Australian Aborigines still
fighting for land rights
Aborigines camped near “Tent Embassy” in Canberra,
Australia, July 2001.Photo courtesy of Sydney Indymedia
By Peter O’connor
Canberra, Australia, June 1— On Mon., Australian
aboriginies marked the 10-year anniversary of a High Court ruling
that acknowledged their right to ancestral lands. Aboriginal
leader Geoff Clark delivered a speech in honor of Eddie Mabo,
the native fisherman who took his fight for property rights
to the highest court in the land and won.
On Tuesday, a two-day conference entitled “Unfinished
Business” began. The conference was intended to examine the
conflicts, losses, and successes that have resulted from the
Numbering 400,000 among 19 million Australians,
Aborigines are the poorest, sickest and most frequently jailed
members of society.
Not even recognized as citizens until 1967, thousands
still live in squalor on the fringes of towns, in remote deserts,
and in inner city slums.
When the High Court ruled that Mabo and his Meriam
tribe had property rights over the island off Australia’s northeast
coast they had inhabited for countless generations, it overturned
a 200-year-old legal fiction known as terra nullius — which
said Australia was unoccupied before Europeans arrived.
“There was complete euphoria,” said Sen. Aden
Ridgeway, deputy leader of the centrist Democrats Party and
only the second Aborigine to hold a seat in federal Parliament.
“Indigenous people had arrived on the political
landscape with a legal power that allowed them to sit at the
table and negotiate material outcomes as equals,” he said.
The Mabo judgment did not give Aborigines ownership
of ancestral lands, but rights of use for traditional practices
such as hunting, fishing and visiting sacred sites. But the
High Court also said native title could be “extinguished” by
legislation, settlement and development.
Industry leaders said the decision would scare
off investment in mining, agriculture and tourism. Ranchers
feared for their long-term government leases to run cattle and
sheep over 40 percent of Australia, and urged Canberra to overrule
The year after the Mabo decision, the Labor government
passed the Native Title Act that sought to reassure farmers
and miners their leaseholds were safe, but gave the Aborigines
rights to negotiate over land use in national parks and around
tourism and mining projects.
That meant a share in profits, though not the
power to veto development. But ranchers remained unhappy and
when Prime Minister John Howard’s conservative government came
to power in 1996 it agreed to water down native title rights.
The legislation and subsequent court decisions
rubbed out native title in most of southern Australia, where
most Aborigines live.
According to the Native Title Tribunal, which
rules on claims, only 30 have been successful, ranging from
tiny islands to the 21,726 square miles of land held by the
Spinifex people in the desert of Western Australia state. Another
589 claims await a decision.
The tribunal has also registered almost 600 agreements
it has helped to broker between Aborigines and groups such as
mining companies and local governments.
However, Rick Farley, a key negotiator in the
1993 Native Title Act, believes the Mabo decision and native
title laws have failed Aborigines.
Now a consultant who brokers native title agreements
for Aborigines, Farley says the changes help some tribes in
mineral-rich areas of the Outback, but does nothing to address
the plight of most Aborigines.
“People are still dying, health statistics are
worse than ever, incarceration rates are worse than ever,” Farley
said. “Alcohol, drugs, domestic violence, sexual abuse, the
whole cultural fabric of indigenous Australia is still taking
Source: Associated Press
China jails two activists
ahead of Tienanmen anniversary
May 31— Two labor activists and members
of the outlawed China Democracy Party have been convicted of
subversion and jailed for up to 11 years for organizing workers’
protests in southwest China, court officials and a Hong Kong
rights group said.
Hu Mingjun and Wang Sen were sentenced Thursday
by the Dazhou city intermediate court in Sichuan province.
“Yes this is true, they were convicted of subversion
on Thursday,” an official at the Dazhou prosecutors office said
The sentencing came only days before China marks
the 13th anniversary of the violent crushing on June 4, 1989
of six weeks of pro-democracy protests in Tienanmen Square,
the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said.
In the closed door proceedings, Hu, 30, was sentenced
to 11 years and Wang to 10 years for their part in a December
2000 protest by the workers of the Dazhou Iron and Steel Factory,
the center said.
The workers were demanding a year of unpaid wages,
They also sought the right to set up independent
labor unions and demanded Beijing create a better social security
net and end rampant government corruption.
Hu and Wang were arrested in May and April 2001
respectively. Their trial was unannounced and family members
were only notified by lawyers of the verdict after the proceedings,
the center said.
Both were members of the China Democracy Party
(CDP) set up in 1998 in a bid to challenge the Communist Party’s
monopoly on power. The party used China’s signing of a UN covenant
on economic, cultural and civil rights to openly establish the
The covenant calls for full guarantees for the
right to freely express political views and to freely associate
Source: Agence France Presse
Indian land conflict hits
By Michael Astor
Antonio Joao, Brazil, June 2— The remaining
members of the Kaiowa tribe are gradually asphyxiating, as western
civilization encroaches on their ancestral lands and traditional
way of life. Repulsed by ranchers and police, the Indians are
turning to alcohol and suicide.
Since 1986, 348 Kaiowa and Guarani Indians have
committed suicide — 42 last year alone — in Mato Grosso do Sul,
a frontier state nearly the size of California on Brazil’s western
border with Paraguay and Bolivia.
“Today, there’s no way out for the Kaiowa, for
the Guarani, for any Indian,” says Mario Turibio da Silva, whose
cousin, Ramao, committed suicide. “Life has lost its meaning.
Before we had total liberty. Today, we have court injunctions,
beatings and tear gas.”
For Ramao da Silva, the end came on Mar. 5, as
federal police were preparing to evict him and 300 other Kaiowa
Indians from an area they invaded three years earlier to pressure
the government into declaring it an Indian reservation.
A last-minute court injunction had postponed
the eviction for 90 days, long enough for the Indians to harvest
their meager crops. But it was too late for da Silva, the latest
victim in a clash of two cultures and conflicting laws intended
to protect both.
“On the one hand, the Constitution guarantees
indigenous peoples the rights to their ancestral land,” explains
Nereu Shneider, a lawyer working with the Kaiowa. “On the other,
it protects private property.”
Ranchers and Indians, caught in the middle, legitimately
claim the land belongs to them. While the friction is more evident
in fast-developing areas like Mato Grosso do Sul, it is quickly
spreading as western civilization reaches into the vast Amazon
rain forest, home to most of Brazil’s 500,000 Indians.
“What is happening in Mato Grosso do Sul today
is what the Amazon will become tomorrow,” Shneider warns.
In March 2000, Federal Indian Bureau anthropologists
identified two sacred Indian cemeteries and marked the boundaries
of 24,200 acres around the invaded area as Kaiowa land, the
first step in the long bureaucratic process of creating a reservation.
But meanwhile, much of the proposed Cerro Marangatu Indian reservation
occupies Pio Silva’s 3,344-acre Fronteira ranch. Under Brazilian
law, Silva is entitled to government compensation for “improvements”
to the land — such as houses, fences and bridges — but not for
the land itself.
That didn’t suit the 86-year-old rancher. So last
December, he obtained a court order to evict the “trespassers.”
“I paid taxes on the land all those years and
now they don’t even want to pay me for it. That’s not right,”
says Silva (no relation of Ramao da Silva).
Silva claims his family had good relations with
the Indians until outsiders started “manipulating” them and
Under Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, all Indian lands
were supposed to be demarcated within five years. To pressure
the government into action, Indians have begun “retakings,”
as they call their invasions of traditional lands. Eleven of
the 15 Kaiowa-Guarani reservations established since 1988 were
the result of retakings, which in general are tolerated although
they are illegal.
Until the 1940s, the Kaiowa and the related Guarani
tribe roamed freely over about a quarter of Mato Grosso. Today,
the state has been divided in two and most of the forest cut
down for pasture and grain fields. The 60,000 Indians in the
two tribes are confined to small, hard-to-farm lots comprising
less than one percent of the state’s total area.
Source: Associated Press
Campesinos in Paraguay block
roads in protest
Campesinos block roads to demand the repeal
of a privatization law.
June 4— As of June 2, thousands of campesinos
had been blocking roads in the Paraguayan countryside and protesting
in front of the Congress in the capital, Asunción, for two weeks
to demand the repeal of a privatization law the Paraguayan government
is trying to implement under pressure from the International
Monetary Fund. On May 28, university students and workers joined
campesinos in marches and demonstrations in Asunción as the
Senate debated a proposal to overturn the privatization law.
By calling the open-ended national mobilization,
the National Front in Defense of Public Property hopes to block
the sale of state entities, reverse a new added-value tax on
agricultural produce and defeat a proposed “antiterrorist” law.
On May 28, in an extraordinary session as protesters thronged
outside, the Chamber of Deputies refused to consider the proposed
“antiterrorism” law, instead sending it back to committee.
On May 30, the Senate declined to vote on the
proposal to repeal the privatization law. The Senate’s refusal
to repeal the law gave the government new hope for its efforts
to complete the sale of the Paraguayan Communications Company
(COPACO), the state telephone company. COPACO was originally
supposed to be sold on March 7; President Luis González Macchi
has postponed the sale four times, finally scheduling it for
June 14. Finance Minister James Spalding and Central Bank President
Raúl Vera say the IMF has conditioned a $60 million loan set
for July on the sale of COPACO. Some legislators say the $400
million minimum bidding price is too low, since COPACO is worth
$600 million. The COPACO privatization has also been plagued
by allegations of corruption; former state reform minister Juan
Ernesto Villamayor has been formally charged with skimming money
from the deal.
On June 1, Eduardo Ojeda, president of the National
Workers Federation (CNT), said soldiers backed by military helicopters
had taken up positions against 1,000 campesinos carrying out
intermittent roadblocks in the area of San Pedro, in central
Paraguay. Campesino leader Pablo Ojeda said riot police burned
farms and arrested 20 campesinos—including children—in a rural
area of Itapúa Province, in the southeast. Nearby, in the southern
municipality of San Patricio, Misiones Province, police confirmed
that more than 100 campesinos were under arrest as of May 31.
At a June 1 press conference at the protest camp
in front of Congress, Marcial Gómez, adjunct secretary general
of the National Campesino Federation (FNC), warned that any
effort by the government to repress the campesinos will be like
“throwing fuel on the fire” and will result in a social explosion.
Campesinos, teachers and other unionized workers warn they will
continue the national mobilization against privatization and
will soon begin an open-ended general strike; the strike date
is due to be set at a June 3 meeting.
Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas
Prisoners, families take
June 4— Some 700 prisoners at the García
Moreno prison in Quito, Ecuador, seized control of the facility
during visiting hours May 26 to protest the elimination of sentence
reduction provisions. Some 300 family members who were at the
prison when the protest began—including nearly 100 children—remained
there in support of the protest.
The prisoners were angered by the elimination
of the “two for one” provision, which rewarded good behavior
by eliminating one year of a sentence for every year served,
effectively cutting sentences in half. As part of a set of reforms
to the sentencing code passed last September, Congress changed
the measure to reduce sentences by 180 days for every five years
of a sentence—a “10 for one” benefit the prisoners say will
increase violence by providing no incentive for good behavior
to those with shorter sentences. In April, the attorney general’s
office (PGE) issued a document interpreting the new law to apply
retroactively to all prisoners, including those who were sentenced,
charged or arrested before it was passed.
On May 28, police tried to enter the prison, claiming
the prisoners were holding relatives hostage and refusing to
let any of them leave. The prisoners responded by threatening
to blow up tanks of butane gas if police got in. Police then
fired tear gas; chaos ensued, and Red Cross paramedics had to
evacuate a mother, her one-month-old baby, a pregnant woman
and a six-month-old child who were badly affected by tear gas.
Tensions subsided after police and prisoners agreed to avoid
violence. The next day negotiators failed to win an agreement,
and prison director Itania Villareal threatened to cut off food
On May 30, the prisoners announced they were ending
the protest after the PGE withdrew its interpretation of the
law’s retroactivity. The PGE has asked Congress to issue regulations
clarifying the law’s application. By the time the resolution
was reached, more than 30 prisons around the country had joined
Source: Weekly News Update on the Americas
Amnesty points to new pattern
of abuses, post 9-11
By Sanjay Suri
London, England, May 28 (IPS)— The Amnesty
International annual report for 2001 shows a marked deterioration
in the rights of non-nationals in several countries following
the events of Sept. 11.
“The year 2001 witnessed a direct challenge to
long-accepted human rights standards by the very governments
that campaigned for their establishment,” the annual report
says. Some of the strongest moves denying rights to non-nationals
came in the United States and in Britain, the report says.
“A number of governments jumped on the ‘anti-terrorism’
bandwagon and seized the moment to step up repression, undermine
human rights protection and stifle political dissent,” the report
According to the report, the new measures included
“indefinite detention without trial, special courts based on
secret evidence, or cultural and religious restrictions -- sometimes
creating shadow criminal justice systems,” the report says.
“Human rights and national security are not incompatible,”
Amnesty secretary-general Irene Khan told media representatives
at the launch of the report in London Tuesday. “The human rights
system was not created by human rights organizations, but by
governments,” she said. “By creating this they showed the compatibility
of the two aims.”
Within Europe, she said “the United Kingdom is
the only state that derogated from the European Commission of
Human Rights to introduce legislation to allow detention without
charge.” Khan called it “a pretty severe measure to take, one
that is unparalleled.”
Amnesty International “acknowledges that in an
emergency some measures can be taken to suspend some rights,”
Irene Khan said. “But some, like the right to life, are so fundamental
that they override all other concerns.”
Angela Wright, Amnesty researcher for the US said
that the pattern of abuses had changed significantly within
the US from earlier years. “Our concerns earlier were mostly
over matters of custody and prisoners, most of them concerning
US nationals,” she said. After Sept. 11 people who looked like
Muslims, Arabs and South Asians had been attacked, and the government
had brought new legislation directed at non-nationals.
The Attorney-General now has the right to order
indefinite detention of an alien on the mere suspicion that
he or she could be a threat to national security, she said.
The new provisions “have been used very widely over the past
few months,” she said.
Whipped up by politicians more concerned with
popularity than with respecting international human rights obligations,
a racist backlash has generated a climate of suspicion and mistrust,
exaggerated by the way in which foreigners are being portrayed
as a source of “terrorism,” the report says.
“The world has undoubtedly changed radically since
September 11,” the report says. “Yet many things remain the
same: a disregard for human life and human dignity, as well
as for economic, cultural and social rights; an escalation of
old and festering situations such as the Middle East, Afghanistan
Covering violations in 152 countries, the report
documents extra-judicial executions in 47 countries, judicial
executions in 27 countries, “disappearances” in 35 countries,
cases of torture and ill-treatment in 11 countries and prisoners
of conscience in at least 56 countries. But Amnesty says the
true figures are likely to be much higher.
The report states that “in Israel and the Occupied
Territories, unlawful killings, both by the Israel defense forces
and by Palestinian armed groups, torture of detainees and unfair
trials continued unabated.”
In Afghanistan religious and ethnic minorities
were targeted in mass killings and executions and amputations
were carried out while the Taliban were in power. But “an unknown
number of civilians were killed or had their homes or property
destroyed during the US-led bombing campaign which started in
October,” the report says. “The US and its allies may have breached
the rules of war.”
The report points to “chilling” statistics in
Colombia: more than 300 people “disappeared,” more than 4,000
civilians were killed outside combat, the majority by army-backed
paramilitaries, and more than 1,700 were kidnapped, mostly by
The Amnesty report records widespread violations
of human rights by “armed groups.” Khan said “Amnesty does not
like the word ‘terrorism’ because there is no internationally
agreed definition, and one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom
fighter.” The word “terrorist”, she said, has “a certain political
connotation behind it.”
The report for 2001 came with a short update on
events from January to April 2002. It says the Indian authorities
failed to protect people from communal violence “which led to
the deaths of hundreds of people and displacement of thousands.”
In Zimbabwe the human rights situation deteriorated markedly
in the run-up to the March 2002 presidential poll, the report
Khan declared “the climate is now a lot less
hospitable for human rights activists than it was before.” Governments
now cite security as their primary concern. But support for
Amnesty has grown from civil society, and the organization has
the “authority of the people,” she said.
But it was not all bad news. Amnesty points to
some positive developments last year on the human rights front.
In Pakistan all juvenile death sentences were ordered commuted
to life imprisonment following a meeting between Irene Khan
and General Pervaiz Musharraf. The decision saved the lives
of about 100 child offenders.
Prisoners of conscience, Juma Duni Haji and Machano
Khamis Ali, were freed in Tanzania. Jigme Sangpo -- Tibet’s
longest serving prisoner of conscience -- was freed after serving
most of the last 40 years behind bars. He is now 76. Prisoners
of conscience were released in Angola, Burundi, in the Democratic
Republic of Congo, Cuba, Honduras, Uruguay and several other
Italy salutes Mussolini’s troops
By Rory Carroll
Rome, Italy, June 3— Italy honored Benito
Mussolini’s troops yesterday with a military parade of vehicles
and uniforms from the second world war battle at El Alamein,
prompting concern that the Axis forces were being rehabilitated
through historical revisionism.
The head of state and government ministers were
among thousands of spectators who cheered the parade in Rome.
A unit of soldiers from the modern army depicted
their predecessors who fought the British at the second world
war battle in Egypt, during a procession of more than 7,000
soldiers ironically to mark the anniversary of the 1946 referendum
that made Italy a republic.
Three historical themes were chosen: the 19th
century war of unification led by Giuseppe Garibaldi, the resistance
of Italian soldiers against Germans in Greece in the latter
part of the war, and El Alamein.
“It is the third choice which is worrying. Commemorating
the Italian dead there, on the national day, is highly ambiguous,”
James Walston, a British historian at the American University
of Rome, wrote in the English-language Italy Daily.
Thousands of Italians were killed when General
Montgomery’s 8th army routed the Axis forces from Egypt in October
1942, a turning point of the war in north Africa which hastened
the defeat of fascism in Europe.
Walston was concerned that the June 2 parade would
embolden a growing trend to honor the sacrifice of Mussolini’s
forces. Four months ago Mirko Tremaglia, a cabinet minister
who fought in Italy for the fascist dictator, laid wreaths at
El Alamein and said “the wrong side won.”
The head of state, President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi,
a military officer who joined the partisans and fought the Germans,
billed yesterday’s ceremony as a day for Italians to rediscover
pride and unity. Honoring Italian valor and sacrifice has been
a leitmotif of his presidency.
Paying tribute to Mussolini’s troops aroused
no controversy in the mainstream Italian media. The Italian
army has won plaudits in recent years for emergency relief work
and peacekeeping in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
The prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, said the
spectacle of military bands, vehicles and fighter jets made
him proud to be Italian.
The approaching 60th anniversary of El Alamein
has prompted renewed interest in the battle. A new film will
depict the Italians as brave but doomed.The director, Enzo Monteleone,
said he wanted to pay tribute to young men caught up in war,
not rewrite history or gloss over fascism.
Source: Guardian (UK)
Bush to Brazil: “Do you have
Condoleeza Rice, US National Security Advisor, helped President
Bush out of a truly embarassing situation on May 20. During
a conversation with the president of Brazil, Fernando Henrique
Cardoso, Bush posed the question, “Do you have Blacks, too?”
Rice, noticing how taken aback the Brazilian president
was, said to Bush, “Mr. President, Brazil probably has more
Blacks than the US. Some say its the country with the most Blacks
Later, Cardoso said Bush was definitely still
in his “learning phase” regarding Latin America. (Der Spiegel)
Mexican students take hostages
Mexican college students took 20 lawmakers hostage to demand
more scholarships for aspiring teachers. The hostages were released,
unharmed, after 15 hours.
About 300 students from several teachers’ colleges
occupied the legislature in the southern state of Morelos on
May 30 and 31.
The students freed the lawmakers only when they
agreed to lobby on their behalf. The students also had detained
two Mexican army soldiers who were sent to conduct surveillance
on the demonstrators.
Over the last two weeks, hundreds of students
from 15 colleges have joined in demonstrations at the Emiliano
Zapata teachers college in Amalcingo, near the city of Cuernavaca,
demanding the additional scholarships.
On May 31 protesters in Amalcingo barricaded streets
and the doors to the college, in anticipation of the arrival
A small faction of students, along with about
10 radical, machete-wielding farmers from the town of Atenco,
have blocked roads, stolen government vehicles and set patrol
cars on fire.
At the Zapata campus students have stockpiled
over 40 government vehicles.
The students are calling for 30 more scholarships
for Morelos residents to attend teaching colleges, raising the
total to 180. (AP)
Lesotho: 500,000 people starving
Nearly half a million people urgently require emergency food
aid in Lesotho, according to a joint assessment by the World
Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization
The FAO and WFP warned that “agriculture in Lesotho
faces a catastrophic future.” Crop production was declining
and “could cease altogether over large tracts of the country”
should urgent steps not be taken to reverse soil erosion. It
is estimated that just between nine and 13% of the country is
arable land. (IRIN)