Category Archives: Human Rights

Oil Extraction Threatens Communities in Peruvian Amazon

Amazon oil town of Trompederos

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango made headlines today after being arrested on charges of sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion. Last summer, Pizango led months of protests which prompted Peruvian President Álan Garcia order police to “use force” to remove a road bock near Bagua Grande. About 50 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.

Official blame for the incident has fallen on Pizango, though indigenous groups refer to the incident as “Peru’s Tiananmen Square.” But behind the conflict which has pitted the Peruvian government against much of its indigenous population is a well-known adversary – the oil industry.

The Peruvian government has sold off vast amounts of previously protected land, and now leases 70 percent of the nation’s rainforest for oil and gas exploration, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Since then, a broad coalition of indigenous groups and human rights activists has continuously fought to see that this number is not expanded.

“For thousands of years, we’ve run the Amazon forests,” said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. “This is genocide. They’re killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity.”

A pattern of conflict now threatens the stability of a fiercely divided nation. Answering to pressure from multinational corporations, the Peruvian government continues to scale back its protected territories. Each time legislation is proposed, opposition forces organize on a huge scale. Protests begin peacefully and almost always end in bloodshed.

Despite this environmental and human toll, the government continues to sell off protected lands. Petroperu, the state oil and gas company, recently announced their intention to open 10 million hectares for oil and gas exploration, almost all in the Amazon. The company also announced it would “start auctioning the remaining Amazon oil blocks, adding to the 82 foreign companies who already hold concessions here.”

Many activists are looking to the United States government for a solution, citing the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement as a catalyst for the rapidly expanding encroachment on indigenous territory.

“Whether or not the U.S. intended it, the reality is that the U.S.-Peru Trade Agreement gave license to the [Alan] Garcia administration to roll back indigenous rights and has contributed to increasing social conflict and human rights abuses in Peru,” said Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch.

Activists contest that the United States could revise existing agreements to include stronger safeguards for indigenous peoples and the environment. But such cooperation is unlikely, considering the the amount of sway held by the oil and gas lobby in Washington.

As residents of the Gulf grapple with a massive oil spill, it is important to remember that the oil industry impacts people across the globe. With the livelihoods of entire communities at risk, the importance of developing alternate energy sources has never been more clear.

By Mary Tharin


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Filed under Environment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights

Crisis Averted? Arizona Legislature Changes Immigration Bill Language

The Washington Examiner reported this morning that some of the language has been changed in the new AZ immigration bill, defining the context in which law enforcement can ask for documentation and limiting the possibility of racial profiling.

Now, Arizona lawmakers have made some changes intended to clarify their intent and, perhaps, silence some of the critics.  The changes were first reported by Phoenix television station KNXV, better known as ABC15.

The first concerns the phrase “lawful contact,” which is contained in this controversial portion of the bill: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…”

So now, in response to those critics, lawmakers have removed “lawful contact” from the bill and replaced it with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.” In an explanatory note, lawmakers added that the change “stipulates that a lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”

“It was the intent of the legislature for ‘lawful contact’ to mean arrests and stops, but people on the left mischaracterized it,” says Kris Kobach, the law professor and former Bush Justice Department official who helped draft the law.  “So that term is now defined.”

The second change concerns the word “solely.”  In a safeguard against racial profiling, the law contained the phrase, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.”  Critics objected to that, too, arguing again that it would not prevent but instead lead to racial profiling.  So lawmakers have taken out the word “solely.”

These changes could make a considerable difference – bringing the law closer to existing procedure, which dictates that law enforcement can only demand legal documents from a person who is already violating an existing law. It remains to be seen how legal challenges will proceed against the new language.

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Can Arizona’s Immigration Law Withstand Legal Challenges?

UPDATE: The American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center are set to announce in Phoenix on Thursday plans to challenge the measure. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said this week that he was considering a possible legal challenge to the law. [More here]

Despite concerted efforts to thwart the passage of Arizona’s new immigration legislation, the bill was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23rd. The bill now has the nation in an uproar – it has prompted nationwide protests, and sparked a renewed commitment to tackling national immigration policy in Congress.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed her “deep concern” about the barrier the new law will create between law enforcement and crime victims. President Obama referred to the legislation as “misguided.” Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch adversary of moving on immigration reform, admitted today that he feels the Arizona law is unconstitutional.

In upcoming months, we can expect a litany of lawsuits challenging the legislation from a number of different fronts.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is exploring legal action, and the Department of Justice is reviewing the law’s constitutionality. Most legal challenges are likely to focus on state pre-emption of federal law; this is how similar anti-immigrant laws were overturned in the past. Legal experts offer mixed opinions as to whether such an argument can effectively defeat the law. AP reports:

Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California-Davis and an immigration law professor, said such a lawsuit would have a very good chance of success. He said the state law gets into legal trouble by giving local law enforcement officers the authority to enforce immigration laws.

However, Gerald Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, said Arizona could make a compelling legal argument that it has overlapping authority to protect its residents.

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the Arizona legislation, said he anticipated legal challenges and carefully drafted the language. He said the state law is only prohibiting conduct already illegal under federal law.

From a historical perspective, Thomas A. Saenz of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund points to a similar law enacted in California twenty years ago:

The federal court struck down Proposition 187 as an unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration, which is a role that belongs exclusively to the federal government. [Arizona’s] SB 1070 is an even more direct attempt to establish the state’s own immigration law and enforcement scheme.

Yet it remains difficult to predict what would happen should a legal challenge reach the supreme court. New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse points to an ominous hint from a 1982 case in which the Court overturned a Texas law prohibiting undocumented children in public school:

In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case, a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: “This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have.” That memo’s author was John G. Roberts Jr.

Another issue to consider is legal protection against racial profiling and discrimination, which many claim the new law promotes. According to Baylor Law Professor Laura A Hernandez, the new requirement to carry identification papers “will place an additional burden/requirement on citizenship for those of Hispanic descent which also appears to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.” The clause requires states to apply the law equally to all persons regardless of race, socio-economic status, or citizenship.

Posted by Mary Tharin


Filed under Crime, Human Rights

Immigration: Arizona Debates Anti-Immigrant Bill

Thousands marched on Washington this past weekend to demand that the administration turn its attention to immigration reform, in order to ensure that the basic human rights of immigrant workers and their families in the United States are upheld. But, meanwhile, legislation is quietly making its way through the Arizona State Legislature which would make the status of immigrants in the state far worse than under current law.

A proposal being debated in the Arizona House today (HB 2632) contains many of the same provisions that sparked widespread protests in 2008. Undocumented immigrants would be charged with trespassing, and law enforcement officials would be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with during an investigation.

A number of pro-immigrant groups have launched opposition campaigns to HB 2632, among them the Tucson-based Border Action Network, which deemed the legislation “the most far-reaching anti-immigrant bill ever introduced in the Arizona Legislature.” The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference pointed out in a statement:

“We are concerned that the present language of these bills does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation. Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe.”

If signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, “the bill also would make Arizona the only state to criminalize the presence of an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants through an expansion of its trespassing law.” An identical bill (SB 1070) has already passed through the Arizona Senate, and a House vote is expected this week.

This would undoubtedly act as a foil to any kind of sweeping immigration reform that the administration may attempt to address in the coming months. The nation must now turn its eyes to Arizona; the battle for a more just immigration policy will need to be fought on a more localized level before it can be tackled by the Obama administration.


Filed under Crime, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Politics

Turkish PM Counters Armenian Genocide with Threats of Expulsion

Turkish Prime minister Erdogan’s proposed course of action regarding the Armenian genocide is painfully ironic. The logic goes something like this: “Our nation did not systematically round up and murder over one million Armenians during World War I. And to prove it, I will now systematically round up and expel hundreds of thousands of Armenians living on Turkish soil.” Try arguing with that.

In response to recent resolutions passed in the US Congress and Swedish Parliament characterizing the war-time massacres of Armenians as genocide, the Turkish government has recalled its ambassadors from both countries. Then, the Prime Minister suggested in an interview with the BBC that such international recognition of the genocide would prompt an expulsion of Armenian immigrants living in Turkey.

“There are currently 170,000 Armenians living in our country. Only 70,000 of them are Turkish citizens, but we are tolerating the remaining 100,000. If necessary, I may have to tell these 100,000 to go back to their country because they are not my citizens. I don’t have to keep them in my country.”

The undocumented workers to which the PM refers are mostly women from Armenia’s impoverished countryside who have migrated to Istanbul where they work in the service sector. While a number of politicians have described Erdogan’s comments as empty threats, they are a troubling reminder that Armenians are still unwelcome in Turkey.

To date, over twenty countries have officially recognized the Armenian genocide, as well as international organizations including the European Parliament and MERCOSUR.

Posted By Mary Tharin


Filed under Foreign Policy, Human Rights

Map of the Day: Congressional Districts

Neil Freeman at has this interesting map of what the United States would look like if states were divided equally by population.  He has all populations equal populations of 5,617,000.   He lists his advantages below:

Ends overrepresentation of small states and underrepresention of large states in presidental voting and in the US Senate.
Preserves the historical structure of the electoral college and the United States unique federal system, balancing power between levels of government.
States could be redistricted after each census – just like house seats are distributed now.

Sounds logical enough. Unfortunately, as we have seen this last week, the U.S. is slightly resistant to change.

In case you were as worried as I was about Alaska and Hawaii, Freeman accounted for them as part of Olympia and Coronado respectively.

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Monsanto: Genetically Modified Food and the Need for Reforming Food Safety Laws

A recent study has found that genetically modified food is linked to organ damage in rats.  The study published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences found that genetically modified corn produced by Monsanto “induce a state of hepatorenal toxicity.”

Monsanto is a seed producing and chemical company with a rich history of controversy.  There have been allegations of intimidating farmers, using hostile tactics to monopolize the market, false advertising, producing large-scale international pollution.  In addition, they manufactured Agent Orange for the U.S. military during the Vietnam war.

This month, Monsanto also was dealt a legal blow as the U.S. Supreme Court decided to take up a patent case on their alfalfa seed.  In short, the company manufactured an alfalfa resistant to the Monsanto produced Roundup herbicide.  Bees will pollinate the genetically modified alfalfa and then cross pollinate it with organic crops adding the genetic modification to the organic alfalfa.  Organic farmers will then lose their USDA organic certifications.  Since Monsanto also has a patent on the genetic modification, the company can sue any farmer for stealing their property, and they do.

Although the study last week only indicated that genetically modified corn was linked to organ damage, this is the first study to link genetically modified food to toxic reactions.  Further studies may indicate other genetic modified food may have an impact on human health.  Considering alfalfa is a main source of cattle feed and the genetic modification has a potential to spread quickly and dominate the alfalfa market, if the genetically modified alfalfa is hazardous to human health, the Supreme Court decision may be crucial to public health.

Reforming the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the regulatory roles they have over our food is crucial to both public health and the farming industry.  Allowing monopolistic corporations to put small farmers out of business over plant genetics and potentially causing us all harm with these modifications should not be tolerated.

By Emma Sandoe


Filed under Human Rights, Science