Salute to the defenders of land and life! | IHRD 2018

The peoples’ struggle for land and life is intensifying. Landlessness, poverty, and hunger have pushed the rural peoples – the peasants and indigenous peoples, in particular – to resist the corporatization of agriculture and food systems.

Unfortunately, repression and militarism are worsening, weakening people’s organizations, sowing fear, and discouraging dissent. This is happening in countries where peoples’ resistance is particularly strong. Peasant and indigenous peoples have become the primary targets of relentless human rights violations, especially killings.

According to the 2017 report of Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Memorial Network, 85 percent of the killings documented took place in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the Philippines. About two out of every three HRDs killed are related to resistance against megaprojects in the extractives industry or funded by big businesses.

Independent watchdog group Global Witness affirmed the findings. In its 2017 report, Latin America was the deadliest with 124 victims out of the 207 recorded killings of land and environmental defenders. Brazil tops the list with 57 killed, followed by the Philippines – the deadliest country in Asia – with 48. The group saw that half of the killings were linked to protests against agribusinesses and mining.

These reports also noted that many of the killings and violations are state-sponsored. Governments alleged that activist leaders and rights defenders were members or sympathizers of rebel groups in order to legitimize their inclusion in the targets list of the “war on terror.” Some link them to syndicates of organized crime such as drug trafficking. More recently, states are revising their laws or drafting new ones to legally criminalize dissent. The rise of tyrannical rule further aggravates the situation.

Impunity prevails. The number of victims is increasing every year and they are not nameless.

To support the ongoing campaign to “Stop Killing Farmers” in Latin America and in the Philippines, the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty, in its 4th General Assembly held last October 28 in Thailand, approved the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day (IHRD) on December 10 as among its yearly global days of action. For this year, in time with the 70th year commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the Coalition aims to highlight the martyrs who struggled for land and life. We will be honoring them as we continue to demand justice for their deaths, call for the end of the rising trend of farmers killings, and fight for food sovereignty toward a better society for all.

PCFS will be drawing attention to the spate of state-perpetrated human rights violations, especially illegal arrests and harassments. Such attacks against rural peoples and rights defenders are happening worldwide, especially in Africa.

Nine sugar workers were massacred in Sagay City, Negros Occidental province, central Philippines on Oct. 20, 2018, a day after the they started the ‘bungkalan’ or land cultivation on 75-hectare land portion of Hacienda Nene. There were among the thousands of landless sugar workers in Negros who engaged in ‘bungkalan’ to stave off hunger during ‘tiempo muerto’ (dead season) in the sugar industry.

They are: 1) Eglicerio C. Villegas, 2) Angelife D. Arsenal, 3) Rene “Dodong” Laurencio, 4) Morena Mendoza, 5) Marcelina “Necnec” Dumaguit, 6) Rannel “Bingbing” Bantigue, 7) Paterno Baron, 8) Jomarie Ughayon Jr. (minor), and  9) Marchtel A. Sumicad (minor).

The victims are union members of the National Federation of Sugar Workers (NFSW), an allied member of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP, Peasant Movement of the Philippines). KMP is a member organization of PCFS.

Their lawyer, Benjamin Ramos, was also slain two weeks after their massacre.

A few days ago, on Dec. 5, the Justice for Sagay Massacre Network was launched to serve as the campaign’s support group.


Nasako Besingi is the director of local NGO Struggle to Economize Future Environment (SEFE) in Cameroon and a member of PCFS Africa Steering Council. He is currently exiled in Nigeria for criticizing the Cameroon government and its fascist attacks against the anglophone (English-speaking) minority in the country.

There is an ongoing crisis in Cameroon. The anglophone minority, especially in the former British colony Southern Cameroons/Ambazonia, have long been asserting for self-determination. Tension arose in 2016 after their protests were met with crackdown and censorship.

Besingi spoke against these state-perpetrated human rights violations, which led to his illegal arrest and detention in September 2017. He was charged with terrorism, which was later changed to attempted insurrection. The charge was dropped and he was released two months later after a successful campaign that had garnered significant support locally and internationally.

However, the situation in Southern Cameroons, home of Besingi, has worsened since the government waged a war against the Ambazonia liberation movement in November 2017. News reports account more than 3,000 killed, 6,000 detained incommunicado, and over 120 towns and villages burned by Cameroon soldiers. Over 400,000 were displaced, half of which went to Nigeria as refugees. More recently, government troops were reported to use chemical weapons.

Besingi continues to campaign against the fascism of Cameroon President Paul Biya, even while in exile.

Besingi is a renowned environmental activist. He led the successful campaign against the land grabbing of Herakles Farms, a US-based oil palm company. He has faced countless threats and harassments throughout the struggle, including his judicial persecution in 2015 (defamation) and 2016 (unlawful assembly). Herakles Farms was ordered to cease its operations in 2013, and it finally pulled out in 2015.

PCFS supports Besingi and his fight against the fascist attacks in Cameroon.

Marcio Matos, also known as Marcinho, is a Brazilian peasant leader of the Movimiento del Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST; Landless Workers’ Movement of Brazil). He was shot dead in January 2018 for leading land rights campaigns in the state of Bahia.


This year, the Palestinian people launched the Great Return March to demand their return on their land forcibly occupied by Israel in 1948. Since it commenced on Mar. 30 this year, Israeli troops have killed more than 230 Palestinians. Thousands were shot at and injured, including children.

Leila Al-Ghandour made headlines May this year, becoming the face of the Palestinians in this war. She died at eight months old due to tear gas inhalation. The baby is among the 61 Palestinians who were killed on May 14, during the protest against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

It has been 70 years since the US-backed Zionist state deprived the Palestinian people of their land and life. The Gaza strip is witness to Israel’s ongoing war crimes. Israel has responded to the rightful demands of the Palestinian people with blockades, tear gas, and bullets.


Award-winning Honduran activist Berta Caceres was killed in March 2016 for leading the campaign against Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam. She is an indigenous Lenca leader and co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

More than a week ago, the court found her seven gunmen guilty of her murder. Four of them were convicted for the attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, a Mexican environmentalist and the sole witness of the killing. While PCFS welcomes this development, we share the sentiment of her family and COPINH: justice remains to be fully served.

As what the Caceres family and COPINH had mentioned in its statement, accountability should be warranted from the masterminds from Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA), the corporation behind the Agua Zarca dam project. We challenge the Honduran state to persecute them, for only then can justice be served and the Lenca people be assured that the Agua Zarca dam will no longer push through.

The dam’s construction was suspended in July 2017 after its funders were forced to pull out their support due to the death of Caceres. However, the damages it had caused to the affected indigenous communities and their sacred Gualcarque river since 2013, including the attacks to quell their resistance, cannot be undone. These are part and parcel of the justice we are seeking for Caceres.

PCFS salutes Caceres for her leadership and activism in standing for the rights, welfare, and interests of the indigenous Lenca people!


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