7 December 2022 The Irish Film & Television Network
Documentary On Human Rights Defenders To Air On RTÉ One
2013-01-07 : By Gearóid Gilmore
‘Lives on the Line’, narrated by Martin Sheen, to be aired on Tuesday, 8th of January.

‘Lives on the Line’, narrated by Martin Sheen, to be aired on Tuesday, 8th of January.

Written and directed by Nuala Cunningham and narrated by Martin Sheen, this moving and fascinating documentary, ‘Lives on the Line’, follows Mary Lawlor, founder of Front Line Defenders, an Irish-based international organisation dedicated to offering practical support to human rights defenders at risk throughout the world, as she goes to Guatemala to visit a number of human rights defenders who are risking their lives every day for their work. One such individual, Dr Yuri Melini, survived an assassination attempt on his life in 2008 but continues to fight for the protection of the environment and the rights of indigenous Mayan communities in Guatemala.

The landscape of Guatemala, with its tropical vegetation and stunning mountain ranges, is at once striking and one of the most beautiful in the world. It was the home of the great Mayan civilisation, whose temple pyramids still stand as a monument to a once glorious and sophisticated past. Modern Guatemala is a very different country still recovering from a vicious 36 year civil war which ended in 1996.

Today, Guatemala’s rich natural resources of gold, silver, timber and other materials have attracted domestic and International mining and logging corporations in large numbers, and the Guatemalan Government is pleased to benefit from the short term gains which these contracts bring. As a result however, the environment, the indigenous peoples and those who seek to protect them have found themselves under severe threat.

Mary visits Yuri to find out how his work is progressing and together they travel to meet other human rights defenders who are working in Guatemala today and have found themselves under threat. They travel also to see the beautiful nature reserve and historical site of the Mayan Temples – Parque Tikal. Many of the districts are under continuous threat from developers, mining companies, drug traffickers who are buying up large amounts of land to ensure they can conduct their business.

The Guatemalan extraction industry especially has become big business. A recent report from the Ministry of Energy and Mines showed that revenues rose from 9 million dollars a year in 2004 to 522 million dollars in 2010.

Yuri’s decision to live in the public eye is a conscious one believing that fewer people will try to kill him while he is so visible. But back in 2008, he had no idea that he was in such danger. Back then he believes that his escalation of legal challenges to the developers, mining companies and the Government led to an assassination attempt which saw him shot 7 times and left for dead on the side of the road. No one has ever been charged with his attack.

Police investigations focused on the search for the man who shot Yuri with no success. And despite 5 different lines of investigation and a great of deal of publicity both nationally and internationally, they say they still have no idea who ordered his murder.

Coupled with the terror of the attack itself is the fear that the perpetrators will try again. This means the human rights activists are often forced into hiding.

Mary and Yuri meet Yolanda Oquelí a local activist and leading member of a movement to prevent the extension of mining in her area. She was shot 10 days beforehand and is living in hiding now in a safe house, as she fears for her life and the lives of her 2 small children. The impact of this horrendous attack is clear to see.

Mary – I can never quite get my head around human rights defenders and the awesome courage that they display – they are not working for themselves they are working for others. I get very angry when someone like Yolanda is shot –it’s very shocking to actually see a bullet hole in someone’s side and to witness their devastation and the effect that the attack has had on her and her family.

Mary and Yuri host a press conference in Guatemala City to request a public inquiry into Yolanda’s attack and to demand that she be protected. Together they go to see Manuel Barquin a member of Parliament to lobby further for her and for the cause of the protection of human rights defenders in general.

Given that Yuri has such a visible presence throughout Guatemala it’s easy to forget that his life is still in danger. Since his shooting he has lived under state provided security 24 hours a day 7 days a week. He lives alone and wherever he goes and whatever he does he is accompanied by an armed guard since he can never be sure if, or when, another attempt will be made on his life.

"Lives on the Line" throws a spotlight on the extraordinary determination and courage of Yuri Melini and equally of those in his organisation as they fight the dark and often dangerous forces who seek to silence them; the film offers a different perspective into their harsh, frightening and under-reported lives.

Mary Lawlor is the Founder and Executive Director of Front Line Defenders, an Irish human rights organisation set up to provide security and protection for human rights defenders like Yuri, whose lives are under threat every day.

Front Line Defenders provides fast, flexible and effective action to help protect human rights defenders at risk.

This is hands on, direct support - which often involves providing security measures for people or organisations under threat. This could include bullet proof jackets for HRDs at risk of assassination, security systems (CCTV and steel doors) for their homes and offices, security training for their staff, emergency medical or legal support and in some cases emergency relocation. Support also involves recognition, financial assistance or respite from the extraordinary stress under which these activists constantly live.

Every year, Front Line Defenders presents the Front Line Award to honour a human rights defender who has made an exceptional contribution to the protection of the human rights of others.

In 2009, less than a year after his shooting, Dr Yuri Melini received the award for his work in Guatemala.

In 2012, Front Line Defenders provided nearly 600,000 euro worth of grants to 250 human rights defenders in 70 countries around the world.

In 2012, Front line Defenders documented the murder of human rights defenders in 14 countries around the world.

“Lives on the Line” airs on Tuesday, 8th of January at 22.15 on RTÉ ONE.

Produced by New Decade TV & Film Ltd.

RTÉ Promo: https://vimeo.com/56750617

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