Panels discuss economic, gender and indigenous rights

By on November 4, 2008

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, Quinnipiac was host to a conference on human rights, gender issues and the rights of indigenous peoples on Oct. 28.

There were several panel discussions, featuring both Quinnipiac professors and guest speakers.

The first discussion, addressing human rights in the United States, featured Political Science Chair Sean Duffy and Visiting Schweitzer Professor of Philosophy Anat Bilezki. Duffy was critical of the lack of economic rights in America today, as well as the United States’ use of force in an attempt to spread human rights abroad.
“We promote [human rights] in a way that actually makes people’s lives worse,” Duffy said.

He also criticized the lack of a living wage in the U.S. and the pay gap between men and women.

Afterwards, Bilezki reminded those in attendance that while the U.S. may not be perfect, “it’s heaven here compared to many places in the world.” However, she did say that the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. was disturbing.

Immediately afterwards was a discussion about violence against women and other gender issues. The speakers were Anna Sandoval, a native Guatemala and Assistant Professor at Simmons, Sandra Koorejian, Executive Director of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, and Lori Sudderth, chair of the Sociology Department of Quinnipiac.

Among the topics discussed were violence against women in Central America and domestic violence in Connecticut.
The third discussion of the day focused on the frequent murders of young women along the U.S.-Mexico border. The speakers were Lourdes Portillo, a filmmaker, and Norma Ledezma, the mother of one of the murdered girls and coordinator of Justice for Our Daughters, an organization dedicated to stopping the killings and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

In Juarez alone, between 200 and 500 girls have been killed. Portillo made a documentary film about the killings called “Señorita Extraviada.” Before the discussion, a 10 minute clip of the film was shown.

Portillo said that the Mexican government and local authorities were both complicit in the attacks. Furthermore, she claimed that they attempted to hinder her documentary.
“The authorities never gave me a decent interview,” she said. “They always lied.”
Through an interpreter, Ledezma told the story of her daughter Poloma’s disappearance and the subsequent investigation.

Eventually, Ledezma broke down, saying, “for me it’s very hard when I am facing youth such as you, because Poloma was like you, and they broke her wings.”

During the question and answer portion, Portilla said that drug trafficking is the root cause of the murders. She told the audience, “when you have an opportunity to take a drug, think of the journey it took to get to you, and the lives it has ruined along the way.”

The final discussion of the conference was on the rights of indigenous peoples. The speakers were Ronald Beckett, a professor of Biomedical Sciences at Quinnipiac and an expert of mummification, Mark Camp, the Director of Operations of Cultural Survival, a nonprofit group that defends the human rights of indigenous peoples, and TONYA Frichner, a professor at Manhattanville and member of the Iroquois nation.

Beckett began by giving a presentation on his recent trip to Papua New Guinea, where he helped members of the Anga tribe restore their mummified ancestors.

Beckett said that mummies were important because they aren’t “history written by the conquerors. It’s history written on their bones.”

Camp then discussed the violation of indigenous people’s rights in Central America, focusing on a couple specific examples in which he was involved. In Panama, he is trying to fight the building of hydroelectric dams on native land. He said indigenous people are often tricked into selling their land, as they don’t really have a concept of land ownership. He also discussed his work helping indigenous community radio stations in Guatemala, where they are currently illegal.

Frichner talked about the U.N. Declaration of Indigenous Rights, which the U.S. was one of only four countries to vote against. She also discussed the taking of native lands by the federal government, which she said all citizens should be concerned about, because it is a small jump from seizing native lands to seizing anyone else’s through imminent domain.

The panel concluded with Frichner giving a warning to all those in attendance that, “this endless cycle of consumption is going to do you in and it promises to destroy the world.”

She said that in order to change things, it is “time to end business as usual.”


About Matt Ciepielowski