Amnesty International on Oct. 16 called on Venezuela to halt an "escalating campaign of attacks and harassment against human rights activists," noting that President Nicolás Maduro has repeatedly criticized the work of rights organizations and workers in recent weeks. In a televised speech Aug. 21, he attacked Marino Alvarado of local human rights group PROVEA, portraying the organization as in league with the right-wing Opposition. A few weeks later, on Oct. 1, armed men attacked Alvarado in his doorway as he arrived home with his nine-year-old son. An investigation has been launched and the Public Ministry has requested protection measures for him and his family. (AI, Oct. 16)
The U'wa Nation claimed a victory Oct. 15 as it received an admissibility report by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) allowing its case against Colombia to move forward, recognizing that the indigenous group can seek the Commission's help in defending its traditional territory. Although the U'wa have successfully defeated multiple oil and gas projects in the nearly two decades since they first filed their complaint with the Commission, the report recognizes that winning these battles does not end the overall complaint with the Colombian government, which does not fully recognize the U'wa people's rights to their territory. In a statement released after the decision, the U'wa organization Asou'wa said: "Our U'wa Nation has been heard by the natural law, our ancestors and gods that guide and govern our thinking to safeguard, protect and care for our mother earth; while there are U'wa people, we will continue resisting in defense of our ancient rights."
The Iranian military presence in Syria has rapidly escalated in recent days, with hundreds of fresh troops reported to be arriving at an airport in Latakia governorate already being used by Russian warplanes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Oct. 15 that its observors on the ground noted the arrivals at Bassel al-Assad International Airport (named for the current dictator's son), near Jableh. The report comes as the Syrian army has launched a major offensive north of the strategic city of Homs. The report comes a day after Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, met the Syrian parliament speaker in Damascus. "If Syria makes a request [for Iranian forces], we will study the request and make a decision," Boroujerdi told AFP before the meeting. "Iran is serious about the fight against terrorism. We have supplied aid and weapons and sent advisers to Syria and Iraq." (Al Jazeera, Oct. 15)
A lawsuit challenging the New York Police Department's surveillance of Muslims can proceed, the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled Oct. 13, opening the way for a trial on the constitutionality of spying on New Jersey mosques, schools and businesses. Likening the surveillance program to the treatment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the Third Circuit found that it was based "on the false and stigmatizing premise" that Muslim religious identity 'is a permissible proxy for criminality." Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed the suit in 2012 on behalf of 11 individuals or organizations, including business owners, students and a decorated Iraq war veteran, who said they had been harmed by the surveillance. Plaintiffs alleged that NYPD detectives monitored stores, schools, restaurants and at least 20 mosques in Paterson, Newark, Rutgers University, and other New Jersey locations. The surveillance program, ostensibly suspended last year, was first reported in a Pulitzer-winning Associated Press series. The Third Circuit reversed a February 2014 dismissal of the suit, remanding it to a US District Court in New Jersey.
President Barack Obama formally notified Congress Oct. 14 that 90 US troops have been mobilized to Cameroon—the first contingent of a 300-strong force to assist in the struggle against Boko Haram. The force will conduct airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, but will not participate in ground combat operations (except in self-defense). Unarmed surveillance drones will also be deployed. The Pentagon said the move came at the invitation of Cameroon's government, which has been headed by strongman Paul Biya since 1982. Cameroon is part in a joint regional task force to fight Boko Haram along with Chad, Niger and Benin. (Foreign Policy, VOA, BBC News, AP, Oct. 14)
Okinawa's Gov. Takeshi Onaga on Oct. 13 revoked the approval issued by his predecessor for a landfill to relocate the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a new site at the island's Cape Henoko. Sit-in protestors in front of Camp Schwab Marine Base at Henoko rejoiced as the announcement came over a live radio broadcast. Some took over the roadway to perform the island's traditional Kachashi dance in jubilation. Hiroji Yamashiro, director of the Okinawa Peace Movement Center, voiced defiance of anticipated efforts by Japan's central government to override the decision: "We will not lose to the governments of Japan and the United States. With the governor, we will continue to struggle to stop construction of the new US base." In March, Gov. Onaga had issued a stop-work order on the relocation, which the central government overruled. Protesters are demanding that the US Marines leave Okinawa entirely. (Kyodo, Oct. 14; BBC News, Ryukyu Shimpo, Oct. 13)
On Sept. 26—one year anniversary of the disappearance of 43 students in Mexico's southern state of Guerrero—thousands of protesters filled the streets of Mexico City. The march, led by parents of the missing students, made its way from Los Pinos, the presidential residence, to the Zócalo, the capital's massive central square. Protests were also held in Iguala, Guerrero, where the 43 students from a teachers' college in nearby Ayotzinapa were abducted one year ago. Many carried mass-produced placards that read "Ni un desaparecido más, Ni un muerto más—¡¡Fuera Peña Nieto!!"—"Not one more disappearance, not one more death—Out with Peña Nieto!!" The administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto is under growing pressure in the case. There have now been 110 arrests of members of the Guerreros Unidos narco-gang, named by the government as responsible in the mass abduction. But there have been no convictions. The government says the students were massacred by the drug gang, and claims two sets of remains have been identified. But survivors, activists and rights observers say the official story doesn't hold water.
Indigenous leaders and activists interrupted an auction of oil and gas exploration blocs overseen by the Brazilian Agency of Oil and Gas in Rio de Janeiro Oct. 7, seizing the stage to discuss climate change, indigenous rights and divestment. The intervention by indigenous leaders in face-paint and traditional head-dresses was followed by a delegation of unionized oil workers who also spoke against the auction. The auction was described as a failure by local media, with only 37 of the 266 blocs sold. Many of fracking blocs extend deep into the Amazon rainforest, including the territories of remote and vulnerable indigenous peoples. The most critical blocs for isolated indigenous peoples are in the Juruá Valley and Serra do Divisor of Amazonas state, and the Javari Valley of Acre. Registered bidders included BP, Shell and ExxonMobil. (EcoWatch, Oct. 9; Brasil ao Minuto, Oct. 7; The Ecologist, Oct. 6)