“A war against us and our brothers and sisters defending their lands and the environment”: The stories behind the Zero Tolerance Initiative

ZTI defender
ZTI defender

“A war against us and our brothers and sisters defending their lands and the environment”: The stories behind the Zero Tolerance Initiative

Every day, land and environmental defenders face persecution for standing up for their rights. Today, on International Human Rights Defenders Day, we must remember the stories which inspired the Zero Tolerance Initiative which aims to tackle the killings and violence linked to global supply chains.  

In December 2018, community leader Syahrul Ramadhan Tanjung Sinaro was brutally beaten by police in Indonesia. He was then arrested for allegedly ordering members of his community to steal palm fruit, and he served a year in prison for a charge which he denies. Instead, he says he has been criminalised for opposing the takeover of his community’s land by an oil palm producer. 

Late one night in 2014, Huber Flores of the Shipibo-Konibo community of Santa Clara de Uchunya, was forced to abandon his home after it was burned to the ground. His home was within his community’s ancestral territories, which have seized by a large palm oil company. The community believe Huber’s house, and many others, were destroyed to remove all evidence that they were there and to intimidate them into leaving the land.  

“We find ourselves under a lot of pressure, oppressed by fear,” said a community member. 

In 2018, Global Witness reported that three defenders were killed every week, yet defenders face a vast spectrum of abuses. Stories of criminalisation, intimidation, violence and defamation linked to global supply chains, like that of Syahrul and Huber, are commonplace around the world and can have devastating impacts. 

In Santa Clara, the community now struggles to find enough food. After facing death threats, many are afraid to enter the forest to hunt. 

“Before, we had everything we needed. For us, our market was our territory. Now we can no longer walk for even an hour, because we are under threat,” explained Luisa Mori Gonzalez, President of the Mothers’ Club and leader from Santa Clara de Uchunya.  

In November 2019, defenders from over 15 countries gathered in Geneva to raise their voices and challenge companies to act now to tackle this violence and intimidation.  

“We have travelled to Geneva to make our voices heard by States and companies… so that effective commitments (are) implemented to bring to a halt what is, in practice, a war against us and our brothers and sisters defending their lands and the environment all over the world.” Read this statement in the full Geneva Declaration here  

The Zero Tolerance Initiative turns that declaration into action by bringing together a wide coalition of supportive groups, in partnership with indigenous peoples and community representatives, to ask companies to address killings and violence linked to commodity production and trade. 

Read more about the stories which inspired the initiative: https://www.zerotoleranceinitiative.org/voices  

If you’re interested in joining the Zero Tolerance Initiative contact us here: https://www.zerotoleranceinitiative.org/about