Switzerland to Deport Indigenous Human Rights Activist

By Dame Nina Ahmed - 27 Aug 2013 

Officially appointed Mapuche Ambassador to the United Nations and Apo Werken (Mapuche Special Envoy), Flor Rayen Calfunao, originally sought sanctuary in Geneva, Switzerland, as her place of residence over twenty years ago, as a direct result of decades of persecution levied against herself, her family and community, (the Juan Paillalef Community in Wallmapu, Mapuche ancestral territory) currently illegally occupied by the States of Chile and Argentina.

Ambassador Flor Calfunao is presently awaiting her imminent deportation to be returned to Wallmapu, her country of origin, in only seven days’ time. This highly sensitive case occurred when Flor Rayen recently routinely requested to renew her Swiss visa, in order to continue to remain in residence in Switzerland, her home and safe haven of over twenty years.


Image: Flor Rayen Calfunao and Relmutray Cadin
Photo: MIL Archive

It is of great regret that the Swiss authorities proceeded however, to deny her latest visa application, with no reason specified, informing her that she is to be officially deported on the 30th of August this year.  With only one week preceding this reality, Flor Rayens world has been turned upside down, whilst she now lives in immense fear of being returned to a country under whose jurisdiction she and generations of her family to the present day have undergone consistent and violent repression.  This oppression has been instituted under the directives of successive Chilean governments as a direct result of the family’s’ defence of their ancestral territory, invaded and under military occupation by the aforementioned government, in contravention over thirty signed treaties including that of the Treaty of Quillen and the Treaty of Neuquén, which unequivocally specify that the official state border between Mapuche ancestral territory and the two aforementioned states is clearly defined as the length of the Bio Bio river of Chile and the Colorado River of Argentina.

The Mapuche Nation have historically resisted invasion, occupation and assimilation for over five hundred years, initially against the Spanish Crown and subsequently against the later and modern day states of Chile and Argentina.  Their collective national resistance has continued to the present day in the form of peaceful land occupation, peaceful democratic protest and by the formation of numerous human, civil and political rights organisations which work to raise awareness of the repression of the Mapuche people and their inherent right to autonomy and self- determination on both the national and international levels.

As such, Flor Rayen has played a key role as a Mapuche representative in exile, as a result of her on-going commitment in the representation of her people at the United Nations in Geneva for over twenty years, participating at ‘the UN Human Rights Council’ and previously at ‘the UN Working Group for Indigenous Peoples’, a body which, over the duration of a twenty year period, committed to the creation of ‘The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, a declaration which established and consolidated, the currently accepted international standard for the respect of the human, civil, economic and political rights of the indigenous peoples of the world.

Flor Rayen played her own distinct role along with many other indigenous people’s representatives and organisations of the globe in assisting the production and ratification of this crucial and long overdue declaration, setting the moral, ethical global standard for the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide.  Furthermore, Flor Rayen has produced and facilitated numerous statements at the aforementioned body’s, in defence of her people, bringing forth their deep seated and historic concerns and aspirations to the international fraternity.  In the absence of this type of courageous individual pro- action and such lifelong commitment to raise awareness of the on-going plight of their respective peoples, demonstrated by persons such as Rayen Calfunao and countless others, their subjugated yet  legitimate voices would remain silenced and thus their cultures would one by one be extinguished by the persecution of the ‘post-colonial’ powers under whose abuse of power many indigenous peoples are forced to endure whilst living under their jurisdiction in which the rule of law is consistently applied without the correct recognition of racial and cultural equality.

In her position as an elected Mapuche Ambassador,  Flor Rayen Calfunao  is also currently head of the first Mapuche Permanent Mission to the UN, as such her presence and close proximity to the United Nations with which to  carry out her duties on behalf of the Mapuche people is crucial. Under ‘The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, such peoples have the inherent right to create and advance their own political structures and institutions and to elect their own representatives in order to manifest their unique aspirations without obstruction.

It must also be noted that as Flor Rayen is the sister of Lonko (Chief) Juana Rosa Calfunao Paillalef, traditional ancestral leader of the Juan Paillalef Community in Wallmapu/Chile, a well known public figure, also politically persecuted throughout her life for speaking out in defence of her motherland, her community and the Mapuche Nation as a whole, Rayen remains at further risk.  Lonko (Chief) Juana Calfunao has also been consistently harassed, imprisoned and tortured by the Chilean authorities, in order to break the spirit and resolve of the Mapuche people by means of silencing their leaders and traditional ancestral representatives. Evidence of this targeted repression was clearly demonstrated during one such previous instance where the entire Calfunao family were imprisoned simultaneously and as a direct result of this violation the safety of their remaining free family member had no other recourse but to send this the youngest child of Lonko Calfunao to live in safe haven with her aunt Rayen in Switzerland for a sustained period of years.

Flor Rayen, by virtue of her kinship to her sister Lonko (Chief) Calfunao remains at increased high risk of attack and retaliation by the Chilean authorities.  Indeed prior to her passage to Switzerland, Juana Calfunao had herself been detained as a political prisoner, tortured and continuingly harassed by the Chilean State thus leading her to undertake a hunger strike whilst imprisoned, during which she came close to death.

Furthermore, the home of her sister Lonko Calfunao was burned to the ground on three separate occasions, events which led to the death of their uncle, a victim of the blaze.  During another such arson attack on her home, the then infant daughter of Lonko Calfunao was dramatically rescued from a similar blaze at her home, as such narrowly escaping the loss of her young life.

Ambassador Flor Rayen Calfunao has been an advocate for her people, on countless occasions over a 20 year period, in doing so risking her long term personal safety by speaking out freely outside of Chilean territory, against the consistent and brutal oppression applied by the Chilean State to her people, within the boundaries of a free and democratic society at the United Nations.

Switzerland, as a peaceful and neutral country and the home of the former League of Nations and the present day United Nations, the worlds’ foremost peacekeeping body appears to act in apparent disregard of the founding principles of these global peacekeeping and progressive institutions their charters and declarations, in its decision to deport our beloved sister, Ambassador and Apo Werken Flor Rayen Calfunao to an extremely unsafe, unstable and militarized region of her homeland within the Wallmapu. This action can only be recognised as an incomprehensible and seemingly senseless act of incongruence on the part of the Swiss Government.  Why, the Swiss authorities should return such a highly vulnerable and historically publically visible human rights activist to the country from which she fled persecution, a place of clear danger to her personal safety, following twenty years of goodwill and refuge remains obscure.



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