US accused of violating human rights in Puerto Rico

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) on Sept. 30 filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) accusing the US government of committing human rights violations in Vieques island, part of Puerto Rico. The petition was filed on behalf of 10 Vieques residents who have cancer or have relatives suffering from cancer. Vieques was used as a military exercise range for the US Navy for 60 years until 2003, four years after a security guard was accidentally killed during a bombing practice. The NLG claimed that the hazards created during those years were never communicated to the island’s citizens, who ultimately suffered chronic illness. Moreover, as a result of the Navy’s military practices, the island became polluted with toxic residue adversely affecting the civilian population. Thus, the lawyers accused the US government of violating several articles of the American Declaration. If the Commission finds violations were committed, it will make a list of binding recommendations. The lawyer filing the petition stated that the petition is not seeking specific reparations but is asking for changes that would mitigate the existing damages, such as improved health care and transportation to Puerto Rico.

The US government has continually rejected the claim that the US Navy’s military practice in Vieques has caused any health or environmental problems. In May the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR), an agency for the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a report (PDF) concluding that the Navy activities in Vieques did not pose any health or environmental hazards. The agency reached that same result two years earlier. The clean-up of the former military practice site is ongoing and is expected to last for another decade.

From Jurist, Sept. 25. Used with permission.