The Fund is a lifeline for activists and organizations around the world leading the charge for the protection of human rights, building on-the-ground demand for change, and feeding into global efforts to press for equality, justice and accountability.
Here are a few of our grantees’ impressive accomplishments in 2017:
Justice and Rule of Law
Congolese grantee ACIDH won a major victory in its decade-long fight to obtain justice for victims of the 2004 Kilwa massacre, in which 70 people were killed at the hands of the Congolese army and the Australian-Canadian Anvil Mining company. In August, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a precedent-setting ruling in favor of the victims and awarded $2.5 million to their families – the highest amount ever recommended by the Commission.
Following decades of evidence-gathering and litigation by Fund grantees in Guatemala, five high-ranking military officials were charged for their role in the forced disappearance of Marco Antonio Molina Theissen and the detention and sexual torture of his sister Emma Guadalupe during Guatemala’s civil war. The trial in this high-profile case will begin in 2018 and presents an opportunity to begin to dismantle rampant impunity for human rights abuses at the highest levels of Guatemala’s military.
In the DRC, grantee AFREWATCH helped 168 factory workers file a complaint against Heineken for labor rights abuses at the company’s Congolese subsidiary, winning a $1.3 million settlement that included up to $36,500 for individual workers.
Indian grantee Nazdeek won a pair of victories that improved access to critical resources for pregnant women in Delhi territory, taking legal action that prompted the government to send additional maternal health workers to the underserved Baprola community, and winning a case on behalf of five women from Bhim Nagar slum who had been denied their maternity cash benefits.
Following years of advocacy by frontline women’s rights groups, the Tunisian parliament adopted the country’s first law addressing domestic violence. In addition to increasing and strengthening legal protections and recourse for domestic violence, the law imposes criminal penalties for sexual harassment, economic discrimination, and employing children as domestic workers.
Corporate Accountability and Environmental Justice
A September ruling by Thailand’s Supreme Court ordered a lead mining company to restore a creek in Klity village contaminated by its industrial waste and pay $1.1 million in compensation to affected villagers. Grantee EnLaw provided legal representation for the villagers, whose health and well-being were threatened.
In July, two major international investors announced their withdrawal from the contentious Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam project, which threatens the heritage and livelihood of the Lenca indigenous community in Honduras. This is an enormous victory for grantee COPINH and a continuation of the legacy of their founder, Berta Cáceres, who was murdered in 2016 for her courageous leadership in opposing the dam.
With the support of Mexican grantee Tlachinollan, the indigenous Me’Phaa community of San Miguel de Progreso obtained an injunction in June preventing the use of their territory for mining – a huge victory in a multi-year struggle to prevent concessions that threaten their land.
In November, the palm oil company Sime Darby committed to a zero-tolerance policy for deforestation in order to protect forests and respect communal land rights. This announcement followed a multi-year campaign by grantee Green Advocates that exposed the severe negative environmental and human rights impact of the company’s development policies.
In May, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination included several of grantee KISA’s recommendations in their official review of the Republic of Cyprus, including the need for intensified efforts to combat hate speech and hate crimes, and improved living conditions for asylum seekers and migrant domestic workers.
Grantee Caminando Fronteras set a significant precedent when it successfully urged the Spanish government to issue a visa to the father of a young Congolese boy who washed up on the coast of Spain, marking the first time officials have permitted a relative to enter the country to identify the body of a deceased migrant.
Following years of painstaking advocacy, the Fund’s Filipino LGBTI grantees saw exciting progress in their campaign to obtain new legal protections for LGBTI people; in September, the House of Representatives unanimously voted for a SOGIE Equality Bill. If passed by the Senate next year, this would be the Philippine’s first law barring discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
Indian grantee Jan Sahas worked with local officials to rescue seven children from three years of bonded labor on a sheep farm, where they were forced to work grueling, sixteen-hour days, with only tents for shelter and two meals a day. Thanks to Jan Sahas’ intervention, the farm owners were arrested and the children returned safely home.
In October, the UN delisted the Congolese army as an armed group that recruits child soldiers. This follows years of relentless efforts by grantees BVES, who engaged in local, regional, and international advocacy and conducted evaluations of military camps to ensure that no children were serving in the ranks.
In West Africa, DCI-Sierra Leone and DCI-Liberia collaborated to secure the conviction of a pair of child traffickers who took children from Sierra Leone to be sold in Liberia. This is a rare victory and an important potential deterrent in a region where traffickers are rarely apprehended, let alone brought to justice.
Activism Under Threat
In March, the UN Human Rights Council voted to renew the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Situation of Human Rights Defenders, who has been sharply vocal in denouncing governments’ efforts to suffocate civil society. Following concerns that numerous states planned to oppose the renewal, human rights organizations – including the Fund – mobilized to build support for it within the Council. The renewed mandate underscores the importance of protecting defenders in a rapidly closing space, and the Fund has been able to facilitate access to the Special Rapporteur and other UN mechanisms for several grantees under threat.