Empowering defenders in Quito

ARTICLE | 11 March 2019

Mining, oil, agriculture and hydropower – the list was long when human rights defenders mapped problematic sectors in a Quito workshop arranged by Swedwatch and Solidarity Sweden – Latin America.

Globally, 2018 was a violent year for defenders working on business and land rights. According to data collected by Front Line Defenders, 321 defenders in 27 countries were targeted and killed for their work during the year – the highest number ever on record. More than three-quarters were defending land, environmental or indigenous peoples’ rights, often in the context of extractive industries and state-aligned mega projects. Notably, a majority were active in Latin America.

In Colombia, the rise in attacks towards defenders has been closely linked to illegal armed groups fighting for control over territories abandoned by the FARC guerrilla after the signing of the peace agreement in 2016. Simultaneously, in Ecuador, new investments in the mining sector, criticized for being established without consultation with the country’s affected indigenous population, has led to violent protests.

In order to contribute to the empowerment of human rights and environmental rights defenders, Swedwatch arranged a workshop and training session in Quito, Ecuador, in December 2018. In the workshop, many of the participants shared the perception that there had been an increase in violence and threats in the area. Mining, oil, agriculture and hydropower were percieved as particularly problematic sectors.

In the two-day workshop, 14 participants representing a wide range of civil society organisations from Colombia and Ecuador were provided training on different ways to monitor and report on human rights and environmental risks and impacts related to business activities. The workshop also encouraged the sharing of lessons-learned amongst participants regarding challenges and approaches in their communities as well as in international norms and standards on business and human rights.

“Getting the chance to exchange experiences with other defenders and see that we are not alone gives us new strength to continue the work in our communities”, one of the Colombian participants said after the workshop.

The workshop was arranged in collaboration with Swedwatch’s member organisation Solidarity Sweden-Latin America, who’s main focus is to promote the rights of indigenous communities and small-scale farmers in Latin America.