President Obama signs Tribal Law and Order Act

I am thrilled to share with you a deeply moving moment in a long-awaited, hard-fought, and historic victory for Native American and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.  Last Thursday afternoon, I had the privilege of attending a special ceremony at the White House where President Obama signed into law H.R. 725 – the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010. This law entering into force marked an important step forward in beginning to address some of the many continuing injustices that Native American and Alaska Native communities – particularly women – face in this country.  It was especially meaningful to stand not just along aside my Amnesty International colleagues but with our Native partners who for so long have fought to stop the horrific violence and human rights violations inflicted on Native American and Alaska Native women.  It is their courage and determination that made this historic advance possible.

The Tribal Law and Order Act is a groundbreaking piece of bipartisan legislation that tackles the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Native American and Alaska Native peoples to flourish.  In particular, it seeks to put an end to the epidemic rates of rape and sexual assault perpetrated against Indigenous women in the US.  As many of you know from your years of activism and support for AIUSA’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign, the situation we found Native women facing in this country when began our research in 2005 was truly appalling.  As detailed in our 2007 reported entitled Maze of Injustice, Native women are 2.5 times more likely than other women in this country to be raped. Women from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in the Dakotas told us that they couldn’t think of a single woman who hadn’t been sexually assaulted.  More than one in three Native women will be raped at some point in their lives, 86 percent of them by non-Native perpetrators. The fact that the majority of these crimes occur with total impunity points clearly to the legacy of discrimination that Native communities had faced for many generations.

Among other things, this legislation means that every Native American and Alaska Native woman now finally has the chance to get a police response, have access to a rape kit, the opportunity to see her case prosecuted and see justice served for crimes committed against her. It standardizes the much needed sexual assault protocols within the Indian Health Service to ensure that survivors of sexual assault will receive proper treatment and care and that crucial forensic evidence will be collected.  The Act also clarifies who is responsible for prosecuting crimes in tribal communities and restores authority, resources, and information to tribal governments.  While taking initial steps to restore power to tribal governments to take more direct action in cases of violent crime, it will also hold federal authorities accountable for failure to prosecute.


Still a State of Unconstitutional Affairs in Colombia?

Short answer, yes. In 2004, the Colombia Constitutional Court declared a state of unconstitutional affairs and ordered the Colombian government to address the rights and needs of the displaced population. The Colombia government has yet to implement these orders, and Colombia’s displacement crisis continues. There is an important resolution, introduced by Representative Hank Johnson (D-GA), going around the US House of Representatives that, if passed, would send a strong message of support for the work of the Colombia Constitutional Court.

House Resolution 1224, currently in the US House of Representatives, would bring the population of internally displaced peoples (IDPs) in Colombia one step further towards ensuring that their human rights are upheld.

The incidence of displacement in Colombia is not something to be overlooked – it is one of the highest in the world. Between 3 and 4 million people have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge elsewhere in the country; a further 500,000 are believed to have fled to neighboring countries.  Even worse, is that a disproportionate number of these internally displaced are indigenous peoples, afro-descendants and campesino communities. Displacement has forced these rural dwellers to migrate to large urban areas and it has drastically increased the number of people living in city slums.

In 2004, the Colombian Constitutional Court issued two declarations calling for the Colombian government to protect IDPs and their human rights (see pages 9-18). Unfortunately, the government of Colombia has yet to implement these recommended public policies and IDPs in Colombia continue to suffer. More people are continuously forced from their land, more people are discriminated against, and more poverty exists.

37 Representatives have signed onto this resolution, but more support is needed! Contact your local Representative to bring the millions of internally displaced Colombians one step closer to justice.

Kristin Keohan contributed to this post

This is it – act NOW to pass the Tribal Law and Order Act

Two Native American women were gang-raped by three non-Native men in Oklahoma. Because they were forced to wear blindfolds, however, support workers were concerned that the women would be unable to say whether the rapes took place on federal, state or tribal land. Because of jurisdictional complexities and the uncertainty of the locations of these crimes, the women may never see justice served.

It is time to help make a difference in the lives of Native American and Alaska Native women and put an end to the sexual violence that Native women face at a rate that is 2.5 times greater than that of women in the U.S. in general. Passage of the Tribal Law and Order Act will help to do just that.

The Tribal Law and Order Act, attached as an amendment to H.R. 725, is now up for a full floor vote in the House. WHEN it passes, the legislation will go straight to the President to be signed into law.

YOU can make a difference!

TAKE ACTION now and send a letter of support urging your Representative to vote for H.R. 725 with Tribal Law and Order provisions attached, when the bill hits the House floor this week!

Raúl Hernández: In Jail for Defending the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Raúl Hernández, a member of the Me’phaa Indigenous People’s Organization (OPIM), has been detained for over two years for a crime Amnesty International believes he did not commit.  He and four other OPIM members were arrested on April 17, 2008 and charged with the murder of Alejandro Feliciano García on January 1, 2008 in the village of El Camalote, Guerrero State, in Mexico.  The other four OPIM members were released in March of this year, but Hernández remains detained as the sole suspect for the murder of García.

The next few weeks will be a vital time for Hernández as the State Attorney General’s Office will have the opportunity to recommend that the case against him is dropped.  We are asking members and activists to join us now in pressuring the State Attorney General’s Office to ensure that the charges against Hernández are dropped and that he is released immediately from detention.

The original charges against Hernández were based on questionable eyewitness evidence that appeared to be manufactured.  Efforts by the defense attorney to question the reliability of this evidence were not taken into account during the initial stages of the case.  He was actually denied an injunction because of two suspicious eyewitness accounts implicating him in the murder despite other testimonies that he was not present at the time of the crime.  Only recently—on June 30 of this year—did a federal review judge decide that the evidence against Hernández was unreliable. This judge closed the evidence submission stage of the case, and the court has asked the State Attorney General’s Office for a recommendation on what should be done with the case, so now the power to decide what happens to Hernández is in the hands of the State Attorney General’s Office.

Amnesty International believes that authorities called for the arrest of Hernández and other OPIM members to stem their human rights work on behalf of the Me’phaa indigenous communities.  It appears that the murder charges against Hernández were brought in reprisal for his legitimate activities promoting the rights of their community and exposing abuses by a local political boss (cacique) and local authorities.  This is not surprising given the repeated harassment members of OPIM have faced from local authorities.  They report being threatened, intimidated, attacked, and even murdered for their work.

Join us now to support Hernández and his work to defend the rights of the Me’phaa indigenous communities! The State Attorney General’s Office will be making their recommendation for Hernández’s case within the next few weeks, so we need to remind them now that we expect them to pursue justice by recommending that Hernández is released and that those who misused the judicial system to imprison him wrongfully are prosecuted.

You can also send a quick message of encouragement and solidarity to Raúl.

Anna Westlund, Campaign for Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.

Victory! Tribal Law and Order Act Passes in the US Senate!

HUGE VICTORY for human rights happened this past Wednesday when the Senate passed H.R. 725, the Indian Arts and Crafts Amendment Act of 2010, which included the majority of the provisions in the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009!

The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 is a historic, bi-partisan effort to tackle the complex jurisdictional maze that allows violent crime against Indigenous women, and in particular, sexual assault and violence against Native American and Alaska Native women, to go unpunished and unabated.

Championed by Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) in the Senate and Representative Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin (D-SD) in the House, the Tribal Law and Order Act represents an important step forward in combating violence against Native American women.  Violence that is an ongoing violation of Native American and Alaska Native women’s most fundamental human rights and freedoms.

Amnesty International detailed this violence in our 2007 report entitled Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA.  The report revealed shocking statistics of violence such as the fact 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 United States in general.  The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2009 is in direct response to concerns raised by tribal leaders, tribal organizations, Native American and Alaska Native women and the AIUSA report, which helped bring widespread attention to the high rates of crimes on tribal lands and the obstacles that victims face in securing justice.

The Act will help abate the violence in Indigenous communities by clarifying the responsibilities of, and increasing coordination and communication among, federal, state, and tribal governments with respect to crimes committed in tribal communities.  The bill also provides assistance to tribal governments by arming them with the necessary authority, resources, and information to address crimes committed on tribal land.  In addition, it helps shed light on the elevated levels of violence in Indian Country by increasing the standardized collection and distribution of criminal data among all levels of government responsible for responding to and investigating crimes in tribal communities, including the data necessary to establish whether or not crimes are being prosecuted.


Indigenous Rights in Peru: We just need one signature!

We only have until this Friday to get Peruvian president Alan García to sign a much-needed bill that will provide Peru’s indigenous peoples with their long-awaited right to consultation on laws that will affect them.  We are excited that Peru’s Congress approved the Law on the Right of Indigenous People to Consultation, but without President García’s signature, the bill will have no effect.

Indigenous peoples in Peru have faced a lot of discrimination and unfair treatment over the years.  The government has been criticized for neglecting the rights of indigenous peoples to land and resources, specifically through the passing of laws that exploit indigenous land without consulting the indigenous peoples who own it.  If García approves the Law on Consultation, it will become much more difficult for the government to exploit indigenous peoples’ land.  

Recently, Amnesty International was particularly concerned over the detention without substantiated evidence of Albert Pizango, an indigenous leader blamed for inciting violence between police and indigenous peoples last June, when a community in Bagua protested the adoption of laws that would exploit their natural resources. 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. The violence led to the death of 33 people and the wounding of 200.  Although Pizango has been released, the government has failed to pursue justice adequately in the case.  Amnesty International will continue to pressure Peruvian authorities to end unfair treatment of indigenous peoples, which hopefully will stem the violence and tension between authorities and indigenous peoples.

Take action to get President García to sign the Law on Consultation as a first and necessary step to providing justice and equality for Peru’s indigenous peoples. Time is of the essence.

Please contact him now!

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 Colombians Struggle to Survive

Women in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

Women prepare food in the Embera Katío community in Aguasal, Chocó Department, Colombia

The indigenous community of Colombia is in serious danger of extinction if their human rights continue to be ignored and violated.  Amnesty International’s new report details a startling increase in attacks against indigenous peoples across the country leaving many communities struggling for survival.

According to the National Indigenous Organization of America, 114 men, women and indigenous children were killed and thousands were forcibly displaced in 2009. Among other violations against indigenous peoples are forced disappearances, threats, physical abuse of women, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the persecution of indigenous leaders.

These injustices threaten the very existence of such communities and it is imperative that the Colombian government respond. The Minister of Colombia, Valencia Cossio, recently stated, “The report [of Amnesty International] erroneously assumed that ‘internal armed conflict’ and ‘paramilitaries’ are to blame for the violence, and they do not face the fact that indigenous communities have been displaced and killed by the FARC and emerging criminal groups. ”

However, Human Rights Watch has continued to document great tolerance by the military for paramilitary atrocities. According to Human Rights Watch, the phrase “sixth division” is a common phrase in Colombia when referring to paramilitary groups in the country. At its most wrenching, there is collaboration between the military and paramilitaries of Colombia that according to Human Rights Watch includes:


UN sends a strong message to U.S. about the state of its indigenous people

The United Nation’s first report on The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, released on January 14, 2010, contains figures and an assessment that are both shocking and illuminating, even to those who are familiar with indigenous rights issues. The report evaluates the state of indigenous populations in specific countries and situations, in both the developed and developing world.

The report states that,

“Indigenous peoples suffer from the consequences of historic injustice, including colonization, dispossession of their lands, territories and resources, oppression and discrimination, as well as lack of control over their own ways of life. Their right to development has been largely denied by colonial and modern States in the pursuit of economic growth”

The United States is by no means exempt from the report’s critique. Despite increased state and federal acknowledgment of the challenges that Native Americans and Alaska Natives face in the U.S., the U.S. has made only incremental change and continues to generate appalling statistics and significant disparities. A recent study that applied the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index (HDI) – which measures health, education and standard of living — to indigenous populations in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand found that while the U.S. ranked seventh overall (globally), U.S. American Indians and Alaska Natives ranked thirtieth.

The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples notes that nearly a quarter of Native Americans and Alaska Natives live below the poverty line in the U.S., compared to about 12.5 percent of the total population, and pinpoints the direct relationship that the educational deficit has upon economic opportunities and employment rates.


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!