Happy International Peace Day! Today we recognize and celebrate the courageous work of human rights defenders around the world. September is also a time in PBI when our country group boards and project committees spend time reflecting and planning for the coming year. For PBIUSA, September also marks the end of our fiscal year and our final opportunity to meet our fundraising goals. Each year, we transfer at least one quarter to over 50% of our budget overseas to directly support our international work. Each dollar we raise allows us to increase our support of our field teams which therein grows their capacity to support more threatened human rights defenders. We know the impact of every dollar raised so to close out the month, we are contacting our supporters to ask for a donation during our fiscal yearend final fundraising push!
PBI staff and volunteers work with over 1,000 activists and movements across seven countries. These brave human rights defenders face threats for championing social, economic, and environmental justice issues in their home countries.
Read below for brief updates highlighting PBI’s work around the world this year. For an in-depth look at PBI’s global work supporting human rights defenders, click here to download PBI’s global annual report.
Nicaragua: a human rights update
In 2020 PBI launched a new accompaniment project in Costa Rica focused on providing support to exiled Nicaraguan human rights defenders. At the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2022, PBI made a statement verifying the sharp reduction of civic and democratic space in Nicaragua. Four months later, PBI accompanied the organizations of Nicaraguan human rights defenders exiled in Costa Rica, who celebrated the release 222 political prisoners in Nicaragua. Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled into exile as a result of persecution in their home country, rendering them vulnerable to renewed protection risks. According to the UNHCR, more Nicaraguans are currently seeking protection in neighboring Costa Rica than all refugees and asylum seekers combined during Central America’s civil wars in the 1980s, with the number of Nicaraguans crossing the southern border doubling between August 2021 and March 2022, to over 150,000 people. Additionally, more than 164,500 Nicaraguans were apprehended by the US Border Patrol in 2022, a 224% increase from the 50,000 who attempted to cross in 2021. Click here to read more about the situation in Nicaragua. At Peace Brigades International, we will continue to support the brave human rights defenders standing up for peace, rights and democracy, whether in the country or in exile. For more background, please check out Voices in Resistance, a collection of testimonies from Nicaraguan organizations and collectives that, while exiled in Costa Rica, continue to work determinedly in the defense of human rights.
Colombia: Fighting enforced disappearance and working to end impunity
In March 2023, we welcomed the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation to Washington, DC on an advocacy visit to address the serious situation of impunity for forced disappearance in Colombia and to request: 1) the declassification of intelligence files so the Foundation can access information on the whereabouts of the disappeared, 2) support for the law on women seekers, and 3) support for their protection. Click here to read more. PBI-Colombia has accompanied the Nydia Erika Bautista Foundation occasionally from 2007 and in full since 2016.
Guatemala: Providing legal, political and protective support at a critical time
Responding to requests from Indigenous leaders concerned about threats to the rule of law and the rights of rural communities, PBI organized a high-level legal delegation to Guatemala in March 2023. Human rights lawyers from countries including the U.S., Brazil, Peru and the UK met with dozens of NGOs, visited Indigenous communities and jailed human rights defenders, as well as participated in meetings with the Guatemalan authorities, the diplomatic community and private sector. In an initial press conference the delegation called for urgent action to protect Indigenous peoples and expressed grave concern at the impact of violent forced displacements in Guatemala. The lawyers have subsequently successfully urged the Guatemalan authorities to stall planned evictions of Indigenous communities, and media outlets including El País have reported on their activities. The legal delegation will launch its report alongside Indigenous leaders in London in fall 2023. Click here to read more.
Honduras: High alert as defenders in Honduras face grave reprisals
Violent reprisals in rural Honduras continue unabated. This year environmental defenders Jairo Bonilla and Aly Domínguez - plus Aly’s brother Oquelí - were murdered, in the latest violence against opponents of the Los Pinares mine which has now been belatedly suspended by the Honduran government. The Guapinol water defenders demand a permanent cancellation due to alleged violations of the community’s rights and contamination of their water supply. The situation in Honduras is of extreme concern. PBI has bolstered the numbers on our team there through emergency recruitment. Our global offices are working constantly to get support to local communities and pressure on the country’s authorities. We’re also working to get human and financial resources to our team in Honduras, while planning and carrying out advocacy activities in Washington, DC with visiting defenders. It is not only rural environmentalists who face a backlash in Honduras. Recently, PBI joined Front Line Defenders to publicly express concern for the lack of protection for defenders of LGTBI+ rights. Read more here.
Mexico: Mobilizing support in the face of criminalization
In June, the criminalization of Mexican environmental defender Alejandro Torres Xocolatl intensified when he was detained, presumably as a reprisal for his sustained campaigning for Indigenous rights in the face of large-scale business and infrastructure projects. PBI carried out a global activation of political and civil society contacts, while simultaneously providing on-the-ground international observation at his judicial hearings. At the end of July 2023, Alejandro’s arrest warrant was withdrawn. While PBI volunteers work to provide a protective presence in areas of Mexico where rural defenders face grave threats, our offices globally continue to mobilize international support for defenders and their causes. We raise funds to not only keep our country group going but we do so to help provide funding to the critical work of maintaining a protective presence in the countries where defenders are receiving threats. Funds raised also help us maintain an advocacy position in Washington, DC to support defenders year round and especially when they travel to the United States to meet with U.S. and U.N. officials.
Kenya: Working towards peace and police reform with civil society at the center
In August, together with human rights defenders, PBI organized community forums in three urban settlements in Nairobi to discuss security and local policing. The community forums are part of PBI Kenya’s work to support HRDs in their advocacy towards local security actors, and to strengthen PBI’s emergency response network in the country. We have a hashtag for the project which is #makingspacefordialogue. The forums followed PBI’s appearance at the UN Human Rights Council in June 2023 where we drew the attention of the Council to extrajudicial executions committed in Colombia, Honduras and Kenya. Click here to read PBI’s statement on extrajudicial killings in Kenya. PBI also continued to work with the Women Human Rights Defenders Toolkit Organizers Network, which is expanding! PBI held interviews with HRDs interested in joining the network and is supporting efforts put forth by local defenders to set the network up as a community-based non-profit.
Indonesia: Establishing an early warning system
Indonesia-based ELSAM and Peace Brigades International continue their joint efforts towards building capacity for human rights throughout the archipelago. The Papua Bercerita (‘Papua Tells Stories’) project was started by ELSAM and Peace Brigades International in March 2022, bringing youth of different religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds together. Over the course of a year, the group developed their skills in storytelling and photography to share their views on social and cultural issues in West Papua. Concurrently, following extensive consultations, the team launched an Early Warning Early Response (EWER) system in West Papua. Working with two West Papuan organizations and a national expert group, PBI and ELSAM have conducted two initial trainings with local community members to discuss the nature of violence, identify their existing conflict resolution mechanisms, and talk about the standard components of early warning systems. This is done with the intention of empowering the community to establish their own EWER mechanism.
Nepal: Challenging times for those who seek transitional justice
Nepal’s civil war resulted in thousands of cases of human rights violations including torture, killings, sexual violence and forced disappearances, with both sides having been accused of serious human rights abuses. Many of the perpetrators are still in high positions in the government and military, and not a single perpetrator has been brought to justice for their crimes. Dr. Mandira Sharma, a prominent Nepalese lawyer and human rights defender, co-founded Advocacy Forum in 2001, an organization made up of human rights lawyers who seek justice. Mandira and her colleagues represent victims in Nepali courts and campaign for legal reforms. As a result of their work on human rights and justice, they have experienced direct and indirect threats, assaults, defamation and incitements to violence in the media. Despite the challenges they face, Mandira and her colleagues continue to seek justice for victims of human rights violations in Nepal. PBI continues to stand with Mandira as she campaigns for justice in her home country. Click here to read more. Mandira will engage in a European advocacy tour this fall 2023 to bring awareness to the human rights situation in Nepal. Mandira is one of the leading legal experts on Transitional Justice in Nepal as well as issues of torture, deaths in custody, sexual violence, impunity and the weakening rule of law in Nepal.