Sleeper Hits of the Summer – Part 1: The Curious Case of 30,000 Indigenous People vs. Chevron

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By Anna Phelan, Amnesty International USA’s Business & Economic Relations Group

Among my picks for sleeper hits of the summer, is a powerful documentary film called Crude: The Real Price of Oil. The film is described as a real-life high stakes legal drama, set against a backdrop of the environmental movement, global politics, celebrity activism, human rights advocacy, the media, multinational corporate power, and rapidly-disappearing indigenous cultures. For the most part, the main characters aren’t actors… well, I mean Chevron’s invested a lot of money and time in their web of lies, so maybe they’ve been taking acting lessons. And so far, Chevron’s signature method of acting has been to deny responsibility and shift the blame for contaminated soil and groundwater in the communities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

:: Learn more about the history of oil in the Amazon and Amnesty’s work ::

On Sunday, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of how indigenous communities suffer disproportionately from low health standards linked to poverty, malnutrition, environmental contamination and inadequate healthcare marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People. The hardship and discrimination faced by indigenous peoples has a lot to do with the fact that they are often excluded from decision-making processes – by both governments and corporations. In her Op-Ed piece, Navanethem Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for more than a symbolic celebration saying, after centuries of repression, they need comprehensive tools to defend their human rights, their way of life, and their aspirations.

And that’s what makes the case against Chevron a compelling story for film – not unlike the Doe v. Unocal lawsuit or, more recently, Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Shell. Indigenous peoples are gaining access to the legal system to challenge governments and transnational companies and defend their human rights. You might not know their names, but the 30,000 indigenous people who filed suit against Texaco (now Chevron) in 1993 are more than Extras. They are the real-life protagonists.

Sleeper hits are made by word of mouth recommendations. Crude: The Real Price of Oil opens to larger audiences on 09/09/09. Take action now to show your support of human rights for the indigenous communities of Amazon’s Ecuador.

Crude: The Real Price of Oil Trailer

Seriously Namibia? Forcible Sterilization of Women?

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BTL stands for bitubal ligation, or surgical sterilization of women by damaging the fallopian tubes. It was reported yesterday that the International Community of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (ICW) has documented cases of HIV positive women undergoing coerced or forced sterilizations dating back to at least January 2008. Two of the women who say they underwent these sterilizations have filed legal suit against the Namibian government.

The issue involves lack of consent. The women report being told they need to have surgery and “signed consent forms to undergo what was simply listed on their health documents as a “BTL” without fully understanding its implications.” Women were also frequently provided consent forms in English rather than their home language and so were therefore not fully informed regarding the nature of the procedure. The Namibian Ministry of Health and Human Services has thus far declined to comment.

Namibia has a 15% HIV infection rate, one of the highest in the world. Yet, this does not even come close to justifying denying a woman the right to have a child. Children are born healthy every day to HIV positive women thanks to drugs that help prevent mother to child transmission. And while this seems egregious, forced sterilizations have occurred in the past and present in concentration camps, to disabled women and  indigenous populations. But really, Namibia. How about rising a step above and honoring your committments as a ratifier of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Seriously.

One in Three

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Native American and Alaska Native women face a 1 in 3 chance of being raped in their lifetime. The numbers are shocking. In our report, Maze of Injustice, Amnesty uncovered the staggering statistic that Native American and Alaska Native women are more than two and a half times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the USA in general. This has to change!

Non-Native men who rape Native American and Alaska Native women can often do so with impunity, because of a lack of tribal authority to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes of sexual violence on tribal lands. Most perpetrators are never punished because of a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that is so confusing that officials are often not clear on who is responsible for responding.

Thankfully, the Senate is considering re-introducing the Tribal Law and Order Act, a bill that would help fix this broken system of justice.

In honor of International Women’s Day, which was this past Sunday, AIUSA is holding a call-in week for people to let their senators know that they want them to support initiatives that will help stop violence against women and to urge them to cosponsor the Tribal Law and Order Act after it has been re-introduced. Please try to call today (Thursday) or tomorrow (Friday), but if you can’t, then please call early next week.