March 13, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Hugo @Flickr
Amnesty International released its yearly International Report analysing the human rights situation across the world and highlighting the potential conflicts that could arise in 2017. The Annual report defined 2016 as “a year of unrelenting misery and fear” for millions of people around the world. With increasing hateful and divisive rhetoric permeating the public sphere and human rights violations relentlessly going unnoticed and unpunished, 2017 too promises a lot of uncertainty for minority and indigenous communities around the world. This normalisation of aggressive rhetoric has emboldened many of the world’s autocrats, leading to an intensification of restrictions on freedom of expression, religion and belief. In this increasingly hostile atmosphere, it is minority and indigenous communities that are further marginalised, discriminated against and persecuted. Regardless, Amnesty International proceeds to name and shame the states inflicting such human rights violations against indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities around the world.
Amnesty International opens its country report on Brazil underlining the violence inflicted on marginalised communities by law enforcement officials. Alongside this, an entire section of the country report was designated to the shockingly slow demarcation processes of indigenous peoples’ land, often blocked by large-scale land owners using land to export commodities such as soy or coffee. A great importance was placed on the importance of safeguarding the livelihood of indigenous groups in Mato Grosso do Sul – Guarani Kaiowé and Apika’y. The Federal Prosecution Office’s conclusion that indigenous man Terena Oziel Gabriel was in fact killed by a police officer, also casts a light on the violence inflicted on indigenous groups at the hands of the authorities.
The report’s section on China denounces the Chinese governments’ campaigns of religious repression under the pretence of “anti-separatism” or “counter-terrorism” against the Tibetan and Uyghur minorities. Amendments were proposed in early September 2016 giving authorities extensive power to monitor, control and sanction religious practice in Tibet and East Turkestan. More specifically, in Tibet restrictions on freedom of religion and belief, expression, association and peaceful assembly have led to the unjust detention and imprisonment of various Tibetans advocating for their most fundamental rights. Similarly, in East Turkestan government authorities continue to detain ethnic Uyghur writers and language website editors, such as ethnic Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti imprisoned for his peaceful advocacy for building bridges between Han Chinese and Uyghur communities. In addition to this, government authorities continue to violate Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uyghurs rights to freedom of religion by cracking down on unauthorised religious gatherings.
Amnesty also points out the crackdown on freedom of expression in the illegally occupied Crimean peninsula, underlining the arrest of Yekaterina Vologzherinova for having reposted Ukranian articles criticising Russia’s annexation of Crimea, by accusing her of “inciting hatred and enmity on the grounds of ethnicity.
The Ethiopian authorities’ violent crackdown on protests in Oromia, which Amnesty International estimates by the end killed approximately 800 people since the protests began in November 2015, features prominently in the report. Amnesty International underlines how since the state of emergency was declared in October the protests subsided, but human rights violations increased, with the arrest of more than 11,000 journalists, human rights defenders and members of the opposition – including Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress, Merera Gudina. The report also highlights the issue of ill-treatment in detention, with plentiful claims of torture in prison. Amnesty International praises Feyisa Lilesa’s brave gesture of solidarity with the Oromo protests at the Rio Olympics of 2016, using his platform as athlete to urge the international community to take action against the gross human rights violations occurring in Ethiopia.
In Indonesia, Amnesty International sheds a light on how restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly have led to the imprisonment of the leader of the Timika branch of the West Papua National Committee and the arbitrary arrest of about 2,200 Papuan activists, highlighting the ongoing struggle of the West Papuan community. The report also underlined that the severe human rights violations against the Acheh community are crimes against humanity. Whilst the establishment of the Acheh Truth and Reconciliation Commision seems like a positive step forward it is not promising to take the necessary steps towards truth and justice for the people of Acheh.
The oppression of the Ahwazi, Kurdish, Baloch and Southern Azerbaijani minorities in Iran also features prominently in the yearly report. Amnesty international points out how the entrenched discrimination of these minorities effectively curtails their access to employment, adequate housing, political office and their ability to exercise their cultural, political, linguistic and civil rights. This is then compounded by the continued economic neglect by state authorities in regions populated by minorities, which leads to extreme poverty and their systematic marginalisation from society. Any attempts to speak out against these grave injustices the leads to arbitrary arrests, torture, unfair trials, imprisonment and the death penalty.
In Mauritania, the arrest and torture of Initiative for the Resurgence of the Abolitionist Movement (IRA-Mauritania) activists, even those that were not present at the protests shows a targeting of anti-slavery activists by the government. Many reports confirm that detainees were denied contact with family and lawyers, detained in unknown places, deprived of sleep and toilets, hung from the ceiling and received death threats during their imprisonment. This is occurring in a wider context where despite the fact that Mauritania has criminalised slavery in 2007, approximately 20% of Mauritania’s 3.5 million residents live in enslavement, almost exclusively Haratin.
The report highlights the serious concern for the rights of indigenous people in Laos, highlighting the plight of Lao ethnic Hmong Kha Yang that was forcefully repatriated from Thailand despite having been granted refugee status by UNHCR. However, the report fails to look more closely into the persecution of the Hmong in northern Laos. Similarly, in the Pakistan section of the report, whilst pointing out extrajudicial killings and arbitrary arrests taking place against human rights defenders, especially in Balochistan, it fails to recognise how this aggressive crackdown on minorities at the hands of the Pakistan authorities’ impacts civilians in Balochistan and does not even mention Pakistan-occupied Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh, also suffering extensively at the hands of the Pakistani authorities.
The report however highlights the dangers suffered by indigenous women in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, which are subjected to multiple forms of discrimination due to gender, indigenous identity and socio-economic status. The report pays particular attention to the case of Kalpana Chakma, Organising Secretary of the Hill Women’s Federation abducted from her home in June 1996, that was closed due to lack of evidence, which points to the restrictions placed by the government in reaching the region and communicating with the locals and the difficulty with which victims of gender-based violence struggle to achieve justice.
UNPO welcomes Amnesty International’s report for bringing to the international communities’ attention the continuing human rights violations suffered by the world’s minority and indigenous communities. The plights of most UNPO members often go unnoticed by the public eye, and reports like these remain fundamental to UNPO’s efforts to raise awareness for some of the world’s most forgotten and marginalised minorities.