Mexican Peasants Resist Land Grab for Hydro Dam

from SIPAZ

Tension is growing in the conflicted southern Mexican state of Guerrero over the planned La Parota hydro-electric dam on the Rio Papagayo. The project would inundate thousands of hectares of both forms of Mexico’s communally held peasant lands: ejidos (lands redistributed under the agrarian reform since the Revolution) and bienes comunales (lands traditionally belonging to a village or settlement). The Federal Electricity Commission and agrarian reform bureaucracy have been holding a series of meetings with peasant leaders to win their consent for the project. But opponents have assailed the meetings as a tool of the patronage system, and formed the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota (CECOP). Opponents have been repeatedly threatened and harassed, and army troops have been mobilized to their protest camps. CECOP activist Tomas Cruz Zamora was assassinated in a mysterious incident in September 2005. But support is growing for the opposition to La Parota across Mexico’s national campesino movement. In April 2006, Subcommander Marcos of the Zapatista rebel movement met with CECOP leaders when he passed through Guerrero on his national tour, the “Other Campaign.”

The following report from the non-governmental organization International Peace Service (Servicio Internacional para la Paz—SIPAZ) includes the findings of a Civil Observation Mission formed to monitor the assemblies. The Civil Observation Mission is made up of various groups including SIPAZ, Peace Services & Conusltation (Servicios y Asesoría para la Paz—SERAPAZ), Amnesty International-Canada, the Mexican League in Defense of Human Rights (LIMEDDH), Calpulli Tlatoani, the Emiliano Zapata Union (UPREZ), and the Mexican Association of Families of the Detained and Disappeared (AFADEM). —WW4 REPORT

The hydroelectric dam project La Parota was developed by the Mexican government more than 30 years ago. The dam would affect 21 communities, including 17 ejidos and three common holdings (bienes comunales), constituting one of the largest in the world. It would flood 17,300 hectares of productive lands. More than 100,000 people would be affected by the dam. According to the Human Rights Center Montaña Tlachinollán, more than 25,000 people would be displaced as their lands would be flooded-although the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) only recognizes that 3,000 people would be directly affected. Furthermore, the redirecting of the Rio Papagayo would deprive 75,000 people of access to water, including rural workers that need it for their crops. The CFE has not prepared any compensation for those indirectly affected.

According to the Economic and Political Investigation Center for Community Action (CIEPAC), the objective of the dam project is to provide energy to the maquiladoras, to the large tourist centers, to the cities (primarily Acapulco) and the mining industry—not to promote the development and meet the needs of the rural sector. It is also intended to supply electricity to the South of the United States and connect the Mexican and Central American electric grid.

The division and polarization that the project have provoked in recent years have resulted in a number of deaths, grave injuries and detentions. Confrontations during village assemblies [to discuss the project] have also caused a number of injuries.

The Legal Battle since 2005

In 2005 various ejidal assemblies were held to discuss whether or not to permit the project going forward. But the legitimacy of the assemblies were contested in four communities where the campesinos had supposedly agreed to the expropriation of their lands: Cacahuatepec, Los Huajes, La Palma and Dos Arroyos. The question in three is still pending, but the assembly in Cacahuatepec of March 27, 2007 was recognized as illegal. A new assembly was hurriedly called in Cacahuatepec on May , 2007, which SIPAZ attended as part of an observation mission.

The activists of the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposed to La Parota (CECOP) are demanding that a consultation process be carried out that includes all of those affected by the project—not only the ones who appear on the voting rolls of the community assemblies, but also those in neighboring communities and landholdings—and that they be provided with exact and impartial information regarding the impact of the dam, and that all of those affected be compensated.

While demands to nullify the decisions of the four apparently irregular assemblies are pending, various resolutions were enacted in favor of CECOP in September 2006, barring the CFE and any other state or federal authority from entering the lands of those four communities to carry out any work relating to the hydroelectric project. In spite of this, the first access roads are being built to facilitate construction of the dam.

Various actors strongly criticized the ejidal and communal assemblies organized by the state and federal governments, saying that they amounted to a mechanism for the imposition of the hydroelectric project, not a true mechanism of consultation, in violation of the Agrarian Law.

Reactions by International Organizations

In March 2006, CECOP presented their case before the Latin American Water Tribunal (TLA), which ruled against construction of the dam project, and recommended its suspension. Various bodies of the United Nations have demonstrated their concern and have denounced irregularities in the project. Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur for Indigenous People, denounced the “abuses and violations of the indigenous rural workers in the state of Guerrero opposed to the construction of the dam La Parota in their territories, which the State insists on carrying out without the free consent of the population.”

In May 2006, the UN Committee for the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations declared their concern about the lack of consultation with the indigenous communities, as well as the environmental damage that would result from the project. In March [2006], Amerigo Incalcaterra, Mexican representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, visited the territoriy of La Parota to meet with the affected population in the communities of Garrapatas and Tasajeras, and noted the lack of information and transparent consultation in this project.

Since 2004, Amnesty International has been documenting the violence surrounding La Parota dam project, particularly the homicides of three people and injuries and death threats against a local activist. The organization does not have any knowledge that progress has been made in official investigations into these incidents.

Amnesty International declared May 2, 2007, that they “feared for the security” of the members of the CECOP, and that their lives “may be in danger” because of their resistance to the dam project. It questioned the consultation to be held in Cacahuatepec on May 6, noting the danger of violent actions against those in opposition.


La Parota Civil Observation Mission, a collective made up of 36 people from 16 organizations and national and international networks, visited the zone affected by construction of the dam on the May 5-6 of May and found the following:

According to the Council of Ejidos and Communities Opposing “La Parota” (CECOP), the agrarian assembly convened May 6 in San Juan Grande, in the municipality of Acapulco, had the objective of legitimizing the expropriation of communal lands in order to begin construction of the hydroelectric “mega-project” La Parota. This assembly was another attempt to repeat what was carried out in San Marcos on August 23, 2005, which was recently annulled (March 27, 2007) by the United Agrarian Tribunal in favor of the opposition.

Faced with this new assembly and the threat of repression or provocation by the authorities, we are carrying out this civil observation mission in order to verify the proceedings… The mission comes in response to the national and international alerts issued by the CECOP…


The civil mission observed the following:

1. To begin, it should be pointed out that we are dealing with an assembly whose convening is irregular for the following reasons:

First, through various testimonies from different communal authorities, we were informed that the call for the assembly was not posted in the most visible places of the commonal lands (bienes comunales) as demanded by Article 25 of the Agrarian Law.

Second, that the assembly was convened in a different place than that recognized by the traditional laws (usos y costumbres) of the inhabitants of communal lands. These are traditionally carried out in the municipal seat (cabacera) of Cacahuatepec.

2. As for the assembly itself we state the following:

The [dialogue] table was not installed because the comisariado [communal chairman] did not bring the official rolls containing the names of inhabitants of communal lands, contrary to the regulations of the Agrarian Law.

Nevertheless the agrarian authority requested that the registration begin, and only two people signed in-without any identification or document accrediting them as inhabitants of communal lands.

Immediately after, the Comisariado suspended the Assembly saying that there was not sufficient quorum, with only 543 inhabitants of communal lands-a number impossible to corroborate since the roll was never taken.

Fifteen minutes after having arrived, the officials left, and on their way out signed and posted a call for a second assembly, apparently planned beforehand. The proof lies in the fact that in the call for the second assembly, the annulment of the first assembly is justified by the “violent events.” Here it is important to point out that, in the entire process, there was no violence or attempted physical aggression by those present, as demonstrated by the photographs, videos and testimonies collected by the Civil Observation Mission. This represents a contradiction to the arguments used by the comisariado to nullify the assembly.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The mission finds that assemblies of this nature do not constitute an adequate mechanism of consultation as determined by Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO). According to the information we have, there are 43,000 inhabitants of the communal lands of Cacahuatepec, and the lists only register 7,280; because of this it is clear that these assemblies exclude the majority of the affected population.

We find that the assembly was irregular for the aforementioned reasons.

The Civil Observation Mission expresses its concern that the assembly was not organized in good faith and that it could have the objective of marginalizing the movement opposing the dam, criminalizing it and thereby justifying the use of violence and repression. The presence of security forces could be justified in future assemblies in order to impose the project.

We are concerned that with the annulment of the communal assembly, the ensuing assemblies will require a lower quorum in order to be valid, which could be used as a strategy by the authorities to facilitate the imposition of the project.

We restate that there was no violence by any participating party, and that the opposition movement has continued its peaceful and legal struggle to defend their rights as pueblos.

We view with concern that behind the false claims of violence from the opposition, harassment, threats and repression could be justified by the authorities.

We ask that all of the communities affected by the construction of the hydroelectric dam project La Parota be guaranteed complete, exact and impartial information about the project and the available compensations, and that the opposition not suffer threats and intimidation, and be free to carry out legitimate protests against the construction of the dam. We also demand compliance with all international treaties and agreements on human rights signed and ratified by Mexico.

We recommend that the upcoming assemblies be public, as laid out in the Agrarian Law, allowing national and international civil society to observe the proceedings.

The observation mission is views with concern the potential for [irregular] communal assemblies may be a factor leading to inter-communal violence and confrontations in the upcoming assemblies between the opposition and those in favor [of the project].

The civil mission is committed to continue with its work for the next assembly on May 20, and issues a strong call to public opinion and civil society to remain alert to the situation arising from the imposition of the hydroelectric project La Parota.





See also:

Guerrero: hydro-dam opponent arrested
WW4 REPORT, April 27, 2007

Zapatistas on “red alert” again
WW4 REPORT, May 5, 2006

Mexico: campesino leaders assassinated in Guerrero
WW4 REPORT, Oct. 13, 2005

Mexico: campesino ecologists under threat
WW4 REPORT, July 7, 2004


Reprinted and translated by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Cree Nation Divided Over James Bay Mega-Project

by Bill Weinberg, Indian Country Today

Hydro-Quebec, the provincial utility which is a major energy exporter to the Northeast US, has commenced construction on a new mega-project on Cree lands of the far north James Bay region. The project, which would divert the waters of the Rupert River, has divided the Cree nation. The last chief of the Cree Grand Council, Ted Moses, signed on to the project and aggressively pushed it, but a new and more critical administration has since taken office in Cree country. The chiefs of the three communities to be directly affected by the water diversion are in active opposition.

“People aren’t aware of how it will impact us and our way of life,” says Robert Weistche, chief of Waskaganish, one of the three dissenting communities. “We would lose the majority of the river, because we live at the mouth, at the estuary. In light of global warming, one year there might not be any water at all.”

The project consists of a series of dams, tunnels and canals on the Rupert River, diverting 70% of the flow a hundred miles north into the system of hydro-dams already built in the Eastmain River watershed. The Rupert River diversion is slated to add 888 megawatts of power, flooding 600 square kilometers of traditional Cree lands. New roads, power lines, temporary cities, and two new power stations are to be built in the remote region of boreal forest. The deal which approved the project also includes rights to timber and mineral exploitation in the region.

Canada’s federal authorities approved the project in December after completion of an impact statement by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. But two federal commissioners disagreed with the assessment’s methodology for evaluating methyl mercury contamination in the river. A Sierra Club study also maintains that the impact statement underestimates the amount of mercury that will be released by the new project.

“We depend a lot on the fish, and we’re very concerned about the methyl mercury,” says Chief Weistche.

Mercury contamination was a disastrous result of the so-called “James Bay I” mega-project, which saw construction of a series of dams on La Grande and Eastmain rivers in the 1970s, flooding 11,000 square kilometers. Most of the Eastmain River was then diverted into La Grande’s watershed. James Bay I is already considered the world’s largest hydroelectric complex. But Hydro-Quebec has eventual plans to dam every river flowing into James Bay, a southern extension of Hudson Bay.

In addition to flooding Cree hunting grounds, the James Bay I project poisoned Cree waters, with the increased pressure of the floodplains leaching mercury from the soil. The Cree were barred from consuming fish from the rivers, further eroding their self-sufficiency.

Waskaganish and fellow dissident community Nemska are both along the Rupert River. The third dissenting community is Chisasibi, along La Grande River, downstream of the dams. Many residents there say James Bay I has changed local climate conditions. Chisasibi’s Chief Abraham Rupert, reached by telephone at his office, says: “This is March. All the rivers should be frozen. But I look out my window now they aren’t. The dams increase velocity and turbulence, and this prevents freezing. In the cold months of the year, January and February, we’re lucky if it freezes over for a few weeks now. With this new diversion, the river probably won’t freeze at all.”

Rupert says the failure of the rivers to freeze means more moisture in air during the harsh winters, affecting community health.

But Rupert says the impacts ripple far beyond the river banks. “The dams have had a great impact on the James Bay coast,” he says. “In the fall we used to have thousands of thousands of Canadian geese coming through. The eel grass they fed off grew in abundance along the coast. Now there’s none at all. It took around 20 years for that to happen after the La Grande project.”

Rupert says the Canadian and brant geese have disappeared with the eel grass, and points out that his community has traditionally relied on them for food. Rupert attributes the eel grass decline to increased sediment, caused in turn by the hydro dams causing fluctuating water levels.

Chief Weistche acknowledges that the Cree-Quebec agreement permitting the Rupert River project “bars chiefs speaking against the signed deal. But our communities voted against it, and we have a responsibility to represent our people.”

In early 2002, the Cree Grand Council held a community-by-community referendum approving the project. Of the nine Cree communities, only Chisasibi voted “no.” But the impact study had not then been completed, and critics say the Cree had voted without knowing the project’s full impact.

Under the deal, the Cree will receive $70 million per year for the next 40 years, plus a share in logging and mineral rights for the region.

The agreement—signed February 7, 2002 in Waskaganish, and dubbed Paix des Braves (Peace of the Brave)—stipulates that the Rupert diversion will not be allowed without the full support of local communities. Waskagnish, Chisasibi and Nemaska held their own vote in November 2006, which defeated the project by some 80 percent.

Says Chief Weistche: “This question of acceptability is still up in the air, because three communities are opposed to the project. Yet things are going ahead as planned. The provincial government takes the position that the Cree signed the deal. But people were told, ‘You’re not agreeing to diversion, just to the process, we’ll come back to you after the environmental review.’ That never happened. It was done very swiftly.”

Conceived as an improved successor to the 1975 James Bay Agreement which approved James Bay I after decades of litigation, the 50-year Paix des Braves pact allows for joint jurisdiction between the Quebec government and Cree in the seven municipalities of the James Bay region. Upon its signing, Cree Grand Chief Moses declared: “Quebec becomes a leader in the application of the principles recognized by the United Nations in regards of aboriginal development. Quebec will be able to show that the respect of aboriginals is compatible with her national interest. The federal government should inspire itself with this agreement in its negotiations with Natives across Canada.”

New Grand Chief Matthew Mukash, who took office in 2006, is proposing the development of wind power on Cree land instead of the Rupert diversion, which is slated to actually take place in the summer or fall of 2008.

Weistche supports this proposal. “There are alternatives,” he says. “It’s been estimated we have the potential to generate 100 thousand megawatts from wind power in Cree country.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper supports the Rupert River project, and Quebec’s Premier Jean Charest hails the Rupert diversion as the “biggest project of the decade.” However, Quebec, like the Cree Grand Council, has changed government since the Paix des Braves agreement. The pact was negotiated by Premier Bernard Landry of the separatist Parti Québécois.

In this year’s March 27 provincial elections, the PQ came in third place after Charest’s Liberals and the upstart conservative populist Action Democratique. All three parties support the Rupert River project, and all three predicate Quebec’s economic future on continued exports of James Bay hydro-power. But their divergent views on Quebec’s political future have implications for Cree country.

In 1995, the then-ruling PQ held a provincial referendum on secession from Canada, which was narrowly defeated. Just before the 1995 referendum, the Cree held a plebiscite of their own—and overwhelmingly voted to stick with Canada.

It is Canadian federal courts which have upheld the right of the Cree to be consulted in provincial development plans for their land—starting with the key ruling over James Bay I in 1973. Even though it was overturned on appeal, the ruling for the Cree’s aboriginal title that forced Quebec to the table and resulted in the James Bay Agreement. Quebec secession from Ottawa would certainly mean Cree secession from Quebec, and carries the potential for a showdown over the James Bay region.

Whether a separatist Quebec would have the right to take Cree country with it is open to question. The name for the Rupert River agreement was inspired by the 1701 Great Peace of Montreal, also known as “La Paix des Braves,” which ended a century of war between the French-allied Algonquins and the English-allied Iroquois. But the Cree, isolated in the far north, were not involved in this struggle, or a part of Quebec. The James Bay region was then known as Rupert’s Land, established in 1670 as a holding of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Its status as a part of Canada was not settled until Britain passed the Rupert’s Land Act in 1868, the year after Canadian independence. The region was not formally incorporated into Quebec until 1912.

Asked about their stance in the event that the PQ take power again and hold a new referendum, Chief Weistche and Chief Rupert both recall the experience of 1995. “We’d stick with Canada,” Rupert says.

Rupert warns that the in 2001, the Quebec National Assembly established a Municipality of Baie-James (MBJ) in 2001, for white settlers in the region. “The MBJ is expanding on to category 2 and category 3 lands,” Rupert charges. Category 2 lands are those put aside for the use of the Cree village centers, which are considered category 1. Category 3 are the wide expanses of public land between the communities, where the Cree have also traditionally trapped, fished and hunted. Rupert sees the MBJ as a strategy to set a precedent for eroding Cree land title, and notes that the Rupert River project will bring a flood of new settlers into the region.

In Nunavut, the self-governing Inuit homeland carved out of the Northwest Territories in 1999, leaders are also concerned that the Rupert River project to their south will impact their arctic domain, and say they should have been consulted. Nunavut legislator Peter Kattuk says traditional Inuit knowledge was not given enough weight in the federal study approving the Rupert River project. He told the CBC earlier this year that local Inuit have observed changes in ice conditions in Hudson Bay since the James Bay I project was built, which he attributes to disruption in the balance of fresh and salt water inflows.

Chief Rupert emphasizes that he supports development. “We have the technology and know-how to produce energy through wind power. But the cost of this river project is too much for Cree people to bear at this time.”

“They say this power from the north is clean and cheap,” says Chief Weistche. “Well, its not clean because it is impacting the Cree. When you start losing the rivers that we’ve been given the responsibility to take care of for future generations, its not right.


A shorter version of this story appeared in the April 24 issue of Indian Country Today


Grand Council of the Crees

Government of Nunavut


One of Canada’s Last Wild Rivers is to be Sacrificed
Sierra Club of Canada, Dec. 20, 2006

From our weblog:

Inuit petition on climate change rejected
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 18, 2006

Native nations protest US-Canada border restrictions
WW4 REPORT, Feb. 16, 2007

From our archive:

Alberta Indians resist NATO
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 9, 2002


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



The Fight for Inclusion

by Gumisai Mutume, Africa Renewal

The San, the indigenous people of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana, won a major victory in December 2006, at the end of the longest and most expensive court proceeding in that country’s history. The High Court ruled that the state had wrongfully evicted them from a reserve four years earlier and that they could return home. Civil society activists around the world hailed the ruling as a historic precedent for the rights of indigenous people everywhere, especially in Africa, where many governments have been reluctant to recognize the concept of indigenous rights.

The Botswana case stemmed from the San’s eviction from the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (CKGR), one of the world’s largest reserves, in 2002. In response to a class action suit filed by the San that same year, the court ruled that the government had acted “unconstitutionally” and “unlawfully.” According to Rupert Isaacson of the Indigenous Land Rights Fund, a San advocacy group, “The removals were accompanied by beatings and the destruction of water sources.”

The British colonial government created the reserve, which is 52,800 square kilometers—larger than Switzerland—during the days leading up to Botswana’s independence in 1966. Anthropologists maintained that the San had inhabited the area for at least 40,000 years, but that their numbers were declining at an alarming rate. The colonial administration deemed them to be “endangered‚” and established the CKGR as a refuge.

After independence, the new government in Botswana encouraged the San to move out of the park into state-assisted settlements that were within reach of modern services such as schools and clinics and where they could assimilate into modern society. But many San refused, preferring to remain in a natural habitat where they could continue to live as hunters and gatherers, as they had done for thousands of years. Finally, the government decided to evict 3,000 San from the reserve, setting off the legal action.

Despite the court settlement, the battle is not over. The court ruled that the 189 applicants in the case and their children may return to the reserve. Some activists, such as members of the First Peoples of the Kalahari, contend that the ruling should cover all 50,000 San in the country. But the government of Botswana maintains that other San who wish to return may do so only if they apply for and obtain permits from the state.

Who is Indigenous?

The case of the San in Botswana brings to the fore a delicate question in Africa: who is an indigenous person? Some communities claim indigenous status in Africa today on the grounds that their ancestors resisted the influence of the massive waves of migration of Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralists who migrated from western to southern Africa beginning around 1000 BC. While some were subsumed by those migrations, others maintained their distinct linguistic, cultural and social characteristics, largely as communities of hunters, gatherers and herders.

Later, Arab language and culture spread across northern and eastern Africa. And finally, a number of European countries colonized the continent, bringing their own influences. Those colonial governments often favored the dominant, food-producing populations they found in their new colonies and marginalized the “aboriginal” peoples, as some historians refer to the indigenous people that had settled on the land before the Bantu.

Most governments that came to power following independence have been reluctant to acknowledge claims to rights, especially political rights, on the basis that a particular community regards itself as indigenous. After all, government officials argue, all black Africans consider themselves indigenous to the continent.

Nigel Crawhall, director of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), says the argument for recognizing indigenous rights does not rest on historical precedence. Communities arising from the Bantu migrations, he acknowledges, are just as African as everyone else. “The claims of indigenous peoples need to be seen in the context of their systematic discrimination and marginalization” under contemporary political and economic conditions.

“It was colonialism that brought new economic and political structures that reinforced the power of agricultural peoples over herders and gatherers, and set down the rules of who had access to the state apparatus,” Crawhall explains. This meant that during colonial rule, agricultural peoples had easier—if still very limited—access to education, health care and other social services that were almost completely denied to indigenous communities. When colonialism ended, it was these educated elites that were able to take over the institutions of political and social power.

Bottom of the Hierarchy

At the bottom of the colonial hierarchy were nomadic hunters and gatherers. They often withdrew into less hospitable environments, such as deep forests and deserts. In the worst cases, as in colonial South Africa, recalls Crawhall, European settlers tried to virtually exterminate the San. “They were hunted on horseback, killed with diseases, families were destroyed and children were given to other people as servants,” he told Africa Renewal. Among Africa’s many indigenous peoples are the hunter-gatherer forest peoples (“pygmies”) of central Africa, nomadic pastoralists such as the Maasai and Samburu in East Africa, the San in Southern Africa and the Amazigh people (Berbers) of North Africa and the Sahel.

“We may not all agree on the definition of indigenous or the categorization of communities as indigenous,” notes Angela Khaminwa, a Nairobi-based expert on social inclusion policies. “Regardless of what label we place on ethnic communities that maintain traditional lifestyles and livelihoods, there is no doubt that many of these communities are vulnerable to labor and sexual exploitation.”

Many such groups are struggling with the encroachment of farming into their areas. Others are threatened by conservation policies intended to protect species of animals and plants, but that forbid local communities to hunt or gather. Their languages and ways of life are being eroded. “The hesitancy of governments to address the issue of internal difference full force may be due to a need to promote national cohesion,” says Khaminwa. Giving a community special protection, she adds, might be perceived as political favoritism.

The fears of African governments are not baseless. Insurgents and politicians have all too often dwelt on ethnic differences to mobilize support against their competitors. Claims by different ethnic communities over land and mineral rights, often justified on the basis of historical precedence, have frequently contributed to armed conflict.

“A Legitimate Call”

The UN estimates that there are about 370 million indigenous people in more than 70 countries around the world. They are among the most marginalized people in economic, social and cultural terms. Despite the challenges, the world’s indigenous people have scored notable achievements in their efforts to reclaim rights during the last decade, designated by the UN as the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous People (1995-2004). That period saw many changes in Africa, notes Crawhall. One of the most profound was “the rise of an organized civil society representing diverse indigenous peoples from one end of the continent to the other.”

These civil-society groups lobbied the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, a continental body, to recognize that the concept of indigenous peoples is applicable in Africa. In 2003 the commission adopted a report of the commission’s Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities, which acknowledged that “certain marginalized groups are discriminated against in particular ways because of their particular culture, mode of production and marginalized position within the state…[a] form of discrimination that other groups within the state do not suffer from. The call of these marginalized groups to protection of their rights is a legitimate call to alleviate this particular form of discrimination.”

The adoption of the report, in theory, subscribed all 53 member governments of the commission to the aims of promoting indigenous rights. But in reality, the majority of countries continue to struggle with putting such concepts into practice, explains Lucy Mulenkei, director of the Indigenous Information Network in Kenya. While a number of African governments argue that recognizing indigenous rights will foster ethnic tensions, “we who are working among indigenous communities still say we want to have these people recognized in order to deal with issues of marginalization and so forth,” she told Africa Renewal.

Under pressure from organizations representing indigenous people, some countries have made significant progress, she notes. Recently, Burundi amended its constitution to guarantee representation in the national assembly to the indigenous Twa people, who live in several countries in Africa’s Great Lakes region. In neighboring Rwanda, the government is working with the main Twa organization to investigate war crimes perpetrated against them during the 1994 genocide, in which an estimated one third of all Twa in that country were killed.

Elsewhere in Africa, Cameroon recognizes “pygmies” and nomadic pastoralists as indigenous people. The government agreed to comply with policies to compensate and resettle indigenous people affected by the construction of the Chad-Cameroon oil pipeline, an initiative supported by private investors and the World Bank. Morocco lifted a ban on the teaching of the Amazigh (Berber) language in schools and has set up a national commission to formulate policies on indigenous language and culture.

Contentious Negotiations

The Decade of the World’s Indigenous People also helped activists focus their attention on the creation of a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues at the UN and draft a declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples. The Permanent Forum, which held its first meeting in 2002, gathers annually at UN headquarters to give a voice to the world’s indigenous people at an intergovernmental level.

Representatives of indigenous people and the international community first began working on the declaration on the rights of indigenous people in 1985. The draft was completed in 1993 and has been under negotiation since then. On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People in August 2006, then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan described it as the product of “many years of complex and at times contentious negotiations.” The declaration, he said, was “an instrument of historic significance for the advancement of the rights and dignity of the world’s indigenous peoples.”

The expected adoption of the declaration by the UN General Assembly in November of that year, Annan noted, would be a major achievement. But that was not to be. Namibia and other African countries, joined by Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, blocked the adoption of the agreement.

The Namibian representative to the meeting explained that some of the declaration’s provisions ran counter to the national constitutions of a number of African countries. However, he added, the declaration was of such critical importance that it was only “fair and reasonable” to defer its adoption to allow more consultations.

Kenya’s representative said the declaration contained a number of contradictions. For instance, it talks of “self-determination” as if it were referring to people living under colonial rule. In his country, he said, all citizens enjoyed the right to self-determination. Another African delegate noted that the concept of self-determination was in direct contradiction to efforts to integrate indigenous people into the mainstream of society. The declaration was divisive, he argued, isolating groups and inciting them to establish their own institutions alongside existing central ones.

The General Assembly delayed the adoption of the declaration until its next session, in September 2007. The failure to approve the draft declaration surprised many observers because in June 2006, African and other states had adopted it at the UN Human Rights Council. “We feel very sad about the failure to adopt the declaration,” says Mulenkei, a member of Kenya’s indigenous Maasai community.

Mulenkei notes that many of the concerns that African countries are now bringing up have been debated for a long time, over two decades of negotiations. She believes the real reasons for blocking the resolution are political and economic. Many of the countries opposing the declaration fear that it would give indigenous people the authority to reclaim land and seek compensation for centuries of discrimination.

“All these years that the discussions on the draft declaration have been going on, we barely had African governments participating,” Mulenkei says. “And then at the last minute they come in and say no to the draft declaration. This takes us back many years.” But, she adds, it is now too late for governments to break the momentum. She foresees more progress on indigenous rights in the near future.


This story first appeared in the April issue of Africa Renewal, a United Nations publication


Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples


Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC)

African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)

Indigenous Information Network—Kenya

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII)

See also:

An End to Africa’s Reign of Impunity?
by Michael Fleshman
WW4 REPORT, February 2007

Berber Boycott in Restive Region Signals Continued Struggle
by Zighen Aymi
WW4 REPORT, November 2005

Sinister Convergence in New Sahel Terror War Front
by Wynde Priddy
WW4 REPORT, April 2004

From our weblog:

Kalahari Bushmen win land battle
WW4 REPORT, Dec. 14, 2006

Mexco votes for UN indigenous rights declaration
WW4 REPORT, Sept. 25, 2006


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Islamist Violence and State Legitimacy

by Kanishk Tharoor,

In recent months, the specter of Islamist violence has grown across North Africa. After enduring a brutal decade-long civil war, Algeria has seen Salafist radicals regrouping under the ominous banner of “al-Qaeda in the Maghreb” (AQMI). The emergence of AQMI heralded fears of the internationalization of political violence in the region, fueled in large part by the presence of numerous North Africans in the battlefields of Iraq. In Algeria, police and military posts in the interior of the country have come under increased threat in 2007, but on April 11, the AQMI threat hit the heart of the political establishment. Bombs ripped through Algiers killing at least 33 people, in the first such violence witnessed in the capital since the black days of the civil war. The blasts coincided with a number of aborted and successful attacks in Morocco. Violence there has continued after raids into impoverished slum areas of Casablanca prompted reprisal bombings.

The international dimension 1

Islamic terrorism in the region has long been considered a distinctly Algerian phenomenon, confined to the country that denied the Front Islamique de Salut (FIS)—rightfully elected to power in 1992—the right to rule. A civil war ensued in which over 100,000 civilians are thought to have been killed. The Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat (GSPC)—the group said to have embraced the al-Qaeda cause last year—emerged in the turmoil of the war to fly the Islamist militant banner.

What was once mostly a national insurgency has now taken on the dimensions of the larger “war on terror.” Notably, Moroccan and Algerian officials have reacted very differently to recent developments. Algiers has readily acknowledged the involvement of “external” elements. At a recent rally against terrorism in the capital, Bouguerra Soltani, leader of the Islamist but moderate Mouvement de la Société pour la Paix (MSP), claimed that “we are living through a new genre of terrorism… [T]he executors of the attacks were Algerian, but the goal comes from the outside, from the cadre of international terrorism”.

Meanwhile, Rabat has insisted that its terrorists are “home-grown,” their causes restricted and local, despite evidence to the contrary. With Moroccans deeply involved in the Madrid bombings in Spain, the stern eye of international scrutiny has fallen on Morocco, as local officials scramble to head off the growing threat.

Adding to the muddle, Hassan Hattab, the founder of the GSPC, has disavowed his group’s new links with al-Qaeda and urged a process of political reconciliation between the government and local Islamists. Whom Hattab, nom de guerre “Abu Hamza”, speaks for at this point is uncertain. It also remains unclear to what extent the recent spurt of Islamic violence in the Maghreb derives material support and direction from a wider network of jihadists. Yet it is beyond doubt that the high profile of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of figureheads like Osama bin Laden, has galvanized militants across the region to adopt the symbols and trappings of a trans-national cause.

The international dimension 2

At the same time, the “local” conflicts in the Maghreb have become the stuff of international interest. Murli Deora, India’s petroleum and gas minister, toured Algeria last month in a bid to strengthen energy ties between New Delhi and Algiers. Talks will also touch upon security issues amidst fears over the stability of Algeria’s energy industry.

Russian and Algerian officials are also locked in negotiations that could make Algeria the largest buyer of Russian arms. A deal thought to be in the region of $7 billion is on the table, and would provide Algeria with new batches of fighter and bomber jets, tanks and air-defense systems.

Algiers’ growing strategic ties with the likes of Russia and India come at a time of growing domestic dissatisfaction with European policy on the Maghreb. Algerians and Moroccans resent the EU’s view of their countries as frontlines against terror, where violence welling up from the Sahel and the dusty interior of North Africa must be confined lest it spill across the Mediterranean. France, the former colonial master of the Maghreb, has grown particularly nervous about the re-emergence of the region’s Islamist militants. North African countries are also being increasingly relied upon to hold back the tide of African immigration, making them key parts of Europe’s regional security policy. Such a task is likely to become harder in the coming years unless significant work is done to mitigate the effects of climate change and growing economic discrepancies in sub-Saharan Africa.

The threat to democracy

Algeria’s human rights record has never been sparkling, particularly during the course of the civil war in the late 1980s and 1990s that saw the notorious intelligence service, the Département de Renseignement et de la Securité (DRS), cut its teeth in authoritarian control. The imperatives of safeguarding Europe’s frontier and Russian military support will heap further pressure on Algeria’s democratic institutions, cowed as they are by the robust voice of the army.

Algeria does boast a lively domestic press and a plethora of parties that operate with more than a modicum of freedom. In the wake of the April attacks, Algiers witnessed Madrid-style demonstrations against terrorism, urging civic action and a commitment to the democratic process. Politicians further encouraged participation in the impending May 17 elections as a “response” to the bombs and threats of the Islamist menace. The continuing heavy-handed activities of the DRS, like the disappearance of the Islamic student Abdelaziz Zoubida, will invariably undermine the legitimacy of such democratic pretensions, potentially spinning the Maghreb into further chaos.


This article first ran April 19 on

See also:

Indigenous North Africa Between Jihad and Imperialism
WW4 REPORT, March 2007

From our weblog:

Algeria seeks closer US energy ties
WW4 REPORT, May 19, 2007


Reprinted by WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Czech Dissidents Stand Up Again—This Time to the Pentagon!

by Gwendolyn Albert, WW4 REPORT

In violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the and commitments made in the year 2000 at the UN Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, the United States is planning to expand its missile shield defenses—a system to target potential incoming missiles and shoot them down en route—to cover any potential missiles fired from the Middle East, seen as a growing threat due to Iran’s reported pursuit of ballistic missile technology.

The plan is to place 10 interceptor rockets in the northwestern town of Koszalin in Poland, and a radar base in the Brdy district southwest of Prague in the Czech Republic to track any incoming missiles. Iran reportedly is in possession of medium-range missiles now which could reach Israel or Turkey, and the US claims Iran could possess an ICBM by 2015. The cost of this European expansion of the missile defense shield is estimated at $3.5 billion. Around 200 US personnel, both military and civilian, are expected to work at the Czech base, which would be the first of its kind in Europe.

Since the idea of a missile defense shield was first proposed during the Reagan administration, the US has spent approximately $110 billion developing it. In response to the reported threat from North Korea, the US has already set up two sets of missile interceptors at Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California—again in violation of international non-proliferation agreements—to defend against incoming missiles from that country.

Critics of the effort say it will not work: In 2004, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a 76-page report entitled “Technical Realities” which found “no basis for believing the system will have any capability to defend against a real attack.”

Undaunted, the Bush administration has also announced plans to place interceptors—missiles to shoot down other missiles—not on earth, but in orbit, reviving and expanding a proposal which prompted critics of the plan two decades ago to nickname it “Star Wars.” This expansion could cost as much as $200 billion. The militarization of space is obviously fraught with ethical and political problems which will increase existing tensions in an unstable world and accelerate the arms race.

Back to Wenceslas Square

The first rumblings of dissent against the plan to locate the US anti-missile radar base in the Czech Republic came from two segments of civil society which can in no way be described as having “popular” appeal in this country: the tiny peace movement (whose efforts to protest the Iraq war are consistently undermined by the Czech Communist Party driving away potential centrist supporters) and the slightly more institutionalized (but still small) women’s movement. These two groups were ahead of the game on this issue years ago, when rumors of the plans for the US base first surfaced, and their activism has spurred what has become a genuinely popular, nationwide wave of protest, “NE zakladnam” (“No to Bases”), complete with petition drives and demonstrations all over the country. Recent public opinion polls show more than 60 % of the country is opposed to a US anti-missile radar base on Czech territory.

May 26, 2007: yet another demonstration against the base is called for 3 PM on Wenceslas Square in the capital Prague, site of the famous demonstrations that accompanied the collapse of the communist regime in 1989. Two thousand people turn out; in Poland, a similar demonstration draws one thousand people in the capital Warsaw. The “NE zakladnam” poster at the Prague protest reads “David vs. Goliath” and makes a pun on the similarity between the words “radar” and “zrada”—meaning treachery, betrayal, treason. Banners carried at the demonstrations often read: “1938 – Munich, 1968 – the Kremlin, 2006 – No more decisions about us without us!” The movement is not only protesting the planned base, but is calling for a nationwide referendum on the issue. Opinion polls show that as many as 73% of the Czech public agree a referendum should be held.

“Referendum” is a touchy word in this part of the world. Many here still remember Vaclav Havel’s hopeful prediction, prior to his political career, that the fall of the Berlin Wall would herald the dismantling of not only the Warsaw Pact, but also of NATO; that vision of a “peace dividend” and a nuclear weapons-free Europe has yet to be realized. As for including the public in decisions, referenda were never held on two of the largest decisions to ever affect this country, the decision to divide Czechoslovakia into two separate states and the decision to join NATO. A referendum on EU membership was held under the auspices of what was then a center-left government, and the Social Democrats, currently in opposition, are supporting the call for a referendum on the base issue as well.

One of the reasons the base strikes such a nerve with people here, besides their visceral dislike of the idea of foreign troops in a place that has had its fill of military occupation, is that it touches on the thorny issue of “sovereignty,” a concept which is not the territory of the right wing alone but resonates with the nationalism that is common currency across the political spectrum here. The issue is also providing a forum for Czech society to debate how it understands the events of the last twenty years of “transition,” as well as a test of the responsiveness of Czech democracy.

Czech critics of the radar base argue that there is no difference between a radar base and a missile base, and claim the base could be used offensively as well as defensively, all assurances notwithstanding. They say that by permitting the US base, the Czech Republic would simply become an instrument of America’s unilateral foreign policy, its attempt at military domination of the globe from space, and its “war on terror.” They argue that NATO membership does not require them to allow a US base to be located in the country, and finally, that the base will not only not make the Czech Republic more secure, it may actually make the country more of a target.

They also stress that the Czech authorities will have no right to monitor the US base as to its actual use once it is installed. Whether most opponents of the base genuinely identify with all these arguments is an open question; what is clear is that most people reject the idea because the decision to begin negotiations on the plan was made without their input. The question of whether to invite the US base in was never even raised during last year’s parliamentary election campaign.

The current right-wing government was only formed after an embarrassing post-election wrangling period of more than half a year, and it has a tenuous grip on power at best. The radar issue is not its only foreign policy challenge, but it is definitely the one that has prompted the most domestic debate and action. As on many other issues, the government has been its own worst enemy, with Czech PM Topolanek impatiently scoffing at the idea that the base is anything but a done deal. Indeed, attendance at a demonstration on the issue in Prague this winter was probably given an extra boost by the attempt of the (right-wing) Prague City Hall to “ban” the gathering, claiming it would “disrupt traffic.”

Technically the city has no powers to “ban” public gatherings; no official “permission” is required to assemble in public, just notification to the authorities of the planned location and route of the event. But the city can send police to disperse a gathering deemed unsafe, and the Czech media still use the term “ban” to describe the authorities’ expression of disagreement with certain gatherings. Turnout was higher than expected – the press reported 500 people gathered, but those attending estimated numbers at 2,000 – and the event took place without incident.

Who is the Enemy?

The mayors of 23 communities surrounding the military training area in Brdy, the planned site of the base, have written directly to the US Congress to express their opposition. Since the calls for a national referendum have so far gone unheeded, some local governments have held their own plebiscites on the matter, such as the village of Trokavec, located a mere two kilometers from the planned site. In that plebiscite 70 people voted against the radar, one voted in favor, and 16 eligible voters did not participate. Three more villages plan to hold plebiscites on the issue on June 2 in the run-up to President Bush’s planned visit here.

The votes are symbolic and have no legal effect, but they did prompt the US to send Gerald C. Augeri, assistant head of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, to visit the mayors and address their concerns. among its other activities, the Lincoln Lab runs an R&D program developing sensor systems for use in the missile defense shield program. Augeri told local politicians that the radar station would not affect electronic devices or mobile phones and would be placed at least four kilometers from the nearest houses.

Czech Greenpeace has also been active on the issue, trying to leverage the fact that Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg ran on the Green Party ticket and should theoretically be much more susceptible to pressure by environmentalists than if he were from any other party in the governing coalition. Czech Greenpeace executive director Jiru Tutter issued a sharp critique of the text of the diplomatic note between the USA and Czech Republic proposing terms for the base agreement, reminding the foreign minister that any foreign army to be stationed on Czech territory for longer than 60 days must, according to Article 43 of the Czech Constitution, receive the support of parliament. Certain terms used by the USA in the note seemed to be an attempt to help the Czech government try to circumvent this requirement, but that did not wash for long. As a result of all this public pressure, the Czech foreign affairs and defense ministries announced on May 22 that they will submit their own counterproposal to Washington’s initial proposal within two months, and that the counterproposal would outline what sorts of “services” the US should provide in exchange for the base being located here.

Some Czech political commentators have noted that the country’s stance on the issue has been complicated by the fact that the government does not present a clear (or even a unified) foreign policy. Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg is perceived as a figurehead, with most analysts saying the foreign policy show is really being run by deputy PM for European affairs Alexander Vondra of the governing Civic Democratic Party (ODS), a former Czech ambassador to the US who is the main person reporting on the progress of the Czech negotiations to parliament.

Vondra has spoken of a potential rejection of the base in catastrophic terms, claiming it could lead to Prague breaking its ties with NATO, which would in turn require the reintroduction of compulsory military service in the Czech Republic. Compulsory service was abolished in 2005. Czech Defense Minister Vlasta Parkanova, another cabinet member from a minority party to have been more or less sidelined by Vondra’s advocacy of the base, immediately contradicted his analysis.

Even though the missile defense shield is a US plan (not a NATO one), Washington claims the 26 NATO allies will all receive protection under the shield. But Germany expressed concern in April that Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania would actually be left out of the shield’s protective radius. The US move means debate at NATO about its own plans for missile interception is now on the front burner, and the NATO countries have held high-level talks with Russia—which has expressed its objection in no uncertain terms.

Czech Defense Ministry officials have repeatedly insisted that the base is not intended for use against Russia or China, as the communists contend, and that the technical parameters of its configuration and geographical location mean it can only be used to detect potential missiles from the Middle East. This contention is disputed by Russia, which claims that Iranian, North Korean or Syrian rockets would probably not go across Central Europe on their way to the US, but that a radar station in the Czech Republic would be able to monitor rocket installations in central Russia and the Russian Northern Fleet.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s threat to train his missiles on the Czech Republic and Poland should they host the bases coverage in both the Czech press and global media, as has the maneuvers of US, EU and NATO diplomats. But criticism from another Russian source has received surprisingly little coverage. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev made a statement in Kaliningrad on April 12, bluntly calling the planned US bases in the Czech Republic and Poland part of America’s plan to “control Europe.”

Certainly Germany, which currently holds the EU presidency, has not expressed the enthusiasm for the US plans that the UK has, but Germany has also not tried to raise the issue in NATO—which takes the position that the question is a purely bilateral one between the US and the countries concerned. Elsewhere in Europe, the issue was a key topic during the recent presidential elections in France, with the eventual right-wing victor Sarkozy expressing himself during the election campaign as follows: “It is rather disturbing, in my opinion, that the US is not discussing this anti-missile defense system with our European partners. I do not understand how anyone can say that this is simply a problem for the Czech Republic and Poland, and not a problem for Europe, unless we want to abandon our ambitions for a European defense policy.” At the European Parliament, Social Democratic MEPs from Austria, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, and Poland have also written to the US Congress expressing the socialist faction’s view that the plan could “divide the international community and therefore seriously threaten efforts to restrict the further spread of weapons of mass destruction.” Austrian President Heinz Fischer has also expressed opposition to the plan.

What are the Chances?

What of the 30 % of the Czech Republic that supports the base, according to polls? Protests are sometimes attended by an iconoclast or two holding the American flag in staunch support of the US base. Their argument runs thus: the Americans saved us last time (meaning WWII), and the rest of you will be crying for them to come save us again sooner or later, this time from Iran, or North Korea, or Syria. The US helped us end communism and we are allies again at long last, so let their radar in. One group even held a demonstration in favor of locating missiles as well as radar on Czech territory, but theirs is clearly a minority opinion. Polls do show that 56% of the Czech public believe the country should defend itself against a possible missile attack-but on its own, without the assistance of the global superpower.

The Defense Ministry says that the Czech Republic is in fact already within range of the existing missile capability of the countries from which the threat is presumed to come, but has tried to downplay the critics’ assertion that this is precisely why building such a target on Czech territory is undesirable. They have also claimed an 80% effectiveness rate for the system in the Czech media—a remarkable claim to anyone who has followed the debate on the system in the US, where the efficacy of this entire idea has been questioned for decades now. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said last fall that the Pentagon had not yet performed operational testing with convincing enough results that the system would actually work when needed.

The Czech Defense Ministry website links to a fairly wide range of media coverage of the issue, including a piece on the actual equipment concerned, which is to be relocated from the Kwajalein atoll in the Pacific—a move which is also causing some controversy there. A poll in May 2007 for the Polish daily Rceczpospolita reported two-thirds of Poles also believe the decision to install the missile base in their country should be preceded by a national referendum. Fifty-one percent said they opposed the base, while 30% were in favor, a ratio similar to the Czech statistics. Plans are also afoot to locate another US radar base for the missile shield in the Caucasus.

The US has asked that the Czech Republic to make its final decision by next year, and that will depend on parliament. It is unclear at this time how the lower house will vote. The US Congress is also key, as it controls the funding for the plan, and members of the House Armed Services Committee are reluctant to commit funds without a clear, formal agreement with the Czech Republic and Poland and an expression of full support from NATO. The committee has already cut the Pentagon’s request for funds for the European part of the system by more than half, citing concerns that the technology is not ready, but the budget could still be restored later by the appropriations committee. If approved, the base would begin operations in 2011.


Gwendolyn Albert, a US citizen, is a permanent resident of the Czech Republic, a member of the Czech Government Human Rights Council representing civil society, and Director of the Women’s Initiatives Network at the Peacework Development Fund.


Technical Realities: An Analysis of the 2004 Deployment of a US National Missile Defense System
Union of Concerned Scientists, 2004…

Czech Ministry of Defense — Information Campaign on Missile Defense

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Special to WORLD WAR 4 REPORT, June 1, 2007
Reprinting permissible with attribution