Women human rights defenders around the world are facing unprecedented levels of abuse, intimidation and violence, said Amnesty International as it launched its global Write for Rights campaign, in a bid to shine a spotlight on brave women who have been harassed, jailed, tortured or even killed for their human rights work.
Women continue to face multiple forms of discrimination, targeted because of their gender and other characteristics, as well as for their human rights work. However, women refuse to stay silent and have been at the forefront of the battle for human rights in 2018.
“Across the world, women are leading the resistance. We want to honour the role of women who challenge power, stand up for what is right and lead the charge for change,” said Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Their position as leaders in their communities stands in contrast to the huge challenges they have overcome to get there.
“This year, Write for Rights, Amnesty’s global letter-writing campaign, champions women who are challenging bad laws, corrupt practices, violent policing and so much more. They’re the leaders we need to see more of in a world moving ever further towards extremism. By joining them, you can help tip the balance towards equality, freedom and justice.”
Write for Rights 2018 will see Amnesty International supporters stand in solidarity with women human rights defenders from Brazil, Egypt, India, Iran, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, South Africa, Ukraine and Venezuela.
Among the cases are calls for justice for Marielle Franco, a Brazilian human rights activist and elected councillor who was shot dead in her car eight months ago; Atena Daemi, an Iranian activist, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence for speaking out against the death penalty; and Nonhle Mbuthuma, from South Africa, who has faced deaths threats, for speaking out against a mining company which wants to mine titanium on her ancestral land.
“We want to support these women and their families to overcome the risks and challenges they face for defending human rights. We want to see a world in which all women can raise their voice and stand up against injustice without fear, and where they’re no longer targeted for who they are,” said Kumi Naidoo. “It’s time to stand together, seek justice and show our support. Together we can make change happen.”
Every year, supporters across the globe write millions of letters for those whose human rights are being attacked. As well as sending messages of solidarity, Amnesty International supporters can write letters to people in power, calling on them to protect women human rights defenders.
Amnesty International’s first Write for Rights campaign took place 16 years ago. Since then, millions of actions have been taken by activists around the world. Every year, these actions lead to real change. People wrongfully imprisoned are released, torturers are brought to justice, and people in prison are treated more humanely.
Receiving a letter can also give people hope in the most desperate of times. Last year, messages to Shackelia Jackson in Jamaica made a huge difference. Shackelia continues to demand justice for her brother Nakiea, who was killed by police for no reason. This tragedy led her to become a leader in the battle against unlawful killings committed by the police in Jamaica.
“Writing a letter to someone might seem like such a small and simple act of kindness. But its effect can be enormous,” said Shackelia.
“The letters reminded me of the importance of my work and showed my family and community that we are not alone – it has made our personal struggle for justice a global struggle. And the sheer volume of letters received will also show our government that people from around the world are watching them, and that they are waiting for justice to be served.”
Amnesty International is calling on people to show their support to people, groups and communities around the world who are claiming their rights. This year, those who Amnesty supporters will stand in solidarity with include:
Marielle Franco, Brazil
Marielle Franco fought fearlessly for a fairer Rio de Janeiro. She stood up for black women, LGBTI people and young people, and condemned unlawful killings by police. But then she was silenced, shot to death in her car. It’s part of a pattern in Brazil, where at least 70 human rights defenders were killed in 2017.
Amal Fathy, Egypt
Amal posted a video online, speaking about her experience of sexual harassment and criticizing the Egyptian authorities for neglecting women’s rights. Now she’s been sentenced to two years in prison for “spreading false news” – and still faces further charges.
Pavitri is part of an Adivasi Indigenous community who are being forced to sell their land to make way for two power plants. As a village leader, she helped people file nearly 100 formal complaints against the companies involved. Now she faces threats from local ‘strongmen’ in an attempt to force her to withdraw the complaints.
Sengwer Indigenous People, Kenya
The Sengwer people in Kenya have a deep, centuries-old bond with the Embobut Forest. But this Indigenous community of beekeepers and cattle herders is being violently evicted by the Kenyan government. Forest guards have burned homes and forced thousands off their ancestral land, but the Sengwer are determined to resist.
Atena Daemi, Iran
Atena dreamt of an end to the death penalty in Iran. She wrote Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram posts, handed out leaflets, and joined peaceful protests. These actions were used as “evidence” to sentence her to seven years in prison. Her trial took just 15 minutes and she’s faced violence and degrading treatment behind bars.
Gulzar Duishenova, Kyrgyzstan
In 2002, Gulzar lost movement in her legs after a car accident. She made it her life’s mission to ensure persons with disabilities can live with dignity and move around freely. But she faces daily discrimination in a society where women aren’t meant to speak out and persons with disabilities are seen as “invalids”.
Nawal Benaissa, Morocco
Nawal speaks out to improve the situation of people living in her region, where many feel forgotten by their government. She’s been on peaceful protests and campaigned on social media for social justice and better social healthcare services. But she’s been harassed by the Moroccan authorities and was given a 10-month suspended sentence for “inciting to commit an offence”.
Nonhle Mbuthuma, South Africa
Nonhle is leading the fight for her community against a mining company which wants to mine titanium on their ancestral land. But she’s being harassed and threatened, and has even survived an attempt to kill her. Someone is trying to silence her, but she won’t back down: “When you take my land, you take my identity.”
Vitalina Koval, Ukraine
Vitalina works hard to support local LGBTI people in her home city, Uzhgorod. But she was violently attacked after organizing a peaceful protest on International Women’s Day 2018. The assault is just part of a wider surge in intimidation by anti-rights groups in Ukraine. Vitalina and other human rights defenders won’t give in to fear, so let’s stand with them.
Geraldine Chacón, Venezuela
Geraldine always dreamed of defending others. That’s why she helps empower young people in her home city to stand up for their rights. But she’s being hounded by the authorities just for trying to make her country a better place. They imprisoned her for four months and banned her from leaving the country simply for defending human rights. Her case still isn’t closed so she could be arrested again at any moment, with no warning.
In addition to the 10 cases, Amnesty International is also promoting a global petition to get behind all human rights defenders 20 years since the UN Declaration on HRDs was adopted. 150 Human rights defenders recently met at the Paris HRD World Summit to mark this anniversary and together call on those in power to take immediate action to recognise and protect them. A delegation of defenders will present their concerns and calls at a special meeting at the UN in December. They need our support: you can get behind human rights defenders’ struggles by signing up to our action.