Yesterday human rights NGOs Provea and Homo et Natura were summoned to appear in court on February 7, 2013 for having facilitated a protest of the Yukpa indigenous people in July 2010.  (See Provea’s press release here, and Marino Alvarado’s opinion piece here. Follow on Twitter with #JuicioContraProvea ) Provea suggest that the case demonstrates the continued criminalization of both citizen protest and the solidarity work of human rights groups.

The Yukpa of Western Venezuela have had long term struggle with the government over the process of creating indigenous homelands, as specified by the 2005 Law on Indigenous Peoples and Communities, as well as their right to control the exercise of justice in traditional tribal ways within their territory as specified in the 1999 Constitution (see Art. 260).

The latter struggle came to the fore as a result of violence between different Yukpa communities in October 2009 which led the arrest of indigenous leader Olegario Romero. In July 2010 some Yukpa representatives went to Caracas and camped out in front of the Supreme Court (TSJ) to demand their constitutional right to exercise tribal justice within their habitat. Romero was eventually absolved and released in May 2011.

During the protest Homo et Natura issued a press release demanding that the Constitutional Chamber of the TSJ render a decision on the matter. Provea interviewed members of the Yukpa protesting and publicly expressed their solidarity with their cause on their webpage. For these actions Homo et Natura and Provea are being put on trial as accomplices to the violation of the rights of children. They are being summoned as part of a “medida de protección” (restraining order) by the Fiscalia under the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents (LOPNA) on behalf of the children involved.

Homo et Natura and Provea could potentially receive a fine for violating the LOPNA, which could range from symbolic to hefty. Director of Provea Marino Alvarado said “we’re not worried about the fine but rather the precedent that could be set.” At play is the Yukpa’s right to self-determination. He explained that part of the Yukpa culture is that they do everything as a family—work, play and politics all happen with children in tow.