accountability, there have always been policies of wiping the slate clean, which has deepened the wounds.

    In addition to the suffering of the 350 dead, there were over 800 people imprisoned for political reasons, and while many have since been released from prison, we purposefully say that they have been released rather than that they are free, because after their release, political persecution has not ended for them. Systematic harassment by police and para-police forces continues, and it becomes an obstacle to the enjoyment of many rights, including the right to work.

    For these people, the effects of the economic crisis that the country is currently experiencing are compounded by the difficulties brought about by political persecution. They often cannot leave their home because there is a patrol outside, or they go out and they are followed, and then those who follow them learn the names of their employers and start to harass them as well.

    Persecution happens at the local, neighbourhood level. The ruling party, the Sandinista National Liberation Front, has established various structures that are used to maintain territorial control through surveillance and repression: Councils of Citizen Power, Family Cabinets and Sandinista Leadership Committees. If you are an opponent or a human rights defender, there will always be a neighbour of yours who is involved in one of these structures and informs the regime and the police of what you are doing, and then you start to be persecuted and harassed, and maybe at some point you get arbitrarily arrested.

    Harassment and hypervigilance cause psychological damage not only to the persecuted individual but also to their family. This has had an impact on the increase in emigration, which is a dual phenomenon, caused by both political persecution and social need. Since 2018, 120,000 people have left Nicaragua, a huge number for a country of just six million.

    The 2021 presidential election openly exposed the regime’s lack of legitimacy. On what basis does the government stand?

    In the run-up to the 2021 election, persecution was only exacerbated. In order to carry out the electoral farce of November, the government imprisoned 10 presidential pre-candidates and many people with a key role in the electoral process and in the formation of alternatives. This sent a very clear message, as a result of which there is still a lot of self-censorship.

    Daniel Ortega has continued to concentrate and consolidate his power. We are currently living under a regime that has become totalitarian, where all freedoms are totally restricted. This is the only way the government can sustain itself, because it has no legitimacy. That is why repression and social control continue to increase rather than decrease. In the absence of such levels of repression and social control, the very high level of popular rejection of the regime would make it impossible for it to maintain political control.

    As a result, repression, territorial control, neighbourhood repression, the criminalisation of protest and social dissent, and the closing of spaces for the exercise of the freedom of expression and media freedoms can be expected to continue.

    Now a combination of laws has been passed that includes a Cybercrime Law. And we have already seen the first political prisoner convicted under this law, which does nothing other than criminalise the freedom of opinion.

    What the government is looking for with political prisoners is to use them as hostages. Among the people arrested recently are presidential candidates, businesspeople, bankers, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders. The government is trying to negotiate their release to gain legitimacy and international approval.

    The truth is that the government has no international support. The only foreign leaders who attended the presidential inauguration were Cuba’s Miguel Díaz-Canel, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro and outgoing Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández.

    How can the international community support Nicaraguan civil society in its struggle for the recovery of democracy and human rights?

    We need to amplify denunciations of violations and sharpen accountability mechanisms. Civil society in Nicaragua has made a tremendous effort not only to document human rights violations but also to identify their perpetrators. Given that the justice system in Nicaragua has collapsed, and that civil society is doing everything within its power, the onus is on the international community to push for accountability and punishment of those responsible.

    Daniel Ortega’s regime is no longer a political project but an economic enterprise. Its control of the state allows Ortega to use corruption networks to his advantage. In the light of this, the international community should fine-tune its mechanisms, review economic sanctions and identify the companies that continue to do business, not always entirely legally, with the Ortega regime. Since many association agreements have democratic and anti-corruption clauses, they need to be made operational. Personal sanctions must also be imposed on the architects of corruption and repression.

    What kind of pressure should be exerted to get María Esperanza Sanchez released?

    María Esperanza was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Everything that has happened to her and to the rest of the political prisoners is completely arbitrary; that is precisely why we consider them to be political prisoners. What we demand is the unconditional and guaranteed release of them all.

    What happens to them will depend to a large extent on the strength with which the opposition and the international community manage to exert pressure, and on the correlation of forces that is established between the Nicaraguan government and the human rights movement.

    We must campaign and keep up the pressure. We must continue to put our finger on all the arbitrariness, illegalities and human rights violations. There are still people in Europe and other parts of the world who think Ortega is the idealistic revolutionary of the past, and not the despot he has become. The best way to expose dictators and human rights abusers is to keep communicating the truth on the basis of well-documented evidence.

    Civic space in Nicaragua is rated ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor. Nicaragua is currently on theCIVICUS Monitor Watch List, which identifies countries in which a severe and abrupt deterioration in the quality of civic space is taking place.
    Get in touch with IM-Defensoras through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@IM_Defensoras on Twitter.

     

  • NICARAGUA: ‘The protests expressed an articulated demand for genuine democracy, based on respect for the popular will’

    As part of our 2018 report on the theme of reimagining democracy, we are interviewing civil society activists, leaders and specialists about their work to promote democratic practices and principles, the challenges they encounter and the victories they score. CIVICUS speaks with Amaru Ruiz about recent protests in Nicaragua, which were severely repressed, with hundreds of citizens killed. Amaru Ruiz is president of Fundación del Río, an environmental organisation that works for the conservation of biodiversity and sustainable development in the southeast region of Nicaragua, and coordinator of the Nicaraguan Network for Democracy and Local Development (Red Local), a civil society coalition that seeks to strengthen civil society organisations (CSOs) to promote inclusive and equitable local development, influence public policy-making, manage knowledge and promote active citizenship. Both organisations are part of the Articulation of Social Movements and Civil Society, which focuses on the struggle for justice, freedom and democracy in Nicaragua.

     

  • Nicaragua: Cese de la violencia en contra de los manifestantes pacíficos

    Inglés

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y la Coordinadora Civil de Nicaragua hacen un llamamiento al gobierno de Nicaragua para que detenga la violencia contra las personas que se manifiestan de manera pacífica y para que respete su derecho a manifestarse libremente y de forma pacífica. Después de 54 días de protesta, 135 personas han sido asesinadas, más de 1000 han resultado heridas y 400 detenidas. Mientras tanto, estas personas manifestantes piden al presidente Daniel Ortega que renuncie.

     

  • Nicaragua: Cese de la violencia en contra de los manifestantes pacíficos

    Inglés

    La alianza global de la sociedad civil CIVICUS y la Coordinadora Civil de Nicaragua hacen un llamamiento al gobierno de Nicaragua para que detenga la violencia contra las personas que se manifiestan de manera pacífica y para que respete su derecho a manifestarse libremente y de forma pacífica. Después de 54 días de protesta, 135 personas han sido asesinadas, más de 1000 han resultado heridas y 400 detenidas. Mientras tanto, estas personas manifestantes piden al presidente Daniel Ortega que renuncie.

     

  • Ongoing violations of fundamental rights require Council’s continued scrutiny

    Statement at the 50th Session of the Human Ricghts Council 


    Interactive Dialogue on High Commssioners report on Venezuela

    Delivered by Carlos Correa, Espacio Público 

    Espacio Público and CIVICUS reiterate the need to continue documentation of the human rights situation in Venezuela. The crisis continues with severe consequences for the most vulnerable people.

    Civil liberties violations impact economic and social rights guarantees. Restrictions on freedom and circulation of information seek to prevent legitimate criticism of public administration. Illegal blockades of digital media remain in place in an ecosystem dominated by state-controlled radio and television stations.

    A private telephone and internet service provider reported that in 2021 more than 1.5 million lines were tapped. And since 2016, over 1300 websites were blocked. There is a pattern of mass surveillance that violates the right to privacy.

    Civil society is at risk and nominal ‘new spaces for dialogue’ have done little to assuage this. The draft International Cooperation bill would restrict CSOs operation and access to funding. Human rights defenders continue to be intimidated, criminalised and arbitrarily detained.

    We urge you to maintain scrutiny on Venezuela; extend resolution 45/20 that enables this report, consolidate the presence of the High Commissioner's office in the country, support the renewal of the mandate of the Fact-Finding Mission and any initiative to accompany victims in their quest for justice.

    Thank you very much.


     Civic space in Venezuela is rated as "Repressed" by the CIVICUS Monitor 

     

  • Orinoco mining arch: the crisis that few speak of in Venezuela

    By Marianna Belalba Barreto, researcher at CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation and Rafael Uzcategui, general coordinator of Provea, the Venezuelan Program of Education-Action in Human Rights.

    In 2016, the extraction of minerals was approved on a surface equivalent to 12.2% of the national territory, inhabited by 54,686 indigenous people and has a great ecological diversity.

    Read on: El País  

     

     

  • PARAGUAY: ‘As long as land remains in private hands, conflict will continue '

    CIVICUS speaks with Alicia Amarilla, national coordinator of the Organisation of Peasant and Indigenous Women (CONAMURI) in Paraguay about conflicts over land rights between the state, the private sector and Indigenous communities. CONAMURI is a Paraguayan organisation of Indigenous and peasant women that has been working for 22 years to defend and promote their rights and seek solutions to situations of poverty, exclusion and discrimination based on ethnicity and gender.

     

  • Persecution of rural protest movement leaders continue as crisis deepens in Nicaragua

    • Three campesino environmental activists mistreated in detention, awaiting trial
    • UN report confirms continued targeting of campesino leaders by government
    • UN staff expelled from Nicaragua after UN report on protesters’ rights abuses
    • More than 320 people killed since violent crackdown on protests began in April
    • Global rights groups urge authorities to drop all charges, release campesinoleaders

       

    • PERU: ‘Constitutional debate has taken on new relevance as a result of the protests’

      Rafael BarrioCIVICUS speaks about recent protests in Peru with Rafael Barrio de Mendoza, a researcher on processes of territorial transformation from Grupo Propuesta Ciudadana, a consortium of 10 civil society organisations with a presence in 16 regions of Peru. Propuesta Ciudadana seeks to contribute to the formulation of policy proposals for an inclusive state and the adequate management of public resources. It promotes a vision of territorial governance that starts with the identification of and respect for diversity and in which democratic development is a key component.

      What triggered the protests that broke out in Peru in November 2020?

      The immediate cause was the decision by a parliamentary majority to force out President Martín Vizcarra, using a mechanism that had been scarcely used in the past and whose content and process involve a wide margin of discretion. The publication of accusations against Vizcarra was carried out in a sequence that proved to be planned, and a feeling prevailed that they were instrumentalised by the so-called ‘vacating coalition’. Although there is some controversy regarding the quality of the evidence brought forward about the crimes Vizcarra is accused of, allegedly committed during his term as governor of the Moquegua region five years ago, a consensus formed in public opinion that these accusations could have been credibly pursued after the end of his presidential term, given that general elections had already been called for April 2021.

      But from a more structural point of view, the political crisis was the expression of the maturing of a crisis of political representation, which made it apparent that there were few organic links between politicians and citizens’ sensibilities and that we have a precarious and cartelised system of political representation, in which a myriad of illegal, informal and oligopolistic interests have resisted successive generations of reforms – educational, judicial, fiscal and political, among others – aimed at regulating them. Revelations of corruption involving much of the political establishment, including the Lava Jato/Odebrecht case and the White Collars case, which uncovered a widespread network of corruption within the judicial system, resulted in a consensus that the management of public affairs had irremediably deteriorated. At the same time, the relative effectiveness of the fiscal measures taken against the political leaders involved in these cases fuelled the prospect of a cleansing of the political class and the possibility of cultivating a transition to a better system of representation. To a certain extent, the populist link that Vizcarra established with this sensitivity – sealed with the constitutional dissolution of the previous Congress, in which former President Alberto Fujimori’s party had a majority – was the factor that sustained his government, which lacked parliamentary, business, media, or trade union support. Vizcarra’s removal was experienced as the comeback of a constellation of interests that had experienced a setback as a consequence of prosecutors’ work and recent education, political and judicial reforms.

      How would you describe the institutional conflict that resulted in the removal and replacement of the president?

      Institutional conflict arose due to the precarious character of a political system that included a new Congress with multiple caucuses but none of them of the president’s party and a president who enjoyed popular support but lacked institutional backing, and whose legitimacy was therefore sustained on his versatile management of public debate through a combination of political gestures, the recruitment of competent technicians in key positions and a calculated exercise of antagonism with Congress on key issues such as education, political and judicial reforms.

      The majority coalition in Congress broadly took up the agenda and represented the interests of the former so-called ‘Fujiaprist’ majority – described in reference to the tacit alliance between the Aprista party and the political movement founded by former President Fujimori – on top of which it added new populist demands that put at risk the budgetary and macroeconomic management that enjoyed technocratic consensus. In this context, certain people who had survived the dissolution of the previous Congress managed to reposition themselves in the new one and conduct, alongside some media outlets, a campaign seeking to undermine Vizcarra’s popularity by levelling accusations of corruption in unclear cases. These were the dynamics that fed the institutional conflict.

      For its part, civil society provided a unified response to the president’s removal and the new regime that resulted from it. Their response ranged from expressing concern and demanding accountability to openly condemning the establishment of the new administration. The mass protests and repression they faced fuelled this shift in most of civil society. Many civil society organisations played an active role in framing the conflict, producing a narrative for international audiences and putting pressure on the state actors with whom they interact.

      Who mobilised, and what did they demand?

      At first, demonstrators protested against the removal of President Vizcarra and against the inauguration of the president of Congress, Manuel Merino, as the new president. A subsequent survey by Ipsos showed that just over three quarters of the population agreed with the protest against President Vizcarra’s removal and that at least two million people mobilised in one way or another or took an active part in the protests.

      The demonstrations were led mostly by young people, between 16 and 30 years old, who did most of the organising and produced the protest’s repertoires and tactics. The generalised mood of weariness was embodied by the so-called ‘bicentennial generation’, born after the end of the Fujimori regime, who are digital natives and, for the most part, disaffected with conventional politics. This is also a mesocratic generation – both in the traditional segments of the middle class and in the popular sectors – that is embedded in virtual communities mediated by digital platforms. This partly explains the speed with which organisational forms emerged that were efficient enough to produce repertoires, coordinate actions, document protests and shift public opinion. The mediation of social media and the use of micro money transfer applications led to a decentralised organisation of the protests, with multiple demonstrations taking place in different locations, a variety of converging calls and a diversity of repertoires and channels for the rapid transfer of resources.

      The youth-led mobilisation was fed by a middle class willing to assume the cost of demonstrating. Around this nucleus coalesced, both sociologically and territorially, other segments of the population, more or less used to conventional protest strategies or simply distant from all public participation.

      The protests began on 9 November, followed by daily demonstrations, and reached their peak on 14 November, when the Second National March took place. The so-called 14N mass mobilisation was fuelled by the sudden awakening of a fed-up feeling that ran through society and was particularly intense among young people. Hence its exceptional character in terms of its scope, magnitude, level of organisation and the rapid adoption of a non-partisan citizen identity, which could only be partly explained by the existing support for Vizcarra, as it far exceeded it.

      14N culminated with the death of two young protesters who were hit by lead bullets. Merino had taken over on 10 November and formed a radically conservative government. The nature of his cabinet quickly revealed itself through the authorisation of severe repression of the protest, particularly in the capital, Lima. After the first days of police violence, the president of the Council of Ministers congratulated and guaranteed protection to the police squads involved. The deaths that took place on 14N resulted in overwhelming citizen pressure, triggering a cascade of disaffection among the few political supporters sustaining the regime. As a result, by midday on 15 November Merino had resigned.

      The space generated by the mobilisation was populated by a number of heterogeneous demands, ranging from the reinstatement of Vizcarra to the demand for constitutional change to pave the way out of neoliberalism, including citizen-based proposals focused on the defence of democracy, the continuity of reforms, the injustice of the repression, and the insensitivity of the political class regarding the pandemic health emergency. Ferment for these demands continues to exist and it remains to be seen how they end up taking shape in the electoral scenario of 2021.

       

      How did these protests differ from others in the past? Were there any changes related to the context of the pandemic?

      In previous urban mobilisations, the coordination mechanisms provided by social media had already been tested, but these demonstrations had been led by conventional groups, such as social movements, political parties and trade unions. On this occasion, new activist groups were formed, including to deactivate teargas projectiles and to provide medical relief, which are similar to mobilisation techniques tested in other scenarios, such as the Hong Kong protests and the Black Lives Matter protests in the USA. This speaks of the emergence of global protest learning spaces.

      In part, it was the health emergency that conditioned the composition of the protests, which were mostly made up of young people, while also encouraging the dissemination of new repertoires, such as ‘cacerolazos’ (pot banging), ‘bocinazos’ (horn blowing) and digital activism among those more reluctant to take to the streets. At the same time, the massive character of the protests can be explained by the fact that health indicators at the time suggested the end of the first wave of COVID-19 infections, and by the fact that the Black Lives Matter marches had not been linked to any relevant outbreaks, which encouraged a sense of safety among protesters.

      Why did protesters demand constitutional reform, and what kind of constitutional reform do they want?

      Proposals of constitutional change were among the demands of the mobilisation, but they were not its main demands. They did however gain new impetus in public debate. The history of these demands can be traced in two ways. Constitutional change through a constituent assembly has been one of the key demands of the left since the end of the Fujimori regime, which ruled from 1990 to 2001. Right after its fall, a congress was convened with a constituent mandate, but it was unable to produce a new constitution; since then this aspiration has come to live in the progressive camp, while it has lost popularity among more moderate and right-wing groups. The left often presents the mythical 1979 Constitution as an alternative, proposes new texts inspired by the Bolivian and Ecuadorian processes, and points to the illegitimate character of the current constitution, born after a coup d’état. The sustained economic growth of the post-Fujimori decades and a number of reforms of some constitutional mechanisms conferred legitimacy on the constitution, but many of the institutions and principles it enshrines have been rendered obsolete by the sociological and economic changes they helped bring about.

      The second source of the demand for constitutional change is more organic and follows the realisation of the limits of the market model, apparent above all in the persistent lack of social protection, precarious and informal work and abuses by oligopoly interests in service provision, as well as in the crisis of the system of political representation. Vizcarra inaugurated a reformist stance in judicial and political matters, as well in the legal frameworks governing extractive industries and the pension system. He also continued with education reform. His reformist spirit – viewed by moderate groups as a path to a ‘responsible’ transition – was attacked by the political forces representing the sectors that had been affected by the reforms, creating a space in which reform aspirations can be promoted in the language of constitutional change.

      Even so, this debate has taken on new relevance as a result of the 14N protests. However, the terms of the conversation and the content of the most significant changes are not yet clear, and neither is the existence of mature political actors capable of interpreting and implementing them. Danger lies in the possibility that, in a context of high uncertainty, the process may end up being defined by those whose motivations are foreign to the spirit of change.

      Civic space in Peru is rated as ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Propuesta Ciudadana through itswebsite orFacebook page, and follow@prop_ciudadana and@BarrioZevallos on Twitter.

       

       

    • PERU: ‘Environmental regulations were relaxed, when they should have been strengthened’

      Juan Carlos SueiroCIVICUS discusses the recent oil spill off the coast of Lima, Peru, with Juan Carlos Sueiro, Director of Fisheries at Oceana, the world’s largest international organisation dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. Founded in 2001, Oceana focuses its work on restoring fisheries, promoting clean energy and establishing protected marine areas.

      Has anyone been held responsible for the oil spill off the coast of Lima?

      The oil spill, caused by the Spanish oil company Repsol, happened on 15 January 2022. Due to its magnitude and visibility, it was the worst ecological disaster in Peru’s recent history. It occurred in an artisanal fishing zone, with protected areas and important seasonal economic activity. It is the largest spill we have ever had.

      The spill happened because of the high tides caused by the eruption of the Tonga submarine volcano, which affected the process of unloading oil from a Repsol oil tanker to the La Pampilla refinery. The question is: how is it possible that the company only became aware of the magnitude of the spill the next day? The company’s negligence magnified the consequences of this spill.

      Unfortunately, we have seen little progress in terms of Repsol taking responsibility for recovering the ecosystem. Even the exact volume of oil spilled is not known with any certainty. The company’s reaction was very slow, which is worrying because the first 24 hours following this kind of accident are key, as the oil film becomes very thin and expands a lot. It was only almost 20 days later that more sophisticated equipment was brought in to address the problem.

      Overall there is not enough transparency. In this case, the contingency plan was not implemented. The activities currently underway are supposed to be the product of a plan, but neither the company’s commitments nor the contents of that plan have been made public. The area between Ancón and Chancay was heavily impacted on by the spill, and there is no bay there, only cliffs and water. It is visible how little has been done in the way of recovery.

      There is also little transparency in the investigation. It is still not clear whether Repsol has handed over the equipment that was underwater in order to investigate and determine what happened on the day of the spill.

      This lack of transparency is symptomatic of the way the Peruvian state operates. This is similar to what happened when the pandemic broke out and we ‘discovered’ that we had an absolutely precarious health system, which was clearly not up to the task. In this case, we have environmental structures, legislation and procedures on paper, but not in reality. The opacity of information is intended to hide this discrepancy.

      For us it is very clear: Repsol must publicly assume clearly defined responsibilities.

      What have been the environmental and economic impacts of the spill?

      There has been great environmental damage. The area affected by the spill includes several protected natural areas: the Ancón Reserved Zone, the Guaneras Islands and the Punta Salinas Reserved Zone. The spill has impacted on marine fauna, affecting animals such as sea lions, otters, penguins and birds. Many have been stained with oil and their lives are at risk. Oceana is currently surveying this damage, as well as the additional damage caused by the company’s delayed reaction.

      For communities in the area, the greatest concern is economic. These are mostly low-income people engaged in artisanal fishing. Beyond individual and immediate impacts – for example, for those who had invested in a seasonal business just before the spill – the consequences are collective and long-term. It is now impossible to fish in Ancón or Chancay, and it is difficult to know when it will be possible to do so, because oil has a much longer degradation time when it settles on the seabed. The fishermen and all the workers involved in processing and distribution logistics are also concerned about the variation in fish prices and the drop in demand.

      We have run a calculation of the economic worth of coastal fisheries in these places to give us an idea of the economic loss. We also believe that there is an important impact on tourist activity: for the nine million inhabitants of the capital, Lima, and the three million living a little further north, these beaches are the closest place to spend the summer, and the spill has cut short the summer season, which runs from January to April. We have already warned the local municipalities that they must estimate the damage caused to tourism.

      How has civil society responded?

      We have all reacted with concern and a great interest in helping others. We have seen many volunteers helping to clean up the beaches, as well as experts and academics contributing within their areas of expertise.

      However, volunteer work has limitations because in order to rescue marine wildlife from the damage caused by oil, certain procedures and products must be used to properly remove oil from an animal’s plumage or skin. Because of this, interest in helping usually does not translate into 100 per cent successful results.

      Moreover, as this is the first time we have faced a disaster of this magnitude, Peru does not have all the expertise it needs. There is post-disaster expertise and experience elsewhere; it is necessary to bring it in. It would also be important to deepen the discussion about the energy mix we have and how to change it by turning towards the renewable resources that are available to us.

      How can private companies be called to account and contribute to preventing future disasters?

      Lack of accountability is a longstanding concern for the communities in these areas, and the fact that their demands have been systematically ignored is a symptom of Peru’s strong centralism. Artisanal fishermen in the north have been warning about this situation for several years and there has been no meaningful response. Oil extraction in Peru dates back to the 19th century; Peru had the first oilwell in South America. In the 1950s and 1960s, offshore platforms were installed, which are at the root of the spills and leaks that fishers complain about. There are also complaints about what happens in the transportation process, which has much greater implications.

      This situation has encouraged civil society to prioritise the search for solutions. For almost a decade, environmental requirements have been reduced in Peru; it is necessary to walk back that path. Peru is engaged in fishing, mining and other activities for which regulations have been relaxed, when they should have been strengthened. The very low environmental capacity of the state and the poor response of companies to disasters clearly shows their inadequacy. Peru suffers from a major crisis of governance and respect for the rule of law. 

      The possibility of another spill is always present. It is necessary to minimise the likelihood of it happening, and to ensure that when it does, it has the least possible impact in terms of magnitude, frequency and consequences. To do this we have to start by not losing sight of who is responsible for this disaster and the consequences of their irresponsible action.

      Civic space in Peru is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Oceana through itswebsite or itsFacebook,Instagram andTik Tok accounts, and follow@Oceana_Peru and@SueiroJC on Twitter.

       

    • PERU: ‘It is necessary to restore trust in elections’

      CIVICUS speaks with Iván Lanegra, secretary general of Transparency Civil Association (Asociación Civil Transparencia), about Peru’s recent presidential elections and the state of its democracy. Transparency is an independent civil society organisation that works to improve the quality of democracy and political representation by facilitating dialogue between political, governmental and civil society actors, implementing education and capacity-building programmes for citizen and political leadership, developing public policy proposals and observing electoral processes.

      Ivan Lanegra

      What was different and what was at stake in this election?

      The recent general election was embedded in several political and social processes. First, it took place at the end of a very politically unstable five-year period, in which we had four presidents – Pedro Kuczynski, Martín Vizcarra, Manuel Merino and Francisco Sagasti – and Congress was constitutionally dissolved. At the same time, the economy was no longer growing as much, and social discontent began to increase. In this context, corruption scandals undermined the credibility of political parties. This was compounded by the socio-economic impact of the pandemic, which fuelled greater demands for redistribution.

      As a result of all these processes, there was an atomisation of citizens’ preferences. The effects of this situation translated into high fragmentation of the vote in the parliamentary elections of January 2020 and, again, in the first round of the presidential election, held in April 2021, in which the two candidates who came out on top, and therefore went on to the second round, jointly received barely 33 per cent of the vote. There are 10 different political parties represented in our 130-seat Congress.

      In the second electoral round, the victory of Pedro Castillo, of the left-wing Perú Libre (Free Peru) party over Keiko Fujimori, of the right-wing Fuerza Popular (Popular Force), showed the importance of the demands for change and rejection of conventional politics that grew in recent years.

      However, the announcement of the official results was severely delayed, which created a climate of great uncertainty. In a context of high polarisation, there was an exponential increase in the number of appeals against the election results: normally, fewer than a dozen are filed, but on this occasion there were more than a thousand, none of which were considered well-founded. These appeals were used instrumentally: unfounded allegations of fraud were used to prolong the process as much as possible and to try to prevent the announcement of the results. While this attempt was unsuccessful, it delayed the transfer of power and increased distrust of politics and electoral institutions.

      Why did many people not vote?

      The rate of absenteeism in the first electoral round was almost 30 per cent, somewhat higher than in the 2020 legislative elections, when it reached 26 per cent; however, it dropped to less than 24 per cent in the runoff election. It is important to bear in mind that the first round of election took place when the COVID-19 pandemic was at its highest point in Peru. In other countries, such as Chile, it was not even possible to hold a vote due to the health emergency, but the elections took place normally in Peru. In fact, what is remarkable is that absenteeism wasn’t any higher.

      What role did Transparency play in relation to the electoral process?

      In the run-up to the election, as part of the #DecideBien (#ChooseWell) campaign, Transparency disseminated systematic information about the parties, their candidates and their proposals, so that citizens could assess their options. We broke down the parties’ policy programmes so that each person could learn about and compare the proposals of each candidate on the issues that interested them, and vote on the basis on that knowledge.

      In addition, we invited citizens to register with the National Transparency Volunteer Network to become election observers. From our perspective, election observation consists of monitoring, providing guidance and bearing witness to the events that take place during election day, as well as educating citizens about electoral conduct and rules.

      With this network of volunteers, Transparency observed the election process and from the outset we noted that the electoral process had been conducted normally, with only the kind of minor incidents that tend to occur in all elections, but which do not affect the results.

      In view of the unfounded allegations that were made in an attempt to discredit the process, we also worked to counter electoral disinformation. The phenomenon of disinformation on social media, particularly after the runoff election, was much stronger than in previous elections, and the electoral authorities themselves had to set up teams dedicated almost exclusively to debunking ‘fake news’. The climate of polarisation surely contributed to increasing the impact of disinformation.

      What political challenges lie ahead in the aftermath of the election?

      The main challenges are how to reduce distrust in the state, how to address dissatisfaction with democracy and how to improve political representation. Although compared to these challenges, political polarisation, which was exacerbated in the electoral context, is less of a concern, it must also be considered. While the most radicalised sectors continue to fuel polarisation, they are in the minority. They managed to polarise the election because they were able to get through to the second round despite having received a low percentage of the vote, but after the election, the majority of citizens are far from the extremes. However, it is important to bear in mind that distrust, dissatisfaction and the feeling of lack of representation are elements that those who seek to exploit polarisation can use to their advantage.

      It is necessary to restore trust in elections. To this end, we must continue to educate and inform citizens about the rules of elections, politics and democracy. We must also improve the mechanisms available to us for combatting disinformation. It is also necessary to move electoral reforms forward, in order to create incentives for the strengthening of political parties, as well as to improve the quality of political representation.

      Civic space in Peru is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
      Get in touch with Transparency Civil Association through itswebsite or itsFacebook,Instagram andTik Tok pages, and follow@actransparencia and@ilanegra on Twitter.