PBI Advocacy Group Update - Summer 2019

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Peace Brigades International, Ireland

Making Space for Peace

Advocacy Update No. 2, Summer 2019


  •   Colombia: Interview with David Ravelo Crespo

  •   Mexico – the effects of  militarisation

  •   Guatemala: Human Rights Defenders Under Increased Threat

  • United Nations: Annual Report on Human Rights and Business and Human Rights

  •   SPECIAL REPORT: Lorena Cabnal Visit to Ireland

  •  About PBI Ireland

    Colombia: Interview with David Ravelo Crespo

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PBI Colombia have shared this interview with David Ravelo Crespo, Human Rights Defender from Barrancabermeja who spent 7 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  At a time when concern about judicial harassment and criminalization of Human Rights Defenders is increasing yet again, his experience is a stark reminder of the what this type of repression can mean to a defender, their family and their work.  It also demonstrates the resilience and determination of HRDs in the face of such intense pressure.

Read the interview here.

Mexico – the effects of militarisation


In our previous newsletter (March 2019), we highlighted concerns at the Mexican government’s proposal to set up a National Guard to tackle violence – a continuation of the militarisation of security which has taken place as part of the  “war against drugs” . The dangers of this strategy are illustrated by The Alvarado Case.

Further, the Mexican government has announced that the National Guard will be deployed at the border with Guatemala, in the context of the migration flows from Central America. 



Guatemala: Human Rights Defenders Under Increased Threat

Over the last year there has been a sharp decline in the security situation of human rights defenders throughout Guatemala. The UNHCHR refers to an “erosion of civic space” in 2018, with the closing in  of institutional spaces dealing with the issues of defenders and increased distrust of the authorities”

As has already been highlighted in the Resolution of the European Parliament, UDEFEGUA has registered 391 attacks against HRDs in 2018, 147 of which were acts of criminalization and 26 were assassinations, which represents a 136% increase on statistics from 2017.  The majority of the victims are indigenous leaders and defenders of land, territorial rights and the environment, who have expressed their opposition to specific hydro-electric and mining projects.

One such case is that of the 'New Day Ch'orti' Campesino Central Coordinator (CCCND), an organization that works for the rights of the indigenous Mayan Ch'orti people and the defence of their territory in the department of Chiquimula. Peace Brigades International have accompanied the New Day Ch’orti Campesino Central for many years.  Since February this year community leaders have suffered multiple threats and aggressions and are increasingly at risk because of a peaceful protest camp they set up at the entrance to the 'Cantera de los Manantiales' antimony mine.  The Ministry of Mines had already ordered the company to close the mine and remove all machinery as they were not complying with stipulated legal and environmental requirements.  Although the owners withdrew all machinery from the mine, there have been repeated threats from the owners that they would re-enter the mine.  Meanwhile threats against individual community leaders continue to escalate and are a cause for concern.          


United Nations

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Annual Report Outlines Actions to defend Human Rights Defenders

In June 2019, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published its 2018 annual report, the first under the tenure of UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. It outlines the activities of the office including actions it has taken to support human rights defenders. There are specific reports on Mexico and Colombia and a focus on women’s human rights defenders as well as a spotlight on the Day of General Discussion by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on children human rights defenders.

Human Rights Council to Highlight the Role of Business in Human Rights

The UN Human Rights Council (the Council) will take place at Palais des Nations in Geneva from 24 June to 12 July 2019. During this session it will consider and hold discussions on a number of important issues including business and human rights, the renewal of the mandate of he Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), reprisals and the work of women human rights defenders. More detail is outlined by the International Service for Human Rights: https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc41-key-issues-agenda-june-2019-session

In PBI Ireland we are working with others in the formation of an Irish network on Business and HR and would welcome anyone who would like to join us in this work.  Please contact pbiivolunteers@gmail.com.

Special Report: Lorena Cabnal Visit to Ireland

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From the 29th until the 31st of May we hosted a visit from Lorena Cabnal, a Guatemalan Maya-Xinca woman human rights defender who PBI Guatemala have accompanied for more than a decade.

Lorena is a strong advocate for indigenous and women’s rights in Guatemala, and currently works with a network of other indigenous women human rights defenders who use traditional ancestral healing practices to support women throughout the country who are affected by violence.  She draws on the wisdom of the elders from both Maya and Xinca lineages that were passed down to her through her grandmothers in the form of ritual and respectful regard for the other (be they person, tree, or anything else).  The indigenous Cosmovision that she shared with us speaks to the interconnectedness of us all with each other and with wider nature, and her political project and communitarian feminism begins from this worldview.  As she told us in both Mayan and Xinca dialects “I am you, and you are me” – this is the foundation through which true defence of human rights and nature begins.

During her visit to Dublin, Lorena spoke at two public meetings – first at the final session of our peace education course “Making Space for Peace: peacebuilding and human rights defenders” and at a seminar hosted by the School of Religions at Trinity College Dublin entitled “Transforming Violence Against Women in Guatemala: community feminism and ancestral healing practices.”  At the latter, she outlined the forms of patriarchy experienced by indigenous women Guatemala from the historical to present day and outlined an approach to feminism that is more consistent with her worldview and cosmovision – community feminism.  This approach sees recovery of the bodily integrity and territory of indigenous women’s bodies as an integral part of the journey towards emancipation.  A great deal of violence, structural and otherwise, has been experienced through the bodies of indigenous women but the body itself can be a vehicle through which liberation becomes possible – energetically, cosmically and politically. 

We also met representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to highlight the ongoing political crisis in and the impact this is having on Human Rights Defenders generally and women indigenous defenders specifically.  Lorena raised the importance of reviewing the EU Guidelines on the protection of HRDs to include the differential protection needs of indigenous women.

This wasn’t the first time that Lorena Cabnal was in Dublin.  She visited Dublin in 2011 to attend the Frontline Defenders Platform for human rights defenders at risk where she spoke about her experiences as an indigenous woman speaking out about violence against women in a patriarchal society and the risks she is exposed to for taking a stand.  At that time, she had experienced a very serious attempt on her life that led to her leaving her life in rural Guatemala.  Lorena continues to live in exile from her community because of the threats she has received.  Like many defenders PBI accompany, Lorena makes decisions on a daily basis that could affect her physical integrity in order to continue doing her work– other members of the Ancestral Healers network face similar concerns and currently some are in temporary exile outside the country.  The seriousness of this reality and the importance of their work in challenging violent structures is never far from their minds.

PBI Guatemala have accompanied Lorena since 2006 and the TZ’KAT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Ixmulew since 2018.

About PBI Ireland,

pbiireland@peacebrigades.org; www.pbi-ireland.org

PBI provides protection, support and recognition to local human rights defenders who work in areas of repression and conflict and have requested our support.  We help human rights defenders make links with others and raise awareness of the issues they face.

Our signature model of work is Protective Accompaniment (PA) where we send teams of highly trained international volunteers to countries where community representatives and HRDs suffer repression while carrying out their legitimate, nonviolent, human rights work.  These volunteers provide physical accompaniment to human rights defenders at risk to deter attacks from being carried out against them.

We also explore other nonviolent methods of protection depending on the context we are working in and the needs and desires of local community representatives and human rights defenders.

PBI Ireland is part of a community of Country Groups around the world who are responsible for carrying out vital support work that allows the field programmes to operate smoothly.

We need your support.

More information on volunteering here.

You can donate to PBI Ireland online here


I am alive because of these people

Cristina Auerbach (HRD, director of the Organización Familia Pasta de Conchos, Mexico speaking in Dublin in October 2016)