|Campaign for indigenous rights|
|Date: Tue, 10 Aug 1999 07:55:06 -0400
Campaign for indigenous rights runs into U.S. opposition
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - In 1985, leaders of
300 million indigenous peoples in over 70 countries started
for a UN declaration recognizing their right to self determination and
land. But indigenous leaders say their campaign has run into strong
opposition on those two key demands from the United
Australia and New Zealand.
US, Australia, New Zealand Reject Indigenous
Inter Press Service News Agency
Friday, June 09, 2006 20:33 GMT
UNITED NATIONS, May 24 (IPS) - As the world's indigenous people get closer to achieving long overdue international recognition of their rights, some of the powers that conquered their territories in the past still say "no way".
At a two-week meeting of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues being held at U.N. headquarters in New York, indigenous leaders say they want their people to exercise full sovereignty over their ancestral lands and resources.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand are the only countries that remain in opposition to the proposed Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People, which recognises the principle of sovereignty.
Describing the draft text of the declaration as "fundamentally flawed", a delegate representing the three countries last week refused to accept the indigenous leaders' assertion that aboriginal people have the right to "self-determination".
"No government can accept the notion of creating different classes of citizens," the U.S., Australia and New Zealand said in a joint statement in opposition to the indigenous demand for self-determination, describing it as "inconsistent" with international law.
The diplomatic troika also attacked indigenous assertions on ownership of their ancient lands and resources, arguing that they "ignore the contemporary realities ...by appearing to require the recognition of rights to lands now lawfully owned by other citizens."
For their part, the more than 1,000 indigenous leaders currently attending the U.N.-sponsored meetings, and who represent a total of some 370 million indigenous peoples around the world, say they simply feel outraged by this kind of reasoning.
"They are still living in the past. They are totally out of touch with reality," Arthur Manuel, a member of Secwepemc Nation and chairman of the Indigenous Network on Economics and Trade in Canada, told IPS.
"They are going to fail in their efforts to stop the recognition of the rights of indigenous people," he added. While Manuel's response may sound optimistic, it is undeniable that in recent years, indigenous movements around the world have emerged as powerful forces able to reshape the political fate of certain countries.
Moreover, they are also gaining recognition by the scientific community and development experts as an integral part of the world community's quest for sustainable use of natural resources and environmental conservation.
"The contribution of the indigenous people is vital. We have a full-fledged article on their participation," said Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on Biodiversity, which has been signed by 188 countries.
The convention recognises the principle that indigenous people are entitled to enjoy a "fair and equitable share" in benefits that are derived from natural resources by commercial enterprises.
Despite such a clear acknowledgement of the significance of their role in the international arena, indigenous people throughout the world continue to suffer from economic and political discrimination, even if, in some cases, their rights are constitutionally and legally guaranteed.
The United States, for example, which champions the cause of human rights around the world, was recently castigated by a U.N. rights committee for violating the rights of a Native American Indian tribe to exercise sovereignty over its traditional land.
In March, the 18-member U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, set up to monitor global compliance with the 1969 anti-racial discrimination treaty, rejected the U.S. claim over Western Shoshone Nations' lands by observing that it failed to comply with the contemporary human rights principles that "govern determination of indigenous people's rights".
Instead of accepting the committee's verdict, the U.S. government declared that it was prepared to test "bunker buster" weapons on lands the indigenous Western Shoshone people, also known as Newe people, consider as sacred. Parts of those lands have also been targeted for the dumping of nuclear waste. The U.S. claims over native lands is partly based on the argument that they have been "gradually encroached" on by non-natives.
"From what political and moral authority do these governments speak over here?" asked Julie Fishel of the Western Shoshone Defence Project in response to the joint U.S.-Australia-New Zealand statement. "These three countries have serious issues of violations. They have yet to address the situation that has been ongoing for hundreds of years against indigenous people in their borders."
At the two-week forum, led by a 16-member subcommittee of the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), indigenous leaders hold a unanimous view that the principle of "prior consent" must be recognised as part of the fundamental rights of the indigenous people with regard to the patenting of seeds, plants and other organisms used for manufacturing commercial products.
But this demand has also been rejected by the U.S., Australia and New Zealand on the grounds that it clashes with intellectual property rights.
"It is our firm position that there can be no absolute right of free, prior informed consent that is applicable uniquely to indigenous peoples," said a delegate representing the three countries at the forum last week. "In fact, to extend such an overriding right to a specific subset of the national populace would be potentially discriminatory."
Indigenous leaders regard such objections as the product of a colonial mindset.
"Their view is fundamentally flawed," said Joshua cooper, an international law professor at the Hawaii Institute for Human Rights who participated in the forum, "because they don't recognise the fundamental freedom of the indigenous people."
Cooper and other indigenous leaders said they hoped that despite opposition from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, the forum would be able to finalise the draft before the conclusion of the meeting on Friday.