URGENT ACTION REQUIRED: UPDATE (June 9 2010) Anti-riot police has arrived to the Presidency of the UPR where there are five students protesting through civil disobedience in response to the President's refusal to continue negotiations. The President has insisted that negotiations have ended they will now solely seek to remove the strikers through judicial orders, which may ultimately lead to the forceful removal of protesters by police forces.
The students of the University of Puerto Rico are now entering their 46th day of strike in defense of good and affordable public education for all Puerto Ricans. By its second week, the strike had extended to 10 of the UPR’s 11 campuses via democratic decision-making processes in student assemblies. In fact, the latest assemblies in the two main campuses in Rio Piedras and Mayagüez were called for due to pressure by University Administrators and Government Officials, only to be later declared ‘unrepresentative of the student body’ after the students voted in favor of ratifying the strike.
During this time the Government of Puerto Rico, through the UPR Administration and the Police, has subjected the strikers and their supporters to intimidation through:
- The threat of legal proceedings and frivolous arrests, none of which have resulted in charges being brought against protesters (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlwHAi5zQEM )
- Denial of access to food, water and medical attention to the students currently inside the University’s campuses, for a period of time during the third week of strike (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFw6nwxErOw ).
Throughout the strike there has been widespread concern that the University will be reopened through the forceful removal of the hundreds of students currently protesting through peaceful resistance inside 10 campuses across the island, an action that would no doubt put the students’ safety and personal integrity at risk.
We call on your support in asking the Government of Puerto Rico to fulfill its duties as guardian of all its citizens’ human and civil rights and to ensure that a peaceful resolution to this conflict is found.
Contrary to your statements and those of the UPR’s administration, the students’ demands are neither frivolous nor representative of only a small segment of society. They reflect the universally recognized principle that education is a right, not a privilege. It is your duty and that of the José Ramón de La Torre (President of the UPR) and Ygrí Rivera (President of the Board of Trustees) to ensure that all Puerto Rican’s have access to affordable and good quality education. It is also your duty to acknowledge the students’ right to protest, which they are exercising under the mandate of a student body that has democratically ratified the strike via apparent majorities in student assemblies at 10 of the University’s 11 campuses. Furthermore, the strike was supported by a vote of 1016 to 17 in the first ever assembly by professors and researchers from all of the UPR’s campuses. As the democratically elected Governor of Puerto Rico, you must now work towards ensuring that the officials appointed by your administration engage in a meaningful negotiation with the strikers.
To this end, it is imperative that both the UPR’s administrators and the Puerto Rican Police, CEASE and DESIST of all acts of intimidation and violence that have been directed towards the strikers in an attempt to silence their protest.
More specifically we call for:
• An end to the legal proceedings against the 21 student leaders at the University of Puerto Rico, which as stated by Ygrí Rivera has the explicit objective of seeking to establish legal precedent denying the students their right to strike. The administrators’ focus on the legal proceedings and their outright refusal to engage in any form of dialogue with the students during the first two weeks of strike, has sought to deny the students their rights of freedom of expression and to petition government against grievances. Moreover, it has put the completion of the semester and degrees at risk for thousands of students across the University.
• A full investigation into the violation of the rights to access to food, water and medical attention, through the directive blocking the students on strike inside the campuses from access to these goods and services. The appropriate sanctions should be taken against all officials from the University of Puerto Rico and/or the Police who established and/or implemented the directive, which was a clear violation of the protesters fundamental human rights. Furthermore, a thorough investigation should be carried out regarding the violent arrest of Luis A. Torres Muller, whilst trying to pass food and water to his son inside the campus.
• An end to all violations to the protection of human dignity, against bodily harm and cruel punishment, as evidenced in the multiple acts of violence by police forces against protesters. We ask that full investigations into the use of excessive force, both at the campuses and in other peaceful protests, are carried out and that all those taking part in such actions be sanctioned according to the law. We condemn the actions of the Anti-Riot police forces during the protests at the Sheraton Hotel, where the police are clearly seen to stop, beat and throw tear gases at several protesters while they escaped the riots. Among them José Pérez, who has now been beaten twice, and who on this occasion was shot three times with a taser gun after already being subdued by several officers. Furthermore, we denounce: the actions of José Rosa Carrasquillo, second in charge of the Police, who is seen kicking Mr. Pérez in his genitals; and expressions by the Chief of Police, José Figueroa Sancha, in his continued public declarations of support to the officers involved in violent incidents, which he refers to as heroes.
• An end to all acts of intimidation by the police forces, including violations to the right to protection from illegal seizure. There has been a continued excessive presence of Anti-Riot Police at all of the campuses of the University, despite the admission of the Police Chief that in fact no crimes have been committed during the protests. More specifically, the mounted police was deployed in Mayagüez during a protest that had previously been coordinated with police forces, and left a student with serious injuries. Intimidation has been further carried out through several frivolous and violent arrests of protesters, who have later been released without charges due to lack of evidence. Particularly disturbing is the case of Mr. Pérez, who has now twice been violently arrested without charges being brought against him. He was additionally not provided with the immediate medical attention he should have received, as in both cases he suffered serious injuries due to the police’s actions.
Governor Fortuño, this situation has clearly transcended the conflict between the students and the UPR’s administration. We call on you and your Government Officials to ensure a peaceful resolution to this conflict in the interest of all Puerto Ricans. It is your duty to safeguard the fulfillment of all Puerto Ricans’ human rights. To this end, we ask that you guarantee the protesters safety and that any solution precludes the forceful removal of the protesters by the police.