For this Humanosphere podcast, we talk with Adam Shapiro, a human rights activist with the Irish organization Front Line Defenders, about a courageous Mexican woman who lives on the front lines in the fight for human rights – Lucha Castro. (Editor’s note: Sorry about the ten seconds of silence at the beginning, but consider it an invitation to briefly meditate).
Castro, Shapiro and their colleagues visited Seattle recently, to promote a book about human rights in Mexico and to meet with local supporting organizations like the Channel Foundation, Linksbridge and El Centro de la Raza. The book La Lucha is a graphic novel that describes the terrifying and inspiring work of Castro, a human rights attorney, in the incredibly violent Mexican border community of Juarez. Below is a video describing the story:
Shapiro, a documentary film maker in addition to a long-time human rights activist, said Front Line Defenders was launched in Dublin in 2001 by Mary Lawlor, previously with Amnesty International, to provide rapid and direct support around the world to activists like Castro because they are often celebrated as heroic individuals but not given the kind of practical, legal, financial or social support they need to thrive – or merely survive.
Castro, for trying to reduce violence against women especially and for championing victims of human rights abuses generally, lives under constant threat in Juarez from criminals, drug cartels and corrupt police. Her family has been sent away for their protection, but she refuses to leave despite the immense personal risk.
“We are seeing an increased backlash against human rights defenders worldwide,” Shapiro said. “There’s been a huge number of killings of environmental activists around the world, especially Southeast Asia … and efforts, often in Africa, to criminalize human rights organizations or civil society groups.”
In one sense, he said, this is a sign of success in that the push for improved human rights is threatening autocrats, abusive corporations, criminals and others who often depend upon abusing people in order to foster their interests. For too long, he added, many of the organizations who say they are devoted to fighting poverty, suffering and inequity have tended to ignore human rights.
“It’s true that a lot humanitarian and development agencies, especially the international ones, have tended to sideline rights issue,” said Shapiro, based on the assumption they will have more success improving health or some other targeted aid if they can focus on the non-political, non-controversial needs and avoid alienating the government or others in power who will, and can, throw up obstacles to the aid and development community.
“But the push back is coming from the people they are working with, trying to help,” Shapiro said. “You can improve certain data points, like the Millennium Development Goals … but if you don’t address the underlying rights issues, it won’t make much difference.”
And as usual, before we get into the interview with Shapiro, Tom and I review some of the more interesting stories in the Humanosphere lately. This includes an apparent Dog Bites Man story out of the G7 meeting stating the obvious – Give More Money to Least Developed Countries, Advocates say – which we highlight to remind people that, in fact, a lot of our foreign aid doesn’t actually go to help poor people.
Other stories we discuss in our headline review include a profile of a Christian Evangelical on his Anti-American Jihad in Kenya and this story examining what it takes to make anti-poverty programs succeed based largely on an approach pioneered in Bangladesh. It’s all fascinating stuff, so give a listen and read up on all things Humanospherian if you want to know what’s really happening (or not) on the humanitarian front.