US sees indigenous abuses in other countries
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2012
The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor.
WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. State Department's May 24 release of its annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in other nations around the world covered the status of indigenous rights but made scant mention of violations of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"While the declaration has inspired a number of promising new initiatives ranging from consultative structure to laws devoted to indigenous peoples, overall, indigenous peoples in all regions of the world remain amongst the most marginalized and impoverished, frequently victims of discrimination and excluded from decision-making," U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonović stated one week earlier on the fifth-anniversary celebration of the adoption of the indigenous peoples' declaration.
"Land grabs and ever-increasing dispossession of ancestral lands, territories and resources threatens their cultural and physical integrity, with indigenous women often the first ones to suffer," he said in New York on May 17.
In releasing the country reports, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred strictly to the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the basis for her department's findings.
"Universal human rights include the right of citizens to assemble peacefully and to seek to reform or change their governments, a central theme around the world in 2011," she said.
Šimonović stressed the declaration's potential for sharpening the focus of human rights investigations.
"Through a combination of individual and collective rights, the declaration provides crucial guarantees against relocation of indigenous peoples from their lands without their free, prior and informed consent, against forced assimilation and against exclusion from decision-making, while requiring support for indigenous peoples' own educational institutions and decision-making structures as well as protection of their cultural heritage," he noted.
The U.S. government endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in December 2010, reversing its position in what James Anaya, special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, called "an important step in the still-needed process of reconciliation" over the issues of indigenous self-determination, rights to lands and resources, rights to maintain cultural identity and rights to redress for historical wrongs.
Anaya said the endorsement inspired him to undertake his first fact-finding mission in the United States since he assumed the international post.
Following the mission to Indian reservations in Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota and Oklahoma and to urban Indian areas, Anaya promised on May 4 that his office will submit observations and recommendations to international and State Department officials aimed at identifying good practices and needed reforms in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
"I hope that this process will contribute to ensuring that the first Americans can continue to thrive and maintain their distinct ways of life as they have done for generations despite significant challenges," he said.
The U.N.-accredited International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs, together with more than 70 indigenous and non-governmental organizations, submitted a letter on May 24 to the chairperson of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee, calling for implementation of the declaration's provisions so "that indigenous peoples can effectively participate in decision-making processes that affect them and that their rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in World Heritage areas."
In a cover letter for the submission to World Heritage Committee Chairperson Eleonora Mitrofanova, co-signers stated: "We would appreciate if you would kindly bring the attached joint statement to the attention of the World Heritage Committee's 36th session."
"We hope that the 40th Anniversary of the World Heritage Convention, which is being celebrated under the theme World Heritage and Sustainable Development: The Role of Local Communities, will result in the establishment of a process aimed at addressing the concerns and aspirations of indigenous peoples regarding the implementation of the World Heritage Convention."
In the State Department reports, Canada and Chile stood out among Western Hemisphere countries for abuse of indigenous peoples.
"The principal human rights problems included violence against women and disparities in access to government services between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples," the executive summary of the Canada country report noted.
The Chile report stated: "The principal human rights problems reported during the year were poor prison conditions; allegations of excessive use of force and mistreatment by police forces, including during student protests; and disputes between indigenous communities and the government regarding land rights, development and judicial matters."
Canada's indigenous people constitute approximately 4 percent of the national population and more in the country's three territories: Yukon, 25 percent; Northwest Territories, 50 percent; and Nunavut, 85 percent, according to the State Department.
"Disputes over land claims, self-government, treaty rights, taxation, duty-free imports, fishing and hunting rights, and alleged police harassment were sources of tension," according to the Canada report. "Indigenous people remained underrepresented in the workforce; overrepresented on welfare rolls and in prison populations; and more susceptible to suicide, poverty, chronic health conditions and sexual violence than other groups."
Chile's indigenous people constitute about 5 percent of the total population, according to its country report. The State Department said the National Human Rights Institute has noted that government policies and judicial decisions regarding consultation with indigenous peoples limited their participation and restricted the measures and subjects of discussion.
The institute said that serious deficits persist "regarding indigenous peoples' economic, social and cultural rights, political participation, and land and territorial rights."
Indigenous people also experience societal discrimination, "and there were reported incidents in which they were attacked and harassed," the State Department said.
"Indigenous women faced triple discrimination on the basis of their gender, indigenous background and reduced economic status, and they were especially vulnerable to violence, poverty and illness," according to the Chile country report.
In Ecuador, the State Department deemed discrimination against indigenous people and women among continuing "societal problems" but not among the top human rights abuses.
According to the latest international census, indigenous people make up 7 percent of the populace. Indigenous organizations estimate that up to 30 percent of the population maintains its indigenous cultural identity and lives in indigenous communities.
In Mexico, "social and economic discrimination against some members of the indigenous population" was reported by the government's National Human Rights Commission. However, it was also not among leading human rights abuses in the State Departments assessment. The State Department does not quote population figures for Mexico's indigenous population but notes that up to one-third of the people in some states are indigenous.
In Bolivia, where at least 62 percent of the adults are indigenous, the State Department cited no human rights abuses against the population on the basis of their race or ethnic identity.
The Bolivia country report states: "Indigenous persons were well represented in government and politics, but they bore a disproportionate share of poverty and unemployment. Government, educational and health services remained unavailable to many indigenous groups living in remote areas."
Further, "The government continued to try to improve individual and family situations through the delivery of cash conditional transfers and retirement payments to low-income persons and the elderly. For example, under the cash conditional transfer program, pregnant women and children under the age of two receive money if they undergo medical checkups."