GLOBAL SOLIDARITY and the role of the international community
The international community has a responsibility to show solidarity with human rights defenders. We must ensure that frontline activists and community members are able to uphold international human rights norms without the risk of harm to them or their families.
In February 2020, Dr Agnes Callamard, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions attended the conference Every Voice Matters – collaborative approaches to safety in Nairobi’s urban settlements in Kenya. The conference was hosted by the Mathare Social Justice Centre.
"It is only through international solidarity, through fighting back against the inertia and complicity, that we will be able to attack the regime of impunity that appears to be characterising the killings of young and not so young men, in particular in urban settlements" Dr Agnes Callamard
Steve Kinuthia is a paralegal coordinator at the Mathare Social Justice Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. For years, the urban settlement of Mathare has suffered various forms of structural violence, including: land grabbing, forced evictions, police abuse and extrajudicial killings, political impunity and other economic, social and psychological violations. This violence has been allowed to go on without any retribution to the community, especially as most of the community continues to live in fear of the consequences of standing up for their rights.
"I feel like the special rapporteur has given me strength to continue documenting, to continue reporting, and I even know that amongst other HRDs there is also the special rapporteur as a HRD on the frontline coming and saying, I believe in this work and I’m going to be working with you in doing this work." Steve Kinuthia
Peace Brigades International (PBI) is an international non-governmental organisation with four decades of experience opening and protecting space for the defence of human rights. PBI is a life-saving international presence in areas of conflict and repression, and a powerful global advocacy network supporting those on the ground. PBI currently works in eight countries - Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Kenya and Nepal - and supports over 1,300 human rights defenders: activists, community leaders, and at-risk lawyers who receive threats and violence on a daily basis for defending human rights.
“PBI offers the possibility to stay alive. Sometimes I feel death getting closer and breathing down my neck, as they say in the mines. PBI gives me and other human rights defenders in Mexico the chance to wake up alive each day and I feel very grateful for that.” Cristina Auerbach, Director, Pasta de Conchos Family Organisation, Mexico
PBI sends teams of international volunteer observers to accompany at-risk human rights defenders, standing shoulder to shoulder with them in a display of solidarity that deters violent attacks and allows their activism to thrive. At a global level, we build networks that can be mobilised at short notice to provide much-needed protection and strategic support. PBI also provides a platform they otherwise would not have, to amplify their voices, ensuring that their calls for rights and freedoms are heard by those stakeholders who can make a difference.
Finally, PBI shine a spotlight on these hidden heroes that sends a powerful message to defenders: you are not alone. And to those who would attack them: the eyes of the world are watching, and your actions will have consequences.
"International support from PBI has strengthened us a lot. The corporations don’t like it. They have realised that ASODEBICOQ is not alone. We feel stronger and supported. We couldn’t hold demonstrations and occupations before but since PBI has been supporting us we have been able to do it. PBI is also part of Quimistan. We are like sisters and brothers." Kevin Ramírez
Both the organisation and the natural resources it protects are at serious risk, which is why PBI Honduras has been accompanying them since 2016. Since then, Kevin has reported numerous security incidents (including defamation, threats and criminalisation) against himself and other members of ASODEBICOQ. He says that accompaniment is a demonstration of international solidarity, which protects him and the community members of the association:
“When we visit the communities, people feel more protected. They always say ‘ASODEBICOQ is not only present here in the communities, but also in Tegucigalpa, and in other countries’. When PBI comes here it is because other people are interested in our struggle and in our process.” Kevin Ramírez
Reinaldo Villalba manages penal and national litigation for The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective (CCAJAR), primarily criminal defence and the representation of victims of serious human rights violations. He has been vilified by the authorities and characterised as a defender of terrorism and an auxiliary of guerrilla forces, particularly since his work on a case implicating the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. Villalba talks about the importance of the support of the international community.
'If the Universal Declaration of Defenders is really useful, it's not enough. It should be accompanied by more resolute activities from the international community" Reinaldo Villalba
'International observation is so valuable in this country. In Colombia social leaders continue to be killed" Reinaldo Villalba
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers states that ‘Governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.’
Peace Brigades International UK is part of a global movement of committed individuals who believe in justice and the rule of law and the important role Human Rights Defenders play in upholding universal standards. We offer moral and practical support to at risk Human Rights Defenders around the world and stand in solidarity with them specially at moments of crisis and very difficult challenges. Our aim is to protect and support these brave individuals and communities; strengthen their resilience and security and enhance their wellbeing so they can continue defending the rights of those most vulnerable without fear of intimidation.
PBI UK launched Portraits of Resilience, Hope and Solidarity webinar series. These webinars will shine a light on the heroic efforts of brave individuals to expose human rights violations and support vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 health crisis. Learn about the innovative strategies they are developing to keep their communities alive and explore the impact of COVID-19 on defenders and the wellbeing of the marginalised communities they support, as government measures encroach on basic rights and civil liberties.
The Alliance for Lawyers at Risk is an independent UK-based pro bono network working to enhance the safety and capacity of lawyers and human rights defenders working to defend the rule of law. Founded in 2010 by late PBI UK Patron Sir Henry Brooke CMG, the Alliance draws on the expertise and resources of the British legal profession to offer concrete legal support to lawyers and defenders at risk, and to engage with states and judicial authorities in promoting accountability and the rule of law. Around 100 lawyers, judges, legal experts and partners at city firms are members of the Alliance. Its current President is Sir Patrick Elias QC.
“The launch of the Alliance marks an opportunity for lawyers in the UK, individually and through their firms and Chambers, to fulfil our commitment to the protection of human rights around the world and help our fellow professionals.” Sir Henry Brooke CMG
In December 2019, Kenyan human rights defeders Rahma Wako and Samuel Kirira were invited to the London by Peace Brigades International UK. It was an honour to have such emblematic community leaders in the UK. The visit provided opportunities for Samuel and Rahma to raise concerns directly with policy-makers in the UK, expand their networks and identify funding possibilities. This amplified their voices internationally, both contributing to their protection and providing wider platforms for them to discuss in their own words their vital struggles in support of justice and human rights. During the visit they met with international NGOs Saferworld and ActionAid as well as the policy makers at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the human rights law firm Leigh Day. The tour also provided an incredibly valuable opportunity for respite, and time to build resilience.
“The Alliance has a powerful role to play in identifying and challenging threats to the rule of law in those countries where it is under threat” Sir Patrick Elias QC
Susi Bascon has completed an MBA and a Masters in Development Studies. She worked for a year in Mexico as an international observer for PBI and learnt first-hand about the threats and intimidation that Human Rights Defenders face when fighting for more democratic societies. She has been the director of the UK Section of Peace Brigades International since 1998, and co-founded the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk with Sir Henry Brooke in 2010. She was instrumental in leading and coordinating the global campaign to nominate the global community of Human Rights Defenders for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018.
Watch Sir Patrick Elias QC and Susi Bascon on PBI UK Webinar on STORIES OF RESILIENCE, HOPE AND SOLIDARITY.
In February, PBI UK and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk organised a delegation to Kenya to discuss the needs of grassroots human rights defenders. The delegation was comprised of Tom Short, Julia Lowis and Monica Feria-Tinta.
In recent years the UK legal profession has come under fire from all angles; attacked by the government and the media as out of touch and ill-at-ease with the concerns of everyday people and favouring their clients over the rule of law. Following a knife attack at an immigration firm, the Law Society has written to the Home Secretary about its public statements about ‘activist lawyers’ and the risk it puts professionals upholding the rule of law.
Being a lawyer is by no means easy in this country, but looking overseas puts things somewhat into perspective. We work in eight countries where being a human rights lawyer means daily attacks, threats and intimidation. With human rights lawyers under threat all over the world, we need to raise our voice and stand in solidarity with them so they can continue to fight for the rule of law.
On the 25th of October 2021 The Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP), Simmons & Simmons, Action4Justice and Peace Brigades International UK supported the launch of a new Legal Empowerment project, now called Roots2Justice. Roots2Justice is a co-founded legal initiative aimed at building the legal resilience of grassroots communities and environmental advocates. Susi Bascon, Richard Lord KC and Emma Lough are co-founders and have been instrumental in the creation of this project.
During the event the documentary “In Defence of our Lands” was screened followed by a Q&A discussion, chaired by Simmons & Simmons partner Ali Crosthwaite, to learn more about how threats posed by climate change can be seen as a human rights issue, how evolving environmental legal precedents globally are expanding the scope of environmental law to include our collective duty to protect planet earth and to hold governments and corporations to account.
Meet our panellists: Richard Lord QC, Action4Justice Shubha Srinivasan, Presenting Unit at Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) Lucy Claridge, Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) & Emma Lough, Lawyers Against Poverty (LAP)
In honour of the life and legacy of Sir Henry Brooke CMG, Peace Brigades International UK organises these annual awards celebrate defenders who encapsulate the qualities Sir Henry most admired and reflected in his own life: selflessness, courage, and commitment to seeking justice for the oppressed and the marginalised.
"PBI is a unique institution. When I meet the lawyers from Colombia and other countries, I am very struck by how single-minded they are. They put their clients’ interest first and foremost, long before their own safety. PBI provides them with accompaniment without which they could not do their work... they save them from being killed.”
Sir Henry became a Patron of PBI UK in 2006 and four years later, he founded the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk.
Sir Henry contributed enormously to PBI’s work with his expertise and his commitment to supporting human rights defenders at risk through generous financial contributions, life-saving intervention letters, and making statements to protect the lives of legal practitioners around the world. In recognition of this invaluable contribution, Sir Henry was presented with an ‘Invisible Mandelas’ award by PBI UK in 2017. Sir Henry Brooke CMG was truly valiant in his inspiring decency and desire to help others. He is much missed.
"This award could not have come at a better time, when the freedom of expression is criminalised" Naomi Barasa
"Daniel Prado told me that support from international lawyers is worth two or three body guards" Sir Patrick Elias QC
Sir Patrick Elias QC is a retired Lord Justice of Appeal. He was called to the Bar in1973 (Inner Temple). Before becoming a Bencher in 1995, he was a fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge and served as Assistant Recorder from 1997 to 1999. He was appointed Deputy High Court Judge in January 1999 and four months later, in May 1999, he was named Judge of the High Court, Queen's Bench Division. He was President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal from 2006 to 2009. Mr Justice Elias was knighted in 1999. On 3 March 2009, he was appointed to Her Majesty's Privy Council.
"The perpetrators are often very afraid of the diplomatic response" Sir Patrick Elias QC
Naomi Barasa was selected for the award in recognition of her remarkable determination and commitment to grassroots human rights work in the most disadvantaged social circumstances. Born in an informal settlement on the outskirts of Nairobi, Naomi was a close witness to street violence, police brutality, impunity and the overwhelming inequality of the slums. Her journey as a human rights defender has embedded her in the struggle to improve living conditions for Nairobi’s 2.5 million slum dwellers. Daniel Prado was selected as an example of a lawyer who has defied huge personal risk in order to pursue justice for the victims of human rights violations, oppose impunity and defend the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests. Among other emblematic cases, Daniel represents victims of paramilitarism in the case of Los Doce Apóstoles (The Twelve Apostles), in which Santiago Uribe, brother of former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe Velez, stands accused of creating paramilitary groups responsible for more than 500 murders.
"As a 17 years old powerless girl in the slums there was not much I could do. But I had a mouth so I chose to make noise" Naomi Barasa
"As a Human Right Defender this award comes within a period where we are demanding the recognition that our work deserves" Naomi Barasa
in 2019, one was jointly awarded to two women human rights lawyers who have stood out for their commitment to fighting torture and forced disappearance in a dangerous and threatening environment, particularly for women - Mexican lawyers Maricela Vázquez & Carla Palacios. Their work involves representing the families of victims of torture and forced disappearances. They work in an environment characterised by executions, corrupt security forces, impunity and widespread and persistent violence against women
Donald Hernandez is a Honduran lawyer who works tirelessly to pursue justice for environmental defenders, and protect the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests. Donald works with the grassroots communities living on affected lands, helping indigenous groups and campesinos to understand their rights under national and international law. This includes ILO Convention 169, which states that indigenous peoples must be involved in decision-making for new projects.
Lord Phillips KG PC is a crossbench peer in the House of Lords. He was called to the Bar in 1962, and became a Life Peer in 1999 as Baron Phillips of Worth Matravers. He served as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 2005-08, when he was reappointed as a Law Lord. Since 2008, Phillips was the Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary until he became the first President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on 1 October 2009. After retiring from the bench, Phillips became President of the Qatar International Court at Doha.
"Sir Henry Brooke never turned down a request for help" Lord Philips KG PC
On December 2020, PBI UK hosted the third annual Sir Henry Brooke Awards in an online event where over 4,200 people tuned in from around the world to celebrate our winners and show solidarity with human rights defenders. The annual ceremony reminds us of the challenges that rights defenders face in contexts where the rule of law is weak. They are vital to the defence of fundamental freedoms, for which they often pay with their own lives. The awards went to the independent journalist Dina Meza and the human rights lawyer Reinaldo Villalba.
"Today I receive the award with colleagues and fellow defenders who were killed, whose bodies with pierced with bullets for defending their territories. We are a community of peace. Resilient. Our only weapon is the word - which is a deadly weapon against violence.” Dina Meza
Dina Meza is an independent journalist and defender of freedom of expression. Due to her high public profile and status as a dissident, she is unable to publish her work in the mainstream media. Dina faces harassment and intimidation on a daily basis, which has forced her to move house several times. Despite these attacks, Dina continues to use her online platform to draw attention to state violence against activists and human rights defenders. Her website reaches up to 30,000 hits a month.
Reinaldo Villalba manages penal and national litigation for The José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers' Collective (CCAJAR), primarily criminal defence and the representation of victims of serious human rights violations. He has been vilified by the authorities and characterised as a defender of terrorism and an auxiliary of guerrilla forces, particularly since his work on a case implicating the former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. The case is based on allegations of witness tampering and fraud relating to crimes committed during the country’s five decade civil war.
“I receive this award and share it with all the organisations and human rights defenders in my country, and the thousands of victims of violence. Since the signing of the peace agreement between the FARC and the Colombian State, more than 1050 defenders and social leaders have been killed. Over 250 ex-combatants have been killed... My country, it hurts to say, is a great cemetery.” Reinaldo Villalba
"Intuitive. Focused. Human. They are more than just lawyers"
PBI UK engaged the law firm Simmons and Simmons to produce the first centralised online resource for rural communities and lawyers dealing with corporate human rights violations: ‘Human Rights Defenders Toolbox’, which was shortlisted in 2019 for the Law Society Excellence in Pro Bono Award. Ex field PBI Colombia volunteer and solicitor Alice Garside and PBI UK Director Susi Bascon designed the project closely with Victoria Channing, Richard Dyton, Chris Owen, and Olga Hancock to ensure the toolbox was tailored to the needs of HRDs.
“Ever since then I think people have been very impressed by the organisation. But I think there is, underlying all of that, a deep respect for human rights defenders and admiration for their courage. We have pride in the production of these fact sheets and keeping them updated.”
Richard Dyton, Pro Bono Partner at Simmons & Simmons
Watch PBI UK webinar where Richard Dyton and Victoria Channing talk about ENVIROMENTAL RIGHTS AND THE LEGAL COMMUNITY.
The toolbox comprises 16 fact sheets on a range of legal topics, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, with specific recommendations for HRDs working on denouncing corporate abuse. It is the first centralised online resource designed to inform rural communities and lawyers dealing with corporate human rights violations providing a platform to engage stakeholders (including corporate actors, governments, NGOs and diplomatic corps) with the aim of encouraging companies to adopt more responsible business practices. It includes fact sheets, field trainings, video recordings and case studies from the field.
"By creating this Toolbox Simmons & Simmons lawyers are not only sharing their expertise and in-depth knowledge, but they are also providing HRDs at risk and vulnerable communities with essential tools for them to advocate, report and tackle the root causes of conflicts originating in the context of business and human rights.” Susi Bascon
The Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship was established in 2018 by the University of Dundee and the Scottish Government to support those at risk for their work in protecting human rights around the world. It seeks to offer a holistic programme of support to equip, protect and enable defenders vital work. Through relocation at The University of Dundee, and in collaboration with supporting organisations Amnesty International Scotland and Front Line Defenders, our aim is to provide a period of rest and respite to build defenders resilience and wellbeing, the chance to strengthen their human rights work through research and study at the University, as well as capacity building, advocacy and networking opportunities with civil society organisations, government and universities in Scotland and beyond.
Laura Miti has been working with Zambia and South African civil society for more than 25 years, in various roles and initiatives to strengthen governance systems. She currently serves as Executive Director for the Alliance for Community Action (ACA), an organisation which works to mobilise demand for Public Resource Accountability amongst the Zambian public. Laura is passionate about how the choices made by those in power affect the poor, and has devoted her adult life to leading and participating in various campaigns to strengthen Zambia’s democracy.
Konstantin Baranov is member of the Coordinating Council and international advocacy coordinator at the Youth Human Rights Movement – an international NGO enjoying participatory status with the Council of Europe. He is an expert on the protection of civil society space and fundamental freedoms in Russia and the post-Soviet area.
CHECK OUT MORE STORIES
Click on the image to find out more