From the 17th til the 23rd of July this year, three human rights defenders from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras left their homes and headed North of the contient in order to participate in a speaker tour organised by PBI in Washington DC. The tours we organise to the United States are always aimed at shedding light on the security situation for human rights defenders before key actors who can advocate in some way to improve their protection on the ground.
This tour focused on the specifically vulnerable situation of defenders of land, territory and the environment in the region, the attacks they receive for their work and their protection needs. One of the objectives of the delegation was to shed light on the violence that accompanies "development" in many territories, as well as the damage caused by the participation of military forces involved in acts of repression against communities in resistance. Another objective was to highlight the lack of protection offered by the governments of Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico to those who defend economic, social and cultural rights and assure commitments from those who the defenders would meet with to advocate for improvements in their security conditions.
Throughout the week the defenders had the opportunity to speak directly and honestly about their respective situations of risk due to the work that each one carries out in defense of land and territory in their countries. They met with 14 offices of members of the Congress and Senate and the State Department. They also spoke to different NGOs to bring them updated information about their various cases and seek international support for their causes.
Next to Raúl Caal Ical, member of the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón that oppose the hydroelectric dam in Oxec in Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, and Ariel Madrid, human rights lawyer from the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice in Honduras, José Ángel Rivas Vega, member of the indigenous community Ódami and Field Coordinator of the Sierra Madre Alliance (ASMAC) explained the situation in which he lives due to his work defending land and territory in the Sierra Tarahumara in the state of Chihuahua.
José Ángel dedicates part of his work in ASMAC to advising conservation and environmental protection projects with a cultural perspective. He also participates in interpretation and cultural translation of human rights documents belonging to indigenous communities. He also works as an interpretor and translator in hearings in the Supreme Court of Justice in Chihuahua.
The organisation ASMAC was created in the nineties and was constituted as a civilian association in 2007. ASMAC works with communities in the Sierra Tarahumara, promoting their right to defend their land and territory, their access to natural resources, right to food, education and the full enjoyment and practice of their cultural traditions.
ASMAC´s work is structured in three main areas: defense of human rights of indigenous communities; biocultural conservation; and the promotion of the sustainability of communities that includes topics such as access to water, food security and the fight against impoverished soils. As well as accompanying and empowering indigenous communities so they know and demand their rights, ASMAC also participates in processes of dialogue between authorities and other civil society actors in order to make them more senstivie to the rights of the communities.
The world of advocacy in Washington DC is far from the reality of the Sierra Tarahumara in Chihuahua and it is sometimes difficult for people in the United States to fully understand the needs of those in the territories. However, José Ángel returns to his home full of lessons learnt from the tour to the United States and commitments by various actors that could translate into improved security conditions for him and his organisation.
PBI will work to ensure that the promises and commitments achieved during speaking tours materialise so that the support networks of human rights defenders remain informed about their needs and react so they remain protected.