Rapa Nui people under attack from Chilean police

Dec 24, 2010

Chilean police recently attacked Rapa Nui activists on Easter Island, wounding 24 people as part of an effort to dislodge indigenous families from a disputed area. Police have shot at protestors and beaten some with batons; one protestor lost an eye according to recent accounts.

According to a press statement from the Indian Law Resource Center in Washington, D.C. – which is representing the families at an international court – this latest incident comes after a “long history of dispute over indigenous rights and unresolved land issues” between the Chilean government and the Rapa Nui, the indigenous people of the island that is famous for its giant stone statues known as Moai (which are sacred sites for the Rapa Nui).

Rapa Nui families started to occupy contested areas in August and other incidents have been reported but nothing involving bullets and batons.

However, on Dec. 3, Chilean riot police flew onto Easter Island to enforce a court order mandating the removal of Rapa Nui people who are still occupying various sites after trying to seek legal redress for their land claims.

Spokespeople for the Rapa Nui, Susana Hito and Santi Hitorangi, have been issuing press releases about the attack since it happened.

“Leviante Araki, the president of the Rapa Nui Parliament was shot twice about his hip and rib cage and is being air lifted to Santiago for medical care,” the activists stated. “A young man, Richard Tepano, was shot at short range in his right eye and is now in critical condition in the hospital. Maori Pakarati was shot above his right eye and in his arm, a rubber bullet remains encrusted in his arm. Zita Atan was shot in the head, and Pia Vargas was shot in her right leg. Honu Tepano was shot in his shoulder. As the Chilean troops were charging towards the fleeing Rapa Nui ClaudioTuki was hit in the forehead, and Enrique Tepano was shot in his face.”

One of the press contacts for the Rapa Nui is documentary filmmaker Hitorangi who, “… was shot in his right leg from behind, and as he attempted to continue to film the situation he was shot twice in his back.”

The following day Hitorangi stated that “What happened yesterday is their way of trying to stop any attempt of the Rapa Nui people to reassert their right to the land. All we’re asking for is title to the land. It’s a rightful claim. We are not asking the government for anything else.”

This latest assault against the Rapa Nui follows a distinct pattern of violence against the indigenous people of the island which was “annexed” by Chile in 1933 without consultation of the Rapa Nui nation. The ILRC has been working with the Rapa Nui in the last year asserting that “Human rights violations against the Rapa Nui have become the norm.”

The ILRC press statement issued Dec. 10 recounts how the Rapa Nui were first forced off of their ancestral lands and confined to a section of the island called Hanga Roa. People who left their designated area were “… often brutally punished; punishment sometimes included exile to a leper colony. These violent evictions are how Chile was able to lease the island to private enterprises,” the ILRC stated. It was only in 1966 that the Rapa Nui people were allowed to travel throughout the island. The explicit repression of the Rapa Nui began during the dictatorships and continued throughout Chile’s alleged change to democracy.

It was in the summer of this year that the Rapa Nui sought assistance from the ILRC, which has been documenting the abuses committed by the Chilean government even after state officials created a Rapa Nui Working Group in August. Before the working group finished its deliberations Chilean police executed a series of evictions against Rapa Nui without consideration of their rights to their ancestral lands. Some of the clans involved with the working group were among those being evicted at the same time. The latest family to be evicted was the Tuko Tuki clan who were violently removed Dec. 3.

In October, before the recent attack, the ILRC filed a Request for Precautionary Measures before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of 28 Rapa Nui clans in hopes of preventing further violence. The commission has not issued a protection order yet and the Chilean government has not responded to the commission’s request for information. In the meantime, the ILRC and others are worried about the safety of the Rapa Nui.

“The center is concerned about the violence deployed by police forces against the displaced Rapa Nui peoples, who were unarmed at the time of the eviction, and were beaten and shot with rubber bullets,” according to the ILRC statement Dec. 10.

No resolution to the conflict was reported as of press time, and one Rapa Nui spokesperson asserted what some activists have been saying throughout the siege.

“There is nothing on this island that can say or tell us the rights of the Rapa Nui,” said Mario Tuki, spokesperson of the Rapa Nui’s Tuki Clan. “This is the struggle of the Rapa Nui today, a struggle of what is ours, what belonged to our grandfathers and grandmothers.”

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