Colombia apologizes for Amazon genocide

Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos on Oct. 12—recognized in Latin America as Día de La Raza—issued an official apology to indigenous communities in the Amazon for deaths and destruction caused by the rubber boom beginning a century ago. From 1912 to 1929 the Peruvian firm Casa Arana, led by rubber baron Julio César Arana with British backing, exploited rubber near La Chorrera in what is now Colombia's Amazonas department. Up 100,000 people were killed and communities devastated in the operations, with indigenous rainforest dwellers forced into slave labor and slain or displaced if they resisted. The situation was brought to the world's attention following an investigation by British diplomat Roger Casement, who had previously documented similar atrocities in the Belgian Congo.

US court upholds immunity for Rwanda president

The US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit on Oct. 10 dismissed a lawsuit against Rwandan President Paul Kagame alleging he ordered the killings of the former presidents of Rwanda and Burundi. The lawsuit was filed by the widows of Juvenal Habyarimana, the former president of Rwanda, and Cyprien Ntaryamira, the former president of Burundi, who were killed when their plane was shot down on approach to Rwanda. The widows have alleged that Kagame ordered the attack, which was allegedly carried out by a rebel army in Rwanda. They sought $350 million in damages. In its decision, the court ruled that Kagame is immune from suit because he is the leader of a foreign state. The court's decision upholds a district court ruling finding the same and is consistent with a suggestion of immunity filed by the US government last year.

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.

Venezuelan authorities deny Yanomami massacre

Venezuelan officials investigating a reported mass killing of Yanomami indigenous people say the have found no evidence of the attack. Minister of Indigenous Peoples Nicia Maldonado said a team travelled to the area by helicopter and failed to locate the bodies witnesses had described finding. "No evidence of any death was found," Maldonado said on state TV. "There is no evidence of murder or fire in either houses or shabonos [communal dwellings] in the communities where the alleged crime took place." Gen. José Eliecer Pinto of the National Guard told Ultimas Noticias newspaper that he had visited four indigenous communities along with other officials and that "everything is fine there." Officials expressed skepticism at claims that outlaw gold miners came across the border from Brazil to attack the settlemet from the air by helicopter.  "It would be extremely hard to do," said Gen. Rafael Zambrano, commander of the Venezuelan army unit responsible for the region.

War criminal Meles Zenawi dies a free man

We are heartened to learn that President Obama is staying away from the funeral of Ethiopia's late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose death was announced last week, instead sending a comparatively low-level delegation led by the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. (Nazret, Sept. 2) This may indicate a long-overdue distancing of Washington from Meles' odious regime, which we fear may change little with his passing. Meles, who ruled (either as president or prime minister) since 1991, made himself very useful to Washington, "renditioning" terror suspects for brutal "interrogations" in his prisons, and even now providing a military proxy force in Somalia. After Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 (with a US "green light," and probably military advisors), Meles' forces were shortly accused of war crimes by international human rights groups. (NYT, Aug. 16, 2007) Yet this now gets virtually no play in the overwhelmingly and sickeningly favorable media coverage of his legacy—contrary to Julius Ceasar, the evil Meles did is being interred with his bones.

Venezuela: Yanomami massacred by outlaw miners

Authorities in Venezuela pledge to investigate breaking reports that illegal gold miners in southern Amazonas state carried out a "massacre" of an isolated Yanomami indigenous community. Witnesses of the aftermath described finding "burnt bodies and bones" at the community of Irotatheri, Alto Orinoco municipality, near the Brazilian border in the headwaters of the Río Ocamo, an Orinoco tributary. (See iTouch Map; Venezuela political map) Blame is being placed on illegal miners, known as garimpeiros, who cross the border from Brazil to prospect for gold and have attacked indigenous peoples before.

India: more convictions in Gujarat riots

An Indian court in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city, on Aug. 29 convicted 32 individuals for their roles in the deaths of 95 people during the 2002 Gujarat riots. Among the convicted was Maya Kodnani, the minister of education and child welfare in the Gujarat government, who was arrested in 2009 on charges of murder and criminal conspiracy. She resigned from her office when she was arrested but remained as the member of the state's legislative assembly. The riots began following the death of 60 Hindus in a fire aboard a train for which Muslims were blamed. The riots resulted in death of more than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims. With the conviction, the court acquitted 29 other defendants. The court is expected to announce the sentences imminently.

ICC urged to investigate Rwanda president for arming DRC rebels

The International Criminal Court on Aug. 17 received requests to investigate Rwandan President Paul Kagame for backing armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Rwandan and Congolese advocacy groups opposed to Kagame's rule have alleged that the Rwandan leader is guilty of war crimes for helping to create and arm rebel groups in eastern DRC including M23, which has been conducting a mutiny in North Kivu province under the leadership of a particularly notorious group of human rights violators. The calls for an ICC investigation follow the release of a UN report last month detailing investigations since late 2011 that revealed substantial evidence that the Rwandan government helped create the rebel groups and supplied them with weapons, armor and recruits, including children. In June UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay estimated that the armed conflict between the DRC government and the M23 movement has displaced around 218,000 people from their homes since April, specifically mentioning five M23 leaders and describing them as the "worst perpetrators of human rights violations in the DRC, or in the world for that matter."

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