November 2021

  • Our Territory Is Not for Sale

    Image from: ECUADOR , by Javier Clemente

    This image taken in Quito, Ecuador in 2019, shows protestors from several indigenous nations demanding a halt to extraction of natural resources in their territories, particularly in Yasuní National Park in the Ecuadorean Amazon.

    The decade-long push to expand Ecuador’s oil extraction into the Amazon River Basin has ignited conflict between the government and indigenous communities seeking to preserve their territories. Ecuador has protections for indigenous people and the environment in the constitution, but the national government has shown little respect for the laws. The government has failed to conduct proper consultation on new projects and has sold protected indigenous land, despite promises not to. When the indigenous Waorani peoples won a key legal victory to suspend the government’s plans to auction off 180,000 hectares of Waorani territory to oil companies, the government criticized the court’s decision and just five days later, approved additional sections of indigenous land for resource extraction in Yasuní National Park without consultation. In 2021, the new Ecuadorean president, Guillermo Lasso, promised to deregulate the oil and gas industry and double the country’s oil production.

    In a report from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, scientists underscored the critical importance of the Amazon River Basin, declaring that continuing current trends of extraction and deforestation will trigger an “irreversible, catastrophic tipping point.” The Amazon River Basin is home to the world’s largest rainforest and covers 40% of South America across eight countries. The Amazon is home to some of the greatest biodiversity in the world, with Yasuní National Park alone home to over 20,000 plant species, more than anywhere else on earth. Since the incursion of resource extraction on their lands, indigenous communities in the Ecuadorean Amazon have experienced profound disruption of natural ecological cycles, such as unpredictable river flooding and contamination due to wastewater and oil spills that threaten their traditional way of life. Without alternate sources of water in these remote areas, indigenous peoples are forced to consume and bathe in the contaminated water, causing digestive problems, skin diseases, and death.

  • Silenced Society 

    Image from: RUSSIAN FEDERATION, by Anton Poltnikov

    Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s sixth consecutive victory in August 2020 triggered mass protests and civil action across the country over widespread allegations of vote-rigging. Police used violent and sometimes deadly force against protestors, reportedly torturing thousands and detaining over 32,000. There were also reports that police used intimidation and coercion to gain access to private phone data to threaten and incriminate demonstrators. As of November 2021 there are still 882 political prisoners being held in Belarus, and Lukashenko’s most vocal critics and opposition leaders have been imprisoned or have fled to avoid persecution. Average citizens who criticized the government have lost employment, been removed from academic institutions, and had their property confiscated by authorities.

    Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is the first and only person to serve as President of Belarus, which gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. When Lukashenko was first elected, he was regarded as an anti-corruption leader. During his 27 years in power, his regime has become steadily more authoritarian, limiting freedoms and suppressing opposition. For years, critics of Lukashenko’s regime have been silenced by criminal charges, physical assaults, and forced disappearances. Seventy percent of the Belarusian economy is centrally-controlled with almost no independent oversight, enabling corruption and graft with impunity. No independent anti-corruption body exists, and the few officials who have been convicted of corruption have been pardoned and returned to positions of power.

    The free press in Belarus has been explicitly targeted and repressed. At the height of the 2020 protests, the government shut down the internet across almost the entire country, preventing live reporting and free communication. Journalists were beaten, harassed, and fined; 477 journalists were arrested and nine were criminally charged. By October 2021, more than 270 independent media and civil society organizations had been forcibly shuttered, which Lukashenko defended as necessary to remove the influence of “bandits and foreign agents.”

  • Invisible Wounds

    Image from: NIGERIA, by Emeke Obanor 

    JT* , aged 16, was assaulted by her neighbour. "The police advised me to seek closure and told my parents to forget pursuing justice against the neighbour that sexually assaulted me. ‘It’s a waste of government time and funding,’ said the police".

    Rape is one of the most prevalent human rights abuses in Nigeria. A 2018 survey revealed that approximately 30% of women and girls between 15 and 49 years old had suffered sexual abuse, with this violence increasing in recent years. Lagos state alone saw a nearly 40% increase in domestic and sexual violence in 2020. In June 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari declared a nationwide state of emergency on sexual and gender-based violence, but little progress has been made in reducing the rate of violence or in bringing perpetrators to justice.

    One contributing factor is a strong culture of victim-blaming and stigma, resulting in under-reporting and silencing of survivors and impunity for perpetrators. A 2019 survey found that 47% of Nigerians blamed rape on indecent dress, and fewer than half surveyed believed sexual violence offenders should be punished. Even when survivors did report their assault, police can be unhelpful or even actively harmful. When survivors overcome these hurdles in attempt to seek justice, some are threatened, coerced, or bribed to withdraw their testimony.

    Sexual and gender-based violence has increased in many places during the COVID-19 pandemic, most significantly in countries that implemented lockdown or stay-at-home measures. A United Nations Population Fund report estimates that for every three months in lockdown, there will be an additional 15 million cases of gender-based violence.

    *Name has been changed

  • Struggle for Life

    Image from: BRAZIL, by Diego Augusto Santos

    An indigenous man from the Kaiowá tribe in Aldeia Tereguá, Brazil protests the Bolsonaro regime in 2021. Throughout 2021, citizens have mounted protests in all of Brazil’s 26 states, condemning government inaction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and declaring Bolsonaro responsible for mass homicide of the Brazilian people. The COVID-19 virus has infected large swaths of the Brazilian population, with current estimates suggesting at least 10% of Brazilians have contracted COVID and more than 600,000 have died.

    Indigenous communities have been especially affected by the pandemic, though accurate statistics are unavailable, with many infections and fatalities underreported. Indigenous groups have been increasingly marginalized in Brazil since Bolsonaro took office in 2019, especially in the Amazon rainforest, which has seen a significant rise in deforestation, illegal logging, and resource extraction in indigenous territories, as well as violence against indigenous populations and land defenders.

    Indigenous groups have asserted that the continuation of logging and extraction in indigenous territories has exacerbated infections among indigenous groups, as there have been few restrictions on who may enter their territories during the pandemic. This influx of outsiders has introduced new disease, which communities are ill-equipped to handle. Indigenous groups report that the rising death toll of their elders has been especially damaging to their communities, as the elders are “our history, our museums…they have all the stories of our people.”

    President Bolsonaro has publicly minimized the COVID-19 pandemic, likening it to “a little flu”, ignoring public health interventions, and failing to secure vaccine doses. As a result of his administration’s handling of the pandemic, a Brazilian Senate committee undertook an investigation and recommended criminal indictments for Bolsonaro, including for crimes against humanity.

  • America the Beautiful

    Image from: UNITED STATES, by Vin Sharma

    While the United States is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, it is also home to extreme poverty. Rising inequality since the 1970s has placed many US citizens in chronic economic insecurity, homelessness, or on the brink of homelessness. According to some measures, approximately 60% of US citizens will live in poverty for at least one of their adult years.

    According to US statistics from 2019, 10.5% of US citizens lived below the poverty line, with 45% of this group in “deep poverty,” living on less than half the amount of the official poverty line. Critics of the US poverty measurement believe it is inaccurate given the inflation rate. Housing costs alone have surged over 800% since the poverty line calculation was first created in 1965. International measurements, which define poverty as having less than half of a country’s median household income, calculate that, in fact, 17.8% of Americans were living in poverty in 2019.

    According to a 2021 report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, as of January 2020 580,466 people were homeless in America, though estimates suggest the real figure is much higher. Individuals experiencing homelessness have higher rates of substance abuse, which can be a significant barrier to finding stable employment or housing. Substance abuse often co-occurs with mental illness, and in the homeless population, the co-occurrence of serious mental illness and substance abuse is double that of the average population. Rigid welfare and social aid programs that require drug testing can prevent homeless individuals from accessing these services, further entrenching them in chronic poverty and homelessness.

    Throughout the country, authorities are increasing the marginalization of homeless people by criminalizing aspects of homelessness. Sleeping outside, sitting in public places, and panhandling have all been criminalized in various states and municipalities. In one neighbourhood in Los Angeles, arrests of homeless people rose 31% from 2011 to 2016, while overall arrests fell 15% over the same period. Fines and fees, as well are large bail bonds imposed for these low-level infractions compound debt and further exacerbate the poverty and marginalization of the homeless.