OAS rights body presses for truth in Yanomami massacre claims

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR, or CIDH in Spanish), a body of the Organization of American States (OAS), issued a statement Sept. 5 urging Venezuelan authorities “to conduct a thorough investigation” into assertions made by representatives of the Horonami Yanomami organization that an isolated Yanomami  community in southern Amazonas state was massacred by outlaw gold-miners who came across the Brazilian border. The statement came days after Venezuela’s Minister for Indigenous People Nicia Maldonado and Justice Minister Tareck el Aissami both said that teams sent to the region had found no evidence of a massacre. The IACHR called on both Venezuela and Brazil to pursue a deeper investigation, and report back their findings to the international body.

Indigenous groups in Venezuela expressed skepticism that the government’s investigation is being carried out in good faith. The Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of Amazonas (COIAM) charged in a statement that the investigative teams had not in fact visited Irotatheri, the settlement where the massacre is reported to have taken place.

The IACHR statement reminded the Venezuelan and Brazilian governments of commitments they made to put in place a joint program of surveillance and border control for the Yanomami region after the 1993 massacre at the settlement of Haxim├║, in which 16 Yanomami were killed. An investigation found that Brazilian garimpeiros (informal gold miners) carried out the massacre at Haxim├║, which lies on the border. Five of 24 charged in the massacre were convicted in the Brazilian courts, but the “Vigilance Plan” demanded by the IACHR for the Yanomami region was never fully put into place. (El Universal, Caracas, Sept. 6; CIDH, Sept. 5; IPS, Sept. 3)

  1. Yanomami conclude investigation on massacre claims
    On Sept. 25, the Yanomami national organization HORONAMI issued its final public statement on the matter of illegal Brazilian miners in the Upper Ocamo region of Venezuela. While HORONAMI backed up the government’s claim that there was no evidence of a massacre, the statement rejected claims that “all is well” in the region. It said that HORONAMI is reiterating its call for “a more careful and extensive investigation into possible acts of violence and other possible abuses of the garimpeiros in the Upper Ocamo region.”

    HORONAMI called for a “permanent and sustained patrol for the final eviction of illegal mining camps in the Upper Ocamo and other areas of the Upper Orinoco… This must be a joint effort between the Bolivarian Armed Forces and our Yanomami organization HORONAMI, since we know our people and our territory.”

    The statement also rejected ongoing efforts to internally divide the HORONAMI organization, to link it to opposition actors, and to exploit the massacre allegations. The statement, released in the lead-up to Venezuela’s presidential election, said: “We do not want to attack our President Hugo Chavez Frias, nor do we want our situation to be manipulated as an electoral episode. [O]ur motivation is the defense of our people, our habitat and our land which is being seriously pillaged and polluted.” (Intercontinental Cry, Sept. 27)