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  • Mapuche people march against the criminalization of their leaders during a march in Santiago, September 2017.

    Mapuche people march against the criminalization of their leaders during a march in Santiago, September 2017. | Photo: EFE

Published 6 May 2018

Indigenous land defenders and environmentalists across Latin America, in particular  Honduras, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, are worst hit by violence.

Chile came under heavy criticism Sunday one day after three Mapuche leaders were sentenced to prison under the controversial Anti-terrorist bill.

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Amnesty International's head for the Americas Erika Guevara condemned in a communique the ruling of a local court in Temuco over the case “Luchsinger Mackay”, name of Werner Luchsinger, 75, and Vivianne Mackay, 69, the couple who died in the “terrorist” arson allegedly carried out by hooded people in January 2013.

She denounced the “discriminatory way” in which “justice (was) applied against leaders of indigenous peoples.” She added this did not only affect the leaders themselves but also “weakened the right to access to justice for the victims of the crime and their relatives.”

“The Chilean state must not discriminate Mapuche people and guarantee their right to a fair trial instead of labeling them as 'terrorists',” said the statement.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Washington D.C., has already condemned the Chilean state for applying the Anti-terrorist bill against Mapuche leaders.

The law, established during Chile’s 1973-1990 military dictatorship, allows state prosecutors to define as terrorism a variety of acts — including arson, destroying private property and clashing with police — and bring harsh sentences.

Earlier in January, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, warned that activists campaigning to protect their land from mining, logging, dams and other development projects were increasingly being criminalized.

She cited the case of Chile’s indigenous Mapuche people involved in a long-running and often violent struggle with the government to reclaim their lands in the country’s south.

Tauli-Corpuz urged the Chilean government to stop using the country’s anti-terrorism law to prosecute the Mapuche people.

However, recently-elected Chilean President Sebastian Piñera signed an amended version of the bill allowing the government to send in well-armed, military-style police to attack and arrest unarmed Mapuche protesters in Temuco, 845 km south of Santiago.

The 11 changes allow the government to use drones, undercover agents, GPS tracking, and phone tapping against those it suspects of "terrorism." The legislation also broadens the definition of “terrorist” to include individuals, not just associations.

Indigenous land defenders and environmentalists across Latin America, in particular Honduras, Mexico, Brazil and Colombia, are worst hit by violence.

According to the human rights watchdog Global Witness, indigenous people accounted for 40 percent of the 185 activists killed in 2015 across 16 countries.

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