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.

Global Day of Action for Troy Davis – Today!

Today is the Global Day of Action for Troy Davis.  Over 150 events in 45 state, DC, Puerto Rico, and 28 countries overseas have been scheduled, demonstrating as clearly as can be demonstrated that the public will not stand for the execution of a man who has had no hearing on evidence that he may be innocent.  The failure of our courts to take seriously questions of innocence is of course not limited to Troy Davis’ case, but his case is so simple – 7 of 9 witnesses have recanted their trial testimony – and the solution so obvious – an evidentiary hearing featuring said witnesses – that it is in equal parts baffling, frustrating and outrageous that Troy Davis may be once again on the brink of another execution date.

A hearing to examine and cross-examine these witnesses should not be too much to ask.

Today, a last ditch effort with the Supreme Court will be filed, but it has become clear that our courts and politicians have a supremely bureaucratic mentality towards justice; they will only take action or exercise leadership if they know they are being watched.  That is why it is so important that so many people are coming out today, to be seen and heard.  And why it is so important that we continue to do so.

WOZA Activist Jenni Williams Faces Trial Thursday, March 5

Members of WOZA © AP

Members of WOZA © AP

Jenni Williams, founder and activist in the human rights organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) faces trial next week for her role in a protest on October 16, 2008. Jenni was arrested and detained for “disturbing the peace” even though the protest was a peaceful demonstration demanding that the government provide necessary food aid. Police used excessive force to break up the peaceful protest of over 200 people, and Jenni was arbitrarily arrested with Magodonga Mahlangu, another WOZA activist. After being granted bail and released on November 6, 2008, Jenni’s trial has been postponed three times, leaving her in a legal limbo for months. On Thursday, she goes to trial to determine whether she will be imprisoned again–a pattern for human rights defenders in Zimbabwe as the government tries to silence opposition to its authority. Support Jenni Williams and the WOZA activists in their fight for human rights in Zimbabwe!

"You're All Going to Hell"

Those were the words shouted at me and several hundred other people as we were walking to the National Mall to attend Obama’s inauguration. (More about our petition action there in Zeke’s post). Those words were yelled by some protesters who were unhappy with the views espoused by Obama and concerned about the policies they expect he will implement.

Now, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take some offense at being told I was going to hell simply because I was walking toward an event that made those people unhappy. But I was also glad to see the protesters. They were there on the curb with their signs and their slogans, and no one was bothering them. No police were shooing them away, much less beating them or throwing them in jail. And when I was on the Mall collecting signatures for our 100 Days petition, no one stopped me or tried to arrest me either.

How lucky we all are–me, you, those protesters–to be able to express our opinions without fear of reprisal, imprisonment, or death. So many of our priority cases are not so lucky. If you’ve lived most of your life in places where freedom of expression is “no big deal”, it can be easy to take that right for granted. Has anyone spent time in a place where it was dangerous to express your views? What was it like to live under those conditions?

Shockwave: Taser's Latest in Taming Dissent

Taser International is busy promoting a new product.  It’s called Taser Shockwave, meant to cast something of an electroshock net over an area.  It belongs in my “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” file along with Taser International’s leopard-print MP3 player that doubles as a taser and their employment of Playboy Bunnies for promotion- but those are stories for another day.

This week, Taser International showcased their latest in potential human rights violations to your local police chief at the International Association of the Chiefs of Police annual gathering.  I wish I could have been there to talk to those officers about our latest statistics.  Since the summer of 2001, Amnesty International has been tracking the deaths that have occurred after police have used the taser weapon- we are at 320 and counting.  In over 90% of those cases, the person shocked didn’t even have a weapon.  And now Taser International wants police to have the ability to spray tasers over a crowd, hitting individuals, all at once.

Aside from taser’s questionable track record, the frightening trend in police crackdowns on dissent should make us particularly wary of the latest in taser technology.  Forget disastrous preventative detentions at the RNC and tear gas at WTO protests.  There is something new for protestors.  Here is what Taser International has to say about it:  With the push of a button at a stand-off distance of up to 100 meters, the Shockwave unit deploys multiple standard TASER® cartridges that are oriented across an area arc. Full area coverage is provided to instantaneously incapacitate multiple personnel within that region.

Development of weapons that allow police to tase en mass is not good news.  This flies in the face of good law enforcement.  Police shouldn’t be shocking entire crowds.  Given the problems with tasers, especially among vulnerable groups like the mentally ill, police need to assess the appropriateness of taser use on particular individuals and should only elect to use the taser in dire circumstances when lesser alternatives aren’t available.

Coming off of years of crushing police responses to dissent, giving departments the technology to take down multiple people with just one pull of a trigger is a dangerous idea.  I wonder what the chilling effect will be on public dissent.  Would you be willing to go to a protest knowing that police on the scene were armed with Taser Shockwave?  I wouldn’t bring my daughter, which means that I might have to stay home.  Maybe that’s the point.