Global Human Rights Defence

Peru – Land of Diversity Under Threat

According to the United Nations (UN) data, Peru’s population in 2020 was over 30 million people, out of which 25% are members of indigenous communities (CIA, n.d.)[1] Despite this impressive number and Peru’s apparent will to protect their rights, the native population is still seeing its rights[2] obstructed and its territories illegally reduced. The 51 indigenous people groups living on the Peruvian territory face daily challenges to their ways of living. Firstly, from modern society, due to extractive activities, lack of consideration by local governments and direct attack from traffickers. Secondly, from climate change, causing harsher living conditions, food production reduction and other related problems. Nevertheless, and despite an ongoing under-representation in the public debate, encouraging steps are being taken both at the national and international level to preserve and enforce the rights of these communities. With this in mind, this article aims to provide more visibility to the diversity of indigenous communities of Peru. It will focus on three distinct groups of the Peruvian Amazonian rainforest: the Matsigenka, the Ashaninka and the Awajún community. Through this focus, the article intends to  provide an insight on their way of living, their history and the problems they are currently facing. In doing so, this article highlights issues shared by all communities as well as struggles specific to each.

The Matsigenka Community                                                                                    The Matsigenka people (also known as Machiguenga or Matsigenga) have lived in the Peruvian Amazon for thousands of years in “reasonable ecological balance” (Johnson, 2003, p.5). As indigenous people, their connection to their land is a fundamental aspect of their way of living. An example of this is the overwhelming richness and detail that the Matsigenka possess about their plant and animal world (Johnson, 2003, pp.193-199).This indigenous group lives in the Manu Region of the Amazonian Peru, in the departments of Madre de Dios and Cusco (Revilla-Minaya, n.d.), i.e. in the lowland tropical forests. It is estimated that there are approximately one thousand people, both contacted and uncontacted, living around the Manu River basin.[3]

It is disclosed that, during the time of the Spanish Conquest[4], the community occupied practically the same territory as today (Johnson, 2003, p.28). Furthermore, it is unknown what effect the collapse of the Inka[5] had in this community,reflecting that it did not have a great impact on their way of life (Johnson, 2003, p.33). Nevertheless, during the late nineteenth century, the community was subject to the  slave trade due to the rubber boom[6] (Johnson, 2003, p.35). Following the development of influenza and other epidemics during the twentieth century, the community remained isolated. Finally, since the 70s, the government has allowed them to be registered as “native communities” and own land titles (Johnson, 2003, p.37). 

The Matsigenka community is characterized by their strict rejection of violence and their capacity to resist any external influence by locating themselves away from the river, i.e. isolating themselves (Johnson, 2003, p.36). They are described as “atomistic and amorphous, not divided into clans or arranged in hierarchies of any sort” (Johnson, 2003, p.36).   Their diet, during the year, comprises the collection of insect larvae (of butterflies, moths, beetles), palm hearts and fruits seeds which provide the sources of fat and protein that are necessary for their subsistence (Johnson, 2003, p.20). However, their favorite nourishment, but difficult to obtain, includes tapir and peccary among others (Johnson, 2003, p.60). Additionally, the Amazon rivers allow the community to fish, becoming another central place as well of their culture (Johnson, 2003, p.63). 

However, the implementation of domestic policies, climate change, terrorism and the COVID pandemic jeopardizes their environment and heritage. In the forests of Megantoni District (Cusco), the proliferation of oil extraction without considering the consequences on the environment and the human rights of the communities living in the area endures. The Amazonian Center for Anthropology and Practical Application (CAAAP) reported that indigenous people lack  protection, support, medicine and cleaning articles to protect themselves ahead of petroleum production (CAAAP, Asháninkas y Matsigenkas de Megantoni denuncian no tener mascarillas ni medicamentos, 2020). 

Tui Anandi - Matsigenka women Tui Anandi – Matsigenka women

Following the COVID pandemic and the high vulnerability of these communities in the Megantoni District, a request for humanitarian aid was instigated in May 2020 by the native community of Tangoshiari.[7] In this request, the indigenous peoples raised their voices and reported lack of provisions and supplies for their subsistence. In addition to this, the quarantine  period during the COVID-19 pandemic isolated the communities and restricted their access to education without offering any alternative to the lack of access to the  internet or any other equipment.Furthermore, the Camisea gas project[8] endangers the health and survival of the communities. It is already reported that the activity of oil companies such as Pluspetrol Argentina and Hunt Oil Texas “could spread deadly disease and create social disruption” (Survival, s.f.).  These activities reflect a violation of recognized international human rights such as the right to life, humane treatment, mental and physical integrity, liberty and security[9].  

The Ashaninka community                                                                                    Slightly to the north of the Matsigenka’s territory dwell the Ashaninka community. They represent the largest indigenous group with over 50 000 members. This large ethnic group is spread over 200 communities across a territory that stretches from the eastern Andes to the state of Acre in Brazil, covering most of the Peruvian Amazon (MRGI, n.d.). As with most of the indigenous groups, their history is marked with violence and intrusion, from the Spanish Conquest to modern territorial expropriation granted by the government or enforced by illegal traffickers (IWGIA, n.d.). During the 1980s’ the Ashaninka were also caught in a crossfire of the fight between the Peruvian armed forces and the terrorist group Sendero Luminoso[10]. This conflict, despite resulting in the defeat of the Sendero Luminoso, weighed heavily on the communities who exited this conflict with thousands of losses and displaced (MRGI, n.d.)[11]. As of today, the lack of official land titles, the neoliberal policies of the Peruvian government and the violent activities of illegal loggers and traffickers are threatening the ancestral territories of the Ashaninka. Not only are these actions pushing them away from their lands, effectively making them refugees on their own soil, but they also create irreversible ecological damages with dire consequences for them but also for the rest of humanity (MRGI, n.d.). The pollution engendered by the extractions are endangering the biodiversity of the Amazonian basin and increasing the deforestation of what is well known as the “Earth lungs”. In doing so, is it both influencing climate change and threatening the way of life that those populations have developed and cherished for centuries. The remote aspect of these communities also leads to issues such as access to education and to modern healthcare as the COVID pandemic has painfully showed us (SSRC, n.d.)[12].Despite this hard path, the Ashaninka people have proven to be a strong and resilient people, with a rich semi-nomadic culture (WorldCultureEncyclopedia, n.d.) which today brings many important teachings notably in the field of sustainable land management and holistic approach to life (RFUK, 2019)[13]. Far from being discouraged, numerous associations,organisations and grassroots movements[14] have seen the light of day and won important battles, some under the hospice of international NGOs[15] and some led by local figures. One such figure is Ruth Buendía, recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize[16] in 2014. Under her leadership at CARE[17], she led the opposition against several mega-dams, planned over the Ene river and which would have flooded the Ene Valley. This valley hosts an ancestral territory, and its flooding would have directly affected the Ashaninka communities living on these lands (RFUK, 2019)[18]. The projects had been approved by the Brazilian and Peruvian governments without prior consultation of the indigenous peoples concerned, effectively disregarding a Peruvian law of 2011 known as the ‘Prio -Consulation law”[19] (Friedman, 2014).

Ruth Buendia in Ene River Valley - Facebook Ruth Buendia in Ene River Valley – Facebook

Thanks to hard works such as these the cause of the indigenous are slowly getting out there and some notable advances can be observed. This is the case of the two protected areas that are the Otishi National Park, an area designated between the Ene and the Tambo river, essentially where the dams should have been, and the Yanachaga-Chemillen National Park, recognised by UNESCO[20] in 2010 as a biosphere reserve, along with two indigenous communal reserves, in which indigenous peoples such as the Ashaninka are encouraged to develop sustainable  coffee and cocoa production (RFUK, 2019).  These areas pursue a simple, yet crucial, goal: protect the outstanding beauty of this precious natural biosphere as well as the cultural diversity and ancestral knowledge of communities such as the Ashaninka, an objective that we, at GHRD, thrive to support.

The Awajún community                                                                                        Numerously close behind the Ashaninka, the Awajún community, (also known as Aguaruna), represents the second demographically largest indigenous or native Amazonian community in Peru (Ministry of Culture, 2015).As with the two communities previously presented, the Awajún people are characterized by their commitment to the defense of their ancestral territory. They are also sweet cassava growers, hunters and fishermen living in relatively dispersed communities. The villages of the Awajún people are located in the areas of Loreto, Amazonas, San Martín, Cajamarca and Ucayali (Brown, 1984).

It is suspected that the Awajún had contact with the Inca empire. However, the Inca conquest was not successful in the Awajún territory (Ministry of Culture, 2015). During the rubber boom, the Awajún, like the Matsigenka, were victim of the many abuses that were carried out and that violated the freedom and lives of many indigenous peoples.

In the 1960s, the Peruvian government established the living borders policy. This policy consisted of new settlements in the border areas in order to maintain and guard the political territory of Peru. However, not only did the policy dismiss the fact that these territories belonged to indigenous peoples, it also presupposed that indigenous settlements were not guarantee enough to protect the national borders (Regan, 2007). Starting in the 1990s, economic policies to attract national and foreign capital, especially for the exploitation of natural resources with the exception of protected natural areas were created. In this context, the government tried to dispose of a series of laws[21] perceived by indigenous people as a threat to their territory. The laws passed were laws favouring timber and oil entrepreneurs who would benefit from the exploitation of indigenous peoples’ lands, without being consulted and without ensuring that environmental damage to indigenous lands would be mitigated. This led Amazonian indigenous organizations to carry out national mobilizations: in 2008 the First National Amazon Strike[22] was held and in April 2009 a Second Amazon National Strike began. In particular, the Awajún, Wampis and Achuar people[23], as well as settlers from Alto Marañón organized to demonstrate at strategic points such as the Fernando Belaúnde Terry highway and Station 6 in PETROPERÚ, among others (Ombudsman, 2010). 

 Liseth Atamain - Awajun Community

Liseth Atamain – Awajun Community

This social conflict, in which the Awajún and Wampis peoples played a primary role, has marked a turning point in the recognition of the collective rights of indigenous or native peoples[24]. In order to avoid further human losses, a dialogue process was carried out in which it was possible to repeal four legislative decrees[25] that started the protests. In the same way, these processes allowed the elaboration, with the participation of indigenous and native national organizations, the promulgation of the Prior Consultation Law[26] in 2011 (Cavero, 2011). Currently the Awajún, like the Ashaninka and the Matsigenka, are besieged by deforestation and their life and culture are seriously threatened by the deployment of mining, petroleum and coca cultivation. Along with these threats, the environmental risks that arise from them, such as the pollution of rivers with mercury and other heavy metals, often go unnoticed. All these factors endangers the main livelihoods of these populations, which are dedicated to fishing, gathering and hunting, but who, increasingly, are forced to confine themselves to agricultural and subsistence production due to the growing deterioration that occurs and the jungle suffers (Entreculturas, 2017).

The claims of the Awajún for these threats have resulted in their being murdered by illegal miners, land traffickers and drug traffickers. On February 10 and 11, 2020, members of the Peruvian Awajún and Wampis communities demonstrated in front of the headquarters of the regional government of Amazonas to denounce an alleged government action that would facilitate the license for mining projects in their territories. Hundreds of people participated in these demonstrations called by six organizations of indigenous peoples. They claimed that the regional government granted official recognition to two mining communities in Awajún territory. These organizations affirmed that it was a maneuver whose objective was to favor a mining company. This company seeked to obtain a permit for the development of a mining project in an area destined for the creation of a national park.After the demonstrations, on February 12, 2020, the regional government annulled the controversial official recognition (CIVICUS, 2020) . However, the next day, when the protests had stopped, the body of the Awajún community member Americo Entsakua was found in the district of Santa María de Nieva Condorcanqui, with signs of torture on his body (Meneses, 2020) .

Conclusion                                                                                                                       The Pervuvian state cannot be said to have ever shown an appropriate degree of care and respect for the Amazonian indigenous communities, such as the Ashaninka, Awajún, Matsigenka, the first two being the largest Amazonian communities in Peru, as for the others that they occupy the Peruvian territory. To the threats of deforestation, illegal mining, land trafficking, illegal cultivation of coca and oil exploitation, the scourge of COVID-19 has now been added. The restriction to the access to basic health services has devastated indigenous communities.

Global Human Rights Defence (GHRD) aims to raise awareness about these issues and discourages these activities in order to safeguard the recognized indigenous human rights (intending, therefore, the prevention of other episodes of violations of indigenous human rights). GHRD urges the Peruvian government to find a solution in order to fulfil their basic human rights.  



Brown, M. (1984). An uncertain peace. History and culture of the Aguaruna communities in the face of the impact of the marginal highway. . Lima: Amazon Center for Anthropology and Practical Application.

CAAAP. (2020, July 2). MOCICC. Retrieved from El Estado debe responder ante las muertes de los sabios y sabias del pueblo awajún:

CAAAP. (2020, May 16). Asháninkas y Matsigenkas de Megantoni denuncian no tener mascarillas ni medicamentos. Retrieved from Centro Amazónico de Antropología y Aplicación Práctica:

Cavero, O. (2011). After the Baguazo: reports, dialogue and debates. Lima: Pontifical Catholic university of Peru.

CIA. (n.d.). Explore Countries – Peru. Retrieved from The World Factbook:


Entreculturas. (2017, October 6). PERÚ: defendiendo a los indígenas Wampis y Awajún. Retrieved from Entreculturas ONG Jesuitas:

Friedman, U. (2014). The Woman who Breaks Mega-Dam. The Atlantic.

IWGIA. (n.d.). Indigenous Peoples in Peru. Retrieved from Indigenous Work Group for Indigenous Affairs:

Johnson, A. (2003). Families of the Forest: the Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon. University of California Press.

Meneses, Á. (2020, February 24). Amazonía peruana: líder indígena asesinado tras protestas contra el proyecto minero canadiense Afrodita. Retrieved from CDHAL:

Minaya, J. B. (n.d.). Matsigenka and Colonos – Lowland, Peru. Retrieved from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology:

Ministry of Culture. (2015). The Achuar, Awajún, Kandozi and Wampis peoples. Lima: Ministry of Culture.

MRGI. (n.d.). Peru, Ashaninka. Retrieved from World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous People:

Ombudsman, O. o. (2010). Report of the ombudsman to the Commission of the Congress of the Republic that investigates the events of Bagua neighboring areas and others. Lima: Ombudsman´s Office.

Regan, J. (2007). Cultural assessment of the Awajún and Wampis peoples. Document 10. Lima: INRENA.

Revilla-Minaya, C. (n.d.). the self and environmental perceptions of a Matsigenka community in Manu National Park, Peru. Retrieved from SOCIETY FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY:

RFUK. (2019). Sustainable Livelihoods in Peru. Retrieved from

SSRC. (n.d.). Were Indigenous Peoples’ Vulnerable or Resilient? Strategies to Cope with Covid-19 in the Peruvian Amazon Basin. Retrieved from items, Insights from the Social Science:

Survival, C. (n.d.). PERU: Isolated indigenous peoples at great risk from pipeline. Retrieved from

WorldCultureEncyclopedia. (n.d.). Ashaninka. Retrieved from World Culture Encyclopedia:

Authors: Antonio Zelada, Julia Moreta and Sarah Gaudenzi

For more factual informations and statistic about Peru see The CIA factbook website gathers compact facts from geography, economy, population to transnational issues and environmental struggles a country are facing.

Peru has ratified ILO Convention 169 and voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

Inside the Manu National Park,

In the 16th century, more information available at:

The Inka or Inca were a pre-columbian civilization, South American Indians who ruled an empire from the modern Ecuador to the Maule River in Chile at the time of the Spanish Conquest. More information available at:

The rubber boom (or Fiebre del caucho) occurred from 1879 to 1912 in the Amazonian regions. More information at:

Such community is integrated by Matsigenka and Ashaninka indigenous peoples. More information available at

This project involves two pipelines carrying natural gas throughout Peru as a result of an agreement between the Peruvian government and Shell. These pipelines are a threat to the way of living of the indigenous communities: spills have been reported to cause injuries and impact the environment. More information about this project at

Under the American Convention on Human Rights that can be found at and the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples found at

Although the consequences of the conflicts are still very present and in some way is still active, the conflict time frame can be define as 1980- 1995 for this apex of the conflict, with a lower period of activity between 1995 and 2010. The creation of the Shinning Path/ Sendero Luminoso is dated to 1970.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its report in 2003, counted over 6000 members killed, 5000 captured, 10 000 disappearances and some 40 communities which were annihilated. 

The indigenous communities were for the most part left to self-organized with very little help and support from the government. 

Rainforest Foundation UK is an UK based NGO which focuses in deforestation issues globally but also locally through supporting grassroot organisations and programs engaging with indigenous people. 

Some of these grassroots organisations and associations are: the ‘Asociación Inter-étnica para el Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana’ (AIDESEP), the Confederación de las Nacionalidades Amazónicas del Perú (CONAP) and the later mentioned Asháninka Center of the Ene River (CARE)

Some of these grassroots organisations and associations are: the ‘Asociación Inter-étnica para el Desarrollo de la Selva Peruana’ (AIDESEP), the Confederación de las Nacionalidades Amazónicas del Perú (CONAP) and the later mentioned Asháninka Center of the Ene River (CARE)

“The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from around the wolrd.(…) The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. (…) Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.” 

The Asháninka Center of the Ene River, a grassroot organisation of 10 000 members that defend and promote the rights and culture of the Ashaninka in Peru. In 2005, Ruth Buendía became the first female president of CARE.

At least 10 Ashaninka communities, amounting to close to 10,000 people, would have been displaced for the Pakitzapango project alone. This law implement the Convention 169 of ILO, effectively granting rights to indigenous people to be consulted before a project is approved if the said project affects them in any way.

UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It seeks to build peace through international cooperation in Education, the Sciences and Culture. UNESCO’s programmes contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals defined in Agenda 2030, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015. 

Legislative Decrees 1015, 1073, 1064 and 1090, which were considered by the Amazonian communities as a violation of their territorial rights. The various articles that are dealt with in these laws were about the use of agricultural lands, rural states and communal rural states. In addition, the laws also referred to definitions about forest resources and wildlife, their management and use as the protection that should be given to both resources.

The goal of the Amazonian National Strike was the repeal of the Legislative Decrees 1015, 1073, 1064 and 1090.

The Awajún people represent the second demographically largest Amazonian indigenous people in Peru. The Awajún are characterized by their commitment to the defense of their ancestral territory. 

The Wampis are an indigenous people characterized by a warrior way of life. Currently, they are characterized by the defense of their territory and the use of political and organizational strategies that are closely related to their ancestral worldview.

The Achuar people was characterized by resistance against the incursions of missionaries and explorers during the colonial era and the first century of the republican era. This fact influenced until the first decades of the XIX century so that the Achuar remained in relative isolation.

The right of indigenous peoples to be consulted in advance on legislative or administrative measures that directly affect their collective rights, on their physical existence, cultural identity, quality of life or development.

Legislative Decrees 1015, 1073, 1064 and 1090.

Law No. 29785.

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Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Marguerite Remy
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Marguerite is the coordinator of the team of legal researchers focusing on the Middle East and a legal researcher herself.

She developed her expertise in international human rights law, international criminal law and humanitarian law during her double bachelor in law and political science at Sorbonne-Paris 1 University and her LLM in public international law at Leiden University. Particularly interested in the Middle East for years, Marguerite has acquired a good knowledge of the region and its human rights issues through various field experience, including internships in a cultural service of the French embassy and in a local NGO, as well as a semester in a university in the region. Currently, her main interests are accountability mechanisms for crimes committed during recent armed conflicts, notably in Syria, the Israeli-Palestinian situation and the Palestinian case at the ICC, and transitional justice issues.

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With a bachelor in Psychology from Spain and a master in Cultural Anthropology from the Netherlands, Mattia’s passion now lies in Human Rights in regard to the refugee and migrant crisis. Having lived his whole life in East-Arica, Mattia has had the opportunity to work with a vast amount of non-government organisations and health institutions. This has provided him with knowledge in diverse cultural understandings as well as interest in concerning global issues.

Jeremy Samuël van den Enden
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Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
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Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Hiba Zene
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Hiba Zene holds a Bachelor’s degree in International and European Law from The Hague University and, has significant legal knowledge in the field of international human rights law. She actively advocates for the protection of all human rights of vulnerable minorities and marginalised groups. Focusing, specifically on the human rights of children and women in Africa.
Hiba is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. As a human rights defender for GHRD she has examined and investigated various human rights abuses, violations and issues in Africa. She has led research missions addressing issues on Statelessness in Kenya, Child Abuse in Uganda, and Teen Pregnancy in Kenya.

Thaís Ferreira de Souza
Coordinator and Head Researcher (International Justice and Human Rights)

Senior Paralegal at PGMBM (Amsterdam office), working to bring justice for victims of wrongdoing by big corporations, with a focus on human rights and environmental law.
Previously, Thaís worked as a Visiting Professional at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague, providing legal advice on international human rights law and international criminal law. She also worked at the State Court of Justice of the Rondônia State (TJRO) in Brazil from 2013 to 2017, initially as a legal clerk and posteriorly as a legal advisor to judges. In 2016 she served as the regional representative of the Brazilian Institute of Criminal Procedural Law (IBRASPP) in the State of Rondônia, Brazil and during her bachelor’s degree, she worked as a Research Assistant at the Research Group ‘Ethics and Human Rights’ of the Federal University of Rondônia for over three years.

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

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Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
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Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
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prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
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Fabian Escobar
Coordinator and Head Researcher

My name is Fabian Escobar, L.L.B. International and European Law candidate to The Hague University. I was born in Honduras and been living in The Netherlands, more specifically Amsterdam the last 8 years. I am passionate about Human Rights, Civil and Political Rights, fighting racism, and empowering women and ethnic minorities. In GHRD I am the coordinator for the Europe Team, I am thankful for being part of this team and that I have been given the opportunity to learn and apply my learning.