Swedwatch works with women human rights defenders challenging irresponsible business operations and rights abuses around the world and is highlighting their work ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March 2020.

In Peru’s Ica valley, the local CSO Human Rights Commission of Ica (CODEHICA) has worked to promote human rights for over 30 years. The group has issued several reports on the poor working conditions and environmental impacts related to the agro-export sector. The Ica valley is a major export zone for fruit and vegetables and agribusiness is a significant employer.

However, the over exploitation of groundwater reserves has led to an acute water crisis for local communities. Defenders raising these concerns are opposed by a powerful economic and political elite closely connected to the agro-export sector.

Rosario Huancaya has worked in CODEHICA communications team for over 20 years and received multiple death threats.

What sort of retaliation have you faced in your role as a defender?

When we started to address the working conditions in the farms in 2010, we were heavily criticised and smeared. The media here in Ica is not independent for the most part, and is often closely linked to the political and economic elite engaged in the agro-export sector. During these years they accused CODEHICA of making people lose their jobs. As a communications officer I am always visible and therefore they go after me. In 2012 I received an envelope with a bullet and a note saying “the next one will go to your body”. I also received death threats on the phone twice. We reported it to the police but never knew who they were from.

How have these attacks affected you?

As a woman it is harder because you are perceived as vulnerable. The kinds of attacks you have to stand up to as a woman defender are not the same as for men. I live alone and don’t use makeup. That has been used against me many times. On various occasions they have called me a terrorist and showed my face on TV, comparing me to a girlfriend of a famous guerrilla leader, just because of how I look. A man would never be attacked in that way. It is personal and gets under your skin.

I have felt bad many times for my family, for what they have to hear about me. With all the bad things that are repeated, people start thinking that some of it must be true. In our country, many people think that we are terrorists and guerrilla supporters just because we talk about human rights. The social conflicts in our society are still huge. Being a human rights activist means being uncomfortable. It has closed many doors for me in my personal life and sometimes I ask myself why I am still doing this. But I have to. There are so many issues to address still so we simply can’t stop yet.

This interview is from the Swedwatch report Defenders at Risk: Attacks on Human Rights and Environmental Defenders and the Responsibility of Business

  • Industry: Agriculture and food
  • Publication: Article
  • Region: Latin American
  • Themes: Environment and climate

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