JUM: “We are witnesses to systematic violations of rights of the Qom community in the province of Chaco”

ARGENTINA-

Officers of the police of Chaco province (in the northeastern region of Argentina) beat, tortured and abused four young members of the Qom indigenous community in the town of Fontana. The victims had to spend the night at the precinct and were threatened and sexually abused. Their neighbors now report acts of persecution and harassment conducted by law enforcement agencies. The Federación Junta Unida de Misiones (JUM) strongly repudiates these serious cases of police brutality, calling for action to be taken immediately.

The complete statement is transcribed below:

“The conduct of police forces reminds us of the darkest times in our country’s history, when this agency took part in the perpetration of state terrorism. These events unveil the existence of discriminatory practices on the part of public institutions, which are supposed to guarantee citizens’ psychophysical safety regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic status. 

Unfortunately, these are not isolated events. The Federación Junta Unida de Misiones (JUM), which is composed of the Evangelical Church of the Disciples of Christ in Argentina (IDC), the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina (IEMA), the Waldensian Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IEVRP) and the Evangelical Church of the River Plate (IERP), has been walking side by side with indigenous peoples for 56 years now and is a witness to systematic violations of their rights in the province. JUM advocates for indigenous peoples’ comprehensive development, which entails the exercise of all their rights, especially the right of access to justice understood as a fundamental right that must be guaranteed in a democratic, participatory and egalitarian society.

Our institution and its four member churches are appalled by the persecution and violence that indigenous peoples were subjected to. These episodes, which were documented and widely spread, and are a matter of public knowledge, took place in the province of Chaco, more specifically against the Qom community in the town of Fontana. Such episodes are but another aspect of the unjust reality that our brothers and sisters are living, not only because their basic needs are not met, but also due to the presence of illnesses that arise as a consequence of governmental neglect, such as dengue, TB, Chagas and leprosy.

On the other hand, JUM has warned the provincial government on several occasions about the increasing risks faced by indigenous communities in the region, particularly of territorial and environmental conflicts in connection with extractive activities, which, in turn, directly affect rights to food, water and health. Moreover, JUM acknowledges the fundamental role of indigenous peoples in protecting nature and highlights that exercising respect towards the ties of indigenous peoples with their lands is fundamental to their existence.

Public institutions should take preventive measures and guarantee psychophysical safety of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or economic status. However, they subject members of vulnerable communities to unconstitutional discrimination, encouraging stigmatization and criminalization, ‘labeling’ them as agents in the spread of COVID-19. Regrettably, this speech is echoed by a few media. The impact on individual, social and even institutional acts is alarming.

In order to strengthen actions to prevent violence against indigenous peoples and to promote actions that guarantee that their rights be respected, we demand:

-That a conscientious, reasonable and thorough investigation be held, both administratively and through judicial proceedings, in which the responsibilities of all those involved in these episodes are determined, especially the responsibilities of those which are in charge in each area of the government;

– That the statements of Chief of Police Fernando Romero seeking to minimize these violent episodes and to classify them as mere ‘excesses’ be repudiated, and that protection of the victims be ensured;

– That all three branches of government take effective action to eradicate institutional racism. It is not enough to remove the officers involved from service and to take them to court. Public policies seeking to guarantee Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be implemented in all governmental institutions. In this same sense, and following the example set by the ‘Micaela Act’ (Act No. 27499 on Mandatory Gender Training for Members of all Three Branches of Government), it is necessary to establish mandatory training for all those holding positions in the provincial public sector on matters related to indigenous peoples, including contents of international, Argentine and provincial law on the subject.

– That during the COVID-19 pandemic the right to health in all its dimensions, understood as the highest level of psychophysical well-being, and the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, set forth by both domestic and international law, be respected in accordance with an approach encompassing interculturality, gender and intergenerational solidarity. That indigenous peoples be immediately engaged in the process of development and implementation of public policies oriented towards prevention and healthcare, through the involvement of their representative institutions.

– That measures specifically designed for indigenous peoples be taken, aimed at mitigating the socioeconomical effects of sanitary action taken during the pandemic, in compliance with the principle of equality and non-discrimination set forth in the Argentine and the provincial Constitution, with the firm belief that it is what must be done, both from a legal and a humanitarian point of view, and not as if it were a gift that is reluctantly given away.

– That, in the context of COVID-19, the government refrain from introducing legislative proposals and/or authorizing projects of extraction, exploitation or development in the surroundings of territories of indigenous peoples, due to the fact that it is not possible to carry out procedures of free, prior and informed consultation in pursuance with applicable international standards.”

Translation: Lucia Molnar, Freelance Translator. To contact him: luu.molnar@gmail.com

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