- For defenders
- How can I help?
On Sunday we went to a very poor area called Peronia where the conditions are dreadful - tiny one room dwellings, intermittent electricity, often scarcity of water and poor sewerage. Yet amid this desolation, human rights defenders had successfully closed down a sand mine which had been operating there.
The mine had covered the whole area in a fine dust, children were getting sick, clothes could not be washed, the loud noise from the machines was there day and night, the food had to be always wrapped. The sand polluted the river and thus the town water supply.
They decided to fight "but to fight money is a very difficult thing to do". The threats started and tear gas was used but the thinking was...
... "we might run out of water; we might run out of forest; we might run out of life".
It was the women who were more active in the beginning - Christi de Rivera described how she took her children aged 4 and 6 and sat down with a few others on the road, blocking the trucks, despite the fact that she was afraid that something might happen to her and her children.
Yesterday we went to Peronia, one of the new shanty towns that have sprung up around Guatemala City to accomodate the more than 1 million people who travel into the city everyday to work. Slums where a family can pay 30 Euro for one room with limited water and sanitation. The community here in Peronia have been badly affected by a sand quarry which has essentially removed one of the local mountains.
In 2008 Yuri (Melini) received a call from a local priest, Fr. Elias stating that the community were under pressure because of their resistence to the quarry. Children were getting sick because of the constant dust, sore throat complaints were on the rise, the food was always covered in dust and the lorries were up and down the street all the time. In addition, the woods, where people had been able to send their children to play and which were a resource for the whole community, were simply being eliminated.
Yuri helped them with legal and communications advice and moral support.
Today I attended Abdulhadi Al Khawaja's trial. Seeing our friend and ex-colleague in the dock, in prison uniform, was such an aberration of everything he stands for : - the deep and peaceful personal committment to human rights.
Abdulhadi is what I would call a "Gentleman" - thoughtful; kind and caring of others; full of integrity; gentle calm disposition and exquisite good manners.
I was very disappointed not to be allowed testify as a reference on his behalf - I reckon I know him better than those who seem determined to make him out to be something sinister.
Bahrain seems so peaceful as you come in from the airport - hard to believe that hundreds have been arrested for their legitimate rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Bahrain has signed up to.