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2002 | 54th Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights (July - August 2002)

The situation of human rights in Vieques, Puerto Rico

July-August 2002
Palais des Nations

Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with the Human Rights Committee of Dominicans and Franciscans of Puerto Rico, brings to the attention of the Sub-Commission 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 and the marine life is destroyed and the air is polluted.

Health Problems

One of the effects of the bombings is that the people of Vieques suffer from high levels of cancer and other serious health problems. There have been studies carried out by the Puerto Rico Department of Health  that show from 1985 to 1989 the rate of cancer in Vieques rose to 26 percent above the rest of Puerto Rico. Other diseases have been rare diseases have been documented as a result of sustained and ongoing bombings

Economic issues

The economic situation has not improved for the benefit of the people for years. Vieques has a population of approximately 9,400 inhabitants and its unemployment rate of almost fifty percent (50%) by most conservative estimates. Fishing is seen as the only industry in Vieques which seems to be viable. Yet, the Fishermen’s Associations states that UN Navy ships plays havoc with their fishing. Additionally,, by exproriating the most fertile lands in the island in the forties, the Navy severely damaged the agricultural activity.

Damage to the ecology

The immediate effects of the bombings in Vieques are the destruction of delicate ecosystems in the island, which supports hundreds of species of plants and animals that are killed instantly upon the direct impact of the projectiles during military target practices. Furthermore, these bombings and military maneuvers lead to serious contamination of the environment due to toxic residues.

Further, in February, 2000, Professor Doug Rokke, Ph.D., former Director of the Pentagon’s Depleted Uranium Project and one of the authors of Pentagon’s program for environmental remediation of formerly used defense sites, denounced the U.S. Navy’s use of Vieques for many years as a training and test ground for military munitions. Navy officers and enlisted personnel under orders and as part of Navy operations have fired conventional and depleted uranium munitions into the Vieques range resulting in serious adverse health and environmental effects.

Therefore, Dominicans for Justice and Peace, in conjunction with the Human Rights Committee of Dominicans and Franciscans of Puerto Rico,

  • recommends that the Sub-Commission examine the situation of human rights violations in Vieques,
  • urges the United States and Nato countries to end immediately their military manoeuvre and the bombing of the island of Vieques
  • asks the government of the United States to decontaminate the impact areas of Vieques
  • requests government of the United States to respect the fundamental rights of the people of Vieques
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