Environmental Defender Guadalupe Campanur Tapia Murdered in Mexico

Environmental Defender Guadalupe Campanur Tapia Murdered in Mexico

     by Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival condemns the murder of the Purépecha environmental activist Guadalupe Campanur Tapia, whose body was found on January 16, 2018 in the municipality of Checrán, Michocán, Mexico. She was strangled to death by two unidentified killers. Investigators have not indicated that Campanur’s death was due to her activism, but they have not ruled it out either.

Threats of violence and violent acts against Indigenous human rights and environmental defenders, particularly women, is an increasingly widespread problem. Frontline Defenders reported that in 2017 they received reports on the murder of 312 defenders in 27 countries.

  • 67% of the total number of activists killed were defending land, environmental and Indigenous peoples’ rights, nearly always in the context of mega projects, extractive industry and big business.
  • 84% of murdered defenders received at least one targeted death threat prior to their killing.

Femicides, sadly common in the Mexico, have ended the life of a talented and passionate woman: a defender for women’s rights, Indigenous Peoples, and the environment. Campanur’s work earned her the admiration and respect from many in her Purépecha community, but she posed a threat to others.

Campanur died at a young age of 32 years old, leaving a legacy of courageous work that will continue to inspire her generation and future generations. In April 2011, she was among Indigenous leaders of Cherán, who rung the bell calling on people to defend their forests against against illegal and merciless logging. Organized crime groups had been operating in the area destroying the municipality’s natural resources with the aid of the corrupt local officials. Campanur was the only female member of the founding team of the Forest Rangers of Cherán, a community initiative that held community patrols in defense of the life in the forest. Her fellow rangers praised her bravery and dedication.

In the midst of the struggle to defend their lands and resources, the community of Cherán decided to claim their rights as Indigenous Peoples in self-government by electing representatives directly and independently from the costly and corrupt conventional elections, expelling politicians, policies and other state and organized crime authorities involved in corruption from their territory. Campanur contributed to creating one of the best functioning examples of self-government in Mexico. These changes also successfully reduced violence in the area, with the last murder occurring in 2012.

Friends of Campanur reported that she had stopped patrolling the forests, but remained involved in the reconstruction of Cherán’s communal territory and culture as well as social work. Campanur became a member of the community’s Concejo Mayor or “Great Council” which aims regulate and aid public life. Her work for seniors, children, and workers made her an icon in her community.

The Attorney General of the State of Michoacán has announced that a investigation is in process in coordination with the Federal Mechanism for the Protection of Journalists and Human Rights Defenders through the Secretariat of State Government.

Colombia: Sierra Nevada Indigenous Leader Murdered

Featured image: Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela was shot dead in the head in Colombia. © El Heraldo

     by Survival International

Yoryanis Isabel Bernal Varela, 43, was a leader of the Wiwa tribe and a campaigner for both indigenous and women’s rights.

The Wiwa are one of four tribes that live on the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, a unique pyramid-shaped mountain in northern Colombia. The Sierra Nevada Indians believe it is their responsibility to maintain the balance of the universe.

Bernal Varela is the latest victim in a long line of attacks against Sierra Nevada leaders, who have been at the forefront of the indigenous movement in South America. Many Indians have been killed by drug gangs, left-wing guerrillas and the army.

In November 2012 Rogelio Mejía, the leader of one of the other Sierra Nevada tribes, the Arhuaco, narrowly escaped an assassination attempt.

José Gregorio Rodríguez, secretary of the Wiwa Golkuche organization, stated: “Indigenous people are being threatened and intimidated. Today they murdered our comrade and violated our rights. Our other leaders must be protected.”

The problem is not limited to Colombia. Indigenous activists throughout Latin America are being murdered for campaigning against the theft of their lands and resources. The murderers are seldom brought to justice.

In January, Mexican Tarahumara indigenous leader Isidro Ballenero López was killed. In 2005 he had received the prestigious Goldman prize for his fight against illegal deforestation.

Peru: Last female speaker of indigenous Amazonian language murdered

Featured image: Rosa Andrade was the last female speaker of the Resígaro language. © Alberto Chirif

     by Survival International

The last female speaker of the Resígaro language has been murdered in Peru. Her body was found decapitated at her home in the Amazon rainforest.

Rosa Andrade, 67, lived with the Ocaina tribe. Her father was Ocaina and her mother Resígaro.

The Ocaina and Resígaro tribes were victims of the rubber boom, which began at the end of the nineteenth century. Tens of thousands of Indians were enslaved by rubber barons intent on extracting rubber in the Amazon. Many indigenous people died from sheer exhaustion, or were killed by violence and diseases like flu and measles to which they had no immunity.

The Resígaro tribe was eventually wiped out, and Rosa and her brother became the last remaining speakers of the language.

Rosa was also one of the last speakers of Ocaina and was regarded as a pillar of her community. She knew a wide repertoire of songs and stories in both languages and had recently been designated, by the government, to teach children Ocaina

Five thousand of the world’s six thousand languages are indigenous, and it is estimated that an indigenous language dies once every two weeks.

There are over a hundred uncontacted tribes worldwide, and their languages are the most endangered. Survival International is campaigning for the lands of uncontacted tribes to be protected, for where their rights are respected, they continue to thrive.

Rosa’s community suspects that an outsider, known for violent behavior, is responsible for the murder. However, the local prosecutor has declared that there is insufficient evidence to prosecute. The community is calling for a serious investigation to take place to find the culprit.

Amidst Political Persecution an Indigenous Leader is Murdered in Honduras

Amidst Political Persecution an Indigenous Leader is Murdered in Honduras

By Cultural Survival

This Thursday morning, March 3rd 2016, was stained with blood at the hands of the murderers who took Berta Cáceres’ life. Berta was a Honduran Indigenous leader who has been deeply involved in the protection of Indigenous land rights in Honduras, well known for her activism leading a campaign against the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in the Gualcarque River, a sacred site for the Lenca people. It was a result of her work that the largest contractor of this dam at the international level, Sinohydro, pulled out of the process.

After many years of organizing in the face of repeated death threats and the assasinations of her colleagues, Cáceres herself was killed at her home in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. The attackers entered into her home at approximately 1:00 AM Thursday morning, informed Tomas Membreño, member of Commission of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) of which Berta was the Coordinator. Berta, a Lenca leader from Honduras, had spent many months in hiding, after receiving threats to her life over the years for her work accompanying movements that defended her community, in addition to suffering from political persecution, and multiple calls for her arrest. The international community had strongly condemned the threats to her life; Berta’s fight, together with COPINH and her community, was recognized with the highest recognition on an international scale for Environmental defenders with the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize. Berta had applied for and received Precautionary Measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, meaning that the government of Honduras was obligated to provide police protection. However, there was no police detail protecting her on the night of her death, reported The Guardian.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Vicky Tauli Corpuz recently met with Berta in Honduras during a country visit. “I condemn this dastardly act and I urge the Honduras authorities to investigate this case and bring the perpetrators to justice. I condole and deeply sympathize with Berta’s family, relatives and community. Such impunity is totally unacceptable and the State has to do something about this,” she commented.

Berta held the role of Coordinator of Council of Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) and as a member of coordinating team of the National Platform of Social and Popular Movements of Honduras (PMSPH).  She was a major contributor to Cultural Survival’s campaign work against the Patuca III Dam in La Moskitia in 2011, and had tirelessly documented the extensive human rights abuses experienced by her community and Indigenous Peoples across Honduras in order to bravely denounce these actions at the national and international level via reports to the United Nations.  She was also active in leading protests against the 2009 US-backed coup d’etat against former president Manuel Zelaya, who has also condemned her murder: “The assasination of Indigenous leader Berta Cáceres removes all possibility of dialogue and the responsibility lies with current president Juan Hernandez,” said Zelaya in a statement this morning.

During protests against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, Cáceres demonstrated her strength and courage in stating “Our people come face to face here with dignity, capacity, resistance, intelligence and ancient strength.” Berta leaves behind her four children and husband Salvador Zuñiga, Executive Committee member  of the Council of Central American Indigenous Community Radio network.

“When a bright star of hope and power goes out, we grieve deeply because we know our pain and loss is much larger than ourselves and timeless over generations in our struggle. Berta Cáceres devoted her life to her people, to Indigenous people worldwide, and to life itself. Her murder is a criminal act of violence, is senseless, and a deliberate attack on what Berta stood for — the rights of Indigenous Peoples. It should be condemned at every level from the state to the international and the perpetrators brought to justice,” said Suzanne Benally,  Executive Director of Cultural Survival

Cultural Survival sends our deepest condolences to her family, colleagues, and the entire Lenca community.  Rest in power, Berta.

Read the Central American Network of Indigenous Community Radio Stations’ statement here. 

Editor’s Note: Cáceres’s murder has triggered violent clashes in Honduras over the government’s failure to protect her.  Read more in The Guardian.

Launch of Website for Community-led Database for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

Launch of Website for Community-led Database for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

By No More Silence
As Indigenous peoples, working for justice for #MMIW is a process that starts within our own communities. The launch of this  website is one example of the resurgence of community documentation as justice.

In April of 2013, No More Silence, Families of Sisters in Spirit and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network began what has become a long term vision for a community-led database documenting the violent deaths and disappearances of Indigenous women. It is our collective hope that the lives of Indigenous Two Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, and asexual (LGBTTQQIA) will also be recognized as gender based violence also impacts these communities and is often invisibilized.

The website is available for viewing at: www.ItStartsWithUs-MMIW.com

FSIS, community partner on this initiative indicated that they “support a grassroots led community database because Indigenous people are first and foremost the experts in gathering data and information about missing and murdered Indigenous women”. The launch of this website is an outcome from many community conversations with impacted families and individuals affected by colonial gender based violence.

1 year later and still no justice…The purpose of the database is to our honour women and provide family members with a way to document their loved ones passing. As the one year anniversary of Bella Laboucan-Mclean’s death approaches the family has provided the first of many tribute pieces on the website, available to read at: www.ItStartsWithUs-MMIW.com/bella

According to Melina Laboucan-Massimo, “Our family still does not have answers from the Toronto Police about Bella’s death which is still listed as suspicious. We appeal to anyone with information to come forward with answers. We urge the Toronto Police to investigate her death as if Bella were part of their own family and not just another police statistic. This new website and database gives families like ours the ability to not only document the lives of our loved ones but also commemorate and celebrate their lives and achievements.”

As the search for answers persists, we continue to urge the Toronto Police Service to maintain their focus on the details surrounding Bella’s death as the family and larger community follow this case closely. We are honoured to have Bella’s story be the first tribute that is shared on the website as a way of recognizing her life and spirit.

We also call attention to Sonya Cywink, murdered in London, ON who’s family and community are preparing a memorial on the 20th anniversary of her passing and are also holding out hope that one day they will uncover the mystery surrounding her murder.

Krysta Williams of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and community partner, “We know there are many other stories, families and anniversaries, this is just the beginning. We continue to build capacity within our networks to respond and support.”

For more information and background on #ItStartsWithUs please read “Supporting the Resurgence of Community-Based Responses to Violence” at: http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/march142014.pdf

No More Silence Media Contact:
Audrey Huntley
Phone:647-981-2918 Email: audreyhuntley@gmail.com
Bella’s Family Media Contact:
Melina Laboucan-Massimo
Phone:780-504-5567 Email: miyowapan@gmail.com

Native Youth Sexual Health Network Media Contact:
Erin Konsmo, Media Arts Justice and Projects Coordinator

From Warrior Publications: http://warriorpublications.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/database-website-for-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women/