Juana Calfunao Paillalef, community leader and human rights defender

Re: Juana Calfunao Paillalef, community leader and human rights defender

To: Sr. Luis Bates, Minister of Justice

From: Monique Pongracic-Speier, member of LRWC

Date: 2004-08-20

LRWC is gravely concerned for the safety of Juana Calfunao Paillalef, her husband Antonio Cadin Huentelao, and members of their family. We write to urge you to take immediate action to protect Ms. Paillalef, Mr. Huentelao and those close to them from acts of violence and intimidation.

As you may be aware, Ms. Paillalef is a community leader or “lonko” of the Juan Paillalef indigenous community in Cunco, IX Region. She is also a founder of the non-governmental organisation Comisión Ética Contra la Tortura.

LRWC is informed by Amnesty International that on June 26, 2004, a fire started in Ms. Paillalef’s house, and burned it to the ground. A charred body was found in the remains of the house. They body was subsequently identified as that of Ms. Paillalef’s uncle, Basilio Coñoenao. Like Ms. Paillalef, Mr. Coñoenao was a lonko, although of the Juan Pichunlaf indigenous community. It is noteworthy that Mr. Coñoenao was not staying at Ms. Paillalef’s home at the time of the fire. We understand that many community members fear that Mr. Coñoenao was killed elsewhere and his body placed in Ms. Paillalef’s home before the fire started.

Suspicious circumstances surround the fire itself, and suggest that it was not accidental.

  • First, LRWC is aware that the Juan Paillalef community has been engaged in a longstanding dispute with surrounding landowners over demarcation and fencing of the community’s land. We understand that community members have filed suit in the First Civil Court in Temuco alleging harassment and intimidation by landowners attempting to cause community members to abandon their lands.
  • Second, cars from outside of the community were observed near Ms. Paillalef’s house for several nights prior to the fire. There is no known legitimate reason for the vehicles to have been in the vicinity of the house.
  • Third, prior to his death, Basilio Coñoenao and his nephew allegedly received threats from landowners calling on the family to abandon their lands. We are aware that a report on these threats was made to authorities, but that no progress has been made in investigations.
  • Fourth, following the fire, in July, Ms. Paillalef and her family were threatened four times. Rocks were thrown at the family’s makeshift tin house and shots were fired into the air outside the shelter while the family was within. LRWC is aware that Ms. Paillalef or Mr. Huentelao made complaints about these matters to the Carabineros in Los Laureles, 8 km away, but that the police are not known to have ordered an investigation nor to have undertaken protective measures for the family.

Given all of the above factors, LRWC fears that the fire at Ms. Paillalef’s home in June was an act of arson and forms part of a pattern of intimidation against Ms. Paillalef and her loved ones. We call on you to order a prompt, impartial investigation into the fire, the death of Mr. Coñoenao, and the acts of apparent intimidation that preceded and followed the two events. We further urge you to make the results of the investigation public, and to bring those responsible to justice.

LRWC is also mindful that Ms. Paillalef was severely beaten while detained by Carabineros in Temuco for three days in 2000. She was pregnant at the time of the detention, and the beatings caused a miscarriage. LRWC understands that although investigations into the beatings were initiated by the fiscalía militar in Valdivia, no progress has been made. We call upon the Chilean government to attend to this matter forthwith.

LRWC reminds Chile that international law, adopted domestically into the country through ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights (among other instruments), obliges Chile to ensure that persons whose human rights have been violated have an effective remedy.

Further, LRWC notes that the land dispute apparently underlying the harassment and intimidation Ms. Paillalef and her family have suffered is part of a wider problem involving indigenous land tenure in Chile. LRWC recalls that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people remarked on the occasion of his visit to Chile in 2003 that land tenure issues were among the worst problems faced by indigenous peoples in the country. We urge you to consider the harassment of Ms. Paillalef, Mr. Huentelao and their family members in light of the aggravating circumstances of the land problems.

Please advise LRWC, by mail, e-mail or fax, of the actions that the Government of Honduras is taking in relation to the matters discussed above. LRWC awaits your response.