Coinciding with World AIDS Day on Dec. 5 and the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, St. Michael's College hosted "AIDS and the Denial of Human Rights," a week-plus of programs from Dec. 1-10. Events included film screenings, a rally in support of HIV/AIDS research funding outside Sen. Patrick Leahy's office on Dec. 5, and a talent pageant that benefited the Ilula Orphanage Program in Tanzania. Last night, the series culminated with a compelling and profoundly moving lecture from Tanzanian journalist Evans Rubara in the McCarthy Arts Center.
Rubara spoke of atrocious human rights abuses being carried out in his homeland by multinational mining companies looking to attain Tanzanian gold, tanzanite, and other minerals by any means possible. He showed a documentary film that showed first-hand how companies like Barrick Gold and Anglogold Ashanti displaced entire villages to build large-scale mining operations, moving the villagers to refugee camps in their own country where water and toilet facilities are nearly non-existent. The companies strip the land of its natural resources and sell them, while the Tanzanian government allows them to operate without paying taxes or reparations to the people who have been displaced. Rubara cited one case where over 50 small-scale miners were allegedly buried alive by one of the multinational companies.
These companies have put hundreds of thousands of small-scale miners out of work — some have since turned to prostitution, exacerbating the AIDS pandemic in East Africa. The conditions brought forth by the multinational mining operations have caused poverty and AIDS alike to increase dramatically in Tanzania — and as Tanzanian and other governments turn a blind eye, the problem is only getting worse.
The most enlightening fact of the evening for me was that the American government invests in some of these mining companies. Rubara challenged the near-capacity audience to take the time to write to our congressmen and demand that our tax dollars be withdrawn from supporting the rape of the resources and culture of Tanzania and the inhumane abuse of its people. The plight of the Tanzanians is something I won't soon forget.
For more information on Evans Rubara and his story, check out this story in last week's Seven Days and a profile of Rubara in the latest issue of The Echo.