Coming Face to Face with the Victims of Mining Oppression

It was an interesting situation, one I don’t often find myself in. A few of my colleagues from Operation Groundswell and I were having dinner with five Mayan Q’eqchi people from the communities of El Estor, Guatemala. I don’t speak Spanish nor do our guests speak English. And yet, there we were, sharing a meal together. Through awkward smiles and broken Spanish (on my part, at least), we exchanged names and warm greetings. We dug into pupusas, burritos, black bean soup while trying to converse through a mix of hand gestures, our translators, and more smiles. As lovely as the encounter was, I wish I had met these wonderful people under very different circumstances…

Angelica, German, Margarita, Maria, and Rosa were not in Toronto as part of some citywide tour or vacation. They were not here to enjoy the culture and sights our city has to offer. No. They are all victims of extreme human rights violations by Canadian company Hudbay Minerals—a company accused of forcibly evicting local indigenous communities in Guatemala. And they were here to give testimony on three precedent-setting civil negligence suits concerning the gang rape of eleven Q’eqchi women, the assassination of community leader Adolfo Ich (Angelica’s husband), and the shooting and paralyzing of German.

They shared their pained experiences with us, explaining their purpose for coming to Canada as just one step in their long and bitter fight for justice. Though a colleague spoke enough Spanish to translate, we really didn’t need an interpreter to feel the grief and sorrow these people had endured and carried everyday in their hearts.

We hear stories of these human rights violations everyday. But that’s all they really are. Stories. Abstractions so removed from our daily life. It’s a harrowing but necessary experience to come face to face with the people behind these stories and to realize that these are not isolated cases taking place in just one small, remote community. From Guatemala to Honduras and beyond, conflicts and violence involving foreign mining companies abound. 

Action needs to come from the Guatemalan government to uphold rule of law and put an end to the poisonous culture of impunity, but also from the Canadian government that allows the actions of these corporations. For instance, the Canadian International Development Agency has established development projects in partnership with the very same mining corporations responsible for these human rights violations as well as environmental degradation.  

As non-profit organization MiningWatch stated, “Aid money is meant to address poverty, not to promote the commercial interests of Canadian mining companies. Nor should it subsidize the obligations of mining companies to provide benefits to affected residents and rehabilitate damaged environments”.

If we are to demand change and action, we must begin at home.

Take action against mining oppression in Guatemala through Amnesty International's Write for Rights campaign and

International Day to End Impunity

The first ever International Day to End Impunity was observed in the Philippines with particular fervour as it also marked the second anniversary of the most brutal attack on the press and on democracy. The Ampatuan town massacre of 2009 saw some 58 civilians murdered, 32 of which were journalists. Human rights advocates, students, lawyers, and the media marched towards Malacañang Palace to demand justice for the many slain journalists who were killed in the line of duty and whose murderers and masterminds continue to go unpunished.

The following photos are just a glimpse of November 23rd...

Ending the Cancer of Impunity

November 23rd marks the International Day to End Impunity, a call to demand justice for the many journalists around the world who have been killed for exercising their right to freedom of expression and whose perpetrators are exempted from punishment and penalty. I've been working with a media monitoring NGO called the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), an organization that has been actively involved in organizing events and raising awareness of the growing culture of impunity within the Philippines. 

To give you some background, let me tell you that the media have been a cornerstone in the nation’s struggle for independence, democratization and justice. And until recently, the Philippines has been heralded as having the freest press in Asia, with a rich history of a thriving and rambunctious press system that can be traced back to its revolutionary movement against the Spaniards. At the end of the 19th century, La Solidaridad, a newspaper published in Spain by leading Filipino intellectuals, served as an instrument of expression for the revolutionary sentiment against the Spanish and the Filipino cause for change and independence. Similar to its role in inciting revolutionary sentiments at the end of the 19th century, the Philippine press was also crucial in the People Power Revolution of 1986 that ultimately toppled the Marcos regime. And after being silenced for years under a dictatorial government, the media flourished...

The right to the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press has always been enshrined in the Philippine constitution. Despite this, however, the press, at least in its current state, is an incredibly weak institution that faces intractable challenges, none more so than the culture of impunity. Unpunished violence against the media has soared since the years after the Marcos regime fell, especially during the years of the Arroyo administration. As journalist Lin Neumann once wrote for the Committee to Protect Journalists, the "damage done by Marcos' martial law remains. By dismantling the structure of the press built up over previous decades, Marcos weakened the professionalism and ultimately politicized the media to a staggering degree", creating a climate of fear that continues to be a powerful force in the Philippine press. 

Defined by CMFR's Deputy Director Luis Teodoro as “the way some societies ignore, permit or even encourage various forms of violence against journalists as well as their harassment and intimidation, and allow these to go unpunished”, the culture of impunity has truly dominated the Philippines in recent years. From being praised as having the freest press in Asia, the Philippines’ reputation has suffered, becoming the second most dangerous place in the world for media workers, only behind Iraq. Since 1986, 123 journalists and media workers have been killed in the line of duty and only 10 convictions have been carried out for these killings.

This near zero arrest, trial, and conviction of killers is fueling the culture of impunity that is stifling the freedom of expression, of speech, and of the press in the Philippines. It is no surprise then that its position on RSF's Press Freedom Index of 2010 dropped precipitously to 156th place out of the 178 countries included in the ranking, officially joining the ranks of infamously repressive states such as China, Iran, Burma, and North Korea.  This culture of impunity not only threatens the lives of its media workers but also impinges on every Filipino’s right to freedom of expression.

The change in administration to Noynoy Aquino, the son of revolutionary icons Benigno and Corazon Aquino, reignited hope...but after more than a year in office, the killings continue. Six journalists have been killed under his administration and the lack of strong action and major shift in policy to end impunity leaves the country wanting in justice...

The road is long and no single government agency or NGO can act alone to definitely end what has become, if I may again borrow from our hero Rizal, a cancer of this society. But let this first Day to End Impunity be the beginning of a real and effective treatment against this deadly disease...

To learn more about the Day to End Impunity, visit
To learn more about impunity in the Filipino context, visit

Reporting on Rights Radio

This week, I checked in with my pals at Journalists for Human Rights on Right Radio to report on the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility's (CMFR) work in the lead up to November 23rd, the International Day to End Impunity. Have a listen below to learn more about what's going on here in the Philippines...

Also, on this week's Rights Report goes global to look at censorship in countries around the world. The folks at jhr speak to RSF, Reporters Without Borders, about their Censorship Paradise campaign targeting holiday countries where media is heavily censored. The show goes to Cuba to look at the work of censored blogger Yoanni Sanchez, then off to Mexico, where reporters are continually being killed. Finally, the Rights Report lands in Vietnam and the Philippines (that's me!), where the media is fighting acts of impunity.