Musqueam First Nation members, supporters halt condo construction at Marpole midden site. Vancouver, March 12, 2012. Photo: Sandra Cuffe
In the month’s Underreported Struggles: Australian government passes legislation to store nuclear waste on indigenous land; Himba people of Namibia reach out to the international community for support; Musqueam First Nation halts construction of new condominium; Mexico’s Supreme Court affirms indigenous right to take part in decision making.
Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that a Tarahumara (Raramuri) community in the state of Chihuahua has the Constitution right to participate in the decision-making of any project that would affect them. The little-noticed decision could have far-reaching effects across the country. The high court also stated that relevant national law is similar to the International Labor Organization’s Convention No. 169, which protects the rights of indigenous communities and tribal peoples. Mexico is among 22 nations that have ratified the international agreement.
The National Indian government recently gave its approval for the first of two Russian-designed nuclear reactors at Koodankulam (Kudankulam) in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The unsettling move has been met with a massive uprising involving up to 20,000 locals and protests around the country. The government’s response has been severe. According to a recent appeal thousands of armed policemen began terrorizing the local protesters. At least 500 people—some reports say as many as 3,000—have already been arrested. A media blackout is also now in effect.
Fifty years ago, in 1962, Dryden Chemicals Ltd. quietly began funneling its mercury waste into the Wabigoon River, a practice they continued until 1970. When all was said and done, the British-owned company had dumped some 10 metric tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon, severely contaminating its fish and disrupting the economy and subsistence practices of three Indigenous communities. Fifty years later, the mercury problem continues.
Nyoongar activists are being continuously confronted by police on Heirisson Island, where a Nyoongar Tent Embassy has been established. Since the Tent Embassy began in mid-February—in opposition to a government proposal that would force the Nyoongar to permanently surrender their land title—there have been at least 6 confrontations in which police have arrested the activists, seized their property and dismantled the Embassy. The determined Nyoongar and their allies however, refuse to back down. They keep going back to the site and restoring the Embassy.
Naga Youth in Burma have formed a new group to resist the construction of the Tamanthi Dam which is located at Homlin township in Naga area, Myanmar. Once completed, the Dam reservoir would flood 1400 sq kms, permanently displacing 53 Naga villages, 15 villages inhabited by both Naga and Kuki people and 14 Kuki villages. At least 2400 people have been already relocated at gun point.
Fishermen in Palawan are being urged to follow the traditional sustainable fishing methods of the Tagbanua people. Over the years, destructive and careless fishing practices have depleted the population of Irrawaddy dolphins, bringing them to the edge of extinction. The Tagbanua, who consider dolphins to be messengers, limit themselves to catching certain fish species based on the position of the moon or the tide. They also share their catch among neighbors and relatives, avoiding wastage and overfishing.
The Chinese government introduced a new policy that places almost every Buddhist monastery in Tibet under the direct rule of government officials. The officials will be permanently stationed in each religious institution. According to official documents, the new policy is described as, “critical for taking the initiative in the struggle against separatism,” and aims to “ensure that monks and nuns do not take part in activities of splitting up the motherland and disturbing social order.”
The Australian government passed new legislation to let nuclear waste be stored at a remote indigenous community in the Northern Territory, a decision that indigenous groups and environmentalists have vowed to fight. Muckaty Station was nominated by the Northern Land Council in 2007; But since then several traditional owners have argued they were not properly consulted and did not give their consent.
In Ecuador, A group of women led protests against a Chinese-financed Canadian copper mining project, the first large-scale mine under a new government mining policy. The women say the project would damage Amazonia’s fragile ecosystem, affecting “for all time the territory of indigenous people and nature”. The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, CONAIE, also came forward against the mine as well as President Rafael Correa’s plans to allow international companies to carry out large-scale mining projects. In response, the Ecuadorian government mounted a march of its own, on International Womens’ Day.
Dozens of Musqueam First Nationmembers and supporters joined forces to halt the construction of a new 5-storey condominium that threatened an ancient village and midden site known as c??sna??m. After successfully preventing contractors from entering the site; the demonstrators set up a blockade camp to maintain a permanent presence at the site. The camp was dismantled on March 14 to make way for a three-week period of negotiations.
Representatives of Moro and Lumad communities in Mindanao signed a five-point kinship covenant in a gathering filled with remembrances of historical relationships and aspirations for peace and unity in the island. The inspiring covenant cited mutual recognition and respect (kilalaha), mutual sharing of information (sayuda), cooperation (buliga), mutual protection and preservation of life (uyaga), and mutual obligation to help the needy (pagbatunbatuna).
Quebec police dismantled a blockade that was organized by a group of Innu citizens to protest the construction of hydro transmission lines that are being placed through their traditional territory. According to available reports, no one was injured during the court-backed offensive, which the Innu passively tried to resist. The blockade/checkpoint went up soon after Innu representatives walked away from negotiations with the Hydro company.
Indigenous Peoples throughout Sarawak are coming together for the sake of their ancestors and future generations. Under the banner of “Save Sarawak Rivers” (SAVE Rivers), affected Indigenous Peoples like the Kenyahs, Ibans, Penans, Bidayuhs and Ukits have joined with local organizations and concerned individuals to halt the construction of new hydro dams and other plans to bring ‘dirty industries’ to Sarawak.
The Indigenous Peoples Confederation of Honduras (CONPAH) released a statement calling on the government of Honduras to withdraw a REDD proposal submitted to the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The statement declares that the Honduran government failed to consult the Indigenous peoples, whose land would be used for various forestation programs, before submitting the proposal.
The Government of Israel is currently considering a new bill that would turn the controversial Prawer Plan into law, paving the way for Israel to increase its efforts to dispossess the Bedouin Peoples of their land and relocate them to impoverished townships. The Bedouin’s struggle, meanwhile, continues to be widely ignored by media outlets.
Tomkav, a Luiseno village and burial site in Northern San Diego County, is being desecrated by developers working for Pardee Homes and Palomar College in San Marcos, CA. “During the course of [work], many archeologically significant new discoveries have been made, and dozens of Luiseno burials have been unearthed”; but rather than halting work as required by state law, the construction activities have been increased. To make matters worse, the construction workers have actually been celebrating their work, laughing and giving each other high fives as Luiseno Elders and others watched on.
The Himba people, who have long seen their rights trampled upon by the Namibian government, have turned to the United Nations and the international community to intervene on their behalf. A January statement signed by all 36 Traditional Himba Leaders reveals a lengthy list of abuses concerning rights to land, cultural identity, lack of consultation relating to mining and dam construction, land grabbing, interference in ancestral tribal institutions and routine oppression. Though issued in January, the Himba’s call has received little international attention.
Videos of the Month
Can Traditional Knowledge Survive in the Modern World? - Anishinabek activist, scholar and writer Dr. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson answers the question: “Can Aboriginal Traditional Knowledge Survive in the Modern World?”
The History of ILO Conventions on Indigenous Peoples - Lee Swepston, Former Senior Human Rights Adviser at the International Labour Organization (ILO), discusses the history of the ILO’s Conventions on Indigenous Peoples.
Song on the Water - “Song on the Water” takes viewers along with 50 indigenous canoes, their crews, and communities on a modern-day voyage to a traditional potlatch.
Underreported Struggles is a monthly round-up of essential news and film compiled by Intercontinental Cry.
Published on Apr 2, 2012 at 12:54pm Some Rights Reserved
The True Story of Chevron’s Ecuador Disaster
Over three decades of oil drilling in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Chevron dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the rainforest, leaving local people suffering a wave of cancers, miscarriages and birth defects. Now, with the support of an international campaign for justice, the communities affected by Chevron’s negligence are holding one of the world’s largest oil companies to account.
In a New York courtroom today, oil giant Chevron Corp. won a halt to enforcement of an $18 billion judgment for oil pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon imposed by a court in Ecuador.
Granting Chevron’s request for a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled in Manhattan that Chevron faced “imminent” and “irreparable” harm to its reputation and business relationships.
“There is a significant risk that assets would be seized or attached, thus disrupting Chevron’s supply chain, causing it to miss critical deliveries to business partners,” Judge Kaplan wrote
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan (Photo courtesy U. Rochester)
The judge ruled that the judgment won by Ecuadorean indigenous plaintiffs could not be enforced until Chevron’s racketeering case against the Ecuadoreans and their lawyers is decided.
On February 1, Chevron sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs in U.S. District Court in New York, accusing them of fraud, interfering with contracts, trespass, unjust enrichment, and conspiracy. Chevron levied even more serious charges against their main U.S. lawyer Steven Donziger, expert witnesses and affiliated organizations, accusing them of racketeering.
Karen Hinton, a spokesperson for the Ecuadoreans and a defendant named in the racketeering case, said of Judge Kaplan’s ruling, “This decision is a slap in the face to the democratic nation of Ecuador and the thousands of Ecuadorian citizens who have courageously fought for 18 years to hold Chevron accountable for committing the world’s worst environmental disaster.”
“The trampling of due process in the court’s refusal to consider key evidence or hold a hearing to determine the facts is an inappropriate exercise of judicial power that will harm the United States’ relationship with Latin America and other parts of the world,” said Hinton. “It disregards the scholarly and comprehensive 188-page opinion of Ecuadorian Judge Nicolas Zambrano, a well-respected member of Ecuador’s judiciary.”
Crude oil in an open toxic oil waste pit abandoned by Texaco in the Amazon rainforest near Lago Agrio, Ecuador, April 15, 2010. (Photo by Caroline Bennett courtesy Rainforest Action Network)
“It also ignores key evidence that Chevron has committed a series of frauds in Ecuador to cover up its unlawful misconduct,” she said.
Judge Kaplan recognized that the damages from the court in Lago Agrio, Ecuador have more than doubled from original $8.6 billion judgment because Chevron has not made the public apology required by Judge Zambrano’s ruling, and 10 percent of the original judgment has been awarded to the Amazon Defense Coalition.
Even so, the Ecuadorean plaintiffs have appealed Judge Zambrano’s ruling, arguing that the award is not large enough to clean up the billions of gallons of toxic waste dumped by the oil company.
“We want to emphasize that after appeals in Ecuador the Ecuadorian plaintiffs retain their full right to lawfully enforce the judgment of their own country’s courts in any of the dozens of nations around the world where Chevron has assets,” Hinton said. “In the meantime, we will appeal the decision on multiple grounds.”
Chevron argues that Texaco cleaned up all the contaminated sites before turning the land over to the government of Ecuador.
This legal action began in 1993, when the Ecuadorean plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in New York against Texaco, since purchased by Chevron.
Oil contamination in the Ecuadorean Amazon, September 30, 2005 (Photo by Kayana)
The class action complaint was filed on behalf of 30,000 inhabitants of the Oriente region of Ecuador seeking compensation for environmental and personal injury from oil contamination in the rainforest from 30 years of oil extraction. The lawsuit accuses Texaco of deliberately and unlawfully discharging more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste into Amazon waterways, decimating indigenous groups and poisoning an area the size of Rhode Island.
Nine years later, at Chevron’s request, that litigation was dismissed and transferred to the courts of Ecuador, where Judge Zambrano issued a judgment against Chevron on February 14, 2011.
Kaplan ordered Chevron to post a $21.8 million bond or deposit that amount with the court to ensure payment of any damages caused by the delay in enforcement of the judgment, if his injunction does not stand.
The Ecuadoreans, acting as defendants in Chevron’s racketeering lawsuit, today filed a 42-page sworn affidavit, backed by hundreds of pages of exhibits, outlining in detail Chevron’s 18-year effort to undermine the Ecuadorean court in Lago Agrio.
Ecuadorian attorney Juan Pablo Saenz wrote in his affidavit to Judge Kaplan, “After decades of exploiting the country and wielding its influence like a club as it extracted riches from the Napo Concession, Chevron believed it could use that same power to buy or bully its way to a swift dismissal of this case, or, at the very least, to delay the day of reckoning indefinitely.”
“It is crystal clear that Chevron wanted this case to be heard in Ecuador because it believed that the Ecuadorian judiciary was too weak to handle these claims,” wrote Saenz in his affidavit. “It was only when the Ecuadorian judiciary proved more independent than Chevron expected that the company did an about-face and started to attack Ecuador’s courts.”
Chevron has removed all assets from Ecuador and has claimed it will not pay the judgment, even though it had promised U.S. courts it would abide by the Ecuador court’s decision as a condition of the case being transferred to Ecuador.