Franciscans International is looking for a Finance and Administration Officer to help support our advocacy, fundraising, and project management departments in their work at the United Nations and at the grassroots.

Does this sound like a challenge you would like to take on? Send us your application by 9 June 2024!

You can find out more about the position and how to apply here.

Violations of the rights of Indigenous Peoples have wide-ranging implications beyond the affected communities. This recognition was central to our engagement during the 23rd session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), which took place in New York between 15 and 26 April. Human rights abuses committed by transnational businesses on Indigenous lands are often emblematic of broader corporate impunity. As stewards of nearly 80 percent of the planet’s remaining biodiversity, Indigenous Peoples also have a key role to play in the struggle for environmental justice. But, as pointed out by the UNPFII’s chairperson during her opening remarks, “like any first responder, we need assistance.”

Throughout the session, Franciscans International both listened to better understand the ongoing human rights violations facing Indigenous communities and offered platforms to share this information more widely. Building on our past work during the negotiations on a binding UN treaty on business and human rights in Geneva, we co-organized several events to discuss ongoing cases and explore avenues for accountability.

“We don’t want our children to group up in a world that is a desert.”

Indigenous representative from Brazil

Working closely with the Mining Working Group (MGW), FI participated in a breakfast meeting where Indigenous representatives from the Americas could elaborate on the harm caused in their communities by business activities. These included widespread and underreported pollution in Ecuador and the loss of livelihoods because of deforestation to clear land for hydroelectric projects in Brazil. The MWG also organized a “North-South Conversation” and a webinar moderated by FI with young Indigenous speakers to explore different elements of the right to self-determination.

Finally, together with the  US Treaty Alliance, we organized a discussion to examine the links between grassroots advocacy and international advocacy. Bringing together a broad range of experiences, speakers looked at what collective actions civil society can take to make the daily reality of frontline communities and Indigenous Peoples better heard at the UN.

The UNPFII itself also considered the impacts of businesses on Indigenous rights, highlighting that extractive industries and green energy projects often lead to the dispossession and militarization of Indigenous lands. It further warned of the harms caused in some instances by carbon and biodiversity markets. As FI continues its advocacy on environmental justice and business accountability, we will heed the voices of Indigenous Peoples and the recommendations coming from the UNPFII on the ‘just transition’ to a greener economy.

Franciscans International recently conducted a first workshop through its new European regional program ahead of Italy’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). On 18 and 19 April, nine sisters and brothers met in Assisi to take stock of the human rights issues they are already addressing through local efforts, and how these could benefit from advocacy at the United Nations.

During the workshop, the participants identified four such issues: the rights of prisoners, access to public health services in neglected areas, care of Italian forests, and the rights of migrants. Franciscans already work to improve the situation of affected communities, and there was broad agreement that this justice and peace work could be complemented and amplified by FI’s rights-based approach at the UN.

Under the UPR, UN Member States examine each other’s human rights records on a rotating basis. During this process, they can make recommendations to improve and address existing issues. At the end of this process, the country under review is expected to provide an implementation framework for the commitments it makes, establishing concrete benchmarks to measure progress. As part of the UPR, the UN also invites submissions from civil society organizations, providing the opportunity to shine a light on underreported human rights issues. FI previously submitted reports for Italy’s 2009 and 2014 reviews.

As a next step, Franciscans in Italy will consolidate information through further exchanges among themselves and with FI to form the basis of a new report that will be submitted in July. The examination of Italy is scheduled for January 2025.

In March, New York saw the largest annual United Nations meeting on gender equality and women’s empowerment as the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) convened for its 68th session. Franciscans International seized this opportunity to continue its advocacy work related to extreme poverty, including as a result of the disproportionate risk of human rights violations women face at the hands of transnational businesses.

This year, we also welcomed a group of nine Franciscan women, active on a broad number of human rights issues ranging from social work and migration to academics, to attend the session, share their insights, and take inspiration for their work.

 The 68th session centered on the need to accelerate the empowerment of women and girls by addressing poverty and strengthening institutions and financing. Although UN Member States have committed to reaching gender equality by 2030, there is an annual spending deficit of $360 billion to realize this goal. This goes to the heart of a fundamental problem: when women are left behind, all of us are held back.

“We keep telling girls to ‘shoot for the moon because you’ll end up between the stars.’ But we can barely get to the moon,” says Gabriella Martinez of the Franciscan Action Network, who was part of the FI delegation. “At the session, I heard that peace is 20 percent more likely to last if women are involved in dialogues. That may not seem like a big difference, but when we have all these disputes around the world, it is. And I heard women are saying, ‘We have the solutions; we just don’t have the resources.’”

“Shock absorbers”

A primary area of concern for FI continues to be the role of businesses in fueling human rights violations and environmental degradation, which often disproportionately affects women and girls. Although many companies pay lip service to gender equality, women face systematic violations around the world, including financial and sexual exploitation.

On the margins of the session, FI supported an event organized by the Feminists for a Binding Treaty, where speakers were able to share cases from Argentina, Indonesia, Kenya, and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The discussion also explored ways to strengthen the linkages between the CSW in New York and the ongoing negotiations at the UN in Geneva on a new treaty that would regulate the activities of transnational corporations under international human rights law. 

“If Saint Francis was living today, he would be at the Commission on the Status of Women.”

Sister Maryann A. Mueller CSSF

Echoing some of the themes discussed during this event and following two intense weeks, the outcome document of the session recognizes that women and girls living in poverty have become ‘shock absorbers’ in times of crisis. Acknowledging the shortcomings of the international financial architecture, the Commission also recommended that UN Member States implement reforms that include progressive taxation, enforcing core labor standards, and new strategies toward sustainable economies.

These Agreed Conclusions, together with language coming from other UN human rights mechanisms and State commitments under international law, will continue to inform and shape FI’s work to empower those working on gender equality at the grassroots and the UN.

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


Item 10: General Debate – the Philippines (3 April)

As the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights (UNJP) is nearing its conclusion later this year, we called attention to the ongoing extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. Considering the prevailing impunity in the country, we urged the Council to mandate the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the UNJP. In the absence of such a resolution, we asked all Member States to join our call on the Office of the High Commissioner to undertake this assessment on its own initiative.

Full statement (English)

Item 4: General Debate – United Kingdom (21 March)

In the first statement delivered under our new Europe program, we expressed our concerns over the United Kingdom’s failure to fulfill its international legal obligations while highlighting issues with the Safety of Rwanda Bill and the Illegal Migration Act. Similarly, the 2024 Northern Ireland Troubles Act was found to be incompatible with five aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Windsor Agreement. While we welcomed the government abandoning plans to abolish the Human Rights Act, we reiterated that all States must fully implement their international human rights obligations.

Full statement (English)

Item 3: General Debate – Business and human rights (15 March)

In a joint statement, we reemphasized the urgent need for a binding UN instrument aimed at preventing and providing accountability for human rights violations by corporations. Although we are encouraged by some of the progress made during the ongoing negotiations toward such a treaty, we remain concerned that the new draft text weakens the obligation of businesses to respect human rights. Meanwhile, we continue to see signs of the corporate capture of UN Processes. During the Council, we called on all governments, especially those in the Global North where most transnational corporations are headquartered, to support a strong, legally binding treaty that can set a floor for regulating corporations in a way that is in line with human rights and gender justice. 

Full statement (English)

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association – Indonesia (7 March)

Franciscans International called attention to the continued use of excessive force, arbitrary arrests, harassment, intimidation, and threats against Indigenous Papuan activists in the context of peaceful protests.  More generally, civic space in West Papua continues to shrink. For example, recently the military has put up public billboards displaying the names of Indigenous Papuans on a wanted list in an attempt to muzzle peaceful gatherings. We urged the Indonesian government to uphold international standards on the use of force during peaceful protests and called for an impartial investigation into several incidents raised in our joint statement.  

Full statement (English)

Item 3: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment (6 March)

Franciscans International expressed its gratitude to the outgoing Special Rapporteur for his efforts and willingness to engage with civil society during his tenure. Highlighting the negative impacts of business activities on the environment and the role of environmental degradation in fuelling violent conflict, we expressed our hope that these issues will be taken up again by the next mandate holder.

Full statement (English)

Item 2: General Debate – Sri Lanka (4 March)

On 21 April, it will be five years since 273 people were killed during the Easter Sunday bombings. Yet much about that day remains unclear. Repeated requests for a transparent, independent, and fair investigation into the attacks have been denied by the government, while new evidence was brushed aside. With authorities introducing new laws further curtailing media freedom, we raised our concerns about the failure of meaningful accountability processes in Sri Lanka and called on the Council to insist on a transparent investigation into these matters.

Full statement (English)

Item 2: General Debate – Guatemala (1 March)

Despite a new administration taking power in January, the co-optation of the Guatemalan judicial system is still a major concern. Critical voices continue to be targeted and criminalized, with civil society organizations documenting 5.965 aggressions against human rights defenders between January and November 2023. In a joint statement, we urged the new government to establish a plan of action to accept visits from Special Procedures, implement recommendations by the Universal Periodic Review and Treaty Bodies, and request a country visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Full statement (Spanish)

Thumbnail credit: UN Photo / Elma Okic

Franciscans International has been monitoring negotiations at the UN Security Council toward a resolution calling for a cessation of hostilities in Gaza and is deeply concerned that a vote has been repeatedly postponed while the proposed text has been significantly weakened. Considering the dire and deteriorating situation in Gaza, there can be no more delays*. The 13 December vote by the General Assembly calling for a ceasefire has already made it clear that such a resolution would enjoy overwhelming international support.

We reiterate our calls for an immediate ceasefire, unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, the release of all innocent civilians held captive, and an independent investigation into alleged atrocity crimes with a view of holding perpetrators accountable.

While the resolution is negotiated by the members of the Security Council, we continued to witness the devastating events throughout the Holy Land and hear the repeated warnings by the United Nations and civil society about the currently “apocalyptic” humanitarian situation and the ongoing human rights violations in Gaza – described by independent UN experts in November as a “genocide in the making”.

On 16 December, we also received the news that two Palestinian women – a mother and daughter – were killed by the Israeli Defense Force while sheltering inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza. Nahida Khalil Anton was shot by snipers. While her daughter Samar tried to help her reach safety, she was shot as well. 

Earlier in the day, the compound was reportedly fired on by a tank, resulting in a fire and the destruction of a generator. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem released a statement warning that there are currently 54 persons with disabilities in the compound, some of whom are now unable to use the respirators that they need to survive. We note that Palestinian medical facilities and cultural sites have been repeatedly targeted, in violation of international law.

Nahida and Samar are just two of the more than 21.000 people that have been killed in the Holy Land since 7 October 2023. We cannot forget that each number represents a human being with families, friends, hopes, and dreams. The overwhelming percentage of those killed are civilian casualties, among them at least 135 UN staff and 68 journalists.

Meanwhile, with over 70 percent of houses in Gaza damaged and the Word Food Program warning that half of all Gazans are starving, those seeking refuge from the violence – including the over 1.9 million displaced –  continue to be targeted while being deprived of all necessities, including food, water, shelter, and medical care.

“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

In short, we are witnessing a human rights and humanitarian catastrophe and an international community that has been unable to act decisively or provide accountability for decades-long violations of international law. As noted by the UNRWA Commissioner-General, this is “a make-or-break moment for all of us and for our shared humanity.”

Inside the UN Headquarters in New York, there is a plaque bearing a quote from Dag Hammarskjöld that reminds the reader that “the United Nations was not created in order to bring us to heaven, but in order to save us from hell.” In Gaza, the international community is falling far short of this most basic task.

Photo from the Holy Family Parish shared by the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem

*After publication, the UN Security finally passed a resolution calling for an “immediate, safe and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”. Franciscans International remains concerned that, given the dire situation in Gaza, this decision fails to meet the gravity of the moment and to explicitly call for a permanent cessation of hostilities.

Over 281 million people – nearly 4 percent of the world’s population – don’t live in the country where they were born. International Migrants Day is an occasion to shed light on the challenges that confront people on the move. While the number of migrants throughout the world keeps on growing – due to factors like poverty, insecurity, or the effects of climate change – the implementation of a human rights approach to human mobility is still lagging.  

Hostile immigration policies and practices such as the militarization of borders and criminalization of migrants increase their vulnerability to human rights violations. This is notably the case in the Americas, where these practices force people to use increasingly dangerous routes, subjecting them to extortion, sexual violence, and killings by cartels and smugglers.  

In this context, Franciscans are at the frontlines of helping migrants. Created in 2018, the Franciscan Network for Migrants (FNM) aims to “form a corridor for migrant humanitarian support throughout the Americas.” The members of the Network work directly on the ground by providing essential services such as temporary housing and food, but they also seek to uphold migrants’ rights at the United Nations through Franciscans International.  

The establishment of shelters near borders crossing points also plays an essential role in preserving the safety and dignity of people on the move in Colombia, Central America, Mexico, and the United States.  

Indeed, many people are in dire situations when they arrive at a shelter. Some have lost everything, they may have witnessed or experienced extreme violence, or sometimes have been separated from family. Alejandra Conde, from the Franciscan La 72 explains: “We are in a context in the south of Mexico where there are many, many issues of violations by authorities and also organized crime, common crime, kidnappings, assaults, robberies, and sexual violence.” 

“We are defenders of the rights of migrants.”

Located in Tenosique, the La 72 shelter welcomes migrants and gives special attention to victims of crime by providing psychological support as well as informing them of their rights. “We also take into account intersectionality and pay specific attention to the most vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied minors, children, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community,” says Alejandra. To do so, they use various strategies, such as creating different spaces where people feel safe: for instance, there are some parts of the shelter where only women are allowed.  

Complimenting the psychological support and counseling, most shelters offer medical services, filling the gap of the lack of access to healthcare for migrants. They also provide core relief items such as food, toiletries kits, and clothing.  

For Sister Isabel Turcios (FMI), director of the migrants’ shelter Frontera Digna in Coahuila, their presence is essential: “Given the situations of vulnerability that migrants live in, the work that is done from this shelter is of vital importance because we can listen, welcome, protect, and provide legal advice in situations that require it. We are defenders of the rights of migrants.” At Frontera Digna the Sisters offer spiritual assistance and advice, but they also refer people to other local organizations depending on their needs.  

“The issue of migrating without information is as if you were walking down the street blindfolded because you don’t know where to go and what to do.”

Another common thread among the Network’s shelters is the importance placed on access to information: “The issue of migrating without information is as if you were walking down the street blindfolded because you don’t know where to go and what to do,” says Alejandra Conde. Yet many people start their journey without knowing about regularization processes and available protection mechanisms. When they arrive at one of the shelters, they are advised of the options they have and can make an informed choice about what to do next.  

However, while these places are essential to ensure the human dignity of people on the move, they constantly face obstacles. First of all, the very nature of migrants’ shelters make them vulnerable to harassment and attacks from both State and non-State actors. In Mexico, not only migrants but also the people accompanying them through visa regularization processes are regularly threatened by the authorities. Then, with migration flows that keep on increasing, shelters are frequently operating at full capacity. This adds up to a severe lack of funding, as many shelters rely on donations: “It would be great to have financial help for unforeseen events, as well as for basic medication and other relief items,” says Sister Isabel. 

Despite the hardships, the Franciscan Network for Migrants (FNM) remains hopeful and committed to protecting the dignity of people on the move: “It can be frustrating to have to deal with these abuses against migrants every day,” says Alejandra. “But at the same time, it is very satisfying to see people leaving with their suitcases, with their jackets, with a card and their status regularized, and to see those happy faces when they leave.”  

Franciscans International is proud to be a member of the diverse global coalition that received the UN Human Rights Prize today. Awarded once every five years, the prestigious prize acknowledges the vital role played by this coalition in advocating for the recognition by UN Member States of the human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment.

This achievement was only possible through tireless efforts that began more than a decade ago and resulted in thousands of organizations and people from across the world joining together to spur the United Nations to recognize this right – first in 2021 by the UN Human Rights Council and subsequently in 2022 by the UN General Assembly.

The award was accepted in New York on behalf of the coalition by six representatives from Africa, Asia, Europe, the Pacific, North America, and Latin America and the Caribbean. The diverse nature of this group not only represents the reach of the coalition but also exemplifies the global relevance of the right to a healthy environment as an integral part of the enjoyment of all other human rights.

The Global Coalition of Civil Society, Indigenous Peoples, Social Movements, and Local Communities for the Universal Recognition of the Human Right to a Clean, Healthy, and Sustainable Environment brings together over 1.350 organizations from 75 countries.

In our own work at FI, this intersection and the new avenues for advocacy that are opened up by the recognition of this right are also evident. In Asia-Pacific and the Americas for example, unchecked business activities have severely affected the lives of Indigenous Peoples and other communities that traditionally rely on their natural environment for their livelihoods.

Also in the Americas, as well as in Africa, environmental degradation is exacerbating migration flows and internal displacement. Both at the grassroots and in global processes such as the UN Climate Conferences, the right to a healthy environment can be a foundation for inclusive and rights-based policies that seek to combat the triple-planetary crisis and its impacts.

“Awarding the Human Rights Prize underscores the universality of the right to a healthy environment. We all need clean air, adequate and sustainable food, water and sanitation, and other elements of the right to survive and thrive,” said Budi Tjahjono, FI’s International Advocacy Director. “Already, 161 States have enshrined this right in their domestic legislation. While this is encouraging, it is only the start: we must and will continue our work to fully implement this human right for all.”

FI has continued to advocate for the right’s inclusion in other spaces and outcome documents, to ensure coherence across the UN.  FI is also currently conducting consultations and research for a new publication that we expect to launch in early 2024. By looking at concrete cases, this document will aim to fill existing gaps in understanding around the newly recognized right and offer tools to grassroots activists and community leaders who seek to protect and realize the right to a healthy environment.

As we celebrate the Human Rights Award, we remain committed to working with all our partners and continuing the long road toward implementation and the enjoyment of the right to a healthy environment for all.

75 years ago, as the world emerged from the horrors of World War II, the UN General Assembly proclaimed the Declaration of Human Rights. Today, it remains a unique document that places the inherent dignity of all people as the foundation for freedom, justice, and peace.

From the outset, the Universal Declaration has resonated deeply with Franciscans. Looking at the example of Francis of Assisi – whose own faith was shaped through his experience as a soldier – it is easy to see how this document dovetails with his own uncompromising belief in human dignity.

Yet, as we mark this anniversary, it is also painfully clear that the realization of these values remains a distant reality for many, whether because of conflict, extreme poverty, or the environmental crises we face. Together with their allies, Franciscans remain committed to putting the words of the Universal Declaration into practice, through both direct action at the grassroots and at the UN.

As part of the celebrations around the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights organized a two-day high-level event in Geneva. During this meeting, UN Member States and civil society organizations were invited to take part in a “pledging tree” to offer their concrete commitments to human rights.

Markus Heinze OFM, FI’s Executive Director, used the occasion to deliver the following statement:


“Franciscans International appreciates the opportunity to express our pledge on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For nearly 35 years, Franciscans International has built bridges between Franciscans working at the grassroots level and the United Nations.

With the support of our team of human rights experts in Geneva and New York, the concerns of Franciscans and the communities they represent are brought to the attention of the international community.

Bringing together these two worlds, Franciscans International advocates for human dignity and environmental justice, using a rights-based approach.

Today, we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Tomorrow, we continue our efforts to help realize the promises it holds for all of us.

Therefore,

We pledge to work toward a global community in which,

  • the dignity of every person is respected,
  • resources are shared equitably,
  • the environment is protected,
  • and nations and peoples live in peace.

Thank you.”


Around the world, people commit to the protection and promotion of human rights. While some choose to focus on a specific issue, such as the right to water or extreme poverty, others work with certain groups like women, children, Indigenous Peoples, or migrants and refugees. They can work individually or with others, professionally or not, and in many ways: this can for example be through the collection and dissemination of information, advocacy at the local, national, and international levels, or by supporting victims.   

Whether they know it or not, their contribution towards dignity and justice through peaceful action makes them human rights defenders.  

Human rights defenders (HDRs) play a vital role in our societies. They are instrumental in implementing our fundamental rights, meaning their work benefits us all. However, this is not without challenges, and by working towards more justice, they also risk exposing themselves to harassment, death threats, and other forms of intimidation. The large scope of threats and reprisals against HRDs motivated the UN General Assembly to adopt the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.  

Coming soon
Coming soon

For the first time, the HRDs’ essential contribution to society was recognized, at the same time as their right to be protected. The Declaration clearly states that defenders have a right to defend human rights, to associate freely with others, document human rights abuses, as well as access protection from the UN and regional mechanisms.  

As December 9, 2023 marks the 25th anniversary of the Declaration, we want to shed light on the women and men in the Franciscan family working for the respect of fundamental human rights in different regions of the world. The Franciscan values of equal dignity, peace, and care for all creation are at the heart of their commitment. In this series, we are focusing on the sisters and brothers who are at the forefront of helping marginalized communities and populations whose most basic rights are violated.  

To quote Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of HRDs, “human rights defenders are ordinary people who do extraordinary things”. In this spirit, many Franciscans fit the definition perfectly – true human rights defenders, working for a better tomorrow.