By and large, the seventy-year-old Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) remains a “secret document”, still unknown to most of the seven billion beings that the document says declares have rights simply by being human. Starting with the UDHR on 1948, the United Nations has been quite proficient in codifying and explaining human rights in declarations, covenants, general comments and reports, but not so much in implementing it and ensuring its enjoyment. Deprivation and violation of human rights are rampant, human rights as well as human rights defenders are being attacked, and impunity remains a great global challenge.
Are human rights a failed concept? Should we abandon human rights advocacy? No, the recognition of human rights was born of the peoples’ historical struggles against deprivation and violation, we are beholden to this legacy and we say … STRUGGLE ON!
Suffragettes made great sacrifices for women to have the right to vote. Workers had to endure widespread exploitation and repression before their fight for dignified work resulted in the labor principles as just remuneration, equal pay for equal work, favorable conditions of work, and trade union rights. Generations of indigenous peoples all over the world struggled for recognition of their right to identity, culture, self determination and to their ancestral territories before these rights have been rather grudgingly recognized in national and international laws. We must remember that it is because of such peoples’ struggles as theirs that the traditional power elite have been compelled to recognize human rights in laws such as the UDHR, not because of any rational persuasion or moral generosity on their part.
Just as we are indebted to past human rights struggles, we are also bound to present-day resisters, defenders and activists who continue to champion collective human rights to survival, development and self-determination, and struggle on to defend communities and the environment against destruction and plunder.
The twenty-year UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (UNDHRD) obligates states to respect and promote their work as well as protect them from any abuse or violation. But in Asia-Pacific, we see governments limiting the democratic space where environmental human rights defenders work, criminalizing their activities, threatening and harassing them, perpetrating violence and even killings of defenders and activists.
It is the continuing struggle of environmental human rights defenders in the face of such adversity that gives us cause to celebrate this Human Rights Day.
- We are inspired by Indonesian anti mining activist Budi Pego who continues to stand against neoliberal plunder of resources even after serving time in prison when Indonesian authorities penalized him using an old anti-communist law after police alleged that he unfurled a hammer and sickle banner in an anti-mining protest.
- We are encouraged by the resilience of Russian activist Andrey Rudomakha who got back to environmental activism after receiving threats and surviving a brutally attack by masked goons when he investigated an illegal construction in the forested area near the Black Sea.
- We are moved by Palestinian defenders of the Khan al Ahmar community who have braved waves of violence from security forces in several attempts by the Israeli occupation authority to demolish and displace the Jahalin Bedouin families of Khan al Ahmar in their bid to consolidate control over land and resources east of Jerusalem.
- We are stirred by the success of the Orang Asli communities of Malaysia in stopping deforestation inside their customary land by logging and plantation operations of corporations for half a year before their road blockade was forcefully dismantled by Kelantan state authorities.
- We are humbled by the sacrifices of Datu Dande Dinyan and Marivic Danyan who despite grave threats continue the work of Datu Victor Danyan of reclaiming land of the T’boli-Manobo communities encroached upon by a coffee plantation in Southern Philippines. Datu Victor was killed along with seven others in a military operation on December 3 last year. Datu Dande took over the leadership of the Taboli-Manobo S’daf Claimants Organization (TAMASCO). Marivic, the daughter of Datu Victor, also lost her husband and two brothers in the massacre but has remained strong in seeking justice for her family and community.
Environmental Human Rights Defenders are at risk because they are fighting against a system that exploits people and nature, concentrates wealth and power in the hands of a few, and has brought the planet to the brink of collapse. They have fought for collective human rights and thus their own individual human rights are at risk or have been violated. It is imperative that we support as well as protect them in their advocacies.
Their struggles, along with countless other environmental human rights defenders, give meaning to the principles contained in the UDHR and the UNDHRD. On the occasion of the 70 years of the UDHR and 20 years of the UNDHRD we – Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific – reaffirm our commitment to the struggles of environmental human rights defenders in defense of communities and the environment, as well as to the protection of their work, lives and human rights. STRUGGLE ON!
For further information, please contact:
Romel de Vera
FoE Asia Pacific Environmental Human Rights Defenders Project Coordinator
Tel: +63 917 700 2301 Email: email@example.com