Women who defend human rights often face gender-specific attacks, in addition to the threats commonly endured by human rights defenders because of the work they are doing. These threats and attacks come from governments as well as from paramilitaries or other groups not directly connected to the state. Attacks on women defenders often go uninvestigated and unpunished.
Women are engaged in promoting and protecting all kinds of human rights. Human Rights First is part of a pioneering effort to educate policy makers at the international, regional and national levels about the need to recognize and protect the rights of women defenders. We are also participating in a project to produce a practical manual to help women defenders begin to document the gender-specific violations against them.
Addressing specific attacks against women defenders is only one part of the solution. In addition, the broader environment in which women work should not foster discrimination or impunity. For example, in recent years in Guatemala, an alarming number of women have been brutally murdered and that number continues to increase. Human Rights First is pushing the Guatemalan government to investigate and prevent these gender-based killings. We are also working with Congress in the United States to adopt a resolution condemning these killings and putting forward measures to combat the problem.
November 29 marked the first annual international celebration of women human rights defenders. We participated in festivities to mark this occasion and made commitments to develop our work in support of women’s rights to protect the rights of others. We hope that we will have your support as we continue this project in the years to come.
Learn more about the important work of women human rights defenders and take action to support them >>
Andrew Hudson of HRF’s Human Rights Defenders Program recently traveled to Colombia. He met with a number of human rights defenders in danger, including those who have been imprisoned on spurious rebellion charges and those who have family members assassinated or received death threats, such as Berenice Celeyta. He also met with Colombian, U.S. and U.N. authorities to raise our central demand that the best form of protection would be for the Colombian government to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of the work performed by human rights defenders.
Upon his return, Andrew met with senior State Department officials to discuss whether U.S. aid to Colombia should be certified as complying with legislatively defined human rights conditions. He argued that given the widespread attacks on human rights defenders those conditions were not being met. He also met officials at the Colombian embassy urging them to intervene in a range of cases where defenders are at risk.
Thanks to the approximately 1,000 DAN members who wrote to their Congressional Representatives, the McGovern-Pitts letter on Colombian human rights defenders received over 60 signatures. It will send a strong message to the Colombian government that it must do more to protect defenders. Click here to find out if your Representative signed and, if so, thank him or her for supporting human rights activists in Colombia.
Several Cuban Activists Released from PrisonOver the past few weeks several Cuban activists have been released from prison, including two who have been the focus of sustained advocacy campaigns by Human Rights First and our supporters: Hector Palacios and Oscar Mario Gonzalez. Palacios, a leader of the Varela Project and an independent librarian, was detained during the crackdown on civil society in Cuba in the spring of 2003 and has been suffering from serious health problems since his imprisonment. Gonzalez is an independent journalist detained during a second crackdown in July 2005 and had been held without charges or trial. Both men were detained as punishment for criticizing rights violations by the government and calling for democratic and human rights reforms.Despite these positive developments, severe repression of dissent and human rights advocacy persists in Cuba. On December 10, a peaceful demonstration to celebrate International Human Rights Day was violently broken up by government supporters, who prevented the demonstrators from continuing. In addition, hundreds of activists and journalists remain in prison in Cuba – including 59 of the 75 detained in 2003 – simply for voicing opinions contrary to government views. Several of those individuals, including Jose Luis Garcia Paneque and Normando Hernandez Gonzalez, face serious health problems and inadequate medical treatment. Take Action!
Some Progress in Efforts for Justice in IndonesiaJust weeks after the Indonesian Supreme Court reversed the only murder conviction in the case of slain human rights lawyer Munir, Human Rights First presented its annual award posthumously to the activist and to his wife Suciwati. As part of the lobbying efforts that followed, Suciwati and Usman Hamid, Munir’s friend and successor as director of the human rights organization Kontras, met with congressional staffers, State Department officials, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. After Suciwati’s briefing to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, four Congressmen wrote a letter to the Indonesian president calling for action.Suciwati’s discussions with U.S. government and U.N. bodies were widely covered in the Indonesian press and drew promises to act at home. Since her visit, the Indonesian police have requested the assistance of the FBI, and an Indonesian parliamentary committee called in unusually strong terms for the President to immediately create a new independent commission and release the report of a previous fact-finding team.
Read HRF’s Shadow Report on Honduras