Maya women in Guatemala have taken legal action to defend huipiles, their traditional textiles, against mass-produced versions. This could set a precedent for the protection of collective intellectual property rights.
An organisation that unites over 1,000 mainly Maya women in Guatemala has expressed alarm that indigenous handicrafts, textiles called “huipiles” in particular, are under threat because underpriced industrial fabrics appropriating indigenous patterns have flooded the Guatemalan market, depriving many native women of their main source of income.
Collective intellectual propertyIn May 2016 the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), a grassroots movement against gender inequality in Guatemala, brought a motion to the Constitutional Court that indigenous textiles should receive protection under the Constitution, which guarantees to “recognise, respect, and promote [indigenous] forms of life, customs, traditions”.
To counter mass-produced textiles, in November 2016 AFEDES proposed a legislative reform that would recognise the notion of collective intellectual property and acknowledge indigenous peoples as collective authors of their cultural heritage. The bill would thus protect Maya weavers from plagiarism of their patterns – a phenomenon frequently occurring in the fashion industry – and result in their right to receive royalties for their commercial use. The bill, number 5247, has been officially accepted to debate and awaits Congress’ consideration.
Guatemala is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), a UN agency that protects intellectual property internationally, and has enacted a number of provisions on the matter but hasn’t regulated the collective intellectual property, even though 51 per cent of the country’s population belongs to the Maya group, whose cosmovision is grounded in the idea of collectivity.
Maya women’s fightIn fact, this isn’t the first time indigenous groups demand recognition of their collective intellectual property rights. For instance, in 1999 the Union of Yagé Healers of the Colombian Amazon insisted on recognizing yagé, a traditional spiritual brew used in rituals and medicine, as belonging to the collective traditional wisdom of indigenous peoples. They were primarily motivated by the urgency to stop the devastating commercialisation of traditional plants that profaned their culture.
Likewise, Maya weavers emphasise that their textiles are a key expression of their cultural and spiritual identity with patterns incorporating spiritual elements, for example from the Mayan calendar, and their fight embodies their struggle for indigenous empowerment. “Although from a Western perspective the act of producing our own clothes … is synonymous to backwardness or poverty, for us it constitutes the road to free self-determination of our communities,” AFEDES organiser Angelina Aspuac said during a Constitutional Court hearing.
“We are the daughters of the grandmothers who wouldn’t die … They live in the universe of our textiles,” Aspuac added, to emphasise the cultural continuity that huipiles safeguard.
The Mayan population was the principal victim of the civil war that ravaged Guatemala between 1960 and 1996. Out of the estimated 200,000 people killed or who disappeared during the conflict between the government and leftist guerrillas, 83 per cent were of Maya origin. And by intensifying efforts to regain control over their cultural heritage, not only do indigenous people symbolically reclaim their cultural agency and settle the past, but also embark on a battle over the empowerment they deserve in the new social order.
Published on LifeGate on July 4, 2017.
The associations Sherpa, the Collectif des Parties Civiles pour le Rwanda (CPCR) and Ibuka France launched a complaint against BNP Paribas on the basis of complicity in genocide, in crime against humanity and in war crimes. The bank would have agreed to transfer in June 1994, one month after the UN had voted an arms’ embargo and during the genocide, 1.3 million dollars from an account of its client, the National Rwandan Bank (BNR in French) to the Swiss account of an arms’ South African dealer, Mr Ehlers.
Mr. Ehlers would have then gone to the Seychelles with a Hutu colonel Mr Théoneste Bagosora to agree upon the sale of eighty tons of arms, on June 17th, which would then have been transported to Gisenyi (Rwanda) via Goma (Zaire). During his audition in front of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), the colonel Bagosora confirmed that weapons coming from the Seychelles via Goma served to “give a hand to Kigali”.
Further, the Brussels Lambert Bank (BBL in French) had refused the request to use the funds of the Commercial Bank of Rwanda (BCR in French) refusing to violate the embargo. According to the testimony of a person posted by the BBL in Rwanda, the banking sector, who already was under the obligation to inquire that its clients explain the destination of the funds under unusual circumstances, knew “the Rwandan government had a crucial need for fund […] it was clear for everyone that they had to buy weapons and ammunition. The Rwanda was under an embargo”. According to him, The BNP would have been the only bank who had agreed to provide financial resources to Rwanda.
Thus, according to the number of testimonies and investigation reports, such as the UN International Investigation Commission, the proceeding would prove that the BNP knew necessarily the destination of the funds and knew it could contribute to the ongoing genocide.
This is the first time such a complaint is initiated against a bank in France on such a legal basis. If the facts were to be proven, it would highlight the potential responsibility of investors in armed conflicts and more generally in serious violation of human rights. “The duty of care as adopted on the 21st of February 2017, as applied to financial institutions, should prevent their implication in such violations” declares Sandra Cossart, Program Director at Sherpa.
Published on Sherpa on June 29, 2017.
By Jesselyn Cook
Mexican authorities discovered the charred remains of Salvador Adame’s body this week, more than a month after a group of armed assailants reportedly abducted the veteran TV reporter in the crime-plagued state of Michoacán.
Halfway through the year, Adame’s death brings to seven the 2017 toll of slain press workers in Mexico ― now among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists. This grim figure includes at least four reporters who were killed in direct retaliation for their work, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Adame’s colleague described him to CPJ as a “a frequent critic of municipal officials” who covered regional news and politics as the director of local channel 6TV. His killing follows a worsening trend of targeted threats and violence against media professionals in the drug-torn nation.
Targeting And Silencing Journalists
Months earlier, Miroslava Breach Velducea, a crime reporter for national newspaper La Jornada, was killed outside her home in the northern state of Chihuaha. An unknown gunman shot her eight times in front of one of her children.
Breach Velducea’s death, “in a calculated act of extreme violence, has left the best journalism of Chihuahua severely injured, showing the seriousness of the failure of the state that has bled with the impunity of corrupt leaders and criminals for years,” La Jornada wrote in her obituary. “It’s not the death of one more journalist ― it’s the death of our society, which bit by bit has become accustomed to the assassination of its best people, silencing them in all sorts of ways.”
The attacker reportedly left a note at the scene of Breach Velducea’s killing, that read: “For being a snitch.”
CPJ data reveals that the majority of slain reporters in Mexico in recent decades had focused their news coverage on issues of crime and corruption ― most of whom are believed to have been killed in acts of retaliatory repression by criminals seeking to silence their critics.
And in many ways, they’ve succeeded.
“Fear and self-censorship by journalists remains very, very strong,” Emmanuel Colombié, Latin America director for Reporters Without Borders (or Reporters sans frontières), told HuffPost. Some reporters have fled Mexico and others have quit the industry as a result of targeted threats and violence against members of the Mexican press, he noted.
In the border state of Tamaulipas, for example, “there are very few journalists remaining,” Colombié said. “Any kind of news has to be based on the official statements and press releases from the government.”
On its annual World Press Freedom index, RSF ranks Mexico 147th out of 180 countries, due to its “pervasive corruption accounting for impunity.”
Corruption And Impunity
The kidnappings and assassinations of journalists in Mexico often go unpunished due a thriving cycle of corruption and impunity, according to CPJ.
“Endemic impunity allows criminal gangs, corrupt officials and cartels to silence their critics,” the organization explained in a special report released in May.
High-level corruption and organized crime including raging cartel violence have long tarnished Mexico’s ongoing drug war. But these issues, while rampant and newsworthy, have become particularly dangerous for journalists to report on.
“At the local level in certain states, the cartels can have direct influence on the political institutions,” Colombié explained. “They can directly give orders to the local authorities. In some states, powerful governors use their connections with local organizations to punish journalists investigating any kind of topic that can negatively impact them. It’s a very complex situation.”
State governors are among Mexico’s least reputable public authorities, according to a 2017 report by the International Crisis Group. At least 11 governors have been investigated since 2010 for corruption, including fraud, money laundering, nepotism and links to drug cartels.
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Wake up to the day's most important news.“Obviously, if those responsible for these crimes against journalists aren’t caught and brought to justice, this will only continue,” Colombié said. “If we don’t fight impunity, we won’t solve the problem, but there’s a lack of political will at the highest level to do so.”
Mexican journalist Adela Navarro Bello summarized the haunting plight of her colleagues in a sobering CPJ feature.
“Being a journalist in Mexico means learning to live in the shadow of impunity: the impunity you investigate and report on, and the impunity experienced firsthand,” she wrote. “Those who investigate corruption and impunity risk losing their sense of comfort or, worse, their lives. And after their murders, an incomplete file is the most likely end to an investigation into their deaths.”
Insufficient Response From Mexican Government
After the gruesome, public killing of award-winning drug cartel reporter Javier Valdes sparked international outrage in May, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto vowed for the first time to dedicate “the necessary resources to provide journalists and human rights defenders with the protection they need.”
“Violence against journalists and human rights defenders has opened a deep wound in our society,” he added. “What people expect is results, and a fight against impunity.”
Press freedom advocacy organizations lauded his remarks, but they have observed little real change to date and fear they could be “dutiful statements” ahead of Mexico’s 2018 presidential election.
“We welcome this statement by the president, but the important thing now is to do the follow-up,” said Colombié. “We need to see concrete action and reform to protect journalists.”
Mexico also created a special prosecutor office to investigate crimes against freedom of expression more than a decade ago, but the institution has been largely ineffective in addressing the crisis.
It opened 123 case files between February 2016 and February 2017 including 10 homicides, but it has secured only three convictions.
The agency’s ability to conduct investigations independent of state authority influence is more effective on paper than in practice, according to CPJ, and many journalists are also fearful and hesitant to report crimes against them.
“It’s a tragic reality,” Colombié said. “Journalists are scared, and they don’t trust the authorities to protect them, so they just stop working as journalists and they keep silent.”
Published on the Huffington Post on June 30, 2017.