The Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room in the Palace of Nations

54th UN Human Rights Council: We shed light on activist repression, indigenous peoples’ plight in Nicaragua, environmental degradation

News 27.10.2023

Right Livelihood was highly engaged at the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, delivering a total of nine oral statements. Determined to bring awareness to the Laureates’ causes and struggles, our engagement highlighted the humanitarian crisis facing Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples, worldwide crackdowns on civil society and states’ environmentally destructive projects.

Right Livelihood addressed the Council in Geneva as part of our Advocacy work.

Read our advocacy highlights for the 54th Session of the HRC.

In particular, we highlighted the following issues:

Nicaragua must protect indigenous communities from violence and land grabs

In collaboration with Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional (CEJIL) and Red de Defensoras Indigenas (RDI), Right Livelihood alerted the Council to the increasingly dire situation for indigenous peoples in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.

Since 2015, illegal settlers have invaded the Miskito and Mayangna indigenous communities, overtaking their land and destroying their livelihood and food sources. These invasions are frequently coupled with violent attacks: 11 community members were killed in the first half of 2023. 

To ensure the affected communities get justice, we asked the Council to keep investigating Nicaragua’s complicity in the crisis. We also stressed the importance of providing the UN’s Group of Experts on Nicaragua with the necessary support to carry out their mission.

Guatemala’s fight for democracy requires international support

Twenty-seven years ago, Guatemala began its path to democracy, eager to strengthen the rule of law and vital institutions. Today, the country’s vision for a brighter future is less clear, with corruption and impunity remaining the norm, we told the Council.

While Bernardo Arévalo’s recent victory in the presidential elections is promising, the country’s current administration led by President Alejandro Giammattei is continuing to crack down on those investigating corruption.

As a result of this crackdown, independent justice operators, human rights defenders, journalists and indigenous community leaders are increasingly imprisoned or forced to flee the country. It is therefore vital, we told the Council, that the international community pressures the outgoing administration to honour the election results to ensure democracy triumphs in Guatemala.

Saudi Arabia must end practice of enforced disappearances, we demand at UN Human Rights Council

Alongside ALQST for Human Rights and MENA Rights Group, Right Livelihood spoke out against the increasingly frequent practice of enforced disappearances in Saudi Arabia. 

One such case is 2018 Right Livelihood Laureate Mohammed al-Qahtani, who was supposed to be released from prison in November 2022, but instead, has been missing for nearly one year.

Al-Qahtani’s case is not unique, we told the Council. In our statement, we demanded that Saudi authorities stop persecuting peaceful activists, reveal the whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared and unconditionally release all human rights defenders. We also called on the international community to stop engaging with Saudi Arabia, and by extension, legitimising the country’s systemic abuse.

Right Livelihood calls for end to EACOP construction amidst human rights concerns

Right Livelihood called on Uganda to stop the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) that is stripping Ugandans of their right to a clean, healthy environment. The Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), a 2022 Right Livelihood Laureate, is at the forefront of efforts to stop EACOP.

Uganda has increasingly engaged in land grabs, illegal displacement and environmental degradation since construction of EACOP began in 2017. The pipeline is estimated to displace over 100,000 people with devastating consequences for local ecosystems and livelihoods. 

In our statement, we called on Uganda and all relevant stakeholders to stop the construction of EACOP and provide fair compensation to affected communities. We also urged the country to stop harassing, arbitrarily arresting and detaining environmental defenders protesting extractive activities. 

The UN must establish an independent investigative body for Belarus

Together with 2020 Right Livelihood Laureate Viasna, Right Livelihood brought attention to the human rights crisis in Belarus, where 1,500 political prisoners are being held in inhumane conditions.

Viasna was labelled an “extremist formation” in August 2023, with its members being frequently arrested and retaliated against for their human rights work. Viasna members and other human rights activists who have fled Belarus also face repression – trials against them are held in absentia and the authorities refuse to issue them passports. 

To prevent these injustices from continuing, we called for all of Belarus’s political prisoners to be immediately released, including Viasna members Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuk. We also urged the UN to establish an independent body to investigate the situation in the country. 

Joint UN statement: Continued impunity threatens survival of Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples

Right Livelihood, CEJIL and RDI delivered a joint statement to bring awareness to the ongoing humanitarian crisis among indigenous peoples living on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. The statement followed a recent UN report detailing the Nicaraguan military’s increased presence in indigenous communities.

We alerted the Council to the genocidal practices used by settlers in indigenous communities, including forced displacements, armed attacks, rape and murder. Those who commit these crimes enjoy complete impunity.

To put an end to this crisis, we asked the Council to urge Nicaragua to immediately remove armed settlers from indigenous territories and to carry out fair, independent investigations into all violations committed. 

The Green Climate Fund’s BioClima project endangers indigenous life in Nicaragua

Right Livelihood, CEJIL and RDI raised concern about the impact of the Green Climate Fund’s BioClima project on Nicaragua’s indigenous peoples. The fund, created under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is intended to help countries reduce the effects of climate change but is often manipulated by national governments to finance politically motivated projects.

The BioClimate project in Nicaragua is particularly dangerous, we told the Council, due to its potential to irreversibly damage indigenous peoples’ land and resources, as well as exacerbate the violence against and forced displacement of local communities. While indigenous leaders have been consulted on the project, these consultations take place within a climate of fear as these leaders are routinely criminalised and prosecuted by the government.

To amend this situation, we called on the Council to ensure Nicaragua terminates the project, removes illegal settlers from indigenous lands, and going forward, receives indigenous communities’ free, prior and informed consent to projects on their land. 

Civil society faces erasure in Belarus, Saudi Arabia, Western Sahara

Right Livelihood brought attention to reprisals against human rights defenders in Western Sahara, Belarus and Saudi Arabia. Right Livelihood Laureates Aminatou Haidar, Viasna and Mohammad al-Qahtani have all been victims of this alarming trend.

In Western Sahara, advocates for the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination are systematically retaliated against, we told the Council. One such activist is 2019 Right Livelihood Laureate Aminatou Haidar, who lives under constant threat and surveillance.

The Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna, which received the Right Livelihood Award in 2020, has also been victimised by the state’s repression of civil society. After being designated an “extremist formation” in August 2023, those affiliated with Viasna are at an even greater risk of being retaliated against.

We also highlighted the repression of peaceful Saudi activists who often face severe consequences, including death sentences, unjust retrials and forced disappearances. Mohammed al-Qahtani, a 2018 Right Livelihood Laureate, has been forcibly disappeared since October 24, 2022.

Joint statement: human rights violations in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara must end

In our final statement, in partnership with the Instance Sahraouie contre l’Occupation Marocaine (ISACOM), we addressed the dire human rights situation in Western Sahara, a territory that has been under Moroccan occupation since 1975.

Morocco, as the occupying power, lacks the legal authority to impose its laws on Western Sahara or claim it as part of its territory, we told the Council. We also raised concerns about Morocco’s continuous violations and noted some UN member states’ silence or implicit support for these violations.

The statement highlighted severe human rights restrictions in Western Sahara, including suppression of Sahrawi people’s freedom of expression, assembly and association, often turning violent. Advocates for Sahrawi self-determination face reprisals such as asset freezes, torture and arbitrary arrests.

We urged Council members to denounce Morocco’s actions and requested an urgent debate on the situation in Western Sahara.

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