As global democracy retreats, ethnic cleansing is on the rise

Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr
Emergency shelter and supplies are being provided to displaced people in the Rakhine State in western Burma. Photo: DFID-UK Department for International Development / Flickr

By Michael J. Abramowitz and Arch Puddington
25 February 2019

(The Diplomat) – Ethnic cleansing, a staple of geopolitical crises in the 1990s, is making a comeback. According to Freedom in the World, the annual report on political rights and civil liberties published by Freedom House, the number of countries earning a score deduction for some form of forced demographic change increased from three in 2005 to 11 in 2018.

In the bloodiest cases, civilians from targeted groups have been killed or displaced in huge numbers. The military in Myanmar engaged in an orgy of rape, murder, and arson in a campaign to push the Muslim Rohingya minority into neighboring Bangladesh. During a period of extreme violence that began in mid-2017, tens of thousands of Rohingya were killed and over 700,000 fled.

In Syria’s multisided war, belligerents including the Assad regime and the Islamic State have engineered mass displacement, starvation, and purges of entire communities. And in South Sudan, both pro-government and rebel fighters have committed atrocities against civilians from rival ethnic groups, though government-aligned forces have been responsible for the worst abuses.

But the most violent outbreaks should not be allowed to overshadow or excuse more subtle efforts to forcibly alter the ethnic or religious makeup of a population. In Bahrain, the repressive Sunni monarchy has engaged in a long-term attempt to erode the Shiite majority and tip the country’s demographic balance in favor of the Sunni minority. Among other steps, the state has revoked the citizenship of hundreds of Shiite Bahrainis, and outlawed Shiite activists and opposition parties that object to such policies.

Ethnic cleansing became a global concern during the Balkan wars and the genocidal slaughter in Rwanda in the 1990s. Given the belated international response to those crises, some in the democratic world advanced a doctrine called the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which obliges states to protect all populations from genocide and ethnic cleansing, and to intervene before the killing begins. At a 2005 UN summit, every country in the world signed a commitment to R2P.

Since that optimistic moment, democracy has been in retreat. In country after country, strongmen have eviscerated independent media, captured the judiciary, and stage-managed elections to perpetuate their rule. The failure of the United States and other democratic powers to respond effectively to these abuses has encouraged major autocracies to embrace more extreme measures, like forced demographic change, in pursuit of their domestic or geopolitical agendas.

The world’s democracies have appeared powerless to stop tragedies like those in Myanmar and Syria, whereas Russia and Iran have provided indispensable support to the regime in Damascus, and China has served as a key diplomatic backstop for Myanmar.

Indeed, both Moscow and Beijing are carrying out demographic engineering operations of their own.

Since its seizure of Crimea, the Kremlin has systematically enhanced the Russian military and civilian presence in the territory while deporting Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars, or forcing their departure through acts of persecution.

China is engaged in campaigns to transform the populations of three regions with sizable ethnic minorities: Tibet, Inner Mongolia, and Xinjiang. While all three feature organized, long-term efforts to encourage settlement by members of the Han Chinese majority and suppress the cultures and languages of the indigenous minorities, the most ambitious and brutal project is under way in Xinjiang.

Conditions in the region deteriorated sharply during the past two years as more than 1 million ethnic Muslims were detained in a vast network of “re-education” centers to undergo political and religious indoctrination. The number and size of orphanages and boarding schools have also been expanded to absorb the growing number of minority children who have been sent away for immersive Chinese-language education or whose parents are being held in the camps. Cases of torture and deaths in custody were reported throughout 2018, as was evidence that Uyghurs were transferred in large numbers to detention facilities in other provinces.

Chinese officials use reassuring terms to describe their concentration camps and ethnic removal plans, referring to urban renewal, rural development, and job training.  But the goal remains what it has always been: to obliterate unique ethno-religious cultures that have endured for centuries, using a revamped version of techniques that made Maoism an infamous symbol of totalitarian cruelty.

One could make the argument that the atrocities in places like South Sudan and Myanmar are the work of rogue regimes. But the embrace of forced demographic change by world powers, especially China, which is making an aggressive bid for global leadership, has truly alarming implications. The international norm against ethnic cleansing is not just being swept aside. It is at risk of being replaced by a new standard that authorizes rulers to use any means necessary to create their preferred citizenry — a sinister reversal of democracy, in which free citizens are meant to choose their rulers.

As Global Democracy Retreats, Ethnic Cleansing Is on the Rise

Mexican activist shot dead before vote on power project he opposed – Thousands protest murder of Samir Flores Soberanes in Mexico City

Samir Flores Soberanes was gunned down on his doorstep in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on 20 February 2019. Photo: Ana Ramos / Pie de Página
Samir Flores Soberanes was gunned down on his doorstep in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on 20 February 2019. Photo: Ana Ramos / Pie de Página

By David Agren
20 February 2019

MEXICO CITY (The Guardian) – A Mexican environmental activist has been murdered before a referendum on a controversial thermal-electric plant and pipeline that he opposed.

Samir Flores Soberanes, an indigenous Náhuatl, was killed in his home during the early hours of Wednesday in the town of Amilcingo in Morelos state, 80 miles south of Mexico City. He was a human rights activist, producer for a community radio station and long-time opponent of the Proyecto Integral Morelos (the integral project for Morelos) – which includes the plant and pipeline.

Mexican media reported that Flores had been shot twice in the head by unknown assailants. The Morelos state prosecutor, Uriel Carmona, said the murder had nothing to do with the thermal-electric plant and investigators were probing links to organised crime.

The People’s Front in Defence of the Land and Water for the states of Morelos, Puebla and Tlaxcala (FPDTA) said in a statement that Flores had no enemies besides those behind the project. “This is a political crime for the human rights defence that Samir and the FPDTA carried out against the [project] and for people’s autonomy and self-determination,” the statement said.

The FPDTA has opposed the construction of the thermal-electric project at Huexca over concerns it could contaminate water supplies.

The project was first proposed in 2011, but has been championed by Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, as a way to reduce electricity bills. […]

Flores’s violent death continued the disturbing trend of environmental and human rights defenders, along with journalists, being murdered with impunity in Mexico – something López Obrador has promised to confront.

The death also came after López Obrador controversially branded civil society groups as conservative for opposing his plans for megaprojects and creating a militarised police force.

Conservatives “have seized control of civil society. I don’t know people from civil society,” López Obrador, commonly called AMLO, said on Tuesday. “The truth is very few [are] left-wing. With total respect, everything to do with civil society has to do with conservatism. Even big consortiums promote civil society.” [more]

Mexican activist shot dead before vote on power project he opposed


Thousands of protesters march in Mexico City on 23 February 2019, following the murder of environmental activist Samir Flores Soberanes. A man holds a placard at the protest reading, “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”. Photo: Reuters
Thousands of protesters march in Mexico City on 23 February 2019, following the murder of environmental activist Samir Flores Soberanes. A man holds a placard at the protest reading, “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”. Photo: Reuters

23 February 2019 (BBC News) – Thousands of protesters have marched in Mexico City following the murder of an environmental activist.

Samir Flores Soberanes, who was also a journalist, was shot twice in the head in his home in Amilcingo, south of Mexico City, on Wednesday.

The protesters held signs saying “Samir didn’t die, the government killed him”; “Samir lives”; and “Justice for Samir”.

As the march made its way through Mexico City, thousands gathered in Amilcingo to lay Flores to rest.

The reasons for the killing are not yet clear but a prosecutor has indicated it was linked to organised crime.

Flores was a longstanding opponent of the Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM), a development project that includes two new thermoelectric plants and a 150km (93 mile) natural gas pipeline in the state. […]

Activists fear that the pipeline will contaminate the local water supply, which would predominantly affect the indigenous communities in the area.

His death came just days before Saturday and Sunday’s public referendum on the plants. [more]

Samir Flores Soberanes: Thousands march in Mexico City over activist’s murder

GoFundMe: Protect the National Butterfly Center from Trump border wall – $82K of $100K goal raised – UPDATE: Goal reached!

Aerial view of the area where the Trump border wall will be built on National Butterfly Center land, 1.2 miles inland from the Rio Grande River. It will bisect NBC property and leave 70 percent of it between the wall and the river (the actual international border). Photo: National Butterfly Center

10 December 2018 (National Butterfly Center) – Congress funded 33 new miles of Border Wall in the 2018 omnibus Appropriations Act  and contracts for the first 6 miles have been awarded to SLSCO . The real kicker is, the border wall is not being built on the border, but over 2 miles inland, moving the border of Mexico NORTH of the Rio Grande River (the actual border) and placing more than 6,000 acres of private property and public lands behind it in the newly created subdivision we’ve named MEXIGRO.We need your help to protect our property!The issue is not whether butterflies can fly over a wall, but whether  private property (farms, businesses, homes) should be seized and destroyed for a project that does not serve the greater good or enhance national security; rather, it pushes the boundaries of Mexico north of the Rio Grande and makes America smaller.At the National Butterfly Center  in Mission, Texas, 70% of the land belonging to the nonprofit project of the North American Butterfly Center will be forfeited, to create a landing and staging area for illegal traffic on the shores of the United States.In this land set aside for the protection of a remnant of native habitat, endangered species such as the ocelot, and the graves of Native American people who were present before the U.S. existed, everything will be desecrated, bulldozed, and cut off from access by citizens and landowners; where gunboats could more easily be placed on the river to actually prevent traffic from setting foot on our soil.Moreover, the federal government has waived 28 laws  in order to expedite this. The fact that we now live in a country where the laws duly passed by Congress may be waived for political expediency, eliminating all protections for people, water, wildlife and more,  should terrify all Americans.Please join us, today, to preserve and defend the National Butterfly Center, the only entity in Texas to sue the Trump Administration over this outrageous land grab!

A bobcat that lives on National Butterfly Center land that is soon to be cut off by Trump's border wall. Photo: National Butterfly Center

Read the most recent developments  in our ongoing battle against the seizure of private property for the border wall, here, and subscribe to our e-newsletter  for updates.Funds will be used for expenses associated with our on-going lawsuit against the federal government (travel expenses, depositions, filing and document fees, etc.); all efforts related to publicizing and resisting this atrocity; clean up and remediation of the damage, if we can’t stop it (because the government’s private contractors are NOT going to do that); and tearing down the wall, as soon as we’re able!  Your support is invaluable to our efforts to fulfill our mission, preserve our property, and restore it after construction, if it cannot be stopped.  BUT IT’S NOT OVER, not by a long shot.THANK YOU! UPDATE:  $100,247 of $100,000 goal reached on 14 February 2019. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Protect the National Butterfly Center

Brazil’s government may push the Amazon to destruction

Disturbed fraction of vegetation across South America simulated by the HadGEM2-ES Earth System Model, at 1860, 2005, and four future scenarios at 2100: RCP2.6 (high mitigation), RCP4.5, RCP6.0, and RCP8.5 (high emissions). Graphic: Marengo, et al., 2018 / Frontiers in Earth Science

By Rodrigo de Oliveira Andrade
24 January 2019

SÃO PAULO (SciDev.Net) – Brazil’s new government, led by President Jair Bolsonaro, has quickly taken steps to loosen environmental law enforcement. Now a review paper shows that the deforestation that could result may have terrible consequences for the Amazon rainforest, including dramatic biodiversity loss, intensified dry seasons, droughts, all ultimately leading to a “state of collapse”.

Scientists worldwide say Bolsonaro’s stance on science and the environment is worrying. He promotes development at all costs and has threatened to follow US President Donald Trump and pull Brazil out of the 2015 Paris agreement.During the election campaign, he made no secret of his desire to open indigenous lands to mining, farming and dam building, even though about 13 per cent of Brazilian territory is recognised as indigenous lands and protected by law.

Now a review by the climatologist José Marengo, from the National Centre for Monitoring and Early Warning of Natural Disasters, and his colleagues draws together a broad set of data on the Amazon climate to analyse, among other things, the probable effects of large-scale deforestation.

Marengo says that studies recently begun to suggest that Amazon deforestation could reach a tipping point beyond which the ecosystem could collapse. “The combined effects of drought and deforestation, along with fire, might amplify impacts and potentially cause the collapse of the rainforest ecosystem,” he says.

About 19 per cent of the Brazilian rainforest that existed in 1970 has already been cut down. One study from 2018 suggested the tipping point could be as low as 25 per cent deforestation. “If this tipping point is crossed, part of forest might be converted into a savannah,” says Marengo. “It would potentially have large-scale impacts on climate, biodiversity, and the people living there.”

Extreme climatic events, such as droughts, floods, changes in the rainy and dry seasons, and forest fires could also increase, he says. [more]

Brazil’s government may push the Amazon to destruction


ABSTRACT: This paper shows recent progress in our understanding of climate variability and trends in the Amazon region, and how these interact with land use change. The review includes an overview of up-to-date information on climate and hydrological variability, and on warming trends in Amazonia, which reached 0.6–0.7°C over the last 40 years, with 2016 as the warmest year since at least 1950 (0.9°C + 0.3°C). We focus on local and remote drivers of climate variability and change. We review the impacts of these drivers on the length of dry season, the role of the forest in climate and carbon cycles, the resilience of the forest, the risk of fires and biomass burning, and the potential “die back” of the Amazon forests if surpassing a “tipping point”. The role of the Amazon in moisture recycling and transport is also investigated, and a review of model development for climate change projections in the region is included. In sum, future sustainability of the Amazonian forests and its many services requires management strategies that consider the likelihood of multi-year droughts superimposed on a continued warming trend. Science has assembled enough knowledge to underline the global and regional importance of an intact Amazon region that can support policymaking and to keep this sensitive ecosystem functioning. This major challenge requires substantial resources and strategic cross-national planning, and a unique blend of expertise and capacities established in Amazon countries and from international collaboration. This also highlights the role of deforestation control in support of policy for mitigation options as established in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

Changes in Climate and Land Use Over the Amazon Region: Current and Future Variability and Trends

In climate change fight, Brazil owes nothing, minister says

Brazil's environment minister, Ricardo Salles. Salles claims that Brazil owes nothing in the fight against global climate change and should be paid for its work so far. Photo: Andre Coelho / Bloomberg
Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles. Salles claims that Brazil owes nothing in the fight against global climate change and should be paid for its work so far. Photo: Andre Coelho / Bloomberg

By Simone Preissler Iglesias, Mario Sergio Lima, and Bruce Douglas
8 January 2019

(Bloomberg News) – Brazil owes nothing in the fight against global climate change and should be paid for its work so far, according to the country’s new environment minister.

For Ricardo Salles, the Paris Accord in itself is neither good nor bad, but it must bring economic benefits to Brazil. If the agreement limits production or the use of land, Brazil could withdraw.

“Brazil is not a debtor. We’re creditors,” he told Bloomberg News at his office in Brasilia referring to the country’s relatively clean energy matrix, reduction of deforestation and reforestation efforts in recent years. “Our part needs to be remunerated, and regarding what we’ve done so far, the question is by how much, when, and how?”

The $722 million Amazon Fund, which supports preservation and anti-deforestation projects, is financed primarily by Norway and Germany. The Scandinavian country announced in December it would pay $70 million to Brazil for reduced emissions from deforestation in 2017.

Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro backtracked on plans to scrap the environment ministry under pressure from the country’s powerful farm lobby that feared repercussions from international consumers concerned with sustainable agriculture. Conflict between producers and environmentalists has been artificially exaggerated, Salles said, and it’s perfectly possible to reconcile economic development with the preservation of the country’s natural resources.

“When you have more economic development, you attract more resources. When wealth circulates in the country, then you have more money to care for the environment,” he said.

As for global concerns over the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, Salles noted that the bulk of the area belongs to Brazil and those parts not owned by the state have private landowners who must be compensated if they are to leave parts of their property undeveloped.

In response to claims that farmers are illegally deforesting the Amazon, Salles said that up to two-thirds takes place in indigenous reserves or conservation areas, both administered by the government.

“Who is incompetent, neglected their job? Public institutions,” he said.

Data on the ministry’s own website, however, show that in 2018 deforestation in indigenous reserves and conservation areas constituted just 15 percent of the total.

For environmentalists such as Claudio Angelo, from the Observatorio do Clima, Salles’ argument is merely a variation on the theme of sovereignty long used by Brazilian governments.

“The latest version is ‘we did more than everyone else, so shut up’,” he said. “This is an idea that, besides being false, paves the way to climate hell.” [more]

In Climate Change Fight, Brazil Owes Nothing, Minister Says

Amazon deforestation increase continued in November 2018 – Deforestation was four times higher than in November 2017

Imazon's SAD bulletin on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for November 2018. In November 2018, 1,463 km² of deforestation were detected by SAD (deforestation alert system) in the Amazon rainforest. This number represents an increase of four times over the same month of the previous year. Graphic: Imazon
Imazon’s SAD bulletin on deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon for November 2018. In November 2018, 1,463 km² of deforestation were detected by SAD (deforestation alert system) in the Amazon rainforest. This number represents an increase of four times over the same month of the previous year. Graphic: Imazon

By Stefania Costa
2 January 2019

(Imazon) – Deforestation continues to increase, according to data from the Deforestation Bulletin (SAD) November 2018 published today by Imazon.

The state of Pará contributed with 63% of deforestation alerts registered in November 2018. The areas that suffered the most destruction are mainly in the northeast of the state, in the region of Terra do Meio, and in the west with high concentration of alerts in the region da Calha Norte (an area that contains the largest block of protected forests in the world).

Deforestation also increased in Amazonas, with the second highest number of alerts (12%), followed by Rondônia (9%), Mato Grosso (7%), Roraima (5%) and Acre (4%).

Conservation units

The Bulletin also presents the ranking of the 10 Conservation Units with the highest number of deforestation alerts in November 2018, of which 6 are in Pará, such as the Triunfo Xingu Environmental Preservation Area and the Jamanxim National Forest. The Chico Mendes Reserve in the state of Acre recorded the second highest number of deforestation alerts in November 2018.

Indigenous Lands

The most heavily pressured by deforestation in November 2018 are in the state of Pará. Another point of attention is on the border of the Amazon with Roraima where indigenous lands are under deforestation pressure.

Accumulated deforestation

For the accumulated period from August to November 2018, deforestation doubled in relation to the same period of the previous year, reaching 1,463 km2 of lost forests. Deforestation detected in November 2018 was 4 times higher than in November 2017.

See the newsletter here. [Translation by Google.]

Imazon divulga dados atualizados do desmatamento na Amazônia. Tendência de aumento é mantida em novembro de 2018.

Brazil’s new far-right government issues decrees across sectors – Indigenous land claims handed over to Agriculture Ministry

Brazil's new President Jair Bolsonaro attends the handover ceremony for Augusto Heleno, Minister of Institutional Security, Santos Cruz, Government Secretary, Gustavo Bebianno, President's Secretary General and Onyx Lorenzoni, Chief of Staff, at the planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil 2 January 2018. Photo: Adriano Machado / REUTERS
Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro attends the handover ceremony for Augusto Heleno, Minister of Institutional Security, Santos Cruz, Government Secretary, Gustavo Bebianno, President’s Secretary General and Onyx Lorenzoni, Chief of Staff, at the planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil 2 January 2018. Photo: Adriano Machado / REUTERS

By Anthony Boadle
2 January 2019

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s new President Jair Bolsonaro set to work quickly on Wednesday, with his administration issuing decrees affecting the economy, agriculture and society, while forging closer political ties with the United States.

Bolsonaro, a former army captain and seven-term congressman, won elections in October and was sworn in on Tuesday as Brazil’s first far-right president since a military dictatorship gave way to civilian rule in 1985.

Fulfilling a campaign promise to his staunch supporters in the farm sector, Bolsonaro decreed that indigenous land claims, a source of bloody clashes on Brazil’s agricultural frontier, would be decided by the Agriculture Ministry.

The gift to the powerful agribusiness sector enraged environmentalists already worried by Bolsonaro’s plans to loosen protections of the Amazon rainforest and remove Brazil’s support for the Paris Agreement on climate change. […]

Bolsonaro’s vow to follow Trump’s example and pull Brazil out of the Paris climate change agreement has worried environmentalists. So have his plans to build hydroelectric dams in the Amazon and open up to mining the reservations of indigenous peoples who are seen as the last custodians of the world’s biggest forest. [more]

Brazil’s new far-right government issues decrees across sectors

Seven convicted of killing Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres – “The assassination was planned by the leadership of the DESA corporation and carried out by hitmen linked to the Honduran Armed Forces”

Berta Cáceres. Ms. Cáceres was murdered on 2 March 2016. She had been leading a fierce campaign against the Agua Zarca dam, a project of the Honduran company DESA, in western Honduras. The hydropower project threatened to displace thousands of people from the Lenca indigenous community. Photo: U.N. Environment / ONU Brasil / Wikimedia Commons

By Shreya Dasgupta
5 December 2018
(Mongabay) – A Honduran court has convicted seven men in the murder of indigenous rights activist Berta Cáceres in 2016.Until her death on March 2, 2016, Cáceres had been leading a fierce campaign against the Agua Zarca dam in western Honduras, a joint project between the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese-owned Sinohydro. The dam was being built on the Gualcarque River without consultation with the Lenca indigenous community that depends on the river for their food and water.Cáceres, who won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, had received numerous threats for her activism against the dam before she was killed by gunmen at her home in the city of La Esperanza. Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro was also shot, but he survived the attack.Those found guilty of her murder are Sergio Ramón Rodríguez Orellana, manager of DESA; Douglas Geovanny Bustillo, a former soldier and ex-security chief of DESA; Mariano Díaz Chávez, an army major; Henry Javier Hernández; Edwin Rapalo; Edilson Duarte Meza; and Oscar Torres. An eighth defendant, Emerson Duarte, accused of covering up the crime, was acquitted.To date, nine people have been arrested in connection with Cáceres’s murder. David Castillo Mejía, executive president of DESA, was charged with being the mastermind of the murder in March this year. He will face a separate trial.Cáceres’s family, along with Gustavo Castro; COPINH, the organization that Cáceres led; and their legal teams have released a statement saying the verdict does not satisfy their demands for justice.“Condemning the group of hitmen and their intermediate structure related directly to the DESA corporation does not mean that justice has been obtained,” the statement says. “The structures and people who gave the money for these criminals to assassinate Berta Cáceres are still free and able to continue carrying out crimes like this one with impunity. [more]

7 convicted of killing Honduran indigenous activist Berta Cáceres

29 November 2018 (COPINH) – Statement by Berta’s Family, COPINH, Gustavo Castro and the legal teams regarding the conviction of Sergio Rodríguez, Mariano Díaz, Douglas Bustillo, Elvin Heriberto Rápalo, Edilson Duarte, Oscar Haroldo Torres and Emerson Duarte:The verdict that was just released DOES NOT satisfy our demands for justice as victims in the assassination of Berta Cáceres and the attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro.The decision that has been made in the 1st District Sentencing Court condemning the group of hitmen and their intermediate structure related directly to the DESA corporation does not mean that justice has been obtained.The structures and people who gave the money for these criminals to assassinate Berta Cáceres are still free and able to continue carrying out crimes like this one with impunity.Since the beginning of this process – almost three years ago now – it has been clear that the assassination of Berta Cáceres was planned by the leadership of the DESA corporation and then  carried out by hitmen linked to the Honduran Armed Forces. Nonetheless, the full truth surrounding this crime and all of those responsible for it has been limited to those who were just condemned through intentional obfuscation by the Honduran state via its Attorney General and courts. They seek to deny access to the truth, which is part of true justice.What has become even more clear during these legal proceedings, from which we have been expelled due to our refusal to be silent in the face of the daily abuses in the court room, is that the Atala Zablah family, who have an ownership stake in the DESA corporation, are behind the entire plot of persecution, intimidation, attacks and threats that led to the assassination of Berta Cáceres.Our participation as victims is a fundamental part of the judicial process and the State, by systematically excluding us, perpetuates the impunity that inundates this country and causes so much harm.During the trial we, along with international observers, diplomats and the press, bore witness to the telephone communications that show this participation. This also made it clear that the criminal acts committed by the DESA corporation under the leadership of this family go beyond the assassination and comprise a series of crimes carried out against Berta Cáceres, COPINH, the Lenca people and the public administration and state of Honduras.We ask the state and its institutions, what interests are at stake that motivate you to behave in a way that protects the masterminds whose names are no secret? Why, despite clear evidence of their participation, have they still not been charged almost three years after this hideous crime? What are you waiting for to carry out your responsibility??We demand that all of those responsible for the assassination of Berta Cáceres be brought to justice and not just those who were paid by DESA to carry our the crime.The struggle for justice for Berta Cáceres and the Lenca people does not end with the chapter that closes today, the convictions of the lowest layer of the criminal structure, with which the Honduran state seeks to silence the demand for justice. On the contrary, we are deepening our efforts.These convictions are the first step in the search for justice and the family, Gustavo Castro, COPINH and the legal teams have been accompanied by those who believe in Berta Cáceres, in her words and actions and we know that they will continue to make a principled stand on the side of truth and justice in the battles to come, which we will wage with complete determination.The impunity that the masterminds of this crime continue to enjoy is part of the plot of corruption and violence that sustains the model of extraction that plunders our peoples. As victims, and other people, communities and organizations we commit to continue confronting it, like Berta Cáceres did, until dignity, truth and justice prevail in this case and in all of the struggles that are being waged right now throughout Honduras and the world.We and the entire Honduran people are still owed a debt of justice!Written in the city of Tegucigalpa on the 29th day of the month of November in the year 2018.

Comunicado de la Familia de Berta, el COPINH, Gustavo Castro y los equipos legales de la causa ante el fallo que juzga a Sergio Rodríguez, Mariano Díaz, Douglas Bustillo, Elvin Heriberto Rápalo, Edilson Duarte, Oscar Haroldo Torres y Emerson Duarte

Palm oil was supposed to help save the planet – Instead, it unleashed a catastrophe

The remains of an Indonesian rain forest that was cleared to make way for oil palms. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson / VII Agency / The New York Times

By Abrahm Lustgarten
20 November 2018
(The New York Times) – The fields outside Kotawaringin village in Central Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, looked as if they had just been cleared by armies. None of the old growth remained — only charred stumps poking up from murky, dark pools of water. In places, smoke still curled from land that days ago had been covered with lush jungle. Villagers had burned it all down, clearing the way for a lucrative crop whose cultivation now dominates the entire island: the oil-palm tree.
The dirt road was ruler straight, but deep holes and errant boulders tossed our tiny Toyota back and forth. Trucks coughed out black smoke, their beds brimming over with seven-ton loads of palm fruit rocking back and forth on tires as tall as people. Clear-cut expanses soon gave way to a uniform crop of oil-palm groves: orderly trees, a sign that we had crossed into an industrial palm plantation. Oil-palm trees look like the coconut-palm trees you see on postcards from Florida — they grow to more than 60 feet tall and flourish on the peaty wetland soil common in lowland tropics. But they are significantly more valuable. Every two weeks or so, each tree produces a 50-pound bunch of walnut-size fruit, bursting with a red, viscous oil that is more versatile than almost any other plant-based oil of its kind. Indonesia is rich in timber and coal, but palm oil is its biggest export. Around the world, the oil from its meat and seeds has long been an indispensable ingredient in everything from soap to ice cream. But it has now become a key ingredient of something else: biodiesel, fuel for diesel engines that has been wholly or partly made from vegetable oil.
Finally we emerged, and as we crested a hill, the plantations fell into an endless repetition of tidy bunches stretching for miles, looking almost like the rag of a Berber carpet. Occasionally, a shard of an old ironwood tree shot into the air, a remnant of the primordial canopy of dense rain forest that dominated the land until very recently.
Our driver, a 44-year-old island native and whistle-blower named Gusti Gelambong, had brought us here to show us the incredible destruction wrought by the growing demand for palm oil. The oldest male among nine siblings, he was modestly built but exuded a wiry strength. His father, he told us, was a king of one of Borneo’s dozens of Dayak tribes, the sixth descendant of the sultan of Old Kotawaringin, and his mother came from a line of warriors who served in the Indonesian special forces. In 2001, he said, he took part in a brutal ethnic cleansing of Indonesians who had moved in from the nearby island of Madura. He macheted his way through the nearby town of Pangkalan Bun, slaughtering dozens of people. He felt no remorse about the violence. But the palm-oil companies, Gelambong said, were much stronger than the Madurese. As we approached an intersection, we could see two plantation guards lying back in a shack, rifles propped against their knees. He sped past the guards, averting his eyes.
Most of the plantations around us were new, their rise a direct consequence of policy decisions made half a world away. In the mid-2000s, Western nations, led by the United States, began drafting environmental laws that encouraged the use of vegetable oil in fuels — an ambitious move to reduce carbon dioxide and curb global warming. But these laws were drawn up based on an incomplete accounting of the true environmental costs. Despite warnings that the policies could have the opposite of their intended effect, they were implemented anyway, producing what now appears to be a calamity with global consequences.
The tropical rain forests of Indonesia, and in particular the peatland regions of Borneo, have large amounts of carbon trapped within their trees and soil. Slashing and burning the existing forests to make way for oil-palm cultivation had a perverse effect: It released more carbon. A lot more carbon. NASA researchers say the accelerated destruction of Borneo’s forests contributed to the largest single-year global increase in carbon emissions in two millenniums, an explosion that transformed Indonesia into the world’s fourth-largest source of such emissions. Instead of creating a clever technocratic fix to reduce American’s carbon footprint, lawmakers had lit the fuse on a powerful carbon bomb that, as the forests were cleared and burned, produced more carbon than the entire continent of Europe. The unprecedented palm-oil boom, meanwhile, has enriched and emboldened many of the region’s largest corporations, which have begun using their newfound power and wealth to suppress critics, abuse workers and acquire more land to produce oil. […]

Members of the Wehea Dayak tribe walking past a palm-oil tanker during an initiation ceremony in East Kalimantan, Indonesia. Photo: Ashley Gilbertson / VII Agency / The New York Times

To make Indonesia’s plan a reality, a complicated question of land ownership had to be addressed. Much of the new development was focused on Borneo, where many villages were settled before there were nations, let alone land deeds. To create a legal basis for development, the Indonesian government established a commercial land-share system in the 1980s. In theory, the system let villages sign over development rights in return for some part of the profit. But in practice, many villagers said, companies often secured the permits they needed through some combination of intense lobbying, bribery and strong-arming, and the result was broken promises and missing payments.
Villagers were often simply outmatched by their huge negotiating partners. Wilmar was already a powerhouse in 2007, with operations in 23 countries on four continents, employing more than 60,000 people. When Wilmar said it would buy more than 200,000 acres in the states surrounding Gusti Gelambong’s village, it was a signal for others, too, to rush in. One of Indonesia’s largest conglomerates, the Salim Group — which owns Indofood, the nation’s largest maker of instant noodles — said it would pay $13 million for 200,000 acres in East and Central Kalimantan. Anthoni Salim, the company’s chief executive, was closely tied to Suharto, Indonesia’s longtime dictator who was overthrown in 1998. When the dictatorship fell, an angry mob firebombed Salim’s family mansion in Jakarta, and the new government forced him to abandon dozens of holdings. Within a few years, though, Salim had rebuilt his empire. [more]

Palm Oil Was Supposed to Help Save the Planet. Instead It Unleashed a Catastrophe.

Human-rights experts: Political incitement to violence against journalists is “toxic” – One journalist is killed every four days, and most killers go unpunished

'Each year, one journalist gets a Pulitzer Prize. And one hundred get shot.' From the #TruthNeverDies campaign to help journalists. Graphic: UN Geneva

31 October 2018 (UN News) – A group of independent, UN-appointed human rights experts have called on world leaders to stop inciting hatred and violence against the media, citing the hundreds of journalists killed or forcibly detained because of their work, and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.On Wednesday, the experts, including David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions;and Bernard Duhaime, Chair of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, released a statement ahead of the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, on 2 November 2018.The statement said that “these last weeks have demonstrated once again the toxic nature and outsized reach of political incitement against journalists, and we demand that it stop,” and strongly urged States to take firm steps to ensure accountability for violence and attacks against journalists, reversing and resisting the appalling trend of impunity.”They particularly highlighted the killing earlier this month of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and condemned the response of States, the international community and the United Nations itself, for the failure to address his enforced disappearance and apparent murder.“The only way forward is to establish an independent, transparent and credible investigation into his murder, one authorised by and reporting to the United Nations. Anything short of a complete investigation, recognised as such by the international community, will make a mockery of government claims of commitment to the safety of journalists.”

One journalist killed every four days

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that, between 2006 and 2017, over 1,000 journalists were killed for reporting the news and bringing information to the public; an average of one death every four days.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a Maltese journalist. She was killed in a car bomb attack in 2017. Despite intimidation, threats and lawsuits, she refused to give up on sharing the truth with the public. Photo: Pippa Zammit Cutajar

In nine out of ten cases the killers go unpunished, and this impunity, say the UN experts, triggers further violence and attacks: perpetrators must be brought to justice, and victims and families should have access to remedies.High-level international commitments already exist, such as a resolution on the safety of journalists, adopted by the Human Rights Council in September 2018. The UN experts called on world leaders to implement such resolutions and end their role in inciting hatred and violence against the media.On this year’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, UNESCO is launching a new campaign, Truth Never Dies, to raise awareness of this situation, and is calling for media partners to support the initiative by publishing stories by, and about, journalists killed as a result of their work. A toolkit is available for media that wish to take part.

Political incitement to violence against journalists is ‘toxic’: UN experts