“I had no other choice than to become a defender of human rights because big oil companies violated the rights of my people.” These are the words of Sarayaku Indigenous defensora Patricia Gualinga.
Patricia has been targeted by death threats and attacks because of her important work. So have other Amazonian women defenders. The goal is to intimidate them into abandoning their opposition to destructive oil, mining and logging projects given a green light by authorities who prioritize corporate interests at the cost of human rights and the environment.
But the women refuse to be stopped. There is simply too much at stake for their communities and future generations. So Patricia and more than 100 women came together in a coalition of other courageous women defenders known as Mujeres Amazónicas, Spanish for Amazonian Women.
“Women are by definition more at risk than men,” explains Patricia Gualinga. “Women can be threatened sexually, physically… We women unite because we have to; because we know that together we have more power and protection on multiple levels. By coming together we protect ourselves. And that’s why Mujeres Amazonicas exists; so we’re not alone.”
In March, Patricia and other determined Amazonian women defensoras marched in Ecuador’s capital and met with authorities to demand the protection of their rights.
“We want justice, we want our rights respected,” the leaders of Mujeres Amazónicas told authorities. “We are women of peace, but we are also like a beehive; what affects one of us affects us all. We will be here as long as there are violations of human rights and of our territory.”
Supported with more than 252,000 petitions from Amnesty supporters in Canada and around the world in support of the rightful calls of Mujeres Amazónicas, the authorities made important pledges.
The Attorney General’s Office committed to visit Pastaza to look into failures by provincial prosecutors to adequately, impartially investigate the attacks and death threats suffered by four leaders of Mujeres Amazónicas. The Attorney General’s Office also vowed to produce a Protocol to ensure effective, coordinated investigation in future of any crimes against women human rights defenders. Equally importantly, the Ecuadorian government pledged to design a Protection Policy for Human Rights Defenders by October 2020.
Unfortunately, due to the health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the visit to Pastaza did not materialize and Mujeres Amazónicas heard nothing about the commitments made to them. Finally, after months of silence, Patricia Gualinga and Margoth Escobar received disturbing communication from prosecutors in June. They were asked to provide the investigation files. They were also told that insufficient, technically flawed evidence meant there was “nothing more to investigate”.
As Amnesty said in a public statement, until those responsible for the physical attacks, burning of Margoth Escobar’s home, and death threats against all the women defenders are identified and brought to justice, all Mujeres Amazónicas will remain in a situation of risk. It is the obligation of the State to protect the women from harm and end the impunity that fuels further attacks.
Renewed pressure needed
It is vital that the Prosecutor’s Office feels pressure from both inside and outside Ecuador to honor its commitments to Mujeres Amazónicas and advance the investigations, actively exploring the link between the attacks and the women’s efforts to stop destructive resource extraction projects in the Amazon.
Mujeres Amazónicas are counting on our support as they continue to risk their lives to defend the environment so vital to their communities and all of humanity.
1. Write a Letter
Letters show the authorities that Mujeres Amazónicas have staunch allies who continue to watch what happens and call for accountability.
Write a short, polite, personalized message to the Attorney General of Ecuador:
- Explain who you are and where you are writing from.
- Express your concern for the rights and safety of Mujeres Amazónicas, as they speak up for the protection of Indigenous rights and the environment.
- Call for the implementation of commitments made by authorities in March 2020 to: visit Puyo in Pastaza province, and properly investigate attacks and death threats against Amazonian Women; produce a protocol to ensure effective investigation in future of crimes against human rights defenders; and design a Protection Policy for Human Rights Defenders by October 2020.
- Ask to be updated about action taken.
Send your letter to:
Attorney General Diana Salazar
Fiscalía General del Estado
Av. Patria y 12 de Octubre Edificio Patria
His Excellency Juan Diego Stacey Moreno
Ambassador for Ecuador
99 Bank Street, Suite 230
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6B9
Fax: 613 235 5776
2. Social Media
Ecuadoran authorities are active on twitter. Express your support from Canada with Amazonian Women and call for implementation of the commitments made by the Attorney General’s Office (Fiscalia Ecuador) for justice and protection. Be sure to use the tags in the sample messages in English and Spanish below.
From Canada, in solidarity with @pumahuarmi, Salomé Aranda & Margoth Escobar, we urge @FiscalíaEcuador to implement commitments made for justice & protection of #MujeresAmazónicas without delay. Protecting the Amazon rainforest and indigenous rights is legitimate and admirable! pic.twitter.com/UszOHAFBB7
— Kathy Price (@KPriceAmnesty) April 19, 2020
Desde Canadá, en solidaridad con @pumahuarmi, Salomé Aranda y Margoth Escobar exijo a la @FiscalíaEcuador cumplir con su compromiso de justicia y protección para las #MujeresAmazónicas. Proteger el territorio, el medio ambiente y los derechos indígenas es legítimo y admirable! pic.twitter.com/dnrXZLyHZ0
— Kathy Price (@KPriceAmnesty) April 19, 2020
If you have not already done so, please sign our e-action seeking protection and justice for Amazonian Women
4. Learn More
- Watch a short video about Patricia Gualinga and the struggle of Amazonian Women
- Read Patricia Gualinga’s inspiring story in Indigenous women demand more protection in decades-long fight for Amazon homelands
- Read our report ‘They Will Not Stop Us’: Justice and Protection for Amazonian Women Defenders of the Land, Territory and Environment
- Read our March 2020 press release Ecuador: State must urgently adopt public policy to protect human rights defenders facing grave risks
- Read our April 2019 press release Ecuador: Faced with a lack of state protection, Amazonian Women are risking their lives to defend the environment
5. Art and Activism
At Amnesty’s AGM last May, activists reflected artistically on their own hopes for a healthy environment and then symbolically wove those hopes into a solidarity weaving which we later delivered to Amazonian Women. The weaving was accompanied by a photo album showing the activists who took part and their artwork. “We will keep this solidarity gift that you have given us in our hearts always,” Salomé Aranda told us.
Think about how you might use art to make visible your solidarity with Amazonian Women or to raise awareness and engage support for threatened earth defenders. For more information, contact Elena Dumitru >> email@example.com
For inspiration, below are some photos of the activists who helped to weave the solidarity message we sent to Amazonian Women.
Contact Campaigner Kathy Price if you have any questions>>firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your solidarity! If you’re wondering whether it matters, take a listen to the following video message, recorded by Kichwa Indigenous leader Salomé Aranda, accompanied by Patricia Gualinga and Margoth Escobar.