The normalisation of hit lists: 5 things you can do to support human rights activists at risk (and help yourself at the same time)

9 March 2017

Normalising these killings won't stop them, why we must act now and what we can do, by Martín Vainstein.

This is a guest post by Martín Vainstein, a climate and human rights campaigner and community organiser based in London. In 2015 he co-founded Wretched of the Earth and the new Argentina Solidarity Campaign. Formerly with Greenpeace UK, he currently works for Aclimatando.

July of last year, I published a similar piece to this one. Concerned by the ongoing killings of environmental activists, I wanted to share everyday things anyone could do to help protect them. Now, 8 months later, I am worried about the normalisation of activist hit lists. Here are my thoughts about it and what anyone can do to support people on the frontlines risking their lives. Not long ago I received a notification that I appear in a ‘keep an eye’ list and that I should take care of myself and what I do. Yes, it freaked me out but it didn’t come entirely as a surprise - and there’s the problem. We should stop normalising these things and react, because if we don’t act now we will be sharing photos of those killed over and over. And honestly that’s a road to nowhere.

Now, in my case it takes some digital security measures to be safer. But for activists who campaign for human rights in the Global South taking some digital security measures just isn’t  enough. They are being killed on a daily basis: Global Witness documented 116 killings in 2014, 185 in 2015, and the numbers keep growing. So, what can we do to support these activists?

Before I get into the list I would like to do two things. First, here is a guide tailored for activists that will help you stay safe while trying to change things for the better. It was created by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and is available in various languages. Second, I would like to mention and remember the life and struggle of those who were killed and the ones who are still on the frontline. The first act of support and solidarity must be to remember their names. Berta Cáceres, Luiz Alberto Araujo, Zafar Iqbal Lund, Gloria Capitan. Bill Kayong, Alicia López Guisao, Jose Santos Sevilla, Isidro Baldenegro López, Itai Peace Dzamara, Emilsen Manyoma, ‘Bazooka’ Rhadebe, Nilce de Souza Magalhães, Lesbia Yaneth Urquia, were some of them and are far from being forgotten.

Fortunately there are still individuals and groups who keep fighting and I would like to honour them as well. Among them are: Máxima Acuña, the Mapuches from the Pu Lof in Cushamen fighting against Benetton and from Lof Campo Maripe fighting against Chevron and the community of Jachál fighting Barrick Gold in San Juan. There are many more. Here’s a world map of land and energy conflicts around the world.

So, what can we do to support them? It’s worth mentioning that what I will say doesn’t cover all that could be done. Furthermore, what you can do may vary between causes. But here’s a list to get you started:

1. Study the bigger picture: learning about these issues can help us all to better understand the need to fight for climate and environmental justice. Climate and environmental justice are not single issue struggles, they are part of a bigger intersectional picture.  Migration, racism, climate, gender inequality and colonialism are all linked, and as activists in the former colonial powers we must care and support land and water struggles in the Global South. Leveraging power and privilege play a big role in solidarity work . Here’s a place where to get started.

2. Spread the word: clicktivism is something often criticised but it can contribute if not done by itself: spreading the word about things that matter is as easy as it will ever be and you can do it. Choose the individual or campaign you want to support, learn about it and spread the word! Share in social media, with friends, family, whatever suits you the best.

3. Send a message of solidarity: “A picture is worth a thousand words” they say, and it’s true. Emotions play a big part in campaigning, and empowering communities to keep fighting is essential. Go, send a message, a picture or a video. Take as an example the hundreds of messages of solidarity pouring into Berta’s family, friends and COPINH. They are also profoundly meaningful for their recipients. In some cases, you may be able to directly contact the individual or campaign.

4. Pressure companies and governments: often behind human rights violations and environmental problems there’s a company and/or a corrupt government letting them get away with it. Find a campaign and join it. Don’t buy their products, email them, annoy them. You may be surprised how many times it works. Take for example the case of Gustavo Castro, the only witness to Berta Caceres’ murder, who was illegally detained by the Honduran government while trying to travel to Mexico. Thanks to the overwhelming international pressure, the Honduran government was forced to release Gustavo rather than, as some sources say, frame him for Berta’s murder.

5. Take direct action: from doing ‘brandalism’ in a supermarket or in the streets, to marching for a cause, every single action counts, no matter its scale. Join a local group or join in a direct action!

Finally, if interested in knowing more about activists at risk you may like to follow the work of Daniel Voskoboynik, Demand Climate Justice, Frontline Defenders, Global Witness, Goldman Environmental Prize, JASS, London Mining Network, Mining Watch Canada, Otros Mundos Chiapas, Peace Brigades International, War on Want, Witness for Peace, Wretched of the Earth.

You can contact Martin on and @vainsteinmartin on Twitter.