Messages to the brave
Every day, human rights defenders and environmental activists across the world are risking everything to defend our brothers and sisters and protect our common home.
Thank you to the hundreds of CAFOD supporters who sent a card in solidarity to the brave in 2020.
Who are the brave?
The devastation of coronavirus meant 2020 was particularly tough for these brave people. Under lockdown, many were exposed to increased threats, violence and intimidation as aggressors exploited lockdown situations for their own gain.
More than 300 human rights defenders were killed in 2019 while fighting to protect their lands and nature, to halt the climate crisis or stand up for peace and human rights. Hundreds more were threatened or criminalised.
During Advent 2020, hundreds of CAFOD supporters sent messages of solidarity to the brave people whose stories are below, letting them know they aren’t alone in their struggles and that they have a community of people in the UK praying and standing with them.
Taking on powerful corporations comes with huge risk. Decades of mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been associated with human rights abuses, environmental destruction and child labour. Defending local communities against mining companies has made Father Alfred Buju (centre) and his colleagues targets for intimidation.
Father Alfred is the Director of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), an organisation that educates and empowers people to stand up for their rights.
JPC staff have come under attack by armed men in attempts to silence them. Father Alfred himself has been physically attacked several times and has received death threats from unknown sources.
Despite the risks, Father Alfred continues to dedicate himself to this work. “I am inspired by the stories of others such as Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero,” he says. “Faith is a journey and you have to walk in the footsteps of those who came before you. Without sacrifice, there cannot be change.”
“Without sacrifice, there cannot be change.”
Father Alfred Buju
Maisoon Badawi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, works for the Israeli human rights organisation, Yesh Din.
Every day, she drives to the occupied Palestinian territory to meet with Palestinian victims of human rights violations perpetrated by Israeli settlers attempting to take control of land to expand illegal settlements.
Maisoon reaches out to people in their time of great need, offering training and advice in pursing justice despite facing obstacles in the Israeli law enforcement system.
"It's important for these people to know that someone is willing to listen to them, to help them feel that they have a voice", she says. "I explain how the legal system works and how we can help them."
"Every morning I ask myself, ‘Who will I meet today? Will I be able to help this person achieve justice?’ Many times I feel helpless in the face of the brutal occupation, but then I get energy and encouragement when I see those affected fighting to protect their rights."
"Every morning I ask myself, ‘Will I be able to help this person achieve justice?’”
Palwasha Hassan has spent her life fighting for women’s rights. Joining the women’s movement as a young volunteer, she is now director of the Afghan Women’s Educational Centre.
She is the first Afghan woman to head an international organisation in the country since the establishment of the interim government in 2001. She has pioneered several initiatives for women and peace in the country, including founding an independent advocacy platform for women – the Afghan Women’s Network, legal support and the shelter home Network Madadgar for Afghan refugee women in Pakistan and a women’s and street children centre, all of which are active today.
Women’s lives have improved over the past two decades in Afghanistan, but the gains are still fragile, says Hassan. “It wouldn’t take long for the gains to be reversed if support is withdrawn.”
She speaks of the critical role women must play in rebuilding a peaceful Afghanistan. “Peace is never real without an inclusive, equal society. We need to ensure women’s meaningful participation at all levels of our country’s development... to truly create an inclusive and self-reliant Afghanistan.”
“Peace is never real without an inclusive, equal society.”
When Claudelice Silva dos Santos was a child, the forest covered much more of the land. Her family harvested Brazil nuts and farmed in harmony with nature. But deforestation and illegal logging has stripped and degraded vast areas.
Claudelice’s brother, Jose Claudio, and his partner Maria, were murdered after spending years resisting the illegal acquisition of land and deforestation. The threats made to them were well known, as were efforts to sabotage their family business.
After Jose Claudio and Maria were killed, Claudelice started receiving death threats. “They want to cut the forest down,” she says. “I can only spend two or three days at a time here. If I stay longer, things get dangerous for me.
“But the Amazon is our life. People ask if I want to go elsewhere. But this is my place. My ancestors are here. Although I’m afraid, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. The rights of people are being taken away.
“Jose Claudio and Maria were brave. I have to be brave. We keep their memory alive by fighting for the forest.”
“The Amazon is our life.”
Claudelice Silva dos Santos
Honduras is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to defend the environment. In Tocoa, a green mountainous region in the North, large-scale farming and mining activities are causing destruction and degradation of the land and rivers
Those who speak out are often criminalised, persecuted and labelled ‘opponents of development’. The defenders (pictured above) have been illegally detained for defending the right to water and life.
But community members have been working together, urging authorities to ensure local people have a voice in projects that affect their lives.
“We will not stop fighting because our struggle is just. We stand for water and life for all. We demand that the mining company leave, because what it brings us is pollution and damage to the environment”, says Gabriela, a community leader.
Despite the risks, the community is committed to the struggle. “Ours is a peaceful but determined, firm and organised struggle to defend our Common Home.” Gregorio Vasquez, parish priest in Tocoa.
“We will not stop fighting because our struggle is just.”
Gabriela, Guapinol Water Defenders
People living in La Loma, Colombia, earn a living by growing crops, cutting wood and fishing. But following forced displacement in the armed conflict, multinational companies and armed groups have moved in, extracting timber and taking huge areas of land for agro-industrial crop production.
The impact on the community has been immense, with forests devastated and human rights violated.
The La Larga and Tumaradó Afro-Colombian Community Council (COCOLATU) works hard to get their land back, including through documenting human rights violations. Because of this, members of the council have received death threats designed to silence them.
One of the leaders, Pablo, tells of his hope that his community will one day be able to live again with freedom and peace. “Before, we could go out fishing and not fear someone crossing our path or telling us to not go somewhere because something will happen to us. I dream of passing one another along the riverbank and living in communion.”
“I dream of passing one another along the riverbank and living in communion.”