Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Peoples’ Tribunal on Hurricane Katrina Indicts Bush Regime

Charges gross negligence, Crimes Against Humanity.

When governments deliver nothing but injustice, people sometimes take justice into their own hands. From August 29 to September 2, 2007, two years on from Hurricane Katrina, a team of lawyers, professors, and legal experts from around the world came together with activists, residents and victims of New Orleans to convene the International Tribunal on Katrina and Rita. Although the Tribunal was not ‘official’, (as the U.S. government would never sanction a legal process that might find itself guilty at so many levels), the organizations convening the Tribunal stated that it “is a critical step in the ongoing struggle for the right of return and a self-determining reconstruction process”, with it has the intent to “expose the human rights abuses committed against the peoples of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast by the US government and its agents”.
The Tribunal covered a wide range of crimes and abuses committed by the U.S. government. First, there was the racist and anti-poor discrimination of the government for not keeping up the maintenance of the levee in the poorer and black neighbourhood of the Lower Ninth Ward. Despite being a poor neighbourhood, the Lower Ninth Ward was home to one of America’s oldest settlements African-Americans. The area was also home to one of America’s highest black homeownership rates in the country. But many of these homes today, the public and the private, have disappeared – not simply because of the hurricane, but by the bulldozers of ‘redevelopers’ preparing New Orleans for a richer and whiter population. Gentrification and housing rights were major issues dealt with at the Tribunal. One of the major goals that the Tribunal is struggling for is the recognition of the ‘Katrina Diaspora’ as an ‘Internally-Displaced Peoples’ who have the right to return to New Orleans. The following map of the United States shows how far and wide Katrina victims have had to resettle.
The Tribunal also pointed out that while billions of dollars have been poured into New Orleans over the last two years, the money has mostly benefited the tourist industry. So while the annual Mardi Gras party has continued for middle-class tourists from around American, the displaced peoples of New Orleans have been actively kept out.
Roderick Dean testified on prisoners’ rights abuses, and how Katrina prisoners had to wade in their own feces for weeks on end and were denied medications. Other prisoners recounted stories of abuse and torture. Dean was eventually released from jail almost half a year later with no charges laid against him.
The African-American dentist Romell Madison testified that his brother Ronald was shot in the back five times by white police officers while he was stranded on a bridge. Political activist and head of Common Ground Collective Malik Rahim testified on the militarization of New Orleans after Katrina, which included the occupation forces of the National Guard (which had just returned from Iraq), local and state police, private mercenary companies, such as Blackwater, and armed white vigilantes and militias. Sobukwe Shukura of the National Network on Cuba recalled how the U.S. turned away massive amounts of medical aid offered by Cuba and Venezuela to the victims of hurricane Katrina.
The final verdict of the Tribunal will be presented on 10 December 2007, marking the anniversary of the Right of Return March two years ago in December 2005 when over two thousand survivors and their supporters rallied in New Orleans to demand their right to return home.