60 miles outside Philadelphia, on a bucolic country road in Berks County, PA, sits a brick building with a fenced-in yard fronting a line of trees. To look at it, you would never guess this place is the epicenter of the coming battles over judicial review of immigration detention in the United States.
Today the Supreme Court is conferencing to decide whether to grant a writ of certiorari in the case of Castro v. Department of Homeland Security.
Of the two dozen families who are the plaintiffs in Castro, about half have been released. But 14 families remain at Berks. They fled gender-based violence and threats to their lives in their home countries and sought asylum in the United States. After deeply flawed credible fear interviews and rubber-stamp affirmations by an immigration judge, they have languished in legal limbo for the past year and a half.
This month in Paris, some of my photos from Brazil will be exhibited at the Maison des Associations in the 11th Arrondissement as part of a show called “Looking to the Future: Children of Amazonia and Mexamerica” (“Regard sur l’Avenir; enfants de l’amazonie et Méxamérique”). The Facebook event is here. The exhibit will be up through the month of March. On March 22, the documentary Voix d’Amazonie (Amazon Voices — trailer here)will be shown. If you’re in Paris, check it out!
Here’s a blurry pic of the last show in Paris, in December, which I neglected to mention on this blog. Since I happened to be in town reporting on the Tribunal for the Rights of Nature I was able to stop by. The two photos at bottom left are mine:
NBC Philadelphia used one of my shots from last night’s Ferguson solidarity protests in Philly, after the announcement of the decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.
More of my photos and video from last night on are up on Demotix.
My photo of anti-Belo Monte graffiti in Altamira, Brazil, was used in this openDemocracy story by Lucia Nader, who is Executive Director of Conectas Human Rights, a Brazil-based NGO with national and international projects. (“Belo Monstro” and “Eletromorte” are plays on words: The consortium building the mega-dam is called Eletronorte, and “morte” means “death” in Portuguese.)
From Lucia’s piece: “There is a perverse see-saw effect in place within the BRICS countries. In Brazil, as the government grows in prominence and companies become more global and voracious, human rights NGOs face a sustainability crisis and find their budgets shrinking. Are these two developments connected?” More >
Three indigenous Honduran Tolupanes were shot and killed on August 25, 2013, at a private residence in Locomapa, Yoro, in northern Honduras. The victims were Maria Enriqueta Matute, 71, from the Community of San Francisco Campo, Armando Funez Medina, 46, of Las Brisas, and Ricardo Soto Funez, 40, of Cabeza de Vaca. Upside Down World reports that the alleged killers, Selvin Matute and Carlos Matute (no relation to Enriqueta), were hired guns for the Bellavista Mining Company, “which has been extracting antimony from the surrounding mountains without the consent of the community and with a mining concession that is in dispute. The two men also hire themselves out to illegal loggers that deforest the mountainsides.”
Witnesses say the killings were committed by two local men under contract by wealthy miners illegally extracting the mineral antimony from the lands of the indigenous Tolupan people of Yoro.
This occurs in a context of increasing intimidation and violence against communities which peacefully oppose mining on their territory, a situation which is met with impunity (see latest article on La Nueva Esperanza).
In the case of Locomapa, the community had organized to protect their resources and to oppose mining on their land. They had spoken on the radio, denouncing the illegal exploitation by powerful mining interests and by loggers. Members of the community decided to set up a road block, allowing local traffic, but stopping mining vehicles and illegal loggers. It was on the 12th day of this roadblock that the killings occurred.
According to residents, the shootings allegedly were carried out by hit men of the mining company. Locals say the two accused live in a nearby community and are corrupt members of the indigenous council who had directly threatened to kill the activists before the shooting, telling the wife of one of the murdered men to prepare the casket.
Eyewitnesses say the two perpetrators arrived at the roadblock on motorcycle at 5:30 Sunday afternoon, drunk, and opened fire on the dozen or so activists there. Two men died in the entryway to Maria Enriqueta Matute’s house. Then she was shot as she came out to see what was happening.
The two suspects remained free Monday, and reportedly returned to the same house three times, to threaten and intimidate the grieving families who were awaiting the bodies from the morgue.
Now, the families have returned to San Francisco de Locomapa with precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), according to Upside Down World:
It is a bittersweet reunion. The tears of the joyous reunion are mixed with those of grief for the three that were gunned down. MADJ has convened this convocation to both honor the martyrs and to formally have official representatives of the Republic of Honduras sign the Act of Implementation of Protective Measures that were ordered on December 19, 2013 by the [IACHR].
On December 19, 2013, the IACHR requested that precautionary measures be adopted for the members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their families, in Honduras. The request for precautionary measures alleges that the members of the MADJ have been receiving a series of threats and acts of harassment and violence because of their work in defense of the natural resources of the indigenous peoples in the Locomapa sector of the department of Yoro. After analyzing the allegations of fact and law submitted by the petitioners, the Commission believes that the information presented suggests that the situation of the MADJ members and their respective families is serious and urgent, as their lives and physical integrity are said to be under threat and at grave risk. Therefore, pursuant to Article 25 of the IACHR Rules of Procedure, the Commission asked the State of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to preserve the lives and physical integrity of the 18 members of the Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ) and their family members; reach agreement with the beneficiaries and their families on the measures to be adopted; and inform the Commission as to the steps taken to investigate the incidents that gave rise to the adoption of this precautionary measure so that such incidents do not happen again.
As Upside Down World notes, “After decades of indifference to the plight of the Tolupanes, it was not until the IACHR intervened that anyone from the Honduran government paid any attention. This new attention is a testament to the dedication of MADJ and the members of the community that have maintained the struggle to defend their natural resources. Some 38 members of the community are protected by this act, but it is a hollow gesture if the representatives of the government don’t abide by it, which has historically been the case in Honduras.”
In a landmark for transitional justice in Brazil, prosecutors yesterday initiated the country’s first criminal trial of an individual state security agent in a federal court in São Paulo. The accused is Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, a retired colonel. … Yesterday’s hearing involved three witnesses who testified about the disappearance of Edgar de Aquino Duarte. Duarte disappeared after being detained at the DOI-CODI and DEOPS torture centers in São Paulo in 1973.
Until now, all attempts in Brazil to try accused dictatorship-era torturers have been blocked by the 1979 Amnesty Law. In 2010, the country’s Supreme Court upheld the interpretation of the law as extending to state agents who engaged in human rights crimes. Yet there are indications that the Amnesty Law’s protection of accused human rights violators may be crumbling. Brazil’s new Attorney General recently indicated a possible change in interpretation of the controversial law.
Today on International Human Rights Day, thousands of Colombians will take to the streets in support of the ongoing peace process. Bringing together the voices of victims of violence, women, trade unionists, artists, campesinos, students, intellectuals, indigenous and Afro-descendants, this mobilization aims to promote a peace process that includes a social and human rights agenda.
On International Human Rights Day, share this image to show your solidarity for peace in Colombia!
Colombians will express their support for peace and their continued outrage over the human costs of the war: forced displacements, widespread massacres, threats against unionists and human rights activists, and the exclusion of indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. It’s a demonstration of hope, with Colombians coming together with the dream of creating a lasting peace.
Even with the ongoing peace process, there still is a human rights crisis in Colombia. Displacement continues, with 2,700 people forced from their homes last month just in Buenaventura. Human rights defenders, journalists and union members continue to be harassed and threatened for the work they do. Land restitution under the Victims’ Law continues at a snail’s pace and is jeopardized by the presence of paramilitary successor groups that threaten the safe return of communities.
Here at the LAWG, we believe that in order to build a just and lasting peace, the underlying human rights, economic and social aspects of the conflict must be addressed. This means addressing human rights violations by all parties to the conflict and creating space for civil society participation in the peace process and its implementation. It means there must be truth, and there must be justice.
There’s a long road ahead, but it’s time to say yes to peace.
In DC today, there was a vigil for Colombian victims of human rights violations that featured “an altar with pictures of civilian victims of the Colombian internal armed conflict, and victims of armed actors outside of ‘war zones’; candles to remember these victims; Colombian music; and a reading of victims’ names, with Presentes in response; flyers to distribute containing information about peace and human rights issues in Colombia.”
25th anniversary of Constitution sees massive mobilisation across country and around the world
Night is falling in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Territory. In the centre of a thatch-roof hut stands Raoni Metuktire, cacique (chief) of the Kayapó people. All day long, on the 50th anniversary of the founding of the territory, other indigenous leaders have been speaking on everything from the need for better education to the dangers of the Belo Monte mega-dam being built in the Amazon.
The third largest dam in the world, Belo Monte will flood 500 square km and dry up 100 km of river. The particular section of the river most affected is home to communities of the Kayapó, Juruna and Arara tribes, among others, and a total of 20,000 people will be displaced. Belo Monte, one of dozens of giant dam projects planned for the Amazon region, typifies the Brazilian government’s preference for development over conservation.
Raoni begins a war dance and a low chant that builds to a crescendo. He speaks forcefully, in the Kayapó language.
His nephew Megaron Txucarramãe, himself a highly esteemed Kayapó leader, translates: “I want you to feel strong, you are great! I want to see you fighting!”
The wooden disk in Raoni’s lip punctuates his exhortation. The gathered tribes, from the Arara to the Xavante, painted in ink made from the genipapo fruit, loudly cheer their assent.
A famous picture of Raoni has lately made the rounds on the internet. In it he sits, head in his hands, overcome by emotion. The photo is usually captioned something like: “Chief Raoni cries for his forest.”
The photo points to an essential truth – Brazil’s tropical forest is being destroyed at an accelerating rate, and Raoni is a legendary and outspoken defender of indigenous rights. But the picture is not what it seems. According to the Daily Kos, the actual explanation for Raoni’s display of emotion is that he has just been reunited with a member of his family.
The danger of facile Facebook memes like this one is that they distort reality. In this case, the picture could be considered to rob Raoni of his agency. It harkens back to the “crying Indian” ads of the 1970s in the U.S. (The actor in which, incidentally, was an Italian-American in makeup and a wig, and which may have contributed to more pollutionthan it prevented.) Such images depict natives as passive victims, taking it lying – in Raoni’s case, sitting – down, while the bad white guys take their land and pollute their water.
The story is, of course, based on five centuries of truth. And in countries with any surviving indigenous populations, it goes on today. According to the NGO Survival International, a proposed Brazilian constitutional amendment would give Congress the power to participate in the demarcation of indigenous lands. A bill currently under discussion would open up indigenous land for army bases, mining, dams and other industrial projects, and another would open up indigenous reserves to large-scale mining for the first time. More at The Platform >
"Only after the last tree has been cut down, Only after the last river has been poisoned, Only after the last fish has been caught, Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten." Cree Indian Prophecy