Virginia `pays’ for decades of forced sterilization of women

On Thursday, February 26, the Virginia legislature agreed to pay $25,000 in compensation to those who had suffered forced sterilization during the Commonwealth’s decades long adventure in eugenics. From 1924 to 1979, over 8000 people were involuntarily sterilized under the Virginia Eugenical Sterilization Act. It’s believed that 65,000 people nationwide were forcibly sterilized, and so, at over 12% of the total, Virginia holds pride of place. But there’s more. Virginia was the model for many states across the United States and for the German Nazi eugenics program. The line from Richmond to the Third Reich is direct.

More than a fifth of those sterilized in Virginia were African American, and more than two-thirds were women. Virginia’s longstanding war on Black women took many shapes, and the argument was always security and the well being of something called society. In 1927, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Virginia’s sterilization program. In the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” By enough, he meant too much.

Virginia’s sterilization program sat comfortably at the intersection of gender, race, class, disability, and confinement. The overwhelming majority of those sterilized were “patients” of state institutions. They weren’t patients; they were prisoners.

In 1985, Virginia finally agreed to inform survivors of their sterilization and to provide them with counseling services. In 2002, then Governor Mark Warner formally apologized for Virginia’s shameful part in eugenics. In 2014, Delegate Patrick Hope, from Arlington County, began pushing for compensation, and that’s what was established yesterday. Yesterday, Del. Hope explained, “I think it’s a recognition when we do something wrong we need to fix it as a government. Now we can close this final chapter and healing can begin.”

Does healing begin this way? The compensation is a step in the right direction. At the same time, the survivors number only eleven. More to the point, what of the system of law, medicine, education, and State that supported the forced sterilization of over 5000 women, all in the name of preserving the health and well being of something called society? That healing has not begun, not while so many of their sisters, nieces, grand nieces, and the list goes on, languish in prisons and jails across the Commonwealth, and across the nation, today. The kind of healing of which Delegate Hope speaks and for which he yearns cannot be purchased. It is not for sale. It must emerge from sustained recognition of responsibility combined with recognition of the subjects of this history. Women. Black women. Black women living with disabilities. Poor Black women living with disabilities. That healing has yet to begin.

 

(Photo Credit: The Institute for Southern Studies)

Equality must be more than two white halves in adversarial balance

A few days ago, Bitch Media’s Megan Kearns pointed to the shortcomings of Patricia Arquette’s now infamous take on gender inequality, as she offered them on and behind the stage of the Oscar’s. Arquette’s idea that “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now” pissed Kearns off. I share her frustration. The growing online public conversation around gender equality and feminism may have become a more popular media topic the past years (which is a good thing), but since it’s mostly white self-proclaimed feminists who drive the discourse, the media carry the historical flaw of Western academic feminism’s widespread reluctance to take race, class or sexuality seriously right into the public sphere, popularizing a notion of ‘gender equality’ that is relevant to some and seriously harmful to others. As Kearns and others have already noted, not all women are middle class, white or straight. And the fight for real gender inequality, where LGBT people are actually treated as equals, and black women are paid and treated equal to white women, is far from won.

It’s not just the media and white feminists like Arquette who drive the idea that gender inequality is a matter of straight men versus straight women. Development organizations, such as the United Nations, play their own part in turning these un-nuanced notions into popular common sense. That’s a problem, particularly now that the UN mobilizes more and more celebrities, such as Victoria Beckham who believes girls should dress like girls, to get the word out.

The notion that the world’s main axis of inequality centers around sex is part of a larger and rapidly swelling discourse within the gender and development world, that frames the problem of gender inequality in a particular way: straight-men (and culture and tradition, of course) control and restrain straight women. A gender equal utopia from this point of view will emerge when straight men have been successfully convinced to stop controlling straight women. Essentially, this was the recently expressed position of UN Good Will Ambassador Emma Watson.

The UN is currently working on a new global development agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that sets the standards for development for the next fifteen years. “This is the century of women”, reads the 51st goals of the UN’s current version for the SDGs. “We will not realize our full potential if half of humanity continues to be held back”.

Patriarchy is real, yes. Compared to men, women carry the brunt of violence, yes. Nevertheless, the world isn’t just divided by sex, not all humans are straight and not all men are driven by an essential craving to own or control, or even kiss, a woman. Referring to women as the held-back ‘half of humanity’ in this way echoes Nicholas Kristof. He insists women are the held back half at the same time he wants us to cheer, twice even, for sweatshops and conceive women as unexploited resources. Kristof portrays men and women as simply monolithic, adversarial and heterosexual. He sees men and women, all men and all women, as inevitably divided by patriarchy. They are not. Problematic and oppressive gendered stereotypes are not just perpetuated by possessive heterosexual men, and they don’t just hurt ‘their’ women. Homophobia, Queerphobia, Lesbophobia and Transphobia are acted out by both men and women and need to be part of the conversation. Organizations like the UN have a lot of power to correct the flawed utopias of Kristof, Arquette and the like. The new development agenda can play a huge role here. So let’s watch this space.

(Photo Credit: Zanele Muholi / The Williams College Museum of Art)

 

UK uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims

In London last week, the Joint Committee on Human Rights presented Parliament with its report, Violence Against Women and Girls. As before, the report is grim, in particular when it comes to State inaction vis-à-vis domestic violence. The authors of the report describe themselves as troubled and concerned, especially about women asylum seekers and refugees: “We heard particular concerns regarding victims with insecure immigration status, asylum seekers or refugees. These women and girls are often overlooked. Immigration policy is developed separately from policy about violence against women and girls. We urge the Government to address the gap in service provision for women with insecure immigration status and to review the use of the detained fast track process for victims of violence against women and girls.”

The abusive treatment of women asylum seekers who are in abusive relationships is State policy, not the error of overworked or unimaginative staff members. “The gap in service provision” and “the use of the detained fast track process” are not oversights. They achieve their intended goals: render efficiencies at the expense of women whose lives mean less than nothing to the State: “Throughout our inquiry we have heard about the experiences of a wide range of different groups of women including those with particular needs, for example women seeking asylum or refugees, women with learning difficulties, women from black and minority ethnic communities and women from communities of belief or religion.”

The treatment of women asylum seekers and refugees in abusive relationships in the UK is in direct opposition to the treatment of women in post-disaster zones: “We are concerned that, during the time it takes for a spouse suffering from violence to regularise their immigration status, they are very often left facing destitution or having to remain in a violent relationship. We find it worrying that current Home Office policies leave people destitute during the asylum and immigration process and that this in itself leads to women being at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. This is in contrast to funding being provided by the Department for International Development to post-disaster zones which looks specifically to address such survival strategies used by women.”

In other words, what’s good for Darfur is no good for Dover. Why is that?

To answer that, the report analyzes the fast track detention system; the culture of disbelief; and the lack of gender sensitivity; and concludes: “Despite the Minister’s assurances, we are disturbed by the evidence we received that the routine use of male interpreters, the operation of fast-track detention system and the reported culture of disbelief within the Home Office all result in victims suffering further trauma whilst seeking asylum or immigration to the UK. We find this unacceptable.”

We find this unacceptable. “This” is the systematic behavior and public policy of the State. The report has been described as demonstrating a failure: “UK failing to protect female domestic violence victims”; “Trapped with your abuser: How the Home Office fails domestic violence victims.” The Home Office didn’t fail; it achieved its stated goals. Calling it failure is an alibi. Rather say this: UK refuses to protect female domestic violence victims. How the Home Offices violates domestic violence victims. How the State uses destitution and violence to `protect’ women domestic violence victims. We find this unacceptable.

 

(Photo Credit: Asylum Aid)

In Zimbabwe, Samukelisiwe Mlilo says NO to the criminalization of women living with HIV

Samukelisiwe Mlilo and lawyers from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights went to court this week to challenge the constitutionality of a Zimbabwean law that criminalizes “HIV transmission.” The story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo is the story of one woman in one household, and it is the story of criminalization of HIV transmission as part of a global assault on women.

On every continent, countries have passed laws that criminalize something called intentional HIV transmission. Each time, the law is draped in the language of protection: of society, of women, of `us’ from the monstrous `them.’ The specter that haunts these laws, however, is not predatory monsters, but rather women.

In Zimbabwe, the law that adjudicates “deliberate transmission of HIV” is Section 79 of the Criminal Law Code: “Deliberate transmission of HIV: Any person who, knowing that he or she is infected with HIV; or realising that there is a real risk or possibility that he or she is infected with HIV; intentionally does anything or permits the doing of anything which he or she knows will infect, or does anything which he or she realises involves a real risk or possibility of infecting another person with HIV, shall be guilty of deliberate transmission of HIV, whether or not he or she is married to that other person, and shall be liable to imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years.”

This law sits at the intersection of legal arguments, made last week by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, which point to the unconstitutional vagueness of the language of the law; and women’s lived lives, call it the existential tragedy, which is the story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo. Both the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Samukelisiwe Mlilo argue that the law targets women.

Samukelisiwe Mlilo is 36 years old, a mother of three young children, HIV positive, separated from her husband. In August 2009, Mlilo was pregnant with her second child. She went in for prenatal care, and was found to be HIV positive. She struggled to accept her status, and then, fairly quickly, informed her then-husband. At first, things were ok, but soon the two began fighting. According to Samukelisiwe Mlilo, her husband became violent and physically abusive, but he did stick around and help with childcare, after the second child was born. Finally, in 2010, Samukelisiwe Mlilo went to the police, reported her husband’s abuse, got a restraining order, and they formally separated. Her husband was given visitation rights, and so the fighting and abuse continued. When the two separated, Samukelisiwe Mlilo was three month pregnant, which neither she nor her husband knew. He rejected the child, who was born June 2011. Then, out of the blue:

One day I was summoned to Entumbane police station to answer charges of deliberately and knowingly infecting him with the HIV virus. I informed the policeman that I disclosed my HIV status to this man who accepted it. Now he is lying saying I didn’t disclose my status to him because we had separated. Honestly I did not know what was happening … I had no one to ask to take care of my children. I stayed alone with my children and the child minder. There was no one to take care of my children … It was difficult, especially when the case was covered in the newspapers. I could not work. I could not face my co-workers. I requested for emergency leave, which was denied. I was forced to interact with people, despite the difficult situation I was in. People were calling me names. It was indeed a difficult time. At that time I was also supposed to continue looking after my children. I had to face people and attend to phone calls from relatives, who had seen the story in the paper. If I had not been a woman, I would not have faced any of these challenges.”

Due to requirements women face when accessing antenatal care, women more regularly learn their HIV status. Thus, the burden of informing has been placed largely on women, and women then have to do the calculus. Around the world, women who inform their partner that they are HIV positive often face violence and death, expulsion, homelessness, stigma, and poverty. Additionally, they are more often than not left to care for the children on their own in a hostile environment.

Criminalization adds two elements to this toxic brew. First, it allows for the violation of the right to privacy and confidentiality. We should not know Samukelisiwe Mlilo’s name, but `thanks’ to the criminalization laws, we do. The second toxic element is prison. While prison for any woman is a terrible thing, her imprisonment is a living death sentence for her children.

Last week, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights released a video telling the story of Samukelisiwe Mlilo, and of women around the world. It concludes: “Say NO to criminalisation of HIV. Criminalisation harms women.” In the words of Samukelisiwe Mlilo, “If I had not been a woman …” Being a woman is not and cannot become a crime.

 

(Video Credit: YouTube / Zimbabwe Lawyers Committee for Human Rights / HIV Justice Network)

The cruel and usual treatment of women in jails

In the United States, jails are filling up, with particularly catastrophic consequences for women. Caging more and more women in jails for longer and longer periods of time is how the State protects its interests … and `its women.’

The Vera Institute released a report last week on the misuse of jails in the United States. It details the ways in which jails have become the repository for the poor, mentally ill, of color. For women, the situation is dire: “Serious mental illness, which includes bipolar disorder, schizophre­nia, and major depression, affects an estimated 14.5 percent of men and 31 percent of women in jails—rates that are four to six times high­er than in the general population … While most people with serious mental illness in jails, both men and women, enter jail charged with minor, nonviolent crimes, they end up staying in jail for longer periods of time. In Los Angeles, for example, Vera found that users of the Department of Mental Health’s services on average spent more than twice as much time in custody than did the general custodial population—43 days and 18 days respectively … Although women still make up a relatively small proportion of the jail population—14 percent in 2013— their share has been steadily increasing, up from 11 percent since 2000 … In 2005, 79 percent of women in jail were mothers, with nearly 250,000 children between them.”

The key here is serious mental illness affects 31 percent of women in jails. Mental illness has a gender here, and it’s women. Somehow, that salient feature drops out of the various news reports, which focus on the warehousing and punishing of the poor for their poverty and often of people of color for their race and ethnicity. Women, mostly poor, mostly women of color, and an extraordinarily high number of whom are living with mental illnesses, are being piled into jails across the country, in increasing numbers and for longer periods of time. As the Vera report notes, the money that pays for this adventure comes from “the same pool of tax revenue that supports schools, transportation, and an array of other public services.” So, first cut the services that might help these women, then pop them in jail, and then, in order to pay the freight, cut the services even further. And for the quarter million children, who are left behind, show no mercy.

Women haunt the entire prison project of the United States. Last month, California `celebrated’ its prison population dipping below the federally mandated level, which is 137.5 percent of capacity. So, the prison system is still overcrowded but not unconstitutionally so. The one exception here is the Central California Women’s Facility, the largest women’s prison in the world, built to house at most 2,000 prisoners. It currently has 3,383. That’s almost 170 percent of capacity, but it’s not cruel and unusual. It’s cruel and usual. The same is happening in the more than 3000 city and county jails across the country. It’s cruel and usual, and so it’s fine.

 

(Inforgraphic: Vera Institute of Justice)

A new beginning for Greece and for Europe starts today!

In Greece, the new government is bringing optimism to many. I talked with Sofia Tzitzikou the vice president of UNICEF Greece and a dedicated activist for health rights. As a pharmacist she became one of the key volunteers to run a community clinic in Athens that has served the population made destitute after the scandal of the speculative coup on Greece. The Troika was sent with no legitimacy to implement neoliberal structural adjustment program renamed austerity measures.

Sofia first said that the election of Syriza gave her a sentiment of optimism, although she was aware of external and internal powerful pressures from Capital, represented by investors and speculators of all sorts who participated to the destruction of Greece.

She described the reaction in Athens after the election as full of emotion rather than pure joy. “They could not believe what happened,” she said. The evening of the election some in the streets asked, “Is it a dream?” The crowd was not jubilant as for a soccer game. Instead of honking, there was a great lucidity that there will be no magic to recovery. Sofia senses that a new solidarity has been formed through the suffering of the past years. Actually today, 70% of Greeks are convinced that the new prime minister and his team will succeed.

Certainly the women cleaners of the finance minister were aware of this new solidarity. They resisted the pressure of the establishment and challenged the previous government of Antonis Samaras that envisioned privatization and complete removal of labor protection as the future for Greece. The Supreme Court was supposed to decide their case. Instead the new government of Alexis Tsipras re-employed them immediately. It also reestablished electricity to the 300 000 households who could not afford it and raised the minimum wage to the level it was before.

People have been unified in the darkness of unemployment and attacks against unions. In this context the health care system erased about 40 % of the population from the system, immediately depriving them of medical care. Women were not guaranteed any sexual or reproductive health. To the scandal of some, women not able to deliver their babies in a safe manner.

According to Sofia, the country is in ruins and needs to rebuild.

The new government’s first symbolic action was to remove the anti riot barricades that were placed in front of the parliament to block the anti austerity demonstrators. Another immediate measure was to stop the privatization of the public domains such as the ports of Piraeus and Thessaloniki and the electricity services. They also eliminated the co-pay in public hospitals. Then, the new government declared the end of “Xenia Zeus” a program reported by Human Rights Watch as an abusive crack down on migrants. These symbolic and people-oriented decisions brought confidence needed in order to continue the necessary changes.

Sofia’s only regret is that women don’t hold any of the key ministries of new government: “That is a handicap, I don’t want to be against but it would have been more positive.” Still, Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the new Migration Minister, wants to grant Greek citizenship to all children born in Greece to end this state of no rights for migrants’ children born in Greece.

Sofia recognized that to see Zoé Konstantopoulou becoming the youngest president of the parliament elected with the greatest number of votes in the history of Greece compensated a little for the minimal women’s representation in the government. Zoé Konstantopoulou has been active on every front since her first election at the parliament. She testified in the documentary “Canaries in the Coal Mine.”

As the president of the parliament she pledged to combat corruption. She wants to reopen judicial affairs that have been unlawfully forgotten. This would end the privileges that have degraded parliament over the past years. One example of this degradation is the armaments scandal, involving German companies, occurring while pension and salaries were being amputated. Konstantopoulou is calling for transparency and participation of the social actors and the removal of the formal elite that hold no parliamentary positions. She also will reconstitute the commission on the Nazi war reparations and German debt to Greece. Her program is ambitious but she has proven in the past that she pursues what she believes to be the best for the country.

Sofia expressed confidence but warned, “The feminist movement has even more responsibility now that it can organize. It is the right time to present propositions based on solidarity.” She recognized that solidarity in Europe is crucial against neoliberal powers. Greece is showing the rest of Europe that civil society is still alive and democratic and there is an alternative to the austerity measures and the rule of the market and its oligarchs.

Sofia explained that the urgency is the questions of women’s rights and protection as they have been the first victims of the austerity measures. This is why they are joining the European Caravan of the World March of Women that is “working to build a feminist, solidarity-based economy, one that alters existing patterns of production and reproduction, distribution and consumption”. Sofia Tzitzikou concluded, “Ca commence maintenant” (“It starts today!”)

 

(Photo Credit: Lefteris Piatarakis/AP)

Domestic workers Gloria Kente, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Sumaira Salamat shake the world

Gloria Kente is a live-in domestic worker in Cape Town. In 2013, her employer’s then-boyfriend got angry with her, allegedly grabbed her, spat in her face, and screamed a racist epithet at her. Kente called the police and had him charged with assault and a violation of her human and civil rights. She called him out for hate speech and harassment. When the man tried to extend `an apology’, Kente said, “NO!” If an apology meant not going to court, not having the State fully involved, then Gloria Kente wanted no part of it. Last November, the man was found guilty, and on Friday he heard his sentence.

The man was sentenced to two years house arrest, 70 hours of community service “in the service of Black women”, successful completion of various programs addressing substance abuse, prohibition from owning any firearms and from using any substances.

Gloria Kente was not in court on Friday, but her attorney said she was happy with the sentence.

As so often happens, the news coverage of this case focuses largely on the man. Employers disrespecting and abusing domestic workers is not news. Employers disrespecting and abusing domestic workers’ rights under the law is also not news. The news is that around the world, domestic workers are saying “NO!” to abuse. Around the world domestic workers are on the move, organizing, advocating, going to court and winning civil and criminal cases, organizing unions, consolidating power for domestic workers and for women workers generally. That’s the story.

In Hong Kong today, a court found that Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s employer had indeed abused her. Her employer was found guilty of criminal intimidation, grievous bodily harm and wage theft. Again, the story is not the employer, but rather Erwiana Sulistyaningsih’s refusal to accept the veil of secrecy that enshrouds household labor. Erwiana Sulistyaningsih said “NO!” to the violence of like-one-of-the-family, and, instead, said “YES!” to workers’ right, women’s rights, migrants’ rights, humans’ rights, and every configuration thereof. As Erwiana Sulistyaningsih explained, after hearing the verdict: “To employers in Hong Kong, I hope they will start treating migrant workers as workers and human beings and stop treating us like slaves, because as human beings, we all have equal rights.”

In Lebanon, immigrant and migrant women domestic workers are organizing a union. In Pakistan domestic workers have formed their first trade union, partly as a response to increasing violence against domestic workers and partly as a response to the affirmative recognition of their combined rights and power. Last December, the Pakistan Workers Federation formed the Domestic Workers Trade Union. Of 235 members, 225 are women domestic workers. Sumaira Salamat, in Lahore, is a member: “It’s only in the last year-and-a-half that these women have finally realised the importance of what it means to become a united force. We want to be recognised as workers, just like our counterparts working in factories and hospitals are. We would also like to get old age benefits like pensions when we retire; but most of all we want better wages and proper terms of work.”

Everywhere, women domestic workers are on the move.

Remember that when you read about this court case or that decision and the abusive employer receives all or most of the attention. The days of employers owning history are over. Gloria Kente, Erwiana Sulistyaningsih, Sumaira Salamat are shaking the world up. Remember their names.

 

(Photo Credit: drum.co.za) (Photo Credit: Philippe Lopez / Agence France – Press / Getty Images) ( Photo Credit: Plan – International)

 

Where’s the outrage at Indiana’s prisons for pregnant women?

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On February 4, an Indiana jury convicted Purvi Patel, a 33-year-old woman, of two charges, feticide and neglect of a dependent. The charges are contradictory as she is accused of killing a fetus and a baby at the same time. Here’s the story.

On July 2013, Purvi Patel went to the hospital for heavy vaginal bleeding. Her condition was linked to a miscarriage, which she reluctantly admitted. During the trial, her voice was heard through a videotaped interview with the detective at the time she was in the hospital. She freely explained that she realized that she was pregnant just recently. She said she thought she was only 2 months pregnant. She then said, “It all came out.” The baby was stillborn. She did not call 911 because she was in shock. Instead, she collected the body of the fetus/baby to put it in a plastic bag and then a dumpster. The media reports insisted on the sex of the fetus, on the fact that she put the bag with the little body in a dumpster.

The question should have been why was she so hesitant? Was it because her family is very conservative and had a strong hold on her sexual life, as the father testified that he taught her not to have sex before marriage? Was it that she was afraid of the State that vilifies any woman looking to terminate unwanted pregnancy and punishes women for losing their fetus?

The police searched her cell phone and found text messages to a friend referring to abortive drugs from Hong Kong. Whether she received these drugs and used them is not clear and not proven.

None of the charges were validly demonstrated; nevertheless she was still convicted of these absurd allegations. She did not testify at her own trial, but everybody else did, including her parents.

What mattered for the state of Indiana was to criminalize this voiceless woman. And it was not the first time. Bei Bei Shuai who had attempted suicide while pregnant and consequently lost her fetus, went through the same ordeal of feticide persecution.

The court was ready to make an example despite the fact that the circumstances of her miscarriage were not that unusual. The court gathered three times more people for jury selection than for a high-level felony case. The prosecutor let people declaring their pro-life stand be part of the jury declaring that the case was not about abortion.

But the case was about women’s rights to decide to reproduce or not, to control their own body and to be safely helped by the medical system. The case was about in having women’s rights protected by the state.

Indiana is one of 38 states that have passed feticide laws. Although these laws claimed to protect pregnant women against abusive partners and against illegal abortion providers, in reality they give the State the ability to deny women of their full humanity, which includes the capacity to decide one’s fate. These laws grant the fetus greater rights than the pregnant woman.

Purvi Patel now faces a possible 6 to 20 years in prison. Her conviction demonstrates that the State will go to great lengths to downgrade the personhood of a woman instead of providing the necessary support for reproductive rights and women’s health.

Lynn Paltrow one of the coauthors of an important study on incarceration of pregnant women, declared: “Once again prosecutors in Indiana are using this very sad situation to establish that intentional abortions as well as unintentional pregnancy losses should be punished as crimes. In the US, as a matter of constitutional law and human decency, no woman should be arrested for the outcome of her pregnancy.”

Meanwhile, in France, for the celebration of the 40 years anniversary of the Veil Law that legalized abortion, the State reaffirmed its responsibility in guaranteeing free accessible abortion in a timely manner as well as women’s reproductive rights and health. In the US, women are imprisoned because they have less being-in-the-world, than something called the protection of “potential life.”

It’s the state of Indiana that should be prosecuted for failing to protect the rights of its residents. Instead of using public money to provide healthy solutions to its residents, Indiana invests in prisons for pregnant women.

Where is the outrage?

EAGLE-3

 

(Photo Credit: Kostsov/Thinkstock) (Original drawing by Pierre Colin Thibert)

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

Campsfield House: And torture survivors should not be detained

According to a report released today by HM Chief Inspectorate of Prisons: Report on an unannounced inspection of Campsfield House Immigration Removal Centre, prison is a bad place for children and survivors of torture. Compared to last year’s inspection of Harmondsworth, a real hellhole, Campsfield House is ok: “Overall, this was a very positive inspection. Staff and managers at Campsfield House should be congratulated in dealing professionally and sensitively with detainees who were going through what, for many, was a difficult and unhappy time. However, whatever the strengths of the centre, detention should not be used for children, victims of torture or anyone for unreasonable lengths of time. Further improvements to national processes are required to ensure this does not happen.”

Ian Dunt, who follows UK prison matters, responded, “Britain detains torture victims. It is happening in even the best-run and most conscientious detention centres. It is in the small print of the positive inspection reports. It is starting to become a truism – a moral inconvenience, the pothole of the human rights world.” The BBC focused on the detention of children. No one, as of yet, has focused on “unreasonable lengths of time.”

The key phrase is “national processes.” Campsfield House may have a fine staff, although there was last year’s hunger strike and the prison’s brutal response. Whether or not the conditions have improved, one imagines today’s prisoners repeating last year’s prisoners: “We want our freedom. We want our life with dignity.”

Freedom and dignity for asylum seekers is not part of “national processes,” not at the bleak hellhole of Harmondsworth or at the pastel hellhole of Campsfield House.

Consider Rule 35. According to the Home Office, “Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 sets out requirements for healthcare staff at removal centres in regards to any detained person: whose health is likely to be injuriously affected by continued detention or any conditions of detention; suspected of having suicidal intentions; and for whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture.”

For whom there are concerns that they may have been a victim of torture. There’s the rub, because no one with any authority is concerned. The Rule is clear, and its application is laid out in great detail, and none of that matters. Here’s Rule 35 at Campsfield: “Many [Rule 35 reports] merely repeated the detainee’s account and failed to provide a medical opinion, for example, on the consistencies between scarring and alleged methods of torture. Caseworkers’ responses were prompt, although sometimes dismissive, while others did not comply with Home Office policy. In two separate cases, a doctor stated that a detainee might have been the victim of torture but caseworkers maintained they should remain in detention stating that this would not impact on the detainee’s health; the impact on their health was irrelevant as Home Office policy is not to detain torture survivors. In another case, a caseworker maintained that a person should remain in detention because he ‘did not mention being tortured during your screening interview ….’ “

The Inspectorate recommends, “The Home Office should ensure that the rule 35 process provides vulnerable detainees with adequate protection. The reports should include a clinical opinion wherever possible, caseworkers’ responses should address detainees’ vulnerability and torture survivors should not be detained.”

The Home Office has no interest in ensuring protection for the vulnerable immigrant or migrant. The Home Office feels that such protections are a waste of time and money. In 2013, the Home Office was forced by the High Court to pay compensation to torture survivors for the abuse they had endured in “immigration detention centres.” The abuse was the systemic violation of Rule 35. Did anything improve after that? No.

In 2014, Women for Refugee Women documented the rampant violation of Rule 35 in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere. In 2012, Medical Justice detailed the extensive, systemic violation of Rule 35, and its impact on immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers who are survivors of torture. Throughout this period, researchers have studied the role of doctors in investigation, prevention and treatment of torture; health care for immigrant detainees; and the health implications of the state of immigration detention centres in the UK. They all found that systemic violation of Rule 35 leaves those who have somehow managed to survive torture to fend for themselves behind bars. Has anything improved as a result of the research? No.

Instead, the Home Office has responded by tightening the screws. What’s the difference between last year’s horrible Harmondsworth and this year’s not-so-horrible Campsfield House: “Routine searches of detainees’ rooms were unnecessary. Strip-searches and handcuffs were only used when justified.” We are the people who demonstrate our sense of justice, compassion and humanity by seizing those torture survivors who have struggled to move beyond the violence and throwing them into cages where strip-searches and handcuffs are used only when justified.

 

(Photo Credit: Campaign to Close Campsfield)