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NLG Files Petition Against U.S. For Human Rights Violations in Vieques
San Juan, Puerto Rico and New York – The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) and four legal and human rights groups filed a petition on September 23 before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) against the United States for severe human rights violations in the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. For over 60 years, the United States Navy bombed and used biological and chemical warfare on Vieques as part of its military practices, causing decades of continuous contamination of the land, sea and air. As a result of the Navy’s actions, residents suffer disproportionately from diseases like cancer, hypertension, and respiratory illnesses. The Caribbean Institute for Human Rights (ICADH), the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, Western New England School of Law and the Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses joined the NLG on the brief.
“The United States must finally be made to answer for its legacy of grave human rights violations committed on Vieques, la Isla Nena. Generations of families continue to suffer from chronic and serious health conditions as a result of their toxic environment. These violations must no longer be granted impunity,” said NLG attorney and co-chair of its International Committee Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan, who jointly represents the ten victims filing the petition. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is based in Washington D.C. and is an autonomous and independent body of the Organization of American States.
Petitioners, who are ten residents of Vieques that have either had cancer or whose family members have had cancer or respiratory illnesses, claim that the United States has violated their human rights for over 60 years, including the fundamental right to health, life, work, freedom of movement and residence, access to information and lack of access to justice as recognized under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. They are demanding that the United States government, as well as the government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, be held responsible for the failure to respect, protect and fulfill their human rights obligations. “The government of Puerto Rico assures the wellbeing of all Puerto Ricans, but Viequenses are consistently forgotten about by our own government, compounding the egregious harm caused to us by the U.S. Navy,” said Zaida Torres, one of the petitioners and Co-Director of the Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses.
Although the military base was closed in 2003, most of the land expropriated by the Navy still remains under the control of the United States and is not fit to be repopulated. To date the Navy has not released the full record of the artillery used in Vieques for military exercises, as either practiced by the United States or other countries to which the base was leased for their own military practices.
The National Lawyers Guild is a national bar association founded in 1937 comprised of lawyers, legal workers, law students, and jailhouse lawyers. NLG lawyers have represented activists and residents of Vieques for 30 years, including those who committed civil disobedience to remove the Navy from the island.