Remember the Disappeared in the Philippines

By Leila Chacko, Country Specialist for the Philippines

August 30th marks the International Day of the Disappeared.   This would be an appropriate time for the Philippine government to answer questions regarding disappeared citizens, including indigenous people’s activist James Balao.  He is one of at least 200 to have disappeared in the Philippines over the last decade.

Balao disappeared from his home on September 17, 2008 when he was taken by armed men, claiming to be police. He has not been seen or heard from since.

Balao is a part of the Igorot ethnic group, an indigenous minority from the Cordillera region. He is a founding member of the Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA), a grassroots organization advocating for indigenous people’s rights. The military has called the CPA a communist organization, and called Balao a communist. The CPA feels Balao may have disappeared as a result of the government’s anti-terrorism measures (Operation Plan Bantay Laya), which has unfairly targeted legitimate organizations.

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DIGNITY for the Seventh Generation Coming

By Dana Gluckstein, Photographer & Activist

DIGNITY: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples chronicles my life journey with ninety museum collected photographs created over thirty years. DIGNITY features eloquent writings from icons such as Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Native American Faithkeeper, Oren R. Lyons and celebrates Amnesty International, the Nobel Peace-Prize winning organization, during its 50th anniversary year.

DIGNITY also chronicles centuries of painful struggle for Indigenous Peoples leading to the historic victory of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recently adopted by 146 nations. DIGNITY is inspirational, bold and explicit with a critical call to action as the United States and Canada voted against this important human rights declaration even after thirty years of UN debate.

Why is it important to listen to the wisdom of the “ancient ones” – the ancestors of the planet’s first peoples? Faithkeeper Oren R. Lyons in his scholarly introduction to DIGNITY states, “A thousand years ago or more, the Great Peace Maker (of the Iroquois) came among our people.. .He said to us, ‘When you sit in council for the welfare of the people, think not of yourself, nor of your family, or even your generation. Make your decisions for the seventh generation coming so that they may enjoy what you have here today. If you do this, there will be peace.’ That is a profound instruction on responsibility that should be the basis for the world’s decision makers today.”

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Archbishop Desmond Tutu on "Dignity"

A forward by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to Dignity: In Honor of the Rights of Indigenous People, a book benefiting Amnesty International

Indigenous peoples throughout the world have something profound and important to teach those of us who live in the so called modern world.  I have long believed this to be true, even before I discovered to my delight that I was related to the San People of southern Africa. I suspect that if each of us looks far enough back into our genome we will discover that we are all indeed related.

Indigenous Peoples remind us of this fact. They teach us that the first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of creation. In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called ubuntu. It is the essence of being human. It speaks of thefact that my humanity is caught up and is inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong to the whole, to the community, to the tribe, to the nation, to the earth. Ubuntu is about wholeness, about compassion for life.

Ubuntu has to do with the very essence of what it means to be human, to know that you are bound up with others in the bundle of life. In our fragile and crowded world we can survive only together. We can be truly free, ultimately, only together. We can be human only together. To care about the rights of Indigenous Peoples is to care about the relatives of one’s own human family.

The Indigenous Peoples of the world have a gift to give that the world needs desperately, this reminder that we are made for harmony, for interdependence. If we are ever truly to prosper, it will be only together.

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Great news for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Ines Fernandez Ortega

Inés Fernández Ortega ©Private

Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú were raped by soldiers in the Mexican Army in 2002, and have been fighting for their right to hold their perpetrators accountable for their actions.  The Inter-American Court of Human Rights just issued a ruling that greatly aids both women in their fight for justice.

On October 1 the Court issued a ruling recognizing that gross human rights violations were committed against both women and their relatives.  These violations include impunity for those responsible for the abuses as well the harassment of both the people who have supported the women in their search for justice.  The decision categorically stated that both women were raped, and identified serious flaws in the treatment of Inés and Valentina in the investigation of their abuses.

Valentina Rosendo Cantú

Valentina Rosendo Cantú ©Amnesty International

The Court also criticized the State’s attitude towards both women and demanded that certain measures be taken to re-open the criminal investigation, investigate the officials who undermined the investigations, strengthen procedures for investigating rape cases, improve medical care provided to the direct victims and provide redress for both the women, their relatives and community.  The Court also emphasized Mexico’s obligation to stop applying military justice when investigating and prosecuting members of the army for human rights violations.

Amnesty International urges the Mexican federal and state authorities to immediately implement all necessary measures to comply with the new judgments made against Mexico by the Inter-American Court with regard to violence against women.  It is time to bring justice for Inés Fernández Ortega and Valentina Rosendo Cantú!

Claire Lesikar, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Peruvian Indigenous Leader Detained, Facing Unfair Trial

Rio Sangtiago in Bagua Peru

Rio Santiago, Bagua, Peru ©Ronar Espinoza – Vicariato de Jaén

Segundo Alberto Pizango Chota, president of the Peruvian national indigenous federation AIDESEP, has been arrested immediately upon his return to Lima today after several months in exile in Nicaragua. He is facing charges in Peru which seem to be politically motivated and unsubstantiated, and he may not be given a fair trial. Peruvian indigenous and human rights organizations are already mobilizing to pressure the Peruvian government to dismiss all unsubstantiated charges and ensure that he receives a fair trial. 

Pizango was granted asylum by the Nicaraguan authorities, after the Peruvian authorities accused him of being responsible for violence which led to the deaths of 33 people in Bagua, Amazonas department, northern Peru, on June 5, 2009.  However, at the time of the violence, Alberto Pizango was in Lima, hundreds of kilometers away, and he had made it clear that he was not calling for violence, but rather asking the government to annul a series of laws which were being passed without the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous people, as a first step to initiating a dialogue as equals. Nearly a year later, Alberto Pizango still hopes to find a way to improve relations between the Peruvian government and the country’s indigenous movement.  It seemed like the right time to return to Peru and to his position as leader of AIDESEP.

Yet, the decision to arrest Pizango today appears to be another demonstration of the continued disregard by the Peruvian authorities of their duty to respect, promote and protect the rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon region.
 
Amnesty International believes that the charges against Alberto Pizango seem to be based purely on the government’s interpretation of events, which is not based on genuine evidence. Consequently, Amnesty International is deeply concerned that Alberto Pizango will not face a fair trial now that he has been arrested upon his return to Peru. Take action now!

UPDATE (5/27/10): We’ve just learned that Alberto Pizango has been released, but his trial is expected to go forward. Please continue to call for a fair trial, and for the unsubstantiated charges to be dropped.

Indigenous Mother of Six Released from Prison in Mexico

Prisoner of conscience Jacinta Francisco Marcial, a mother of six who was falsely accused in 2006 of kidnapping six federal agents has been released after serving three years in prison in Mexico. Amnesty pressed for her release after concluding no evidence existed against her and she had been arrested, tried and convicted because she was poor and of indigenous heritage.

Her release raises serious questions about the reliability of the entire prosecution case and highlights clear failings in the investigation. Amnesty International is calling for a full review into her unfounded prosecution and for her to receive full compensation for unfair and wrongful imprisonment.

You can read the full press release here. Learn about Jacinta’s ordeal in her own words, in this interview conducted this past June 29th:

Peru Update: Steps Taken Toward Dialogue After Clashes

International pressure on the Peruvian authorities has brought some progress for Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon. An Amnesty International delegation will visit the country to assess the situation.

Since the violent incidents which took place in Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon, on 5-6 June, the authorities have taken some steps to establish a dialogue with Indigenous Peoples and open investigations into the events which led to the death of at least 14 police officers and 10 demonstrators. However, concerns remain about allegations of excessive use of force, torture and ill-treatment of detainees and insufficient legal assistance.

An Amnesty International delegation will visit Peru between 12 and 25 July in order to evaluate recent developments and the current situation. After the mission, new information and strategies for action will be circulated.

Many thanks to those who took action!