At the Inter-American Commission Human Rights…

I’m spending this week in Washington, DC, attending sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. I’m here as a researcher on socio-environmental conflicts and a teacher; six of my students in a Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples class are here with me to see how the human rights they are learning about are claimed in practice. The Inter-American human rights system, which includes the Commission and the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, has become a critical node in the mesh of institutions that are transforming indigenous rights from a general aspiration to a formal international norm.

International law institutions are viewed by most United States citizens with well-earned skepticism. The US government has played an ironic role in helping to structure such institutions, but then refusing to acknowledge any outside legal commitment or monitoring structure as having authority over its actions. US Ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick famously called social and cultural rights “a letter to Santa Claus” and Senate ratifications of major human rights treaties have included statements insisting they may not be invoked in civil litigation. Outside the superpower, however, these institutions tend to be regarded with greater respect and states dutifully send senior officials to be questioned and directed by members of the Inter-American Commission. On Friday, for example, Commissioner Macaulay insisted that a Minister from Panama not leave the room without first scheduling the next meeting with a community who brought its land claims case before the IACHR.

Indigenous Rights at UN:OAS.002Both the Commission and the Court are bodies of the Organization of American States, the regional association of Western Hemisphere countries founded in 1948 in response to the Roosevelt Administration’s call for a “League of Nations of the Americas.” US leadership initially positioned the OAS as anti-communist and drove Cuba’s suspension from the organization from 1962 to 2009. The Commission began in 1959 and the Court opened in 1979. While the softer of the two institutions, the Commission has the power to impose binding “precautionary measures,” ordering states to protect vulnerable individuals or avoid taking irreversible actions. The Commission also acts as an investigative arm of the system and makes recommendations to states, and sends cases to the Court for adjudication when the states don’t comply. The Court acts as a kind of continental Supreme Court overseeing the human rights of people in twenty-four countries that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights (those countries indicated by all colors except purple and gray in this map).

My students have been reading Richard Price’s Rainforest Warriors: Human Rights on Trial, a detailed ethnographic account of the how the Saramaka people brought their rights claims before the Inter-American Commission and Inter-American Court in a landmark case. The Court’s eventual decision in Saramaka v. Suriname concluded (1) Afro-descendant peoples in the Americas living traditionally and distinctly from national societies have the same rights as indigenous peoples; (2) Both kinds of traditional peoples have rights to property in their traditional territories, and the resources they have traditionally used; (3) projects that seize this property or threaten the physical or cultural survival of traditional peoples can only be carried forward with their free, prior, and informed consent.

Four years ago, I attended the session on the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory at the Commission. You can read my report on that hearing here. More recently, in December 2016, three Sioux peoples brought the issue of the Dakota Access Pipeline to the IACHR. The hearing is archived as an online video (en and es, according the language of the speaker), just as all hearings this week are available from the Commission.

Women of TIPNIS reject government’s new push for a highway through their territory

“We, the indigenous women and the communities categorically and overwhelmingly reject, before the government of the Plurinational State and its operatives, the construction of the TIPNIS highway, the [proposed] abrogation of Law 180, and the deceitful acts, the bribes, for their threat to human life, and [for the resulting] permanent colonization and despoiling of three indigenous nations.”

“Las mujeres indígenas y comunidades rechazamos de forma categórica y contundente ante el gobierno del Estado Plurinacional y sus operadores la construcción de la carretera al Tipnis, la abrogación de la Ley 180 y acto mentiroso, prebendas, por atentar contra la vida humana, la colonización permanente y el despojo de tres naciones indígenas” (Source: Los Tiempos)

This was the reaction of Marqueza Teco, president of the organization of women of the Isiboro-Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS) to the recently announced draft law that would repeal Law 180 and authorize the building of a highway across their lands. Read More »

Repost: Bolivia’s 2013 Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples

Recent events—the appearance of indigenous people in voluntary isolation (“uncontacted peoples”) in an oil concession block in the Bolivian Amazon—have thrust the Bolivia’s 2013 Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples (Ley de protección a Naciones y Pueblos Indígenas Originarios en situación de alta vulnerabilidad; Ley 450) back into the spotlight. Despite some initial movement in 2014, the Bolivian government has not issued the regulations for Law 450, a required step in its implementation, and “the government institution created by that law and responsible for instituting such measures, the Dirección General de Protección a Naciones y Pueblos Indígena Originarios (DIGEPIO), does not exist.”

To provide background on this law, I’m reposting Bolivia Information Forum’s article on the law, archived obscurely here. (Full disclosure: I wrote it.) The full text of the law (es) is available here.

Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples

In November [2013], Bolivia’s legislature passed the Law for the Protection of Highly Vulnerable Indigenous Peoples. This extends special protection to isolated indigenous peoples, as well as others who face severe threats to their health, territory or capacity to protect their culture. There are seven indigenous cultures that are believed to include people living in isolation, unconnected to the broader society. According to a recent report by the International Working Group on Indigenous Affairs, as many as 21 indigenous peoples could be termed as being at high risk from ethnocide. While a handful of large indigenous groups make up half of Bolivia’s population, these small groups represent less than 0.3%.

The term “voluntary isolation” describes groups of indigenous peoples who have either never had contact with those outside their culture or who actively refuse any such contact, sometimes by force. In the case of the Araona, the Esse Ejja, the Yuki, the Pacahuara, the Ayoreo and the Yuracaré, only a limited number of families have chosen to live in isolation. As in many countries, most Bolivians who fit this description have had highly traumatic encounters with outsiders, including experiences of enslavement, kidnapping of their children, massacres, and devastating epidemics from diseases previously unknown to them. There were unwanted incursions by missionary expeditions up to the 1980s and more recently by those seeking to exploit raw materials. In 2008 loggers murdered at least two Pacahuaras.

The right to live in voluntary isolation is recognised by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (incorporated into Bolivian law in 2007). The Inter-American Court on Human Rights has ordered Peru and Ecuador to take precautionary measures to safeguard the areas where uncontacted groups live from outside threats. The Toromona people in the Madidi National Park have been protected since 15 August 2006. In 2011, a summit convened by the Confederation of Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia (CIDOB) urged the government to create similar zones for the Ayoreo, Pacahuara, and T’simane people. Most of these zones are threatened not just by the activities of outside individuals but by exploration activities in oil and gas concessions that overlap with their territories.

The law creates a new government agency [Dirección General de Protección a Naciones y Pueblos Indígena Originarios-DIGEPIO] charged with protecting indigenous peoples whose “physical and cultural survival is extremely threatened.” Its main task is to develop and implement protection strategies, including exclusion zones, emergency health services and disease monitoring, environmental restoration, and cultural revitalization initiatives. Under the terms of the law, those exploiting natural resources are expected to follow these rules.

(translated) Environmental activist Gustavo Castro is in danger in the community of La Esperanza, Honduras

[Not my translation, but I urge you to take action in response. Want to act immediately? Click here. —CBJ]

[March 8 update: Gustavo Castro Soto remains in Honduras, where the government has extended its order forbidding him to depart to his native Mexico for 30 more days. Gustavo’s anti-mining organization, the Movimiento M4, has a new action alert (in English here|Spanish original) urging continued pressure.  ]

Below is an action alert put out this morning, March 7, by Otros Mundos/Friends of the Earth Mexico, the organization headed by Mexican Gustavo Castro Soto, who is the sole witness to the assassination of COPINH leader Berta Caceres. (Gustavo is also co-founder and board member of Other Worlds, and coordinator of the Central American-wide anti-dam network, M4.) Gustavo was providing peace accompaniment to Berta on her last night of life; he himself was shot twice. Gustavo was immediately detained in inhumane conditions by the Honduran government for days for “questioning.” Thanks to national and international pressure, he was finally released and was accompanied by the Mexican ambassador and consul to the airport in Tegucigalpa. He was just about to go through customs when Honduran authorities tried to forcibly grab him. The Mexican government successfully intervened, and put Gustavo into protective custody in the Mexican Embassy. Now, the Honduran government has prevailed and reclaimed Gustavo, taking him back to the town of La Esperanza, where Berta lived and was killed. Gustavo is in terrible danger in Honduran custody, as what he witnessed is an impediment to the government’s attempts to pin Berta’s murder on COPINH itself.

Please take the actions requested below. Like Berta, Gustavo is a key leader to popular struggles against corporate extraction, government malfeasance, and US intervention in Mesoamerica. As Berta was, Gustavo’s life is in grave danger.

(from Otros Mundos [original here])…

BREAKING! Gustavo Castro is in danger in the community of La Esperanza, Honduras
March 7, 2016

– To the Secretary of Human Rights, Justice, Interior, and Decentralization of Honduras
– To the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Honduras
– To the Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico
– For national and international attention
– To all organizations defending human rights

At present, the Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro Soto, Coordinator of Other Worlds AC/Friends of the Earth Mexico, is adding to his statement in La Esperanza, Intibucá, southeastern Honduras, where he was the victim of an assassination attempt in which indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres was murdered on March 3.

We are on HIGH ALERT because his departure from the Embassy of Mexico and transfer back to La Esperanza represent a high risk for his physical security and psychological wellbeing.

On Sunday, March 6, upon trying to leave Honduras, legally and under the protection of the Mexican Embassy in Honduras, he was arbitrarily intercepted by Honduran authorities before passing through immigration at the Tegucigalpa International Airport. They detained him under the justification that he needed to expand upon his declaration, but without notifying him of this previously.

We want to point out that Gustavo Castro in no way resisted making the full declaration that was asked of him, and he has accepted this request to expand his statement in the interest of clarifying the facts surrounding the assassination of Berta Cáceres, and to avoid the criminalization of members of COPINH.

Despite all of the requests made to ensure that this new declaration be made under proper conditions, to guarantee his physical safety and psychological well-being within the Mexican Embassy in Tegucigalpa, the General Prosecutor decided that Gustavo needed to make his statement in La Esperanza. We believe that this puts him in physical and psychological danger. We demand guarantee for Gustavo’s safety and security during the process of expanding his declaration and during his travel from the Embassy of Mexico in Tegucigalpa. We demand that the government of Honduras fulfill its promise to lift the immigration hold that prevented Gustavo Castro from immediately leaving Honduras after completing his required statement, since there is no reason to keep him in the country.

We ask everyone to act and help us demand Gustavo’s safety and security by contacting:

The Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico/Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores de México, (55) 3686 – 5100 y (55) 3686 – 5581
gobmx@funcionpublica.gob.mx
@SRE_mx

The National Commission on Human Rights of Mexico/Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos de México
(55) 56 81 81 25 |  (55) 54 90 74 00
cenadeh@cndh.org.mx
@CNDH

The Secretary of Human Rights, Justice, Interior and Decentralization of Honduras/La Secretaría de Derechos Humanos, Justicia, Gobernación y Descentralización de Honduras
(504) 2232-7800 y (504) 2232-8900
@sdhjgdhn

Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Honduras
(504) 2236-0200 y (504) 2236-03-00
cancilleria.honduras@gmail.com
@SRECIHonduras

Further contacts recommended by the Center for International Environmental Law. You can also use their online solidarity letter generator.

Honduran Embassy in United States
Email:consulado.washington@hondurasemb.org
Fax:202.525.4004

Honduran Embassy in Canada
Email:ambassador@embassyhonduras.hn
Fax:613 232 0193

Canadian Embassy in Honduras
Email:sjcra@international.gc.ca

US Embassy in Honduras
Email:irctgu@state.gov

CONADEH
Email:centrooriente@conadeh.hn
Email:secretaria.despacho@conadeh.hn

Indigenous voices echoed by Papal Encyclical on the environment

With the release of the Papal Encyclical on the environment, I am reminded of how indigenous peoples have been offering spiritual and practical guidance on the global ecological crisis for decades. These two statements seem particularly relevant to me:

Our cultural principles include the defense of the right to a dignified life, respect for mother earth and the environment, essential and sacred elements that we should leave as an inheritance to our children, grandchildren and their descendents. Read More »