briefly noted - 17.2
Ogohi Protest "Agents of Death" in Nigeria
In one of the largest demonstrations in the country's recent history, the Ogoni of Nigeria's Rivers State protested the threat posed by 30 years of oil exploitation in their territory. On January 4, 1993, 300,000 people assembled throughout Ogoniland. They asserted that the Ogoni, who number about 500,000, can no longer fish, farm, or hunt because oil production has polluted the rivers and made the farmlands unproductive.
"We have woken up to find our lands devastated by agents of death called oil companies," declared Dr. Garrick Barile Leton, president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People. "Our atmosphere has been totally polluted, our lands degraded, our waters contaminated, our trees poisoned.... Our flora and fauna have virtually disappeared, all dead or dying, as are our people."
People gathered in most of Ogoniland's 127 village squares and at the headquarters of its five kingdoms. All markets, schools, and offices closed, and no one worked on farms. Private and commercial vehicles carried palm fronds or leaves in solidarity. The demonstration occurred after weeks of tension throughout Ogoniland, despite both a government ban and the units of armed policemen that surrounded protesters.
Ogoni have farmed and fished on the fertile plains of the Niger Delta in southern Nigeria for centuries. Almost all of Nigeria's oil, which accounts for 94 percent of its GNP, comes from the delta and its fringes. Since the discovery of oil on the Ogoni plains in 1958, Shell and Chevron have extracted $30 billion in oil from Ogoni land, yet Ogni communities lack telecommunications, hospitals, electricity, roads, pipe-borne water, and industry, and their schools are ill-equipped. Their unemployment rate is as high as 85 percent.
Oil exploration has resulted in respiratory diseases, hearing problems, and air-borne diseases in Ogoni communities. The companies not only pollute streams and rivers with chemicals and industrial waste but also flare gas 24 hours a day - as they have done for 33 years - in definance of Nigerian law.
Oil extraction has profoundly effected Ogoni society as well. Innumerable oil spills from outdated equipment have driven fish into offshore waters, where the Ogoni are not equipped to fish. In this former "food basket" of the Niger Delta, people must now buy food because acid rain has destroyed the land. Valueless palms have replaced the mangroves that once supplied firewood and seafood. Environmental degradation is so severe that some 22,000 Ogoni must now migrate annually to Gabon and Cameroon to work, leading to the break-up of families and other social stress.
In recent years, more Ogoni are dying than being born. Ogoni languages are on the verge of disappearing, while public institutions compel Ogoni to speak English and other dominant languages. Ogoni have little representation in Nigerian federal institutions, and virtually no political power. A new constitution, intended to usher in a democratic government in 1993, does not protect the rights of minorities. All of the delta's several ethnic minorities live under the domination of the Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba, Nigeria's largest ethnic groups.
In 1991, moving to better distribute delta oil wealth, Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida created 11 new states and greatly increased the number of local governments. Although varying in size, these local governments receive equal sums of money from the federal administration. This leaves highly populated areas like Ogoniland short of funds for primary schools, while other districts have a surplus. Ogoni students have been out of school for a year.
The January protest was the most recent in a series of attempts by the Ogoni to draw attention to their situation. In August 1990, the rulers of the five kingdoms signed a draft Ogoni bill of rights. It demands political autonomy, political representation at the national level, control of development resources, and religious and cultural rights.
Federal inaction on the bill of rights prompted the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People to issue an ultimatum to Shell, Chevron, and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation - the area's major oil companies - in December 1992. The ultimatum demanded $6 billion in royalties, an amount based on petroleum mined from Ogoni lands since 1958. Instead of replying to the letter, oil companies sought the protection of the military government, which promptly sent in troops and police.
Since January, tension has been building in Ogoni communities. Ogoni report that Nigerian soldiers, who accompanied pipe-layers to Ogoniland in early April, are illegally arresting and detaining them. On April 3, 1993, Warri police and security agents arrested Ken SaroWiwa, president of the Ethnic Minority Rights Organization of Africa and a signatory to the December ultimatum, to prevent his giving a public lecture.
Also in April, the Rivers State House of Assembly acted on the ultimatum. Resolving that the oil companies had caused "grave environmental devastation and degradation," it called on them to pay nearly $30 billion in royalties, and another $6 billion to compensate for ecological degradation. It further demanded that companies negotiate terms for oil exploration with Ogoni representatives.
Loggers Expelled from Indian Amazon
In an unprecedented decision, a Brazilian federal judge has ordered logging companies out of three indigenous reserves in the Amazon rain forest. As other forests have been depleted, the loggers have turned increasingly to Indian reserves, biological reserves, and other conservation forests in the Amazon. The ruling may mark the end of the impunity that illegal cutters of mahogany have so long enjoyed.
On January 15, 1993, the judge ruled that illegal logging in over 13,000 square miles of Indian land in Par state must end. The logging companies - Perachi, Maginco, and Impar - must remove their employees and machinery from the reserves or face arrests and stiff fines.
Judge Selene Maria de Almeida granted the preliminary injunction sought by Núcleo de Direitos Indigenous (NDI - Nucleus for Indigenous Rights), a non-profit organization, on behalf of 72 Brazilian groups that are campaigning to halt the illegal and unsustainable logging of hardwood species from Indian lands and other Amazon conservation areas. Logging destroys the rain forest and threatens the physical and cultural survival of Indian groups.
England and the United STates are the two largest importers of mahogany from Brazil. In 1991, the United States imported 37 percent of the legal exports of sawn mahogany lumber from Brazilian companies. England imported 52 percent. Perachi, Maginco, and Impar are among the main suppliers to the US. and British markets.
NDI sued the logging companies after repeated attempts by Araweté and Parakana Indians to halt the destruction of their resources. The Araweté and the Parakana are among the indigenous people of Par with the least contact with Brazilian society.
The ruling also says that FUNAI (Brazil's federal agency for Indian affairs) and IBAMA (the environmental agency) must control access to the three Indian reserves and prevent the entrance of unauthorized people or vehicles. NDIs suit also asks the court to oblige logging companies to pay for an environmental recovery plan for the devastated areas, but this decision is still pending.
Perachi has appealed the ruling, arguing that false claims are harming its business. The company says it extracts mahogany in a "sustainable" way. The other two companies will certainly appeal as well. One Maginco director, Danilo Remor, has declared that he will sue NDI for disseminating false claims against his company.
NDI's lawyers are preparing for the next battle against the loggers in Brazil's higher courts, which unfortunately tend to be much more conservative and less sensitive to environmental and Indian issues than the federal judge who granted the preliminary injunction. Public opinion will be crucial in putting pressure on the courts to rule in favor of Indian rights and environmental protection.
A Parliament for Sweden's Sami
On October 15, 1992, Sweden granted the Sami their own parliament, a recognition some 40,000 Norwegian Sami gained three years ago and one the 5,700 Finnish Sami have enjoyed since 1973. The 17,000 Swedish Sami, also known as Lapps (a derogatory term used by Scandinavians), have been voiceless in the Swedish state since the 1600s.
The new Sami parliament, following the Norwegian model, takes into account regional differences and the distinct subcultures and dialects of the Sami. It also protects the integrity of the smaller numbers of southern Sami. Based in the far northern town of Kiruna, in the heart of Swedish Samiland, the parliament will meet four times a year, with 31 elected members. It will take over significant powers from the Swedish government. In addition, a $2 million annual grant - though insufficient - will help Sami control schools, language instruction, and cultural activities.
One goal of the parliament, according to Hans Dau, a government official who worked on its creation, is strengthening the right of Sami herders, who have been economically squeezed out of this traditional subsistence system, to remain viable.
Though many Sami welcomed the state initiative, others say the real purpose of recognition is appeasement. Some Sami feel that Sweden created the indigenous parliament to absolve itself of responsibility for protecting their rights and culture, thrusting those tasks instead upon an underfunded token body. Olaf Johansson of the National Association of Swedish Sami publicly burned the government plain in protest. Sonja Popa, chair of Sami Atnam (the Swedish Sami Cultural Organization), said she found nothing honorable or admirable in the record of Swedish policies toward her people, yet Sweden wants to present itself as the world's conscience regarding conduct toward indigenous peoples.
Besides underfunding the new parliament, the Swedish government retains the power to decide who is a "Sami." It has formulated stringent qualifications that each Sami must meet before he or she is allowed to partake in Sami affairs.
In fact, the qualification policies exclude most Sami living in Sweden. For instance, one grandparent must speak Sami on a daily basis. However, since Sami languages aren't officially recognized, fewer and fewer Sami can meet this qualification every year. Also, the government only recognizes Samis who herd reindeer, although the Sami traditionally practiced hunting before reindeer herding, and fishing is the basis of the coastal Sami economy. No rights are accorded to Sami who don't herd reindeer, and a Sami who gives up the practice, no matter how recently or temporarily, can never again own reindeer.
The Sami regard these policies as an assault on their culture. Without government recognition of Sami languages and the historic and current aspects of Sami culture and ways of life, the ability of the Sami people to construct their own future will continue to diminish. The Sami must have the right to legally determine and define their own ethnicity, which is the only viable basis for both national cohesion and negotiation.
Coming Home Through the Front Door
On January 20, 1993, 2,400 Guatemalan refugees voluntarily left border camps scattered throughout southern Mexico to begin the journey back home, marking the first time a refugee community successfully negotiated the conditions of its own return. Several collective repatriations are scheduled to follow this year.
The refugees' representatives, the CCPP - Permanent Commission of Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico, concluded the UN-mediated accords with the Guatemalan and Mexican governments in October 1992. The CCPP's ability to align with local, national and international groups, Pan-American indigenous movements, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) greatly increased its bargaining power.
Passing a sign declaring "Welcome Brothers to Our Guatemala," the caravan of nearly 100 buses crossed the border at La Mesilla, as supporters lining the road cheered. Similar greetings awaited them in every hamlet on the Pan American Highway, including an enthusiastic reception by 10,000 people in Guatemala City. The first group of 432 returnees reached temporary settlements in Polígono-14 in El Quiché Department on January 30. They will remain there until each family can either regain land to which it holds a title or receives new land from the Guatemalan government.
About 43,000 Guatemalan refugees are still registered in Mexican border camps, although Mexican authorities believe this is half the real number because many never register. Most of the refugees fled to Mexico in 1982, at the peak of a genocidal counterinsurgency campaign in the Guatemalan highlands. Since then, government security forces and semiofficial death squads have killed or "disappeared" some 200,000 unarmed civilians, most of them Indians.
Because their homeland is still torn with strife, many refugees hesitate to return to Guatemala. As recently as last February, 700 residents of El Quiché fled to Mexico after repeated attacks by the Guatemalan military. Violence and death threats against popular leaders, human rights workers, and journalists have also escalated in recent months.
During their 10 years in Mexican border camps, the exiles have attracted some international support. Volunteers and financial help have come from a variety of organizations, such as the Mexican Catholic agency Solidaridad, which has provided educational and technical training.
In July 1992, the CCPP drafted a sixpoint plan to the Mexican and Guatemalan governments, proposing that representatives of the UNHCR and other governmental and international groups, as well as renowned individuals, accompany the returnees to prevent military harassment. It also demanded recognition of the returnees' rights to life, free association, freedom of movement, and access to land in Guatemala. The CCPP stipulated that the refugees' decision to return be completely voluntary.
Guatemalan President Jorge Serrano Elias officially agreed to the accords on October 8, 1992, but negotiations broke down over several issues. One point of conflict was the designated route along the Pan American Highway.
The Guatemalan government argued for a direct route, cutting straight across the mountain jungle area and requiring only a few hours. This "back door" route, as the refugees call it, crosses highly militarized areas, on isolated footpaths far from the public eye and telecommunication systems. Such a route would render the refugees extremely vulnerable to attack by the armed forces. Four recently repatriated refugees have already been slain on the back roads of rural Guatemalan.
Another issue concerned the number of returnees. The CCPP insists that the returnees return in large enough numbers to assure them a safe, sizable community and a functional farming cooperative in the temporary settlement areas. Also, the organization itself needs a community base within Guatemala to work effectively and independently there.
The CCPP remained firm in its request to collectively "return home through the front door," and on January 12, 1993, the Guatemalan and Mexican governments finally gave the go-ahead. The next day, nearly 500 determined families began to arrive at the fairgrounds of Comit n, some carrying the aluminum roofs and beams of wood from their dismantled homes. For eight days, people lived out of canvas bags and boxes, gathering every evening for music and singing. Rigoberta Menchú, winner of the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize, arrived to rally the refugees' spirits, and welcomed them again in Guatemala City.
Many issues still need addressing if resettlement is to succeed. First, the Guatemalan government must acquire titles itself before it can transfer the land permanently, and some landowners have begun to raise their prices. Also, because Polígono-14 - renamed Victoria 20 de Enero (January 20th Victory) - is in the remote Ixc n jungle, the land requires clearing before farms can be planted, raising concerns about food supplies until the first crops are ready for harvest.
By far the most critical outstanding issues are the demilitarization of the resettlement areas and the disbanding of the Patrullas de Autodefensa Civil (Civil Patrols), composed of forcibly-recruited civilians for paramilitary operations against suspected "subversives." The area around Polígono-14 is peppered with army bases, and nearby villages have been subject to frequent military attacks. The Civil Patrols have been responsible for widespread atrocities.
For more information, contact Witness for Peace, 2201 P St., NW, Rm. 109, Washington, DC 20037 (202)797-1160.
China Halts Resettlement Plans for East Turkestan
Political turmoil and fears of ethnic outrage have halted Beijing's plans to transfer as many as 470,000 Chinese settlers to the deserts of East Turkestan, traditional home of the Uighur, Kazakh, Kirgiz, and Uzbek peoples. On December 19, 1992, the State Council of China called the plan off, citing reasons of distance and finance. Part of the controversial Three Gorges Dam project, the transfer was widely viewed as designed to quiet ethnic unrest in East Turkestan, known in China as the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
The dam itself will displace about 1.2 million people, so resettlement is an obvious priority for the government. Regarded as a major problem by dam planners, resettlement won't be completed at least until 2008. Chinese sources estimate the cost of resettlement at $3.2 billion. Construction of new towns and cities along the Yangtze began in 1992.
Project planners intend most people to be resettled as close to their former homes as possible. But exiled Uighurs and their supporters worldwide saw the projected resettlement to East Turkestan, over 1,000 miles from the Sichuan project site, as a strictly political move to silence calls there for independence. The peoples of East Turkestan, home to many groups of Turkic Muslim background, believe their country is unjustly occupied by China. They maintain a culture and his tory distinct from the Han Chinese.
Although the transfer of country nationals to an occupied region is illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention, as is any use of population transfer as a political tool, population transfer is a common Chinese strategy for silencing unruly "national minorities" whose homelands it claims. Between 1949 and 1990, East Turkestan's Chinese population rose from 300,000 to seven million, causing the population of Uighurs - the dominant local ethnic group - to drop from 75 percent of the total to 40 percent. While Chinese laws theoretically provide some degree of "autonomy" for non-Chinese peoples, there is little real ability for them to maneuver politically within the system, and they must choose to assimilate, be marginalized, or resist.
Acts of resistance to Chinese rule have increased in East Turkestan following the recent independence of neighboring Central Asian states. East Turkestan's cultural, historic, and linguistic ties with these former Soviet republics are stronger than its ties with China. Since mid-1991, ethnic tensions in East Turkestan have increased between residents and Chinese settlers. The Perennial Uighur-led call for independence has precipitated a number of incidents in Kashgar, inevitably leading to brutal crackdowns. In the last fifteen months, three "terrorist" bombs have exploded in Urumqi, the provincial capital. Much of East Turkestan is off-limits to journalists, and residents must often rely on those outside China for news.
Recognizing that pressure from the outside might give more weight to local sentiment against the planned transfer, in December, 1992 the East Turkestan Association of Europe called on the international community to act immediately. If not, the peoples of East Turkestan would have to choose between "national extinction" by assimilation or "a mortal struggle to defend their own identity by heroic resistance."
Most of East Turkestan is arid desert and mountainous highlands, a landscape vastly different from that of the fertile Yangtze River basin. Little evidence supports the government claim that resettling lowland farming and fishing families in East Turkestan's cultural and ecological climate would succeed. When the Chinese government canceled the plan, announcing that resettlement would now be limited to the project area, it was a rare success for native peoples.
The Three Gorges Dam project has itself generated opposition since its inception in the 1950s. The Three Gorges area has great historical and cultural significance. Dam construction will destroy one of the few remaining national treasures to escape the Cultural Revolution. In addition, the dam threatens to wreak environmental havoc in the immediate project area and have far-reaching consequences both up and down stream. Existing social, economic, and ecological problems will be replicated or intensified by attempts to resettle entire villages and cities. Western environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, together with Chinese groups in and outside China, have formed the International Three Gorges Coalition in an effort to prevent dam construction.
Resistance from dam area residents, other Chinese citizens, and members of the world community has been important in stalling dam construction. Opposition has been strong as well in the Chinese National People's Congress, with a full third of delegates abstaining or voting no on the dam bill in April 1992. Few delegates usually oppose the Communist Party, so the dam vote was extraordinary and has been called the "victory vote" by dam opponents.
The dam receives funding from a variety of international sources. The World Bank, Asian Development Bank, the governments of Japan, Taiwan, and SCandinavian nations, and corporations such as Merrill Lunch are all considering financing the project. The Canadian government withdrew its funding after widespread criticism.
In the Spirit of 'Onipa'a
In January, thousands of Hawaiians commemorated the 100-year anniversary of the overthrow of Queen Lili'uokalani on January 17, 1893, by a small band of foreign businessmen backed by the U.S. Marines. The 'Onipa'a Centennial Committee coordinated the centennial observances in Honolulu with the cooperation of state and city governments. Honolulu mayor Frank Fasi ordered the Hawaiian flag flown at half-mast during five days of official and unofficial ceremonies, which culminated in a rally of over 10,000 people in support of Hawaiian sovereignty.
Native Hawaiians hope to build on the commemoration's success to address issues of sovereignty and self-determination during the Year of Indigenous Peoples. They also plan to request an official apology from Congress for its role in the overthrow.
Ethnic Violence Escalates in Rwanda
In January 1993, an international team of human-rights investigators in Rwanda reported "widespread evidence of genocide and war crimes" by government agents against ethnic Tutsi. Hutu gangs loyal to Rwandese President Juvenal Habyarimana also allegedly killed 400 people early this year.
Ethnic violence in Rwanda has escalated since October 1990, as a result of fighting between the Rwandese government and the Tutsi-dominated armed opposition Rwandese Patriotic Front. Since then, security forces and Hutu gangs have killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Tutsi.
Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.