Risking her life to save the environment: Jani Silva

by Kaitlyn O’Shaughnessy, Women’s Human Rights Coordination Group, Amnesty International USA

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual international campaign that starts on November 25th, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10th, Human Rights Day. The United Nations adopted a specific resolution to protect Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) acknowledging that a key challenge for WHRDs is the systemic and structural discrimination and violence they face. Women defenders are subject to the same types of risks as any human rights defender, but as women, they are also targeted for or exposed to gender-specific threats and gender-specific violence. As part of the 16 Days Campaign, Amnesty International USA invites you to take action and stand in solidarity with one of those courageous activists.

To mark the 16 Days Campaign, Amnesty International USA asks you to take action to defend Jani Silva, a Colombian environmental defender and WHRD. From age 16, Jani has dedicated her life to protecting the Amazon. She stands with the campesino farmers of Putumayo, a region in southern Colombia brimming with biodiversity, and their commitment to preserving that ecosystem. Jani and her colleagues founded the Integral Sustainable Development Association of the Amazonian Pearl (ADISPA), an organization dedicated to preserving the peasant Amazon Pearl Reserve Zone. Helping to protect Jani and all members of ADISPA means helping to protect a whole ecosystem.

About her work, Jani says:

“Let us not only think about our children, but also about the families of others; let us not only think about our own country, but also about other countries. Let’s think about all those who need us.”

Jani’s activism pits her against forces greedy for the land’s oil wealth. Unknown aggressors are threatening and intimidating Jani, putting her life in danger. She has been followed, intimidated by unknown people with guns, and threatened with death. In July 2020, the Inter-Ecclesiastical Commission of Justice and Peace received information about a plan to kill Jani. An armed group called “La Mafia” allegedly plans to kill Jani because of a voluntary crop substitution program she promotes in the Putumayo region of Colombia. According to NGOs, this group is responsible for the killings of 14 persons in the Putumayo region since the COVID-19 lockdown started. Despite these threats, Jani remains undeterred:

“Because I defend my territory, people have put a gun to my head to kill me”, she says. “However, I stay … because … we cannot run away or let ourselves be won over by fear.”

Help Jani get protection so she can continue her important work defending a precious and irreplaceable ecosystem.

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