by JASS on June 24, 2021 at 6:59 am

By Laura Zúniga Cáceres

On March 2, 2016, the world suffered the murder of land defender Berta Cáceres. From that moment, those of us who took on the fight for justice pointed out that this act was aimed at stopping the struggle of the Lenca people in defense of the Gualcarque River.

The crime against our mother, Berta, occurred within the context of impunity and violence against land defenders. Early on March 3, 2016, government officials publicly asserted that the murder was a common crime, offering no evidence. But the murderers of Berta Cáceres have names—at the time, they were shareholders in DESA [the company that was building the hydroelectric project she and the Lenca communities opposed]. Today DESA remains only in name, a name stained with blood.

From the point of view of Berta’s friends and family, justice is profound: it is built by the peoples, in the communities, by moving forward in their projects to defend life and the future. It is also built by demanding that the justice institutions do their job.

This construction isn’t easy in any of these spheres. Day after day, the communities face the negative impacts of the companies, the military and the police in the territories. And challenging the institutions of justice means appealing to racist and patriarchal spaces that have never contemplated the worldviews and realities of the communities and their leaders.

Fighting for justice

The current trial against Roberto David Castillo, who served as general manager of DESA, is being carried out within the justice institutions of the state. After more than two years of delays, the public trial has entered the final phase of oral arguments, where the evidence from both sides is presented and debated. Roberto David Castillo’s direct link to Berta's murder has been amply demonstrated: recordings of telephone calls made from the cell phones of DESA employees have shown that he coordinated and provided logistics to the hitmen who murdered Berta Cáceres.

In addition, it has been proven that David Castillo transferred and ensured the execution of the orders of the masterminds of the crime to the murderers, that is to say, evidence showed his key role of liaison between those who paid for the murder and those who executed it.

But the role of the businessman was not limited to this. Berta Cáceres warned about Castillo’s training in military intelligence and, as has been seen throughout the hearings, he used this training to control and monitor her actions. In the course of the trial, different evidence has been presented that points directly to the guilt of Roberto David Castillo, but there is also evidence that shows that Castillo's work, as an attacker of the communities, is framed within the policies of dispossession towards indigenous communities that have been built since colonization and that, in recent times, were reinforced by the 2009 Coup d'état. This assassination takes place within the unequal power relations legitimized by patriarchy, racism and capitalism. The peoples know how to do justice Outside the courtroom, debates about justice also take place. These debates take place mainly in the Feminist Camp "Viva Berta" that was installed on the outskirts of the Supreme Court of Justice. The organizations established themselves declaring that "with this camp, we feminist women, fighters, defenders of life, will make a permanent presence before the judicial process that is being developed in the Supreme Court of Justice to obtain #JusticiaParaBerta and punishment for their intellectual murderers”. This camp, promoted by the National Network of Defenders of Honduras, the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH) and the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), has brought together dozens of women, men, boys and girls who from different expressions of struggle they are building the other justice: the one that the peoples know how to do. When walking through the camp one finds a circle of flowers, which surrounds a tree that at its foot has an image of our Berta, colored candles keep one of the Kids playing at Camp many fires that burn in the camp. The other fire is that of the improvised stoves that cook the food that is distributed three times a day to those who camp. After the talks that take place between bites, each person goes with their plate and cup to the sink and between soapy and bucketful of water, they take advantage of it to update themselves on the news in the camp.

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by Rosanna Langara on June 18, 2021 at 9:27 am
Almost a year ago, 20 members and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community were arrested and detained on 26 June 2020 as they led the Pride March in commemoration of the International Pride Month in Manila, Philippines. Bahaghari Philippines, together with their allies in Salinlahi (an alliance of child rights advocates), Gabriela Women’s Party, and GABRIELA were detained for five days. Holding a protest rally in Mendiola, Manila was a bold move; it was the first time that a group dared to protest near the presidential palace since COVID-19 militarist lockdown restrictions were first imposed in March 2020. 

"At its very core, Pride is, and will always be, a protest; Pride means fighting back. And so we marched to Mendiola, demanding the right to health, economic aid, and democracy,” said Carla Nicoyco, chairperson of the LGBTQ+ organization Bahaghari Philippines. Carla was among the 20 detained and charged with resistance and disobedience to authority, illegal assembly, and violation of Republic Act No. 11332, the Law on Reporting of Communicable Diseases.

The Pride 20, as the activists cameto be known, were released five days later but were further investigated, and the charges against them were only dismissed on 26 October 2020. Carla added, “We can say that we were disappointed but not surprised with the violence Pride 20 experienced under the hands of the police. We experienced different forms of torture and treatment for almost five days -- from psychological warfare to sexual harassment. We were only given a corner while male and female detainees were kept in separate quarters.”

Shortly after the group's release, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte passed the draconian Anti-Terrorism Law, which Carla granted the government "addtional jusitication for attacking its critics -- leftists or ordinary people alike." She added, “I noticed the shift in how the LGBTQ+ community in the country views Pride from something that is celebratory into something of a protest. This is a consequence of the worsening conditions of the LGBTQ+ community.

Bahaghari echoes the call of many justice groups opposing the Anti-Terrorism Law, which contains broad provisions that criminalize many forms of ordinary dissent. Bahaghari has also criticized the Philippine government for its militarized response to the pandemic and an absence of aid and support to its people. 

It was inspiring to see the overwhelming support extended by many groups and individuals, objecting to the detention of the Pride protesters, which, according to Carla, was an important factor in their release. One of the first organizations to support Pride 20 was JASS.

A day after the arrest of the Pride 20, JASS mobilized 50 local, regional, and international organizations to sign a global solidarity statement calling for the release of the Pride 20. “The global unity statement and the swift support from JASS not only provided help with our immediate needs, but it also gave us political and moral support. The messages and actions by JASS’ broader network of allies and partners were critical” said Carla. “We would not have survived if it were not for different organizations and individuals here and abroad who gave material and moral support,” Carla added. As the Pride 20 were locked up in cramped quarters with nothing to sleep on but the cold floors, JASS provided them with bedding. Upon their release, JASS also supported their healthcare needs including COVID-19 testing while in 14-day quarantine through the JASS Mobilization Fund. JASS also facilitated connections and gave recommendations to several protection organizations for their legal defense and other needs. 

After their release, the Pride 20 protesters filed a counter-charge against the police for unlawful arrest, physical injuries, and maltreatment. When the lockdown policies eased in Metro Manila, Carla and the rest of the Bahaghari continued their organizing with urban poor communities: “When the government eased  travel restrictions during lockdown, we were able to go back to the communities. With the funds from JASS, we were able to reach out and organize. The intensified attacks on activists and peasant rights organizers is fueling anger. But we are harnessing that anger and transforming it into energy.” Since then, Bahaghari established new chapters in several provinces in the country. Bahaghari’s social media pages garnered thousands of likes and followers in just a span of a few months, and it plans to continue to build the momentum through sustained online and offline mobilizing and organizing.

Recently, Bahaghari led protest actions following the killing of transgender man Ebeng Mayor. Ebeng was mutilated, raped, and murdered. His body was discovered last month. “It is a clear example of a hate crime," said Carla. "We condemn this murder. We seek justice for Ebeng. We call for the arrest and imprisonment of the perpetrators." She also called on the Philippine Congress to certify the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill. LGBTQ+ people are vulnerable to violence, especially hate crimes. "It has been 21 years since the SOGIE Equality Bill was re-filed in Congress. It remains unpassed. It is as old as Ebeng who was 21 years old,” said Carla.  

Bahaghari will once again lead the Pride protest this month. They are expecting thousands of LGBTQ+ and supporters to come out to join the demonstrations against the Duterte government’s authoritarianism and criminal negligence. Carla concluded with a rousing message addressed to the LGBTQ+ community: “Us queers have lived our days in hiding and fear. We're living in a world that does not want us to exist. Like other oppressed sectors of society, we've experienced abuse, injustice, and violence first hand. We've been handed our sorry lot by the world when we know there's a better one. But we're here. We persist against all odds. Our existence is resistance.” 

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by JASS on March 8, 2021 at 4:39 am

Women have been at the forefront of the sustained resistance to stop the military coup and demand for democracy in Myanmar. Since 1 Feb 2021, when the military seized power, people from different communities and sectors took to the streets, with women making up for 60% of the thousands protesting every day. Most women activists and feminists say that they need to win this time, otherwise, “we have no words to say to our younger generation and kids.”

Women constitute more than half of Myanmar’s 51 million population (including 135 ethnic groups). Women across ethnic groups and movements are actively and creatively leading and mobilizing people to participate in the civil obedience and seeking support from others, including lobbying the regional and international community. “I bang pots and pans, [and] never thought I would become a safety guard, but I am; the age of fear is over...We formed civilian night guards at wards to protect ourselves from armed forces. Brave women are night angels. We won’t sleep until we gain democracy in the country where I live,” says feminist, Mai T. Sui Leng. 

women garment workers march in MynamarGarment workers—70% being women—were the first among others such as medical workers, government civil servants, teachers, and their students to join the civil disobedience and call for street protests. According to Andrew Tillett-Sake, a labor organizer based in Myanmar, "The sight of industrial workers, largely young, women garment workers seem to have deeply inspired the general public, broken down some of the fear, and catalyzed the massive protests and general strike we are seeing now.” However, the resistance has come with grave consequences as military forces crackdown on protestors with violence.Among the 1,200 people arrested, 30% are women and six women were identified among the dead,” says feminist, May Sabe Phyu.

Like everywhere, feminist and women activists in Myanmar struggle with discrimination, sexual harassment, and insults. Being violated on the streets, in their communities, in their homes is not new. Facing state violence committed by “security” forces, police, military personnel, and others is not new. A labor organizer, Myo Myo Aye says, “We, the Trade Union leaders, are being targeted and we’ve been hiding because we are listed as 'wanted'. The majority of the workers don’t get leave, but they are still joining the protests, and some face termination or deduction of their salary...Worker's life is unsafe. A few of the trade union federations urged factories to close for a month but some workers disagree because they fear the loss of income.” Kyal Sin, the 19-year-old killed on 3 March 2021 in Mandalay, deeply understood the danger she was in. Known as Angel, she left a message about her blood type, a contact number, and a request to donate her body in the event of her death. The black t-shirt she wore on the day she was shot said, “Everything will be ok.”

Feminist, Mi Kun Chan Non says, “Women are facing different difficulties in the demonstration. There is evidence that sexual harassment and the world should not watch us suffer. We need the full protection of human rights especially for women’s rights.”  While there is evidence, “in this moment of crisis, it is a challenge to document clear violation cases against people and human rights defenders; let alone by age or gender. There is also not much analysis written about the situation and harassment of women activists during the protests. But this is important to do,” says feminist Tin Tin Nyo.

activist_MyamnarAn activist and a woman lawyer, Daw Zar Li Aye says “This is the time for us to unite [in] solidarity regardless of gender and sexual orientation, religion and social status...As a woman lawyer, even just providing legal service to the people is challenging...but we, women lawyers, stand tall in our ethical duties to provide legal support even in front of prisons! Our role is to protect the human and legal rights of people. This is the time to respect each other, even a little thing we can do [adds] a little more relief and hope.”

The military coup has also ignited new reflections and awareness regarding the 10-year transition to democracy in Myanmar among its people. “When I was young, I just cheered for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. She would be in power, and that’s what we wanted to see because we were looking at democracy not as a system, not as a collective thing, but more like a person. Having that person in power meant we lived in a democratic country. No, that was clearly the wrong idea, and I think people are starting to realize that. We are sick of personality-based politics and personality cults,” said a young feminist Thinzar Shunlei Yi.  

The coup has also given the people a clear view of the corporate actors supporting the military. As the feminist, Thinzar Shulei Yi urges the international community, “to support Myanmar, look at the Dirty List of companies supporting the military junta’s businesses and pressure these companies to stop working with junta.” And here is the list of countries involved in training and cooperation with Burmese military.

People outside Myanmar are paying attention. Some are closing their eyes and their mouths. Some, heartbroken to see young people every day killed in the streets, injured, detained, are trying to support in different ways. Those looking in, admire the young people’s courage, their sacrifice, their deep organizing; their strong stand to release Myanmar from the grip of the military.

The people, women, LGBTs and youth in Myanmar are organizing beyond the current crisis into the future, for a real democracy, by calling for the amendment of the Myanmar constitution to remove military power. Their ways of organizing and building the mass movement clearly demonstrate an understanding that democracy does not come from one person, or one political party, but collectively from the people’s power. “Unity among the people of Myanmar is very strong; so is unity among WHRD [women human rights defenders]… We people have to win,” says Mi Kun Chan Non.

Today on International Women’s Day, women in Myanmar, “Choose to Challenge Dictatorship”.  Stand and fight with Myanmar women and people…until we win.


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