Big Win For Indigenous Rights In Peru

By Carlos Marín, Peru Country Specialist for Amnesty USA

Indigenous people protest in Peru © Rupert Haag

It’s cause to celebrate: The indigenous peoples of Peru scored a long-overdue human rights victory earlier this month.

On September 6th, 2011, Peruvian President Humala traveled to Bagua, in the Peruvian Amazon region, to sign the Consultation with Indigenous Peoples Law, that requires government to consult with indigenous peoples before companies can begin projects like digging mines, drilling for oil or building dams. Indigenous peoples must also be consulted before Congress can approve any proposed law that could affect their rights.


This World Health Day, Shine a Light on Maternal Health

Pregnant women at a maternity waiting house in northern Sierra Leone, where they can stay fom the ninth month of pregnancy until their babies are delivered.

Today is World Health Day – and you can celebrate by shining a light on maternal health!

World Health Day marks the anniversary of the founding, in 1948, of the World Health Organization, whose constitution — signed by all 193 Members of the United Nations — states that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

Preventable deaths in pregnancy and childbirth are violations of the right to health, and the right to freedom from discrimination due to gender, race, ethnicity, immigration status, or income level. Maternal mortality is not just a public health emergency – it is a human rights crisis.

Every 90 seconds, another woman dies from complications of pregnancy and childbirth – that’s 1,000 women every day, more than 350,000 each year. The vast majority of these deaths could be prevented, and ninety-nine percent happen in the developing world — the greatest disparity between developed and developing countries of any global health issue.


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.

Speaking Out for Maternal Health in Detroit

On April 17, Detroit hosted the second stop of the maternal health speakers tour. In this post, Reuben Metreger, a law student at Wayne State University and Amnesty International state legislative coordinator for Michigan, looks back on the event.

As I reflect on the Deadly Delivery Detroit event I am reminded of what long time Detroit co-group 78 leader and new area coordinator Ken Grunow said. In Detroit we will all need to become midwives and mid-husbands to deliver the rebirth of our city. Amnesty International leaders from around the world gave us a good first push. As we begin to demand dignity and take on poverty it seems clear that a common problem is inequality for women and minority groups and that it is people power, not technology that will make it happen.

As if on cue the technology failed us. The sound system went out, but our leaders did not skip a beat. They were able to communicate the old fashioned way, from the heart.

Larry Cox, executive director of AIUSA, told us that although we are the richest country in the world, we still rank behind forty other countries in terms of lifetime risk of dying in pregnancy or childbirth.

Silvia Rosario Loli Espinoza, executive director of AI Peru, told us through her interpreter that although her country is considered a middle income country, they are the third worst in Latin America when it comes to maternal mortality. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of resources and women are not even provided with basic needs like food and transportation. Other problems have to do with discrimination against indigenous people and women in the country which contribute to poor outcomes. She described a technique called vertical delivery where women give birth while standing; indigenous women often prefer vertical delivery, but too many Peruvian health professionals are unable to facilitate the technique, or even actively discourage it.

Yves Boukari Traore, executive director of AI Burkina Faso, told us that his country is one of the economically poorest in the world. Poverty is a leading cause of maternal mortality, yet the problem is more than a lack of resources — it is a lack of will. We watched an inspiring video of women on the Amnesty International caravan delivering the message that maternal mortality is a serious problem and that when the community joins together to demand dignity, the government will have to respond.

The most hopeful news of the day came from Brima Abdulai Sheriff, executive director of AI Sierra Leone. Although he told us that Sierra Leone facing many of the same challenges as Burkina Faso, his government has announced that health care will be provided free to pregnant women in his country!

It was inspiring to get to see first-hand Amnesty activists from around the world and to recognize that our problems have much in common. We all need to come together to join Amnesty International and demand dignity for all people! As Ken said, we all need to help support pregnant women to ensure that birth is a joyous occasion that we can all celebrate.

Speaking Out for Maternal Health in San Francisco

This post is by Cecilia Lipp, AIUSA San Francisco Organizing City Activist Leader.

L-R: Larry Cox of Amnesty International USA, Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, and Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso

L-R: Larry Cox of Amnesty International USA, Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, and Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso

San Francisco hosted AIUSA’s maternal health speakers tour at the San Francisco Public Library Wednesday night. Amnesty International executive directors from Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Peru and the United States presented the findings of AI’s reports on maternal health in their respective countries, and outlined their campaigns to make every birth safe.

The panel discussion, moderated by Diana Campoamor, president of Hispanics in Philanthropy, took us through from the international to the local level. The statistics at every level are shocking. But what stays with me most are the stories of individual women denied access to lifesaving health care.

L-R: Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, Sameer Dossani of Amnesty International USA, and Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

L-R: Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone, Sameer Dossani of Amnesty International USA, and Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

Maddy Oden, founder of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation, shared the intimate story of the loss of her daughter, Tatia, after an induced labor at a respected San Francisco Bay Area hospital. Tatia’s daughter Zorah passed away as well. Before speaking, Maddy lit a candle to honor the spirits of the women who have died while giving life.

In a room filled with midwives, local elected officials, our local human rights organizations and people who are all parents and children, it was so important for us to be brought back to the fact that the issue of maternal mortality is not just a question of abstract statistics or lofty human rights ideals. This is a concrete, flesh-and-blood issue that affects every person in the room, and the inspiration for this work lies in the fact that this is a crisis we can fight! These deaths, like Tatia’s, are unnecessary and preventable, especially in the United States, where geography and infrastructure do not pose a problem in the way that it might in rural Burkina Faso.

L: Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

L: Silvia Loli Espinoza of Amnesty International Peru

We looked at solutions in our community, such as the bill for single-payer health care in California championed by Senator Mark Leno, supported by partner organizations including OneCare California. We, as a community, can also look to support education solutions that the Tatia Oden French Foundation proposes including increasing women’s awareness of their rights within the health care system, including the right to refusal. It’s imperative for our community to ensure that all women get everything they need to be fully informed participants in their care.

This event was a call to action: to come together in solidarity with one another and protect the life of every woman in our global community who chooses to give birth. Let us make sure every woman knows her rights, let us hold the medical community accountable (not culpable, but responsible), let us support the practice of midwives and doulas to support women in birth, let us ensure that women are visited by doctors and community members before, during and after their birth.

L-R: Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation (hidden), Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone

L-R: Maddy Oden of the Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation (hidden), Yves Boukari Traore of Amnesty International Burkina Faso, Brima Abdulai Sheriff of Amnesty International Sierra Leone

We have our work cut out for us, but I became convinced this week that we can make this change in our community here in San Francisco. Could you do the same thing in your community? Will you work for a crucial national solution — an Office of Maternal Health? I will remember the life of Tatia Oden French and the other women just like her who die every day within the United States alone. Let us stand together in solidarity and transform this unnecessary and heartbreaking reality.

Maternal health is a human right. Motherhood and birth deserve dignity, so let us demand dignity for ourselves, our sisters, our daughters, our partners.

Women: The Smartest Investment

In an empowering speech on Friday, January 8, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her commitment to women’s rights as human rights. Exactly 15 years since the UN’s International Conference on Population and Development was held in Cairo, Secretary Clinton praised the progress made in improving the health and lives of women and children around the world since this groundbreaking gathering.

This progress has included a marked increase in the use of modern contraceptives from less than 10% in the 1960s to 43% today; an encouraging increase in child survival rates; and an increase in female enrollment in schools. Despite this progress, Secretary Clinton rightly emphasized the crucial need for a continued commitment toward reaching the Conference’s goals by the target year, 2015.

Secretary Clinton cited alarming statistics: half the women in the developing world deliver their babies without access to crucial medical care and 215 million women worldwide lack access to modern forms of contraception – as Clinton put it, the “numbers are not only grim, but after 15 years, they are intolerable.” Vast gendered inequities remain; and women continue to represent the majority of the world’s “poor, unhealthy, and under-fed.”

Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration’s recognition that investing in women is “the smartest investment to be made…” shows that they’re on the right track. Earlier this year, President Obama and Secretary Clinton demonstrated their support for these issues by appointing Melanne Verveer as Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues.  The creation of this position sends a strong message to the world that the United States, in its deliberations on foreign policy and foreign aid, will give top priority to issues that affect women. Ambassador Verveer has since been a strong advocate on behalf of women around the world.  In October, she testified before Congress in hearings in both the House of Representatives and the Senate on violence against women.


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!

Protests in Peru Over "Oil Laws" Leave Dozens Dead

Protestors demand Peruvian President Garcia's resignation following deadly clashes between Amazon indigenous groups and security forces in Bagua © AFP/Getty Images

Protestors demand Peruvian President Garcia's resignation after deadly clashes between Amazon indigenous groups and security forces © AFP/Getty Images

Peru’s Congress temporarily suspended two Amazon investment laws – dubbed the “Law of the Jungle” – that triggered violent clashes that left at least 30 protesters and 24 people police officers dead last weekend. The controversial laws made oil drilling, mining and logging – including on indigenous land – much more accessible for corporations.

Indigenous protesters say that the laws, being passed in part to comply with a trade agreement with the U.S., weaken their rights to land they have inhabited for hundreds of years.  One of the laws removed more than 170,000 square miles of Peruvian jungle from the government’s list of protected lands.

The situation continues to be volatile and the human rights of injured and detained protestors remain under attack.  On June 5, the National Police forcibly removed Indigenous protesters who had blocked the approach road to the town of Bagua.  At least 30 protesters and 24 police officers were left dead, as well as over 200 people injured, including 31 police officers, as a result of this action.  And the number of protesters killed is feared to be higher still.

According to local sources, some of the protesters who have been injured are not receiving adequate medical care since local health centers are not well equipped. And at least 79 demonstrators, including several minors, have been taken into police and army custody. It is unclear how they are being treated, what they have been charged with, and whether they have access to medical care or legal assistance.  Amnesty International is demanding protection for protestors.

"A victory for the whole world"

A few years ago, thanks to a grant from the former JEHT Foundation, I began working with the great Skylight Pictures on a short documentary film for Amnesty members.  The film was envisioned as a tool to help our members better understand international justice through the stories of the survivors and human rights defenders who are pursuing such cases.

Thanks to their work on the internationally acclaimed State of Fear, Skylight had developed strong relationships with families and activists in Peru involved in the case against former President Alberto Fujimori, and so suggested that we feature the campaign to bring Fujimori to justice as one of the film’s three story segments.

I was hesitant at first: I wanted “hot”, current stories, and Fujimori’s then still-alleged crimes were well over a decade old.  His wasn’t “technically” an international justice case because Peru wanted to prosecute.  And the case didn’t appear to be making much headway, with Fujimori traveling from one country to the other apparently unfazed by the warrant Interpol issued for his arrest.  But director Pam and editor Peter prevailed, and when I saw the rough cut of the segment they created on Fujimori, I knew why.

The segment follows Gisela Ortiz and Raída Condór, whose brother and son, respectively, were among the students disappeared from La Cantuta University in 1992 and later killed by a paramilitary group operating under Fujimori’s effective command.  Gisela and Raida, still devastated and still so angry after some fifteen years, never stopped demanding answers about what happened to their loved ones.  They were relentless about exposing Fujimori as a murderer who had masqueraded as a head of state.  When he moved to Chile from where he had been living in exile in Japan, Gisela traveled to Chile and demonstrated outside his house, demanding to know why the police where hassling the protesters instead of the suspect inside.

When Chile’s Supreme Court decided that Fujimori could be extradited back to Peru for trial, Gisela sent a note that read “I believe that this is a victory for the whole world, recognizing that human rights abusers have little room to hide, and wherever they are, justice much reach them to restore dignity to the victims.”

Today is Gisela’s and Raida’s day, because, in the end, justice is not about the perpetrators of abuses, but about the victims and the survivors.  It’s such an important lesson that we need to keep learning over and over again, and so relevant today.

When, for example, we hear Sudan’s indicted president al-Bashir and his allies accuse the International Criminal Court of being anti-African, as though he is somehow more African or more important an African than the millions of Darfuris who have suffered because of his actions.  In Darfur, as in Peru, as in so many other places where grave abuses have been committed, we sometimes have to work to hear the voices of the victims above the spin of the perpetrators and the powerful and compilict allies who would like nothing better than to wait us out until we move on to the next story and let them off the hook.  We need to wait them out instead, just as Gisela and Raida did.

You can watch Gisela and Raida tell their story in our Justice Without Borders documentary.