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Right Livelihood warns of human rights abuses against activists, indigenous peoples and women during 52nd session of UN Human Rights Council

News 20.04.2023

Right Livelihood drew the international community’s attention to global human rights issues during the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council. Our statements specifically focused on human rights abuses in Afghanistan, Belarus, Brazil, Nicaragua and Saudi Arabia, as well as the global crackdown on activists and the dismantling of democratic institutions.

Right Livelihood addressed the Council in Geneva, which lasted for five and a half weeks, as part of the foundation’s Advocacy work.

Read our advocacy highlights for the 52nd Session of the HRC.

In particular, we highlighted the following issues:

Protecting Brazil’s indigenous peoples

In two joint statements, Right Livelihood alerted the Council to the humanitarian crisis facing indigenous peoples of Brazil and called for the government to implement permanent measures to protect the communities and their land

Under Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, Brazil’s indigenous peoples were severely impacted by human rights abuses. Illegal mining operations expanded by over 500 per cent in the Amazon region, and the Bolsonaro administration not only encouraged illegal mining on indigenous lands but also dismantled the agency responsible for protecting them.

Yanomami indigenous leader and 2019 Laureate Davi Kopenawa has played a crucial role in uniting communities to resist the miners and other interests, putting a spotlight on the crisis.

While current President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has made efforts to remove illegal miners and protect the Amazon, it is not enough to solve the crisis, we told the Council.

We, therefore, urged Brazil’s current administration to take immediate action to ensure the survival of indigenous peoples. This includes reinstating a permanent monitoring and protection programme for indigenous land, holding perpetrators accountable for crimes against indigenous people, and restructuring indigenous healthcare districts to aid those most affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis. 

Sahrawi self-determination

Right Livelihood, ISACOM, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights expressed concern about Morocco’s refusal to recognise the rights of the Sahrawi people, a North African ethnic group that has been denied control over their homeland, Western Sahara, for over a century.

During the fourth Universal Periodic Review (UPR), one of the recommendation areas that Morocco largely rejected was the Sahrawi people’s right to self-determination. Morocco has been illegally occupying Western Sahara since 1975, and the activists who speak up against the regime have been brutally silenced, surveilled, tortured, and imprisoned arbitrarily.

Morocco’s abuses against the Sahrawi people violate international law and threaten to undermine the process’s power to improve human rights conditions, we concluded. Morocco must, therefore, reconsider its stance on essential recommendations relating to the Sahrawi’s rights.

Human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia

In a joint statement, Right Livelihood, ALQST for Human Rights, and MENA Rights Group raised the Council’s attention to the human cost of prioritising economic interests over human rights in Saudi Arabia. In recent months, the Saudi regime has increased efforts to silence people advocating for political reform, resulting in excessively long prison sentences. 

Saudi Arabia’s vague counterterrorism laws, introduced in 2014, are largely responsible for these unjust sentences. The laws enable authorities to imprison individuals without a fair trial.

We specifically informed the Council about the case of Right Livelihood Laureate Mohammed Al-Qahtani, a human rights defender who has been forcibly disappeared since October 24, 2022.

Unfortunately, al-Qahtani’s case is not unique. Despite reaching the end of their prison sentences, Saudi human rights defenders are often retried for more bogus crimes, forcibly disappeared, or banned from leaving the country. These tactics are used to prevent activists from speaking out about the abuses they have suffered at the hands of the Saudi regime. 

Human Rights Defenders in Belarus

Right Livelihood and 2020 Laureate organisation Human Rights Center “Viasna” jointly called for the creation of an independent investigative mechanism for Belarus. The joint statement followed the recent sentencing of Laureate Ales Bialiatski and Viasna leaders Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovic and Zmister Salauyou.

The treatment of the Viasna leaders during their trial, including being handcuffed, caged, denied pens and paper, and targeted by state media smear campaigns, epitomised the lawlessness of Belarusian authorities, as well as the need for accountability.

The establishment of an independent investigative mechanism is crucial in light of Belarus’s systematic repression of fundamental freedoms, including the use of ambiguous new laws that allow for the death penalty in alleged cases of “attempted acts of terrorism.”

Nearly 1,500 political prisoners are currently being held in Belarus. In solidarity with Viasna, we stressed the urgency of releasing all political prisoners and called on States to use universal jurisdiction to ensure accountability.

Justice for  Afghan women and girls

Right Livelihood called for the establishment of an accountability mechanism by the Council to address the widespread violations of Afghan women’s and girls’ rights under the Taliban regime. The current mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan is not sufficient to provide justice for the country’s women and girls.

Since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan on August 15, 2021, women and girls have been robbed of their basic rights, facing an official ban on education, severe restrictions to employment, and limited access to reproductive health services. These measures have exacerbated the country’s health crisis and the infant mortality rate.

In our statement, we condemned all violations of women’s and girls’ fundamental rights in Afghanistan, emphasising the need for women to be active participants throughout all decision-making and humanitarian processes.

Global repression of activists 

In our statement, Right Livelihood explained that Laureates across the world continue to face intimidation, torture and arbitrary detention in retaliation for defending human rights. Urgent action is needed to hold governments and companies accountable for these violations.

Despite the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders recognising activists’ freedoms of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly for the past 25 years, human rights defenders face great danger for their work. This is also the case for land, environmental, and indigenous defenders, who often face an even greater risk for their activism.

To honour their work and ensure their safety, we asked the Council to protect activists by providing them with a supportive legal, institutional, and financial environment worldwide. 

Democratic institutions in Guatemala

Right Livelihood urged the international community to take action on the human rights situation in Guatemala, where corruption and impunity threaten the country’s democratic system.

We cited increasing authoritarianism under President Alejandro Giammattei’s administration and the targeting of those who expose abuses of power or defend the rights of marginalised communities, including journalists and independent justice operators.

The situation in Guatemala also threatens the livelihoods of its people, with government negligence leading to malnutrition and food insecurity. Right Livelihood, therefore, called on the Council to act, warning that the country’s weakened democratic system could collapse entirely if no action is taken.

We also raised concerns about the upcoming general election in June, where authorities have baselessly banned two candidates. Such groundless decisions highlight that democratic institutions in Guatemala are merely cosmetic, and the Council must monitor the situation so that Guatemalan authorities uphold the rule of law.

Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples

In response to the March 2023 report issued by the Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua, which ignored the abuses against the country’s indigenous and Afro-descendant people, we called on the international community to do more to protect these communities.

Nicaragua’s indigenous and Afro-descendant people live in constant fear of armed attacks and forcible displacement, we told the Council. The Nicaraguan government has not addressed the situation, instead promoting “cohabitation” with settlers and coercing people to sell their land.

We also shared that those who defend the rights of these communities are subject to violence, and organisations that document abuses in these territories are shut down. For these reasons, the international community must intervene.

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