On the eve of International Human Rights Day (Dec.10) and during the global campaign for 16 Days of Activism, newly-elected Indonesian President Jokowi Widodo announced that he would give imprisoned land rights activist, Eva Bande,presidential pardon. Eva, a member of the JASS-inspired youth organization, FAMM-Indonesia, was imprisoned on and off since 2011 for peacefully organizing against national palm oil corporations’ extractive projects which were exploiting resources and displacing her community. FAMM-Indonesia and dozens of women’s rights organizations across Indonesia and Southeast Asia mobilized global support by leading social media campaigns, online petitions and solidarity marches to pressure the government to release Eva. “This is a source of strength for us. Our struggles, our months and years of campaigning for Eva Bande’s release finally paid off,” says Niken Lestari, national coordinator of FAMM-Indonesia. Eva was released on Dec. 19 and held a press conference on Dec. 20, “I am a local activist [working on] local issues. Granting a pardon [does not stop] cases of land conflicts in the region. The farmers are still struggling.”
Who is Eva Bande?
Eva Bande has been organizing against land grabs by corporations for years. Working alongside farmers and indigenous peoples, she led the fight against companies—PT Kurnia Luwuk Sejati (KLS) and PT Berkat Hutan Pusaka (BHP)—who were converting cacao land plantations into palm oil plantations in Sulawesi (an island in Indonesia). Despite the local government’s allocation of reforestation funds for these cacao lands, the KLS and BHP began seizing these lands by closing and destroying roads leading to the cacao plantations—eventually displacing the cacao farmers.
On May 26, 2011, Eva and hundreds of farmers led protests against KLS and BHP and demanded the repair of the damaged roads. When Eva tried to ease the escalating tensions, she was arrested for allegedly inciting people to act violently, which was not the case.
Fast forward to May 15, 2014. Eva who has been on parole for three years since 2011 was rearrested, along with two farmer leaders. In her seven months in jail, FAMM-Indonesia (or Young Indonesian Women Activists’ Forum) led local, regional and international campaigns to release Eva from prison on the ground that she was wrongly accused.
Criminalizing Activists Is a Trend
Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, women activists have had similar experiences. In Cambodia, Thailand and thePhilippines, hundreds of women are serving jail terms for protecting their territories against land grabs. Local and multinational companies are embarking on large-scale development projects, which not only displace people but also destroy the environment. Local governments often work hand-in-hand with these companies to exploit resources in the name of job creation and “development.”
In November, Kong Channtha, along with six other land rights activists from the Boeung Kak Lake community were arrested for blocking a road in Phnom Penh in a demonstration demanding respect for their land rights. Two pregnant peasant activists from the Philippines—Andrea Rosal and Maria Miradel Torres—were locked up for allegedly taking part in criminal activities. Both women were denied immediate medical attention which led to thedeath of Andrea’s two-day-old daughter and to Maria Miradel’s induced abortion.
Calls for Justice for Activists in Defense of Land and Territories
The increasing number of cases of violence against women activists and their arrests prompted JASS Southeast Asia to focus its annual One Day, One Voice regional campaign during 16 Days of Activism on these women. This year’s theme, “Justice for All Women Human Rights Defenders” honoured all the courageous women activists in prison through a series of art performances, media events, peace marches, dialogues, bazaars, film screenings, and lantern lightings in Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand, Timor L’este and the Philippines.
Eva was one of the activists that JASS Southeast Asia and FAMM spotlighted and mobilized global support for. Eva was released on Dec. 19, while the other two farmers were released on bail. JASS and FAMM-Indonesia joined thousands of activists to welcome her. Eva’s release is living proof that with collective action, everything is possible.
This presidential pardon has given hope to other activists across Southeast Asia—that all women human rights defenders—those who have been jailed, forcibly disappeared, and killed—be given justice. In the meantime women’s rights groups will continue to organize and spotlight women activists who are being targeted for their justice work. Eva will continue to fight for the charges against the other two farmers to be dropped and for the rest of the 140 farmers and human rights activists, including agrarian activists, who are also in jail—to be released. As Eva wrote in a poem, “You silenced me with prison…but you can’t silence my soul, my struggle, my voice.”
This is an update by WHRDIC member JASS and also appeared at Protection International: http://protectionline.org/
The Women Crossing the Line mini-documentary series showcases the stories of brave and resilient WHRD from Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala, developed by the Nobel Women’s Initiative in collaboration with JASS Mesoamérica.
Watch the first chapter: Defensoras in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala
The second chapter is Women Crossing the Line: Breaking the Silence on Violence against Women in Honduras. In this 15 minute documentary we meet the strong and resilient women of Honduras working to shape a brighter future for their country. You can to hear Gilda and Beta speak about how women are mobilizing to promote peace and democracy in Honduras.
Finally, we have Women Crossing the Line: Defending Mother Earth. In Defending Mother Earth we meet women risking their lives to protect their communities against the negative impacts of mining operations in Guatemala. This is the third chapter of the 3 mini-documentary series that spotlights women Human Rights Defenders in Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Here’s a snapshot of the situation of WHRDs in Asia in 2014 from Forum Asia.
On Thursday, 20 November at 4 pm GMT leading Arab women human rights defenders Alaa Murabit (Libya), Sally Zohney (Egypt) and Atiaf Al-Wazir (Yemen) spoke at a web forum about the human rights situation in their region. Watch it now:
Alaa Murabit (Libya) – Founder, The Voice of Libyan Women, and Advisor to UN Women, at age 21 Alaa was – in the midst of the Libyan Revolution – listed by the Gaddafi regime as one of the “most wanted” women due to her activities. The Voice of Libyan Women organised the first ever International Women’s Conference in Libya.
Sally Zohney (Egypt) – Founding member of Baheya Ya Masr, an Egyptian women’s rights movement, Sally has been a active participant in Egyptian social movements since before 2011. Sally organises anti-sexual harrassment rallies and protests in Cairo, and was featured in a recent Front Line Defenders documentary on gender-based violence and harassment against Egyptian WHRDs.
Atiaf Al-Wazir (Yemen) – Co-Founder of the media advocacy group SupportYemen, Atiaf is a researcher and writer focusing on social movements in Yemen, gender dynamics, and the role of regional and international policy. Since the end of January 2011, she chronicled the Yemeni revolution on her blog with commentaries, videos, and photographs.
Viewers will be able to post questions to the panelists throughout the event. Following the broadcast, the video link will be available on the Front Line Defenders website (www.frontlinedefenders.org).
We hope to see you there!
Leyla Yunus is one of Azerbaijan’s most prominent women human rights defenders. She is the founder and chair of Azerbaijan’s Institute for Peace and Democracy. Her work includes projects to protect political prisoners, defend women’s rights, combat torture, corruption, human trafficking, and property rights violations, as well as monitoring court proceedings.
VOTE NOW in the Tulip Award: http://www.humanrightstulip.nl/candidates-and-voting/leyla-yunus
Leyla Yunus has been in prison since 30 July, when she was arrested on trumped up charges of treason as well as other crimes. The Nasimi District Court subsequently sentenced Dr Yunus to three months pre-trial detention, although it did not explain the basis for the charges. In prison, she has suffered violence from her cellmate and her health is deteriorating.
Leyla also finds hersef separated from her husband who is also detained. Read about their story of love and activism in the Guardian profile, Together a lifetime, Azerbaijan couple now separated in jail.
Is it really a whole year since we lost Sunila Abeysekera? She remains such a strong presence in the global feminist movements, a shining light and inspiration for all of us. Feminist activist, women’s rights and human rights activist, peace builder since the early 1970s, she is remembered and celebrated by countless people whose lives she touched.
Sunila was awarded the UN Human Rights Prize in 1998 for her tireless defence of human rights and for her peace-building efforts in her home country of Sri Lanka. Her much deserved international acclaim did not keep Sunila from continuing her activism in grassroots feminist initiatives. Sunila was first and foremost a feminist activist, an organizer and a catalyst in local, national, regional and global feminist and other social movements.
From the very beginning of her activism, Sunila was aware or the importance of information and communication in empowering women. She was a founding member of the Women and Media Collective in Colombo, Sri Lanka and founder of INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre.
The story of Sunila’s early activism and emergence as a feminist is a part of the legacy she left to all of us. It also makes for fascinating reading: In “We were Feminist First” Kumudini Samuel writes about “Sunila’s contribution to catalyzing the activism of the nascent feminist/women’s movement of the early 1980s and the feminist theorizing she encouraged to underpin this activism.”
Sunila was a consummate networker. She brought feminist activists together. She participated in and contributed to so many women’s organisations. Isis International is one of them. She had a long and active association with Isis International and was a member of the Isis International Board of Trustees from 1998 – 2001. She was also a good friend, one of those with whom you could take up where you left off even after a long absence.
“Sunila was a consummate networker. She brought feminist activists together.”
Sunila wrote for Isis International many times over the years. We would like to share with you some of her writings:
In “Voices of Women: Media Alternatives in Sri Lanka” (1984), Sunila presciently wrote “the development of alternative forms of communication is a must for the growth of the women’s movement”. The publication in which it appeared was itself an epitome of alternative communication in its time. It was a collaborative action by three feminist organizations: Isis International, the Pacific and Asian Women’ Forum network (PAWF) and the newly-founded feminist publisher Kali for Women. The publication, Isis International Journal “Women and Media: Analysis, Alternatives and Action” was edited by Kamla Bhasin and Bina Agarwal with contributions from feminist organizations in Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It was printed in India by Kali for Women.
Sunila’s life-long work as a peace activist was built on a deep understanding of the complex situation of the long civil war in Sri Lanka and its effects on women of different ethnic backgrounds, both as victims and as protagonists and peace builders. Her analysis “Women and Peace in Sri Lanka” was published in Isis International’s journal “Women in Action” (WIA 3:1999).
In “Are You Proud Being You? A Discussion on Racism, Prejudice, Discrimination and Women” (WIA September 2001) Sunila wrote: “In May 2000, at the Isis office in Manila, we began a conversation about ourselves and our feelings about all the different expressions of identity and identity-based political formations that we were experiencing throughout Asia. We wanted to become more aware of the issues at stake as we moved into different forms of involvement and activism around the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) which is due to be held in South Africa in 2001. At the same time, it was clear that achieving a more sophisticated understanding of these complex issues would help us in the work we do around women in conflict situations, who are often caught between their identities as individuals and as members of tribes and communities…”
Sunila analysed “Shifting Feminisms: From Intersectionality to Political Ecology” in Women in Action. (WIA 2007/2 Feminist Political Ecology)
Her article on “Social Movements, Feminist Movements and the State: A Regional Perspective” is placed within the wider context of the global feminist movements. (WIA 2004/2 Examining Feminist and Social Movements)
During a rare free moment, at Sunila’s home in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2004, Sunila Abeysekera and Marilee Karl sat down together to reflect on concerns about gender mainstreaming in the women’s movement. The result was the article “Gender Mainstreaming: An Obsolete Concept?: A Conversation between Two Long-Time Feminist Activists”, published in Women in Action (WIA 2004/2). Ten years later, it is still very relevant.
This represents just a very tiny sample of Sunila’s enormous contributions to global feminist and social movements and the many other organisations she with which she worked. Her impact lives on in the hearts and work of so many. We love you, Sunila!
This post originally appeared at Isis International and has been re-published with permission.
Marilee Karl co-founded Isis International in 1974 and is an honorary member of the Board of Trustees.
WHRDs face a variety of risks and violations in their work. The WHRDIC report: Our Right To Safety (PDF 1MB ) is an effort to assess the various mechanisms that have been developed to provide protection to WHRDs at risk, including initiatives developed by national governments, and regional and international human rights bodies.
When asked what protection and security meant to her, a women human rights defender explained: “I am a single mother and had to leave my home with my daughter and be relocated. I had to look for a job in my new place of residence and could not take care of my daughter, so I requested the state if they could cover these expenses as part of the relocation scheme. But the state did not understand that this should be part of the protection measures.”
Another defender interviewed for the research also explained that when they were negotiating with the government to cover certain expenses related to education and health under the protection measure, the government responded that the goal of their protection measures was not to eradicate poverty.
These examples—as well as the many others that are included in the publication—help illustrate the complex situations that WHRDs face when they are threatened with violence because of their work. It is this complexity that this new publication seeks to address.
The variety of risks and violations that WHRDs face requires the adoption of differential support programs and gender-specific protection measures, taking into account the contexts in which women defenders live and work as well as other conditions and identities present in the diversity of WHRDs. The WHRDIC has developed this publication in an effort to assess the various mechanisms that have been developed to provide protection to WHRDs at risk, including initiatives developed by national governments, and regional and international human rights bodies.
While these initiatives are encouraging, WHRDs have expressed concerns about the inadequacy of many measures to address all their needs. In our conversations with WHRDs, a number of compelling questions emerged:
Do protection schemes take into account the unequal economic conditions that WHRDs face in most societies and how this increases their vulnerability and their ability to confront risk? Do they take into account the responsibility that many WHRDs have as the primary or sole caregiver in their families? Do protection measures move beyond physical protection and provide psychosocial support and access to other necessary health services?
These are some of the questions that we have explored in this publication, and which have helped us develop a more profound understanding of the meaning of gender-sensitive protection measures and the unique security concerns confronting WHRDs.
In responding to these questions, WHRDs have emphasized the need to advance an integrated concept of security that takes into account the historical, cultural, political and social contexts in which they live. That is—a concept of protection that takes into account how WHRDs experience human rights violations differently because of their gender and other economic, social, and cultural factors.
 Interview with Valentina Rosendo Cantú and Centro de Tlachinollan, Mexico.
It’s the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in New York and this year, the focus is on what should happen in development after the Millennium Development Goals end in 2015.
The majority of members of the WHRDIC are going to be in New York for the CSW, engaged in a whole range of activities to ensure that women’s rights are upheld in future plans for eradicating poverty.
Over the 2 weeks, there’s the official meetings between UN member states, as well as side events, which are State sponsored events in the UN building, and open to people who are registered with the UN (this includes NGOs), and parallel events, run by NGOs outside the UN complex and open to everyone.
This year, the WHRDIC is part of 2 events:
A panel about the Resolution on WHRDs that was passed in November last year.10 March 2014 1:15-2:3pm Conference Room 7 (NLB) (max. capacity: 85) Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Please only RSVP if you require a Special Event Ticket (SET). If you are already accredited to CSW, you do not require an SET. RSVP deadline: Thursday 6 March by 1:00pm.
Co-sponsored with Norway, Nobel Women’s Initiative, ICAN, JASS Meso-America, International Service for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Association for Women in Rights and Development, Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition Protect Women Human Rights Defenders.
Since 2005, the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition has brought together over 30 organisations to form a global network to protect and support women human rights defenders (WHRDs).
Our groundbreaking work has helped to identify and document gender-specific experiences of women defenders and promote global recognition of the discrimination, abuse and violence that women defenders face on a daily basis.
Coalition members and defenders will discuss prevention and protection mechanisms, the importance of documenting our advocacy and the violations we face, and other creative acts of resistance.Wednesday, March 12, at 8:30am Hardin Room, Church Center United Nations (CCUN) 777 United Nations Plaza.
WHRDIC supports many women human rights defenders who fight for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to be free from female genital mutilation (FGM).
Despite being banned by the United Nations, this harmful practice continues to affect over 100 million women worldwide.
With almost four out of every five women in The Gambia experiencing FGM, it is a brave woman indeed who would campaign against such an established practice.
Dr. Isatou Touray, co-founder and executive director of Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices (GAMCOTRAP), is committed to ‘knife-dropping’, or ending the brutal custom of FGM in her country.
In alliance with other activists, she established GAMCOTRAP in 1984 to to protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of women and children in The Gambia against such practices as FGM, early and forced marriage, and violence against women.
The organisation’s inspiring training sessions for women, circumcision practitioners, and community and religious leaders, have left many participants with a new understanding of FGM and a resolve to discontinue the practice.
GAMCOTRAP frequently calls on politicians to outlaw FGM, and is active in the media, despite Government restrictions on media reporting of FGM.
The organisation also runs conferences and events on the topic. One of the most significant of these was the bringing together of religious leaders and medical personnel at a symposium in 1998.
The result was the landmark Banjul Declaration, in which attendees condemned the use of religion to justify FGM. This important event was one of the early international declarations on FGM.
This work of GAMCOTRAP has resulted in over 100 practitioners of circumcision abandoning the practice, while helping women’s issues to be heard in public, and changing community attitudes towards FGM.
These successes have come at a price for Dr Touray, who has long been targeted for her work.
She had to resign from her position as Deputy Director General of The Management Development Institute, where she had established a gender and development unit, after receiving repeated warnings from authorities about her gender equality advocacy.
This harassment is all too common in The Gambia, where human rights defenders have been intimidated, detained, sentenced to death, or disappeared.
Dictatorial Gambian President Jammeh has reportedly said, “If you think that you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it.”
Women Human Rights Defenders, such as Dr Touray, are perceived as particularly challenging to the status quo, and are systematically targeted in order to discredit and silence them. Several WHRDs have been imprisoned, and President Jammeh has stated that he can not personally guarantee the safety of anti-FGM activists.
Despite these threats, Dr Touray continues her vital work, fighting for women’s health and human rights in a society that decrees most women second-class citizens.
Dr. Touray has been recognised with a number of awards, including 2008 ‘Gambian of the Year’, the 2008 US Ambassadorial Prize for ‘International Woman of Courage’, and the 2011 FAMEDEV Gender Award.