[Global Witness’] annual report into the killings of land and environmental defenders in 2019 shows the highest number yet have been murdered in a single year. 212 land and environmental defenders were killed in 2019 – an average of more than four people a week.
Victimisation can also manifest through the use of litigation which can at times be used to silence activists. Commonly known as strategic litigation against public participation (SLAPP) suits, these cases may be defined as “meritless cases mounted to discourage a party from pursuing or vindicating their rights, often with the intention not necessarily to win the case, but simply to waste the resources and time of the other party until they bow out”. The term ‘SLAPP suits’ originated in the United States of America and this litigation is frequently brought in the form of defamation claims, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, or delictual liability cases.
Extraterritorial obligations (ETOs) are a missing link in the universal human rights protection system. Without ETOs, human rights cannot assume their proper role as the legal basis for regulating globalization and ensuring universal protection of all people and groups. A consistent realization of ETOs can generate an enabling environment for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and guarantee the primacy of human rights among competing sources of international law. ETOs provide for State regulation of transnational corporations, State accountability for the actions and omissions of intergovernmental organizations in which they participate, set standards for the human rights obligations of IGOs, and are a tool needed to ultimately stop the destruction of eco-systems and climate change.
This report illustrates the severe human rights violations in Latin America against environmental defenders, who engage in lawful activities that bring to light environmental damage and human rights abuses. Though not exhaustive, this report provides an overview of recent incidents throughout Latin America. The incidents cited cover a range of human rights violations, including violent attacks, torture, disappearances, and killings.
When it comes to making corporations take responsibility for the human rights impacts of their global operations, voluntary measures are insufficient. That’s why countries met from October 23-27 to negotiate an international, legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations (TNCs) and other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights.
I know I am on the hit list… If I am dying for the truth, then I am dying for a good cause. I am not turning back.
— Nonhle Mbuthuma, community member and spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, Cape Town, February 2018
In March 2016, activist Sikhosiphi “Bazooka” Rhadebe was killed at his home after receiving anonymous death threats. Bazooka was the chairperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, a community-based organization formed in 2007 to oppose mining activity in Xolobeni, Eastern Cape province. Members of his community had been raising concerns that the titanium mine that Australian company Mineral Commodities Ltd proposed to develop on South Africa’s Wild Coast would displace the community and destroy their environment, traditions, and livelihoods. More than three years later, the police have not identified any suspects in his killing. Nonhle Mbuthuma, another Xolobeni community leader and spokesperson of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, has also faced harassment and death threats from unidentified individuals. Nonhle recalled talking to Bazooka the day before he was killed. He told her he had seen a hit list that included three people — Nonhle, Bazooka, and another person from the Amadiba Crisis Committee — making rounds in the community. Nonhle fled her home and went into hiding in the days following Bazooka’s death.
People living in communities affected by mining activities across South Africa are exercising their human rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to advocate for the government and companies to respect and protect community members’ rights from the potentially serious environmental, social, and health-related harms of mining. In many cases, such activism has been met with harassment, intimidation, or violence.