By Bianca Jagger...
During my adolescence, I saw the terrors President Anastasio “Tachito” Somoza inflicted on the civilian population. I felt powerless, since all I could do was take part in student demonstrations to protest against the National Guard killings. In Nicaragua, I witnessed what John F. Kennedy called “the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease, and war.”
In December 1972, after graduating with an education in politics at France’s Institute of Political Science, I returned to Nicaragua to look for my parents after a devastating earthquake destroyed my hometown. I will never forget the stench of the charred bodies when I drove through the rubble of the city. Fortunately, my parents survived the earthquake. Although the country received millions of dollars of relief aid from the international community, including $60 million from the US, I discovered that the aid was not going to the victims, but was being misappropriated by the Somoza regime.
I was invited in 1981 to be part of a U.S. Congressional fact-finding mission to a UN refugee camp in La Virtud, a Honduran territory 20 kilometers from the border with El Salvador. Soon after we arrived, an armed death squad from El Salvador crossed the border, entered the camp, and rounded up about 40 refugees. The refugees’ thumbs were tied behind their backs—the death squad intended to take the hostages across the border to El Salvador, with the Honduran army’s blessing. The delegation, the relief workers, and I decided to follow the death squad. The families of the hostages joined us and together we ran along a dry riverbed for about half an hour, armed only with cameras. During the chase, some of us were taking photographs.
We feared that the death squad was going to kill the hostages once they arrived in Salvadoran territory. Finally, we came within earshot of the hostages. The death squad turned around brandishing their M-16’s. Fearing for our lives, we began to shout, “You will have to kill us all,” and, “We will denounce your crime to the world.” There was a long pause. The death squad talked among themselves and, without explanation, left, leaving their hostages free and unharmed.
Since the 1990s I have called for the worldwide abolition of the death penalty. During that time I have campaigned on behalf of numerous prisoners on death row. One of my main campaigns has been for the worldwide abolition of juvenile executions. In March 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty for those who commit crimes before the age of 18 constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, and is therefore barred by the Constitution.
I believe that the death penalty is the ultimate denial of human rights, a premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state. In 2000, I witnessed the execution of an innocent man, Gary Graham, who was 17 when he was sentenced to death in Texas. Graham fit the typical profile of many prisoners on death row in the US: he was poor, a minority, and could not afford adequate legal counsel. The death penalty is unfair and arbitrary, and those who are executed are rarely those who have committed the worst crimes. The death penalty is Russian roulette.
I currently work under the auspices of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (BJHRF), along with with legal experts, NGOs, and academics, to develop a legal framework for Crimes Against Present and Future Generations, which will hold accountable the CEOs and managers of companies committing human rights abuses and environmental destruction.
Multinational corporations, especially oil companies, have caused some of the worst environmental disasters and human rights abuses in our world today. In their irrational pursuit of our planet’s natural resources, they have destroyed ecosystems, wiped out precious biodiversity, eradicated fauna and flora, and endangered the livelihood of communities worldwide. They are contributing to catastrophic climate change, and put at risk the survival of future generations. Now more than ever, we need to hold these companies accountable and put an end to their reckless exploitation of the environment, which is threatening to destroy our way of life.
We need a shift in our fundamental values. Development should respect the rights and take into account the needs of all sectors of society, from local communities to indigenous and tribal people. The new model of development must move away from our obsession with profit and growth and, instead, focus on sustainability.
— Bianca Jagger, Founder and Chair, Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador. *Follow Bianca on Twitter @BiancaJagger or on Facebook at Bianca Jagger Human Rights