Human Rights Defenders Toolbox published

The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox is the first
centralised online resource for rural communities and lawyers dealing with
corporate human rights violations (also available in Spanish). It comprises a
range of legal fact sheets designed to inform and assist human rights defenders
in their struggles to uphold the rule of law in the face of corporate
aggression. The launch could have a global impact as the Toolbox draws on
international law and has universal application.

The Human Rights Defenders Toolbox was produced by law firm Simmons & Simmons in collaboration with PBI UK and was nominated for the 2019 Law Society Legal Excellence award for Excellence in Pro Bono. The resource is available here.

Steps so far in 2019 - overview

February.   The Alliance wrote a letter of concern to Foreign Office minister Sir Alan Duncan. The letter noted the Alliance’s serious concerns around the disappearance of Mexican human rights defender Obtilia Eugenio, who works for the protection of human rights of the Mepha'a Indigenous People and has exposed sexual violence against indigenous women in the state of Guerrero. Five days after her disappearance Obtilia was released by her captors due to the pressure from the international community. Obtilia stated publicly that the support of the international community was instrumental in setting her free and thanked PBI and the Alliance for its support.

February.   The Alliance wrote to the newly appointed president of Mexico Lopez Obrador congratulating him on his taking office and drawing his attention to the serious international concern regarding the protection of human rights defenders within Mexico. The Alliance drew attention to the 32 recorded murders of human rights defenders in Mexico in 2018 and the victimisation of legal practitioners fighting to uphold the rule of law.

April.   The Alliance wrote to the Ambassador for Guatemala in the United Kingdom Acisclo Valladares Molina expressing concern about the trend towards the criminalisation of Human Rights Defenders in the country. The Alliance had received information regarding criminalisation processes against indigenous leaders and land rights defenders who protest against hydro-electric power projects in Guatemala. The letter outlined concern about this trend and specifically over the criminalisation of jailed indigenous leader Bernardo Caal Xol.

October.   The Alliance has written to his Excellency Ambassador Romero-Martinez, the Honduran Ambassador to the United Kingdom, to express concerns about the changes to the Honduran Penal Code. The wording and articles of the new code have the potential to restrict fundamental freedoms in the country. The code is broadly formulated and vague and could lead to criminalisation of peaceful protest. Certain provision may infringe upon the right to freedom of expression and the definition in the code of crimes of terrorism and usurpation risk the possibility that a range of peaceful activities, that do not merit being defined as such in accordance with international human rights standards, could become criminalised.

November.  On Thursday 14 November 2019, PBI UK and the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk announced the winners of the second Sir Henry Brooke Awards for Human Rights Defenders.

This year, one award was presented to Donald Hernandez, a lawyer who has defied personal risk in order to pursue justice for environmental defenders and to protect the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests in Honduras.

The other award was jointly presented to two women human rights lawyers from Mexico, Maricela Vazquez and Carla Palacios,  who have stood out for their commitment to fighting torture and forced disappearance in a dangerous and threatening environment, particularly for women.

The awards were presented by Lord Phillips KG QC, the first president of the Supreme Court of Justice at the London headquarters of Linklaters, kindly hosted by Sir Christopher Bellamy QC.

November.  The Alliance has written to His Excellency President Iván Duque Márquez of Colombia to draw his attention to concerns that the Alliance has about the safety of the legal representatives of victims in the cases against the Uribe Vélez family, and especially human rights defenders and lawyers Mr Franklin Castañeda, Mr Reynaldo Villalba, Mr Danilo Rueda and Mr Daniel Prado Albarracín.