PBI’s mission is to protect Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) across the world, yet in late 2017 we began to see a rise in attacks on HRDs in certain areas of Latin America. In Colombia, this has included the killing of land restitution leaders and an assassination attempt against members of the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, a collective of farmers supported by PBI opposed to the civil war. In Honduras, state security forces deployed illegal force against protestors after the November 2017 election. To protect more than 170 HRDs at risk in these countries, we requested vital funding from the Edith M. Ellis Charitable Trust.
The trust’s generosity has allowed us to tackle issues facing HRDs in the region head-on, by providing them with international accompaniment. After Colombian human rights lawyer Daniel Prado was subjected to a hearing regarding his representation of the victims of a Colombian paramilitary group, we arranged for members of the UK legal community to travel to Colombia in December to observe his trial due to his high level of risk.
However, the grant also enabled us to look at longer-term protection for global human rights advocates. We have sought to bolster the security of HRDs by informing the international community of trends in repression faced by HRDs and protection strategies. In 2018 we worked with a coalition of NGOs to produce recommendations for the UK government’s submission to the UN for the Universal Periodic Review on Colombia, of which three were ultimately incorporated.
Our operations made efficient use of the funds provided for maximum impact. Just £1,500 enabled us to organise an advocacy tour for Dina Meza, a Honduran human rights activist and award winning journalist whose security situation is particularly delicate. This included raising concerns and advocacy actions with the FCO, All-Party Parliamentary Group on human rights, and the Law Society. The level of media interest was unprecedented, as she was interviewed by the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2018/mar/08/international-womens-day-six-trailblazing-women-youve-never-heard-of).
More tangible impacts were felt by community activists, who we have consistently sought to put into contact with international legal assistance. Following an attack on the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado in late 2017, we put pressure on the Foreign Office to send diplomats to Bogota to meet with them so as to deter future attacks.
We have also found that ceremonial events honouring the work of HRDs can both boost their visibility and generate a broader culture of support for human rights. In December 2018 we held a high-profile Memorial and Award Ceremony to celebrate the life of the late PBI UK patron Sir Henry Brooke, and mark the 20th anniversary of the UN declaration on HRDs. Over 100 people attended, including Supreme Court Judges and High Court Judges, QCs and corporate lawyers. Daniel Prado received the Sir Henry Brooke award, and shared more about his work in defence of vulnerable communities and the threats he has been exposed as a result of his commitment to human rights. He thanked PBI for their political and physical accompaniment of HRDs and described their work as ‘very important’ to ‘dissuading potential perpetrators of violence’
Our work would not have been possible without the generosity of the Ellis Trust, who have allowed us to provide essential support for these valiant yet vulnerable HRDs in Colombia and Honduras.