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Attacks fueled by governments’ double standards fail to deter human rights defenders



  • At least 300 defenders killed in 28 countries for their peaceful work in 2023

A faltering international human rights framework and hypocrisy from governments have exacerbated a rising wave of killings, criminalisation and a range of other threats that hampered the work of human rights defenders (HRDs) in 2023, Front Line Defenders said as it launched a new report.

The Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2023/24 gives a detailed panorama of the violations against HRDs across all regions of the world in the last year.

The report also reveals statistics gathered and verified by the HRD Memorial initiative – which Front Line Defenders coordinates – documenting the killings of at least 300 HRDs in 28 countries in 2023. Almost a third of those killed (31%) were Indigenous people’s rights defenders. This brings the total documented killings of HRDs in the last decade to nearly 3,000.

“This appalling wave of attacks on human rights defenders is a direct result of an international human rights framework left in tatters and governments’ double standards when it comes to respecting human rights,” said Alan Glasgow, Executive Director of Front Line Defenders.

“A quarter century after the UN adopted a Declaration on human rights defenders, not enough progress has been made to ensure defenders are valued and protected. In this time, thousands of defenders have paid with their lives and many more face ongoing attacks and intimidation for their peaceful work. Urgent action is needed to change this.”

Wide-ranging risks to HRDs

Globally, the violation most commonly cited by HRDs was arbitrary arrest/detention (15%), followed by legal action (13%), continuing an ongoing trend of criminalisation as the most-reported risk. This was followed by death threats (10.2%), surveillance (9.8%) and physical attacks (8.5%). Trans and non gender-conforming HRDs reported slightly higher rates of physical attacks, and a much greater risk of smear campaigns. Globally, the five most targeted areas of human rights defence were: LGBTIQ+ rights (10.2%); Women’s rights (9.7%); Human rights movements (8.5%); Indigenous peoples’ rights (7.1%); and Human rights documentation (5.2%).

LGBTIQ+ defenders under attack

For the first time, the data show evidence of an onslaught against HRDs working on LGBTIQ+ rights in many parts of the world, comprising over a tenth of all attacks reported globally. LGBTIQ+ defenders were the most targeted group in Africa (23%), and ECA (17%) and among the five most-targeted in Asia and the Pacific.

This reflects a trend in which violence, surveillance, death threats, smear campaigns and other intimidation are increasingly being used to silence and stigmatise LGBTIQ+ defenders. In 2023, LGBTIQ+ defenders accounted for 5% of the killings documented by the HRD Memorial.

Draconian new laws illustrated this alarming trend, including in Uganda, which passed an Anti-Homosexuality Bill allowing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”; and Russia, where the Supreme Court listed the “international LGBT movement” as extremist.

Conflict and crisis

At a time when there are more violent conflicts occurring than at any stage since the Second World War, it has become increasingly clear that HRDs are frequently targeted as a result of the vital work they do in conflict situations.

This was the case in Sudan, where Front Line Defenders documented the killing of eight HRDs. Defenders’ work often puts them at higher risk of violence from warring factions, but they have few dedicated avenues to seek urgent relocation to safety.

Amid Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza, civilians, including HRDs and their families, overwhelmingly bore the brunt of the attacks. HRD journalists, HRD medical workers and other defenders were targeted with killings, violence and arbitrary detention with ill-treatment. The international response to the conflict has exposed deep-rooted hypocrisy on the part of some governments that purport to support human rights.

Wars and crises elsewhere also had a devastating impact on defenders, including in Ukraine, Myanmar, Ethiopia, DRC, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Colombia, Mexico and Syria.

In the hyper-masculinised context of conflict, the risks faced by WHRDs and those advocating for gender justice are exacerbated. According to Front Line Defenders’ data for 2023, defenders promoting and protecting women’s rights in the Middle East and North Africa, where multiple conflicts are ongoing, were the single most at-risk group of HRDs in the region. These challenges ranged from physical attacks and disappearances to criminalisation, threats, online smearing and even targeted killing.

Right to protest trampled

In many parts of the world, public protests against unpopular decisions by governments were met with a violent police response. Instead of engaging in good faith with peaceful protesters and protecting the right to protest, states are moving to restrict it and criminalise those involved in organising or leading protests.According to Front Line Defenders’ 2023 data, where HRDs faced criminal charges, charges related to assembly or public order offences were among those most commonly used.

“Governments around the world must seize the opportunity to see human rights defenders, not as a threat to their grasp on power, but as positive and critical change-makers to improve societies and defend the human rights of their citizens,” said Alan Glasgow.

“Shoring up the embattled international human rights framework, ending hypocrisy on human rights and repealing laws that curtail human rights are among the ways governments can protect human rights defenders and uphold their vital work.”

Source: Frontline Defenders.

Report: Frontline Defender’s Global Analysis 2023/24

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Statement- Uganda: Seven Environmental activists brutally arrested, charged and released on police bail for protesting against the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project



On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala, Uganda and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. This was reported by the Stop the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (StopEACOP) campaign on 29 May 2024.

The seven human rights defenders were peacefully protesting against the intended financing of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP) by the Chinese government. According to the environmental human rights defenders, EACOP has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis. The EACOP is a project led by Total, spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

On 27 May 2024, seven environmental human rights defenders were brutally arrested by armed police in Kampala and charged by the Jinja Road police for unlawful assembly. The seven environmental activists were sitting outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala in an attempt to present a letter of protest to the Chinese Ambassador expressing their complaints and demanding that his government refrain from funding an unfavourable project for them. Due to their arrest occuring before they had any chance of interacting with embassy representatives, their letter was not delivered. The peaceful protesters were violently rounded up by the police, who subsequently packed them in a vehicle and brought them to the Jinja Road police. The seven activists were released on police bail and were due to report back to the Jinja Road police station. On 18 May 2024, following several banks and insurance companies’ withdrawal from EACOP, Civil Society Organizations supporting energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and urged the Chinese President to rescind his interest in funding the project.

Local organizations have been denouncing that, in order to stifle complaints, silence protesters, and maintain pressure on those who defend climate, environment, and land rights, Ugandan authorities have turned to attacking and criminalising environmentalists, climate activists, and defenders of land rights. Uganda has recorded the most number of cases of violations against these human rights defenders, with 18 incidents documented in Africa, according to the Business and Human Rights Resource Center’s 2023 in their report titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023. The majority of these attacks seem to center around the EACOP and the environmental human rights defenders campaigning against the project, which the State regards as a significant infrastructure initiative.

Front Line Defenders expresses its concern for the safety and security of the seven environmental human rights defenders and strongly condemns the recent instances of intimidation, criminalization and police harassment they have been subjected to, as it believes are an act of reprisal for their peaceful and legitimate work in defence of environmental and land rights in Uganda.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities in Uganda to take the necessary measures to guarantee the security and protection of environmental human rights defenders during peaceful protests. The organisation also demands that the brutal arrest of these seven human rights defenders be condemned. Front Line Defenders calls Ugandan authorities to guarantee that all environmental and land human rights defenders, including human rights organisations working on environmental rights, are able to carry out their legitimate activities and operate freely without fear of police harassment.

Source: Frontline Defenders

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TotalEnergies African legacy: 100 years of environmental destruction.



TotalEnergies, the French petro giant company with a legacy of destruction on the continent, this year celebrates 100 years. To be clear, that is 100 years of profit, environmental destruction and damage to people’s lives.

The company’s damage is widespread, extensive and well-documented.

In 1956, TotalEnergies entered Africa, exploiting natural resources as it went along. In chasing down oil and gas, it has wreaked havoc on communities, land, and the environment.

A 2022 study by the Climate Accountability Institute found the total emissions attributed to the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline totals 379 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, making TotalEnergies a key contributor to Africa’s carbon footprint.

As Charity Migwi, a senior campaigner at Oil Change International, a research, communication, and advocacy organisation, notes, the company has its hands on various projects on the continent.

The project noted above will have about 460km of pipeline in the freshwater basin of Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of more than 40 million people in the region. On top of this, there are plans to extract oil from the fields in Uganda as well as the company’s prominent role in the Mozambique LNG Project, which is a major cause of carbon emissions

Closer to home, TotalEnergies has been given the go-ahead to explore for oil and gas off the south-west coast of South Africa, which sparked protests. As the company held its annual general meeting in Paris, France, protests by affected communities, civil society and activists in both countries took place.

Environmental justice group The Green Connection’s community mobilisation officer, Warren Blouw, said in a press release: “TotalEnergies and other oil and gas companies must consider the livelihoods of small-scale fishers, whose economic wellbeing is jeopardised by offshore oil and gas exploration. We must unite to protect Africa and its resources from those who only seek profit, at the cost of regular South Africans.”

Zinhle Mthiyane, of the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, said: “We are protesting to protect the environment and prevent ocean pollution. Drilling for oil and gas in South African waters could degrade the environment, threatening livelihoods and cultural practices.”

One of those affected by TotalEnergies and its hunt for fossil fuels is Sifiso Ntsunguzi, a small-scale fisher from Port St Johns, on the Eastern Cape coast. Ntsunguzi made the trip to France to protest.

“We are in Paris to support the court case against TotalEnergies’ oil and gas projects. As a small-scale fisher and member of a coastal community, I do not support the exploration of oil and gas in the ocean. We use the ocean for cultural practices and as a means to sustain our livelihood. We are against exploration of gas and oil, as it may risk degradation of the environment and marine ecosystems, our livelihood and our health. I come from a fishing community and have become a fisher myself,” he said.

In another press release, environmental justice group Bloom wrote that TotalEnergies has been well aware of its climate harms as far back as the 1970s, yet the company still goes ahead with its oil and gas initiatives.

Initially, its strategy was to deny climate change, wrote Bloom. Now that it can no longer do so, it has changed tact and resorts to greenwashing, described by the United Nations as follows: “By misleading the public to believe that a company or other entity is doing more to protect the environment than it is, greenwashing promotes false solutions to the climate crisis that distract from and delay concrete and credible action.”

Total Energies portrays itself as a serious player in the renewable energy space and constantly punts its renewable efforts while going full steam ahead with its fossil fuel projects.

For example, it said of its project in the Northern Cape: “TotalEnergies and its partners are launching construction of a major hybrid renewables project in South Africa, comprising a 216 megawatt solar plant and a 500 MWh battery storage system to manage the intermittency of solar production.”

Bloom explained that chasing renewables is profitable but nowhere near as profitable as oil and gas, and it in no way negates the harmful search for and use of fossil fuels. For this reason Bloom and two other climate justice groups took TotalEnergies to court.

This case also hopes to halt the expansion of fossil fuel extraction. As The Guardian reports: “A criminal case has been filed against the CEO and directors of the French oil company TotalEnergies, alleging its fossil fuel exploitation has contributed to the deaths of victims of climate-fuelled extreme weather disasters. The case was filed in Paris by eight people harmed by extreme weather, and three NGOs.”

Joyce Kimutai, a climate scientist at the University Of Cape Town, said: “The fossil fuel industry will continue to undermine science, they will continue to expand their businesses,

they will continue to cause suffering to the people as long as they know that the law can’t hold them accountable.”

Whether the case will yield anything remains to be seen, but the important thing is people are standing up and fighting the harmful practices of these fossil fuel companies. International bodies like the UN climate change conferences yield very little results. It is up to us, the people on the ground, to unite for the good of our planet.


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Incredible WIN! European Union withdraws from Energy Charter Treaty



The Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) is an international agreement originally created with a focus on growing fossil fuel energy cooperation after the Cold War. Today, the Treaty is a major obstacle to effective climate action because it protects fossil fuel investments. By including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), the Energy Charter Treaty allows fossil fuel corporations to sue States that act to protect our climate when that action could impact a company’s profits.

Today, we celebrate because the European Council overwhelmingly adopted the EU’s proposal to exit the controversial Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), an outdated international investment agreement that protects and promotes fossil fuel investments.

CIEL and other organizations across Europe have worked tirelessly to educate European decision-makers about the dangers of the Energy Charter Treaty. Together, we proved how the treaty prevents effective climate action and is fundamentally incompatible with EU law.

This pivotal vote follows up an EU Commission’s proposal for the EU and European Atomic Energy Community to exit the Energy Charter Treaty.

The Commission found the ECT incompatible with the EU’s laws, investment policy and law, and energy and climate goals. Its proposal broke months of deadlock by offering EU countries the option to remain in the treaty while allowing other countries to exit. The European Parliament also adopted a resolution in April 2024 calling on the EU to withdraw from the ECT.

Today’s vote proves that people power can win critical victories!

Join us in celebrating this victory for the people, the environment, and the climate!

Demonstrators wear masks with the EU leaders under a sword that reads Energy Charter Treaty.

Why does this matter?

Fossil fuel investors have used the Energy Charter Treaty to sue States when they take climate action, claiming a right to compensation for alleged loss of investments. If they are serious about climate action, States must disentangle themselves from investor protections that allow fossil fuel companies to sue them in private courts when States act in the public interest to phase out fossil fuels. States could be squeezed from both sides: sued by communities for their climate inaction with ever greater frequency, and sued by investors when they do act to phase out the fossil fuel drivers of the climate crisis and accelerate the energy transition.

CIEL has worked for a long time to dismantle ISDS and ensure that the perspectives of communities inform ongoing arbitration.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads 'Exit the Energy Charter Treaty'

Policymakers in Europe, and beyond, now have a duty to end their dependency on fossil fuels, exit the ISDS system that allows industry to sue States for enacting public interest policies, and accelerate the clean energy transition.

This win in Europe is a milestone in the fight against investor state dispute settlements. Now, we are leveraging this momentum for other States and clearing the way for effective climate action around the world.

Today we celebrate this victory with you. Tomorrow we will continue working to uproot the fossil economy driving the climate crisis, and the trade and investment deals that stand in the way of a renewable energy future.


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