The Right Livelihood Newsletter July 2017

The Government of Turkey must heed the UN experts’ call to free detained journalists from the independent newspaper Cumhuriyet, recipient of the 2016 Right Livelihood Award.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent, international panel of legal experts set up under the UN Human Rights Council, has just released its findings stating that the ongoing detention of Cumhuriyet journalists is arbitrary and calling for their immediate release. The statement comes just days before the trial of 19 Cumhuriyet journalists and staff is scheduled to begin in Istanbul next Monday, 24 July.

“The UN Working Group’s findings that Turkey violated its obligations under international law by detaining award-winning Cumhuriyet journalists for over 200 days is a significant victory both for freedom of expression in Turkey and for journalists around the world. The opinion sends a clear signal that vaguely drafted anti-terrorism laws cannot be legitimately used by governments to silence independent journalists from reporting the truth. We call upon Turkey to respect the Working Group’s opinion and release all Cumhuriyet journalists without delay, and to cease all investigation and prosecution of these journalists,” says Sharan Srinivas, Director of Research and Advocacy at the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

The Working Group further expressed concern that “the use of emergency decree laws may exert serious chilling effects on the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of opinion and expression” in the country.

The Turkish Government had an opportunity to provide its arguments during the Working Group’s consideration of the case, and has now six months to report on its compliance with the panel’s recommendations.

Colombia’s First Poetry Festival in Times of Peace

Culture and Spirituality, 26/07/2017

The 27th International Poetry Festival of Medellin took place in Colombia from 8-15 July. After 53 years of armed conflict, the peace deal signed by the Colombian Government and FARC, and disarmament of rebels completed in June under UN’s monitoring, this year’s Festival was the first held “in times of peace”. For that very reason, the Festival also extended its activities to new zones: the so-called “transition areas” where ex-guerrilla combatants begin their transition back to civilian life (read more in Spanish).

Four Right Livelihood Award Laureates joined this year’s Festival – itself recognised with the ‘Alternative Nobel’ – to lend their support to the peace process in Colombia.

Recognized for fighting against corruption in Guatemala, 1992 Laureate Helen Mack Chang warned that the upcoming road to peace may prove long and challenging and that violence may manifest itself in a variety of ways, especially against human rights defenders. Powerful factions to whom transitional justice is not convenient will seek to discredit those looking for peace, truth and justice, she noted (read her interview in Spanish).

‘Alternative Nobel’ Laureate Begins Hunger Strike Against India’s Mega Dam Evictions

Environment, Human Rights, 27/07/2017

Today, Indian activist and ‘Alternative Nobel’ Laureate Medha Patkar begins an indefinite fast on the banks of the Narmada River she has fought 30 years to save from mega dam projects.

Patkar, who shared the 1991 Right Livelihood Award with her Narmada Bachao Andolan movement, is protesting against the imminent eviction of some 40,000 families living in the areas that will be submerged once the gates of Sardar Sarovar, Narmada’s largest dam, are closed. The residents have been given until the end of the month to leave their homes – even if they have nowhere else to go.

According to the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists, this will represent the single biggest forced eviction in modern Indian history – despite a drawn-out legal battle to defend local residents’ right to resettlement and rehabilitation, twice confirmed by India’s Supreme Court.

At 163 meters high, Sardar Sarovar dam will have a reservoir spread over 40,000 hectares across three Indian states: Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Gujarat. Ironically, the planned completion of this mega-development project comes at a time of heavy rainfall in Gujarat, breaking the drought that was previously cited as the main reason for the dam.

“With not a drop of water being available to Madhya Pradesh from Sardar Sarovar, it’s shocking to see that the state does not hesitate to sacrifice its living communities. It has […] shamelessly declared the project across the world as a symbol of development,” activists said in a statement. Patkar and her colleagues are steadfast in calling for the rights of the affected communities to be respected, and for no one to be displaced until all rehabilitation and resettlement sites are ready with the necessary civic amenities.

Narmada Bachao Andolan is a non-violent movement of the people of Narmada. For more than three decades, the movement stood against India’s mega dam projects, calling for viable alternatives designed to benefit the poor and the environment. In the process, it forced the World Bank to withdraw its funding of the Narmada dam project, and contributed to building a global coalition against big dams.