Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standing Up for Human Rights in the Bajo Aguan

by the Witness for Peace Nicaragua Team

This past Sunday marked the end of an incredible demonstration of solidarity with the people of the Bajo Aguan. The International Human Rights Encuentro (conference) in the Bajo Aguan lasted from the 17th to 20th of February. We accompanied Honduran groups traveling to the event and were present for the encuentro and visits to communities in the Aguan Valley. Over the next couple weeks we will be posting more on the event and sharing stories of those affected by human rights abuses.

The coordinators of the encuentro were expecting a few hundred participants but over a thousand people from across the world came to bear witness to the struggles of the campesino movements and human rights violations that they have suffered. Campesino movements from Brazil, El Salvador, and other parts of Central and South America arrived to share their experiences and struggles. Independent media from Argentina to Louisville, Kentucky documented the event. Honduran human rights defenders, indigenous and Afro indigenous rights organizations, feminists, unionists and other social movements came together from across the country.

These diverse groups produced a declaration stating:

WE BELIEVE that this situation, which is deteriorating daily, can only be explained by the interests of the capitalist, patriarchal and racist system in subjecting peoples, dispossessing them of their natural and cultural wealth and putting it at the service of the nations of the North and their transnationals. This dispossession is made possible by the accompanying process of militarization which is increasingly apparent through the foreign military occupation which safeguards colonialism, oppression and the violation of human rights which we are experiencing in Honduras in an extremely harsh and brutal form.

To read the full declaration in Spanish please click here and for the full translation into English please click here.

The United States plays an integral role in miliatrization by funding and training Honduran police and military and by expanding U.S. military bases in the country. Take action today to help end this militarization. Ask your representatives to sign on to a letter demanding the suspension of military aid to Honduras. The last day to sign on is March 1st.

Photos courtesy of Lucy Edwards and the WFP Nicaragua teams.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

UN Rapporteur Addresses Human Rights Crisis in Honduras

by Riahl O'Malley

“I am worried by the level of violence that affects people who peacefully claim their economic and social rights, including the right to land” states United Nations Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggva. On Tuesday, Sekaggva held a press conference marking the end of her week-long visit to Honduras. Her statement was nothing new for those who have been working in defense of human rights and who face constant repression. As I sat behind a thick row of press badges, media personalities and camera equipment listening to her presentation, I hoped this would lend public attention to those Honduran voices that have been systemically oppressed.

“Reigning impunity and the absence of effective investigations of violations of human rights impede the administration of justice and deteriorate trust of society towards authorities,” she states. “The coup d'état of 2009 aggravated the weakness of institutions, increased the vulnerability of defenders of human rights and provoked a polarization of the Honduran people.”

She affirms that certain communities are more vulnerable to human rights abuses, and that those who have worked to defend the rights of these groups have been met with repression. These communities include women, children, the LGBTI community, indigenous communities, Afro-Hondurans and those who work to defend land rights and the environment.

These violations, she finds, implicate public officials, including high level officials in the state. Police officers, including those of high rank, have been involved in the obstruction of human rights investigations.

In her detailed list of recommendations to the national and international community she outlines strategies for how to change policy and raise consciousness to promote the work of human rights defenders. As I listened I heard a single thread that weaved them together: public consultation.

Each time she said, “consultation with civil society” the words of José Angel, community leader in the Afro-Honduran community of Triunfo de la Cruz, echoed through my head, “What we need is to participate in and to be a part of the plans they make to improve our community.”

Sekaggva did not comment directly on the foreign policy of countries like the United States. The United States gave over $9.8 million to Honduras in arms and training to the military and police in 2011 and has budgeted over $8 million for 2012. The United States in particular has played a key role in legitimizing the administration under which many of the violations have occurred, no doubt contributing to the culture of impunity Sekaggva identifies.

What would Honduras look like if each policy decision was made in consultation with those most affected? The United States would probably find the flaws in policies that encourage neoliberalism and militarization. And we would probably see an end to policies that prioritize the will of multinational corporations over the safety and security of indigenous, Afro and rural Hondurans.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

WFP Colombia begins human rights verification mission

The Witness for Peace International Team in Colombia will be traveling to the northern part of the country this week to take part in an international verification mission.

In collaboration with local Afro-descendent, indigenous and campesino communities, as well as with other non-governmental organizations, over 170 participants will document the threats facing rural communities inside and outside of Indigenous Reserves and Humanitarian Zones in the Urabá region in the province of Chocó.

It will mark 15 years since the U.S.-funded and trained Colombian military carried out operations “Black September” and “Genesis,” which left over 500 civilian community members killed or forcibly disappeared and caused 21 collective displacements. It also coincides with the 2nd anniversary of the aerial bombardment of the community of Saltico by the Colombian Armed Forces, which gravely injured members of the civilian population and violated international humanitarian law.

As part of a verification mission, we will bear witness to the physical and cultural threat to communities posed by armed actors in the region. A strengthening paramilitary presence has led to an increase in illicit crop cultivation and drug trafficking, putting the local civilian population at a heightened risk of having their land seized or becoming victims of violence by public security forces and illegal armed groups.

For more information about the context in Urabá look for our video blogs from the field the week of February 20th. For more information about the international verification mission, check out the website of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mexican Human Rights Defender Attacked for Second Time in Two Months

By Moravia de la O

Last Friday February 3rd, activist Norma Andrade was stabbed in the neck while returning to her home in Mexico City. This is the second time in two months that someone has tried to kill her.

On December 2nd, 2011, Norma was attacked by a man as she was heading towards her car in Ciudad Juarez. Although she offered her keys and wallet, the man fired at her five times. Fortunately, Norma was taken to the hospital and survived the attack. The official response from authorities was to label the incident a botched car theft. However, it is clear that Norma Andrade’s life is in danger because of her continued work documenting and seeking justice for the hundreds of femicides that have taken place in Ciudad Juarez.

Norma Andrade began her work as an activist and human rights defender 11 years ago, after her daughter, Lilia Alejandra Garcia Andrade, was kidnapped, raped, killed, and decapitated in 2001. Seeking justice for her daughter’s death, Norma formed the non-profit May Our Daughters Return Home with family members of other femicide victims. Since then, Norma has been relentless in her efforts to seek justice for her daughter and the hundreds of other women who have been assassinated and forcefully disappeared in Juarez. Because of this, Norma and her family have faced numerous death threats and aggressions.

Unfortunately, Norma’s story is all too familiar in Mexico. Since 2006 when President Felipe Calderon sent army troops to patrol the streets in an effort to dismantle organized criminal groups in Mexico, violence against human rights defenders has increased significantly. According to the 2011 Annual Report published by Human Rights Watch, in Mexico “human rights defenders continue to suffer harassment and attacks, sometimes directly at the hands of state officials. Meanwhile authorities consistently fail to provide defenders with adequate protection or investigate the crimes against them.”

Women defenders are often those most at risk. In the last two years alone, eight women human rights defenders, including Josefina Reyes Salazar and Marisela Escobedo, have been assassinated because of their work while many others have been victims of violence, threats, intimidation, and harassment.

Despite the numerous death threats received by Norma Andrade and her family, the Mexican state failed to comply with the many precautionary measures issued by the Inter American Human Rights Commission and the Mexican National Human Rights Commission. In addition, no one has been arrested for either attack against her. This is not surprising as 98% of all perpetrators are not brought to justice. In this context of rampant impunity, human rights defenders are even more at risk. One human rights defender recently stated: “I don’t need a bullet proof vest, I need access to justice. I need [the state] to reduce impunity, that is a true precautionary measure.”

Meanwhile, the US government continues to allocate money and resources through the Merida Initiative to Mexican security forces, which are unable and unwilling to protect human rights defenders, and the justice system, which is corrupt and ineffective in procuring justice. Given this reality, US citizens must demand that the Obama administration end all Merida Initiative funding immediately and pressure the Mexican state to insure the security of Norma Andrade and the thousand other human rights defenders whose lives are in constant danger.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Peace Movement in Mexico Launches Multimedia Campaign to “Put Yourself in Another’s Shoes”

By Moravia de la O

The Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, headed by renowned poet Javier Sicilia, and the artist collective “El Grito Mas Fuerte” (the Loudest Scream) launched a multimedia campaign on Monday to raise awareness about the human cost of the drug war in Mexico. The campaign, called “En los Zapatos del Otro” (‘In Another’s Shoes”), aims to give voice to the victims of the drug violence and to create an educated grassroots movement in Mexico to advocate for a change in the country’s security strategy

In a five minute video (Spanish only), Mexican actors and actresses read from a handful of testimonies of family members of the nearly 50,000 drug war victims. The powerful testimonies include those from Javier Sicilia and Nepomuceno Moreno, a human rights defender from northern Mexico who was assassinated in November of 2011.

These victims’ stories, and the tens of thousands of others whose stories have not been told, are a reminder that the US-backed militarized strategy to combating drug trafficking organizations in Mexico is failing. It is time that the American people stand in solidarity with the people of Mexico by demanding that our government stop funding this drug war. It is time that the people of the US put themselves in the shoes of our southern neighbors.