The Chilean authorities must provide effective measures for the protection of the human rights defender Rodrigo Mundaca, Verónica Vilches and other members of the Defence Movement of Earth, Environmental Protection and Access to Water (MODATIMA), said Amnesty International today in a petition to the Regional Attorney General in Valparaíso signed by more than 50,000 supporters in different countries around the world.
“The authorities must do everything in their power to protect the courageous human rights defenders like Rodrigo Mundaca and Verónica Vilches, who have suffered numerous death threats as a result of their work,” said Ana Piquer, Executive Director of Amnesty Chile.
“We should support the brave people at MOTADIMA for tirelessly standing up to the different actors that are damaging the environment and violating local communities’ right to access water. The authorities must ensure they can perform their work safely.”
The petition delivered to Regional Attorney General of Valparaíso, Pablo Gómez Niada, this morning calls on the authorities to implement effective protection measures for MODATIMA members, in accordance with their wishes. It also urges them to initiate prompt, thorough and impartial investigations into the threats and attacks against human rights defenders, to make the results public, and to bring those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice.
“The response to the fight for the right to water that has unfolded in the Petorca province has been criminalization, persecution, censorship and intimidation, while the human right to water is violated with total impunity, jeopardizing the lives of the communities,” said Rodrigo Mundaca, a MODATIMA member and spokesperson.
MODATIMA has worked for years to draw public attention to the impact of water policies on rural communities in Chile’s central Petorca Province, an area that has been seriously impacted by water scarcity. Rodrigo first began to denounce abuses committed by local politicians and businesses that affected rural communities’ right to water in 2012.
Over the next three years, the Chilean authorities initiated four criminal cases against Rodrigo in relation to his public denouncements of the illegal extraction of water in Petorca. One of these cases resulted in a sentence of 61 days in prison for defamation, suspended under the condition that he would present himself monthly to Chilean police for a year and pay a fine.
Rodrigo and other MODATIMA members have received recurrent threats in recent years. In March 2015 he was physically attacked and in March 2017 he received a phone call saying: “we are going to kill you motherfucker, we will kill you”.
Verónica Vilches, another MODATIMA member, told Amnesty International that unidentified people have also threatened her from vehicles without license plates, saying: “When are you going to stop with the fucking water?”
On another occasion, in August 2017, police visited Verónica and told her that she was under investigation for stealing water. However, Amnesty International has found no record that a formal investigation against her was ever opened.
“In this life they can take everything away from us – but not water. So I always make sure that no one in the community is ever without this vital element: my fight is for them,” Verónica said.
Several MODATIMA members have told Amnesty International that they are afraid to leave their homes or avoid leaving the house alone, as a result of the death threats.
Last year, Amnesty International featured Rodrigo in its global Brave campaign to strengthen the recognition and protection of human rights defenders around the world.