Over the next two weeks, 140 world leaders and over 70.000 other delegates, ranging from religious leaders to corporate lobbyists, are expected to descend on Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the UN Climate Conference. Here, they will assess the progress made toward realizing the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The urgency is clear: COP28 has been preceded by several scientific reports, whose findings are both increasingly dire and, sadly, effectively ignored.

The window to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius is rapidly closing and would require radical interventions. As things stand, even fully implementing the promises already made by governments to cut emissions will still push temperatures up to 2.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

Worryingly, the UN Climate Conferences themselves have come under increasing criticism for offering a platform to polluters to ‘greenwash’ their activities. COP27 was marked by an “explosion” of corporate lobbyists. Concerns about the ‘corporate capture’ of the conferences echo those in other UN processes, such as the ongoing negotiations on a treaty on transnational corporations. Also at COP27, Egyptian authorities placed severe restrictions on civil society, threatening to deprive the deliberations of many critical voices from affected communities.

COP28 is facing similar questions about its legitimacy after the UAE selected the CEO of its state-owned oil company as conference chair. This means that the negotiations on whether to phase out the use of fossil fuels entirely will now be led by an oil executive whose company is reportedly using COP28 as an opportunity to promote new oil deals. Meanwhile, conscious of the severe restrictions on civic space in the UAE, climate activists have expressed fear of surveillance and detention during the conference.  

“Now more than ever” has become somewhat of a cliché in the world of advocacy but it remains true in many cases – most critically in regard to climate change. We are quickly running out of time to take climate action and have already passed certain tipping points, locking in the now inevitable adverse climate impacts on people and the planet. Yet every day we do act, we can prevent more future harm.

What is at stake?

Despite its shortcomings, the Paris Agreement still offers one of the most robust international frameworks to compel States to act. In this context, Franciscans International will be closely monitoring the following developments at COP28:

  • The conference will include the first global stocktake (GTS), through which countries and other stakeholders will assess the progress in reducing emissions through the national commitments that they made following the Paris Agreement –  and identify where they are falling behind. Although it is clear that we are woefully off track to keep average global temperatures “well below 2°C”, the GTS can be leveraged to accelerate the ambition of the next round of national action plans, which are due in 2025.
  • State delegates are also expected to reach a decision on whether to phase out fossil fuels – that is, to completely eliminate them –  or whether to merely phase down their use. The continued extraction of gas, oil, and coal by companies does not only harm our planet –  it is also negatively impacting an array of human rights, including the right to health and the right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. A decision to phase out fossil fuels is essential to protect both our common home and our human rights.
  • Negotiations on a loss and damage fund should be concluded at COP28. Through this mechanism, wealthy countries – historically responsible for the most emissions – should provide financial support to poorer countries to mitigate the damages of the climate crisis and facilitate the shift away from fossil fuels. An equitable and effective mechanism will be critical to ensure that nobody is left behind.
  • For the first time ever, the UN Climate Conference will feature a faith pavilion, which further reinforces the UN’s strong engagement with religious communities on climate issues. Although Pope Francis was forced to cancel his visit due to health reasons, Anglican Archbishop Julio will join other faith leaders, emphasizing that climate justice is not only a political and human rights issue, but also a moral and spiritual imperative.

COP28 also coincides with the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December. Later that week, on 15 December, the prestigious UN Human Rights Prize will be awarded to an international coalition of civil society organizations that includes FI for its role in advocating for the recognition of the right to a healthy environment – a pointed reminder that environmental issues are also human rights issues. Through its recognition of this right, the UN General Assembly has laid the groundwork for a rights-based approach to global environmental action.

As the delegates gather at COP28, they must meet the moment and finally fulfill their obligations under international law. They should know that the world is watching and that anything short of urgent and inclusive action is not an option. In the words of UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres: “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”.

Where to find us during COP28:

  • Talanoa Interfaith Gathering
    (30 November – 12:30 CET)

    Based on a traditional form of dialogue by the Indigenous People of Fiji to solve problems within the community, we’ll meet to exchange our initiatives, concerns, and hopes in our work for climate justice. You can find out more about the event and join the live stream here.
  • The Right to a Healthy Environment – What Next?
    (1 December – 13:45 CET)

    During a high level event that will be opened by the President of Slovenia, we will explore how the right to a healthy environment can be mainstreamed, implemented, and codified by the international climate community. Puede ver la retransmisión en directo aquí.

In the 2000s, the discovery of large gas and mineral reserves in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado promised to bring economic growth and human development to the population. However, while it led to massive investments from European companies, local communities have hardly benefited from it. On the contrary, the exploitation of resources highlighted inequalities and participated in the rise of violence. The situation in Cabo Delgado further escalated in October 2017, when an extremist group locally known as Al Shabab* engaged in a brutal insurgency, indiscriminately targeting citizens. Since it started, thousands of people have been killed, and over one million have been displaced.

Amid this complex and multi-faceted crisis, the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM), of which Sister Therese is a member, help internally displaced persons in resettlement camps through psychological support and practical training courses, particularly for young women. We discussed her daily work with affected people, some of the root causes of the crisis, and how she views international advocacy.   

Can you explain what your work involves? 

In northern Mozambique, the arrival of internally displaced persons was sudden and massive. Every day, between 300 and 500 people turned up, some with their luggage, others empty-handed. When this happened, we had to make a quick decision. As I already had experience working with Rwandan and Burundian refugees, I didn’t hesitate to get involved and put myself at their service. Thanks to the collaboration of local authorities, we were able to find different sites to welcome people, and we currently have eleven camps in our district. The first thing my sisters and I do is to welcome them on one of our plots and provide them with the emergency aid sent by our congregation, which includes food for the first few days and a mat to sleep on. Our work also has a psychological dimension: every morning, our priority is to be close to them and listen to them. Our presence alone is essential. Finally, we train them to be self-sufficient, so that they don’t become dependent. 

Before arriving in these camps, what was the experience of these displaced persons? 

Many people were displaced by the terrorist attacks, which began unexpectedly. Villagers watched helplessly as armed groups burned down their homes and beheaded their neighbors and relatives. When you see that, you have no choice but to flee. So many of them were displaced by this violence, but it wasn’t the only factor. Indeed, the soil of the Cabo Delgado province is rich in minerals, making it an especially attractive place for the mining industry. Rather than engage in dialogue with Indigenous populations and traditional chiefs, transnational companies have evicted them from their land, often with the false promise of giving them new plots in exchange that would enable them to continue their farming activities.

What’s the situation like in the camps?

Thanks to the help of non-governmental and ecclesiastical organizations, the situation has improved. Some of them are taking care of water by digging wells, the sanitary facilities are in better condition, and generally speaking, collaborating with other entities means that local needs are better taken care of. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), for example, was one of the first on the ground to provide essential aid. However, humanitarian assistance is not always constant: due to a lack of funds, the aid provided by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) is about to stop, so we are in the process of receiving the last stocks of food. This is problematic, because rain is scarce, and it takes three months to harvest. The most difficult thing about our work is the means. If we don’t have the material means, it’s all over.

What inspired you to start this work and how does it connect with your vocation as a Franciscan sister?

Right from the start of my vocation, I saw myself as a missionary, which means I accept any kind of work, even if it’s difficult and risky. Our Foundress used to say, “My consecration is love”, so I must love everyone without distinction. My priority is to help those who are suffering, but I also play the role of mediator. Because the land is State-owned in Mozambique, certain fields have been redistributed to newly arrived displaced persons, creating major tensions with the locals. The latter began to demand a share of the crops as compensation for the land they had lost. In this type of situation, I don’t take sides and try to maintain cohesion. Finally, I think that my work reflects the necessary balance between prayer and action.  

What was your impression of your first experience at the United Nations?

I enjoyed it because I thought that only certain countries would be represented and have the opportunity to speak – I didn’t expect there would be so much diversity in the debates. Besides, the exchanges I witnessed were very respectful. Now I have a completely different impression of the UN, and I can see how much human rights work is carried out by so many people.

What is your main message to the international community? 

My main request is that human rights and freedom of expression be respected. In the context of mining activities in Mozambique, it is necessary to start a conversation with civil society, and for this, the international community has an essential role to play. It is important to put pressure on heads of state to engage in dialogue with their people and to ensure their participation in decision-making processes that affect them. It is also the responsibility of governments to set limits for companies and to maintain a reciprocity that is inclusive of local populations. Finally, I’m convinced that we could all live very well together on this earth if we respect human rights – rights that are included in God’s Ten Commandments.

*No ties to the Somali group of the same name.

For more information, check out our main article on Franciscans at the Forefront of Human Rights.

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Many of Franciscans International’s friends, partners, and colleagues gathered in Geneva and online on 8 November to usher in a new era for the organization and say goodbye to Markus Heinze OFM, whose final term as Executive Director is coming to an end after more than a decade. The event was also an opportunity to meet and welcome his successor Blair Matheson TSSF, who will officially assume the role on 1 January 2024.

Markus took the opportunity to thank those committed to FI’s work for the support he received over the past years. “All that we achieved was only possible because of all of you. It’s like an orchestra: everyone plays their own instrument, but that’s what creates the wonderful sounds,” he said. “But of course, it’s not about our achievements – it’s about our mission and vision to respect the dignity and the rights of every person. For that I thank you.”

Reflecting on the change, the President of FI’s International Board of Directors, Brother Michael Perry OFM, delivered a short address, exploring the meaning of leadership in a Franciscan context and its linkages with human rights advocacy at the United Nations.

“One of the most striking things about leadership in the ‘Franciscan’ world – if such a world really exists – is the intuitive sense that true authority is derived from the bottom, from being among the least, sharing their experience, and engaging with them, rather than seeking to occupy a place at the top of society.”

Concluding the meeting, those in attendance offered a blessing to Blair as he prepares to take over. “It was clear that my time at FI would end, and some may have gotten nervous about what would come next,” said Markus. “I promised people we’d do our best to find a good Executive Director, but I didn’t know he would be that good.”

During the last week of October, UN Member States gathered in Geneva to continue negotiations on a new treaty that would regulate the activities of transnational corporations under international human rights law. This open-ended governmental working group (IGWG) was established in 2014 by the Human Rights Council, acknowledging that businesses are among the key drivers of human rights violations around the world.

Franciscans International has actively participated in all nine sessions of the IGWG to date, providing both technical expertise and offering a platform to partners so that their firsthand experiences can inform the negotiations. In the past, we have hosted Franciscans and other human rights defenders to provide testimonies on the impacts business activities have on their communities, often with widespread and inter-generational consequences.

Negotiations start in earnest

At the start of the 9th session, several States raised questions and concerns about the process through which the fourth revised draft – the proposed text under negotiation – was developed. These included the incorporation of some of the controversial 2022 proposals made by the chair, as well as the lack of intersessional contributions from the African region.

Following agreement on posting both the fourth revised draft in ‘clean’ and ‘track changes’ formats during the session, negotiations continued and covered the preamble and Articles 1 to 3 during the week. The session saw broad participation by States, as well as many States that had not previously joined the negotiations. 

While this was an encouraging sign, there is still a fundamental disagreement between States on the scope of the treaty and what types of businesses it should cover. With large financial interests at stake, there have been repeated attempts by some States and corporate interests to weaken the text. FI delivered and participated in oral statements, including as members of the ESCR-Net and the Feminists for a Binding Treaty coalitions. Throughout the negotiations, our interventions have focused on the need to include robust language that will establish actionable tools to meet the reality many communities are facing at the grassroots.

Voices from the grassroots

We also co-sponsored two side events. The first event, “A Cross-Regional Discussion to Spotlight Key Issues the Treaty Can Address From a Feminist Perspective”, featured an FI staff member and a Franciscan Sister from Mozambique, who discussed the relevance of the future treaty in situations of conflict based on her experience supporting internally displaced persons. A second event, looking at concrete cases of human rights violations and eco-destruction, examined how these examples addressed specific provisions of the proposed treaty, including its provisions on prevention, access to justice, and liability.  

In moving forward, the report of the Chair-Rapporteur offered a series of recommendations, including to present a procedural decision to the Human Rights Council requesting additional human and financial resources to support the process, to hold intersessional consultations in regard to methodology; and to convene “intersessional, cross-regional thematic consultations” on the draft treaty.  

FI will continue to follow the process closely, and actively contribute, when possible, to intersessional meetings and other opportunities for consultation.  

Franciscans International is extremely concerned by the violence that has engulfed the Holy Land in recent weeks, and we join Pope Francis and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in their calls for an immediate ceasefire. We also note that the UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly supported a resolution demanding a humanitarian truce and the “release of all civilians who are being illegally held captive,” as well as the urgent statements issued by a number of UN agencies, officials, and experts on the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza.

We join Brother Massimo Fusarelli, Minister General of the Friars Minor, and the Franciscan friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, in their call for prayers for peace, and to “sow it with concrete gestures.”


“Let there be a cease-fire. War is always a defeat – always, always.”

Pope Francis


FI reiterates that international humanitarian and human rights law must be upheld and that the indiscriminate targeting of civilians can never be tolerated. Allegations of mass atrocity crimes should be independently investigated, and anyone violating these core principles must be held accountable by a court of law without exception. Accordingly, we welcome the recent visit of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to the Rafah crossing and urge him to take appropriate action under his mandate. More generally, all States must fulfill their obligations under international law, and take concrete steps to ensure the protection of civilian populations.


“Hell is visible in the pictures of the dead and injured, of the destruction of homes, churches and mosques, hospitals, schools. We hear it with the emergency warning sirens on the background. We sense it in the heavy air that smells of death and suffering. The innocent victims of this war do not deserve the hell on earth they are living.”

Br. Ibrahim Faltas OFM, Vicar of the Custody of the Holy Land, on the situation in Gaza


As the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, H.E. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, wrote on 24 October: it is our moral duty to unequivocally condemn this violence. As he points out, it is “only by ending decades of occupation and its tragic consequences […] that a serious peace process can begin.” Witnessing the events of the past weeks, we echo Cardinal Pizzaballa that “the tragedy of these days must lead us all, religious, political, civil society, international community, to a more serious commitment in this regard than what has been done so far.”

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More than twenty years after the end of the internal armed conflict, Guatemala is still suffering from these decades of extreme violence and discrimination against Indigenous communities. Rampant impunity and widespread high-level corruption persist. The judicial power plays a big role in muzzling dissent by blocking investigations of corruption and human rights violations, and arbitrarily prosecuting independent journalists and judges. The country has also become one of the most dangerous places for human rights defenders, who are routinely surveilled, criminalized, harassed, and in some cases, simply killed. In August 2023, anticorruption candidate Bernardo Arevalo unexpectedly won the presidential elections, giving new hope to the population. But since then, the Attorney General’s Office has sought to delegitimize the results, which in turn sparked protests across Guatemala.  

In this context, we met with Brenda Peralta, who works as the coordinator of the Justice, Peace and Integrity Commission (JPIC) of the Franciscan Family of Guatemala, a member of the advocacy committee of the Franciscan Network for Migrants (FNM), as well as coordinator of the Causas Raíz Initiative in Guatemala. We discussed the situation in her country as well as how she sees her work towards more justice.

What are the main human rights issues in Guatemala?

For the past years, the “pact of the corrupt” – a group of powerful elites linked to organized crime – has undermined the rule of law, with systematic attacks against independent justice officials and the criminalization of activists, Indigenous leaders, and journalists. After exposing corruption at the highest levels of the government, the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was pushed out of the country. Indigenous communities are also often being evicted from their territories, which causes internal displacement and other human rights abuses. The issue with these lands is that they were stolen during the internal armed conflict when the population went into exile, and powerful families and military fraudulently transferred the titles to their name. After the peace agreements in 1996, people returned to their territories, but now, these are being reclaimed by the supposed owners with the help of the government and paramilitary groups that want to use them for palm oil production, extractive mining, and hydroelectric projects.

What inspired you to work on these issues and how does it connect with your vocation as a Franciscan?

I met the Franciscans in my adolescence. They helped me become more aware of what was happening in my country at the time, which was during the last years of the internal armed conflict. However, it was not until many years later that I came to know the JPIC. Their work for the care of our common home and towards the construction of a better world for all became a way of life for me. We seek to create awareness in both religious and secular Franciscan communities about social and political problems and how they affect us. We are also trying to show the importance of solidarity and how political and citizen participation contributes to creating solutions.

What are the main challenges of your work?

I think one of the main challenges is the coordination of our common goal, which is to change unjust structures. A lot has been done already at the regional level, with Central America and Mexico, but we still have a long way to go. We work on many fronts simultaneously to be able to see changes. This can be challenging, but I do it with pleasure because it is out of conviction. Another challenge is to encourage advocacy from the Franciscan family. Indeed, some might be wary of getting involved on certain issues, because there is always a safety risk when working as a human rights advocate.

What achievement are you most proud of?

The positive response and trust that many Franciscans have been given during these years is truly heartwarming. We have established alliances with leaders, other religious organizations, and civil society. Good teamwork was essential to improve the way we do things, and to be involved at different levels, including internationally. For instance, working with the United Nations helps to make visible situations of human rights violations that would be harder to denounce locally due to security issues. It also generates trust in the local people and networks we already work with and facilitates connection spaces to create new networks.

How do you see the difference between charity and human rights work do you think they complement each other?

One of the JPIC’s principles is charity, which we understand at three levels. First, the welfare, such as feeding the hungry, then the promotional, which is raising awareness, and finally, structural. While some people mainly dedicate themselves to the first part – which is great – I think it is essential to go further than that and work on the root causes of injustice. In that sense, charity and human rights work complement each other very well.

For more information, check out our main article on Franciscans at the Forefront of Human Rights.

In September, the Franciscan Network for Migrants (FNM) gathered in San Salvador for its annual meeting. Representing the concerns of the network at the United Nations, Franciscans International participated in this meeting, which brought together facilitators and representatives of Franciscan migrant shelters across the Americas.

The week centered around capacity-building, experience-sharing, and collaboration. Together, participants could comparatively analyze the situation of migrants in their respective countries and the lack of protection for people on the move. Although the political contexts may vary, the issues migrants face – such as violence, insecurity, organized crime, and corruption – are often the same. While taking stock of their common efforts to protect migrants across South, Central, and North America, Franciscan partners also reflected on how their work can be further strengthened.

Resisting the invisibility of migrants

Due to their disadvantaged status, migrants are vulnerable to a multitude of human rights violations, including human trafficking, murders, and enforced disappearances. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 2022 was the deadliest year for migrants in the Americas since the start of its Missing Migrant Project in 2014, with more than 1.400 who went missing or died. When this happens, many family members remain in the dark about the fate of their loved ones, as proper investigations are still severely lacking.

During the week, Franciscans met with members of the Committee of Relatives of Deceased and Disappeared Migrants from El Salvador (COFAMIDE), an initiative born in 2006 from relatives of migrants who disappeared. Omar Joaquin, the organization’s Secretary-General, himself received a “last communication” from his son before he disappeared. Since then, he has helped hundreds of families looking for answers about their relatives and advocates for stronger protection and search mechanisms.

Documenting the situation: a real challenge

Another focus of the 2023 annual meeting was the importance of documenting these human rights violations – a workshop under FI’s responsibility. Documenting and connecting individual experiences can help distinguish trends and dynamics, identify the actors involved, and thus make more robust cases for national and international advocacy. It also helps build and sustain a collective memory of what is happening to people on the move.

With the help of Margarita Nunez from the Migration Affairs Program (PRAMI), they identified different components of human rights documentation and how each is essential for humanitarian, judicial, or political action. Indeed, as there is often a gap between laws, discourses, and practices, having precise and systematic information is vital when advocating for change.

Documentation also includes security incidents against people working to support and protect migrants. In a context of increased criminalization and threats against human rights defenders (HRDs), Joaquin Raymundo of Protection International reminded participants that the UN General Assembly has compelled States to protect HRDs. This led to an extensive discussion of participants’ first-hand experiences of security incidents and how to improve capacities and protection strategies to mitigate these risks.

Finally, the week together has proven the importance of alliances. FNM Executive Secretary Vianey Martinez said: “In a fraternal spirit, we created a safe and synodal space to elaborate with FI through a three-year work plan and to discuss our next steps.” In the end, this collaboration allows Franciscans to use their complementary skills, share good practices, and support each other in their common objective to protect and safeguard the human dignity of people on the move.

On 21 September 2016, armed men – some of them wearing uniforms identifying them as members of the Philippines’ drug enforcement agency – pulled up outside the house of Amelia Santos. “I cannot forget the pain when I recall that day. It was like a movie,” she says. The armed men moved into the neighborhood and started shooting. “Afterwards, I saw my husband lying on a table, his face and body covered in mud and blood […] At that moment, I knew I needed to be strong.” Afterward, she learned that her husband had been shot 28 times.  
Her was one of the thousands killed extrajudicially in the Philippines’ brutal ‘war on drugs’ waged under former President Duterte. While the government admits that there are approximately 6.000 victims, civil society organizations have documented over 30.000 cases. The killings have continued despite promises made by a new administration that took power in 2022. For the victims and their families, who are disproportionately from poorer and marginalized communities, there has been little hope of finding justice through the courts in the Philippines.  
Instead, they have turned to the United Nations, calling on the Human Rights Council to support investigations that might eventually lead to accountability. Franciscans International, working closely with sisters and brothers who support victims in the Philippines, has been one of the organizations to offer a platform to family members. Such first-hand experiences are also essential in providing a critical perspective on initiatives such as the UN Joint Program on Human Rights, that have so far failed to effectively address human rights violations in the country.  
“We are so hungry for justice. We ask you to help us obtain justice and ensure that the war on drugs is not forgotten. Your support will give us new hope – us who are fighting for justice for our loved ones,” Ms. Santos said while participating in a side event during the Human Rights Council. “We hope and pray that you join us by giving us value.” 

The ‘war on drugs’ is only one of many human rights issues confronting Filipinos. That is why in September 2022, FI visited the country to conduct a mapping of current challenges and host a workshop so that Franciscans and their partners can continue to effectively bring these problems to the UN.  
During this visit, one of the key concerns identified by Franciscans was the damage caused by industries such as mining and geothermal energy. Although ostensibly a pathway to development, these projects have a devastating impact on the environment. Weak regulations and oversight, combined with corruption, all contribute to insufficient protection for affected communities. These projects also further aggravate the already negative impacts of climate change in the Philippines, a country that is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events. 

Today, the Philippines is facing a situation where a new government has made some commitments at the UN to improve the country’s troubled human rights record but has so far failed to live up to its promises. Instead, a climate of impunity continues to fuel human rights violations and attacks against those who stand up for justice. As long as this context persists, the Human Rights Council should not turn a blind eye to the Philippines. Franciscans remain committed to ensuring that these challenges are raised with the international community.

Sri Lanka has been marked by long-standing ethnic tensions and clashes. While the civil war ended in 2009, the lack of social cohesion and a failed reconciliation process are still fueling violence. During April 2019’s Easter celebrations, a series of suicide bombings in three churches and three hotels killed over 250 people, which rekindled old grievances. The human rights situation further deteriorated because of an economic crisis that sparked the Aragalaya mass protests, which led to the eviction of then-president Gothabaya Rajapaksa in 2022. 

In this context, Brother Patrick Perera is working towards more justice and accountability for the human rights violations that shattered his country. We discussed with him the lack of transitional justice, how the Easter bombings impacted him, as well as his call to the population to unite.  

Can you introduce yourself and explain what are the main human rights issues in your country?  

My name is Patrick Sujeewa Perera, and I am a priest working for the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) Office in Sri Lanka. In the past few years, my country has faced a serious human rights crisis, so I have been engaging in activities to defend people’s rights. The first issue I see stems from Sri Lanka´s three decades of civil war between 1983 and 2009. Given the country’s brutal history, there are still strong tensions between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities. At the same time, mismanagement of the economy by the government and corruption led to an acute shortage of fuel and other necessary supplies, which caused the Aragalaya protests, in which we participated. The third issue is the increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts and floods due to climate change, which are exacerbated because of unsustainable projects in the name of development. Finally, there is a lot of violence against human rights activists.  

What inspired you to start this work and how does it connect to your calling as a Franciscan brother? 

I started as a volunteer, but at that time I was not sure about what I was doing. It was when I personally witnessed the Easter Sunday attacks and saw people’s remains inside the church that I felt a profound change inside of me. I realized that if some people can do such terrible things against humanity, it is my personal duty to counter this. Even though I don’t expect to live in a world where there is no injustice at all, as a Franciscan, I will do what I can against it. Even now, when I am speaking at the United Nations, I remember that incident. Not only do I pray for the victims, but I raise their voices: I think that this is what my calling is about.  

What are you advocating for and why? 

We are advocating for more transparency and accountability of the government, which has the lives of ordinary people in its hands. This is especially important if we want to eliminate corruption in the political system. As both religious persons and human rights activists, it is our duty to keep them on the right track. They need to know that somebody is watching. I also think it is important to remind people that they have the power to change things. The Aragalaya protests actually helped with this, because people realized they have the power to protest, and they have the power to hold the government accountable if they are united.  

In your work, have you ever felt at risk, especially with the authorities targeting human rights defenders?  

With the work I do regarding the Easter bomb attacks, I was reminded many times to be careful with my activities, as we are demanding accountability and justice from the government. I also participated in the Aragalaya protests, where I faced tear gas or water attacks, but that is quite common. So far, I have not received personal threats, but I am still taking precautions to avoid being targeted.  

What is your proudest achievement?  

What I am proudest of is not something individual, but something we achieved as a group. After the Easter Sunday attacks took place, other religious leaders in the diocese of Colombo such as Archbishop Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith asked for an impartial investigation of this attack, but it did not happen. After this failed, the Cardinal wanted to bring the situation to the international level, but he did not have real tools or mechanisms. At that time, he and the Sri Lankan Catholic Church felt hopeless, as all the victims. It is thanks to the help of Franciscans International that our work at the grassroots was finally brought to the international level. As Franciscans, we have a good reputation, and we are respected – this is a great example of how group unity can be effective.  

How do you see the role of Franciscans evolving in Sri Lanka?   

We have always been doing charity work, but after the Easter bombings, we started mobilizing people, including other Franciscan groups. Since then, we have not only been doing advocacy by ourselves but have collaborated with the whole Franciscan family, such as the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary or the Capuchin friars. We also have civil society groups engaging with us, especially after the Aragayala protests. On top of that, we are now present at the international level, so if some groups don’t necessarily have access to the UN, we can help them by bringing their advocacy concerns to that level. Finally, the next step I see is discussing how we will keep working together as a family and strategizing on how we advocate to defend human rights.  

You can find all the statements delivered during this session below as they become available. Our past advocacy interventions are available here.

Item 10: General Debate – The Philippines (11 October)

Considering the prevailing impunity in the Philippines, we called on the Council to not only renew the mandate of the UN Joint Program on Human Rights in the country but to reconfigure its mandate to improve human rights accountability mechanisms. This extension should include a monitoring and reporting element, a counterpart role for domestic institutions, and meaningful participation for victims and their families. The program should also encourage the government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court.

Full statement (English)

Item 10: Interactive Dialogue on the report on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (9 October)

The human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) remains dire, with continued armed clashes that result in massive population displacements and unlawful killings. While welcoming the reports of the High Commissioner and international experts, we pointed out the lack of mention of mineral resources governance. Indeed, the expansion of industrial mining in the country, particularly of cobalt and copper, has led to forced evictions, threats, and other human rights abuses. Furthermore, mining has had a devastating impact on human health, biodiversity, and food security. In that regard, we asked the Council to consider the challenges surrounding extractive resources governance in its technical assistance.

Full statement (French)

Items 3&5: Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Guatemala (28 September)

During the armed conflict in Guatemala, the militarization of Indigenous lands spurred serious human rights violations including enforced disappearances, massacres, and forced displacement. However, the judicial system has failed to hold perpetrators to account, and a new initiative could grant amnesty to military personnel who committed these crimes. Moreover, the militarization of Indigenous lands continues to this day – 85 communities have been extrajudicially evicted since 2022. We called on the Human Rights Council to urge Guatemala to protect and respect the rights of Indigenous People, including their right to free, prior, and informed consent.

Full statement (Spanish)

Items 3&5: Interactive Dialogue with the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (28 September)

In a joint statement, we expressed our appreciation to the Expert Mechanism for their report on the militarization of Indigenous lands, in particular for giving visibility to the effects on economic, social, and cultural rights, as well as for including its view on the role of business opportunity. We also took the opportunity to raise three cases from Brazil, Guatemala, and Nicaragua where the rights of Indigenous Peoples continue to be violated.

Full statement (Spanish)

Annual Panel on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – Guatemala (27 September)

Ostensibly to “develop the country,” Guatemala has opened the door to national and transnational companies as well as extractive projects. Often undertaken without consultations or free, prior, and informed consent of the affected communities, these projects have a disproportionate impact on the rights of Indigenous women through the exploitation of labor and unpaid work. In this joint statement, we urged all States to respect their international obligations and guarantee Indigenous women meaningful roles in decision-making processes.

Full statement (Spanish)

Item 4: General Debate – The Philippines (27 September)

Victims and their families are still seeking justice for the human rights violations committed during the so-called ‘war on drugs’, waged by former President Duterte. Despite the commitments by a new administration to end extrajudicial killings, over 400 cases have been documented since in July 2022. Ms. Amelia Santos – whose husband was the victim of an extrajudicial killing in 2016 – raised the continued harassment and lack of support for victims and their families. She called on the Council to review whether its engagement with the Philippines has resulted in appropriate mechanisms toward enforcing accountability and ending impunity.

Full statement (English)

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on toxic wastes (19 September)

In Colombia, extractive industries are allowed to expand without consultation of affected communities that suffer the consequences. For example, the ‘La Colosa’ mine in Cajamara has caused irreversible environmental damage to protected areas and contaminated water sources. Considering this, we called on the government to support the Environmental Democracy Bill, which would help guarantee meaningful consultations of communities, prevent further environmental degradation, and compel action to mitigate the damage already caused.

Full statement (Spanish)

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on water and sanitation – Solomon Islands (14 September)

Logging in the Solomon Islands limits the access to water of local communities and damaged aquatic ecosystems in the country. In this light, we welcomed the recommendation by the Special Rapporteur that companies must be held accountable for the degradation of aquatic systems and be forced to comply with their obligations to repair and compensate for these damages. Highlighting several challenges from the Solomon Islands, we called on the government to implement the commitments it made during its last Universal Periodic Review.

Full statement (English)

Item 2: General Debate – Guatemala (13 September)

In 2022, more than 3.574 attacks against individuals, organizations, and communities that defend human rights were documented in Guatemala. The human rights crisis that has engulfed the country is worsened by attempts to weaponize the judiciary to delegitimize the recent presidential elections. In a joint statement, we asked the Council to urge all Guatemalan institution to respect the will of the people and guarantee that election officials, journalists, and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of intimidation.  

Full statement (Spanish)

Thumbnail: UN Photo / Jean Marc Ferré