March 17 - April 24, 2003
Palais des Nations, Geneva
Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with Franciscans International and the Human Rights Committee of Dominicans and Franciscans of Puerto Rico, brings to the attention of the UN Commission on Human Rights the situation of human rights of the people of Vieques in Puerto Rico.
Vieques is a 54 square-mile island between the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It is one of Puerto Rico’s municipalities with a population of about 9,400. It is used by the United States Navy, NATO countries and arms manufacturers for military training, as well as the testing of conventional and non-conventional weapons and munitions, including depleted uranium.
The use of Vieques as a testing ground and target practice has been going on for the past 60 years. Bombing is carried out as often as 200 days a year, and at all hours of the day or night. These exercises are a violation of the economic, social and cultural rights of the people of Vieques as well as causing major degradation of the environment. They also have a detrimental impact on the livelihood of the people and serious effects on their health. Among some of the effects, the local economy has stagnated, the health of the residents has been gravely affected, the marine life is destroyed and the air is polluted.
However, we recognize the decision of the United States government to end the sixty years of bombing, war-games and testing of conventional and non-conventional weapons on Puerto Rico's island municipality of Vieques. It is our hope that this will be achieved, as promised, by May 1, 2003.
On the other hand, we express our concern with the failure of the United States to commit itself to remedy the ecological devastation wreaked by those sixty years of war on the environment. Multiple studies show that the presence of highly toxic materials, including depleted uranium and heavy metals continues to endanger the health of the people of Vieques.
It has been admitted that the U.S.S. Killen, presently lying in shallow waters less 900 meters off the coast of Vieques, was used to test nuclear weapons in the Pacific in 1958. This represents evidence of a clear and continuing danger to the life and health of the people of Vieques, as well as an admission that agents of chemical and/or biological warfare and depleted uranium have been used there.
We note the repeated decisions of the courts of the United States deferring to the military when confronted by claims of damage to the environment and human health, and we note as well the lack of access of the people of Puerto Rico to normal democratic channels for expressing their will to those responsible for deciding the fate of the lands and seas of Vieques.
We are also concerned by the refusal of the United States to commit itself to return more than half of all the land of Vieques (19,000 of 33,000 acres) it expropriated, to the people of Puerto Rico, and its determination to permanently place off limits, rather than clean up, its 900 acre "live impact area." These decisions impinge on the Viequenses' right to development and appropriate use of all their lands and resources.
Therefore, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with Franciscans International and the Human Rights Committee of Dominicans and Franciscans of Puerto Rico,
- recommends that the UN Commission on Human Rights examine the situation of human rights violations in Vieques,
- asks the UN Commission to urge the government of the United States to decontaminate fully all the areas of Vieques it has used and return them to the people so the residents of Vieques enjoy the right to use and develop their lands, seas and natural resources.
Oral, Written or Summary:
UN Commission on Human Rights: Fifty-ninth Session