|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
11th Meeting (AM)
As with So Many Other Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples Suffer Disproportionate
Violations of Right to Safe Water, Sanitation, Permanent Forum Told
Special Rapporteur Says Situation ‘Direct Result of Policies and Politics’
Aimed at Excluding Certain People, as Forum Holds Half-Day Debate on Issue
With nearly a billion people living without access to an improved water source and 2.5 billion lacking access to improved sanitation facilities, the world faced a “true crisis” the Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation told the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today, during a half-day discussion on the right to water.
Asking who exactly did not have access and why, Catarina de Albuquerque said it was always the same people — the marginalized, the poor and those without a political voice. In countries with indigenous populations, it too frequently included indigenous peoples. “Like so many other human rights, indigenous peoples suffer disproportionate violations of their rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,” she told the gathering of Member States, indigenous organizations, civil society and local and indigenous Governments.
Acknowledging that the participants in the Forum’s two-week annual session — which is expected to conclude Friday, 27 May — were undoubtedly aware of that reality, she stressed that “such lack of access is not simply an unfortunate situation nor a coincidence, but is a direct result of policies and politics which exclude certain segments of the population”.
Sharing a lesson from her first country visit to Costa Rica after she took up her mandate in 2008, she said she had been dismayed by the lack of attention to improving the situation of that country’s indigenous peoples. With nearly universal access in urban areas and good access in many rural areas, Costa Rica was on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation. However, its focus on that general “positive” trend overlooked the fact that indigenous people living in its two dozen indigenous reserves lacked access to safe drinking water or sanitation services, and specific, targeted and deliberate policies were needed to ensure such access was granted to them.
Noting that the activism of indigenous communities had been crucial in bringing such situations to light, she highlighted the Forum as another avenue for exposing human rights violations and pressuring Governments to ensure that indigenous rights were fully protected. She further encouraged participants to fight for indigenous peoples’ right and to continue to engage with the international human rights system, including through the special procedures system and its network of Special Rapporteurs, of which she was only one part.
“When violations of the right to water are being experienced, sadly, a host of other deprivations and violations are also reported,” she said, suggesting that indigenous communities could go further in using the United Nations mechanisms — including the mandates of the other special rapporteurs, the treaty monitoring bodies and the Universal Periodic Review — to claim their rights.
Among the other three speakers making introductory remarks this morning, Aicha Cheik Salah, of the Tidawt Organization in Niger, highlighted the complexities at the intersection of State approaches to water rights and the understanding of water among indigenous peoples. “How can we legislate a resource that is constantly moving?” she asked, pointing out that ideas of water ownership among the nomadic Toureg and Peulh peoples of the Sahara were based on oral traditions and differed from those of the State. Indeed, those nomadic communities were often confused by the written statements of companies or Governments, she said.
Echoing many speakers throughout the morning debate, she said it was critical that traditional practices be borne in mind in any water policy. She further stressed that water needed to be accessible and free according to the nomadic code, while monitoring the quality and quantity of the water available was also absolutely crucial.
Recalling the debate that surrounded the General Assembly’s adoption of a resolution in 2010 that confirmed the right to water and sanitation, Pablo Solón, Permanent Representative of Bolivia to the United Nations, stressed that it was irrelevant to talk about “derivative rights” in the case of water, since it was a right on the same level as all other rights. Citing the so-called Cochabamba “water wars” fought in his country in 2000 over proposals for privatizing water, he said “it would be suicide to go down the road of a privatization and mercantilization of water and other resources”. That was particularly true, he suggested, with respect to the “green economy” concept, which was one of themes of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as “ Rio+20”.
In that regard, he was the first of many speakers to call for a new understanding of water and rights, saying that, “at Rio+20, we must begin to speak of the rights that water has”. He further underscored that water had its own laws and life cycle, adding that, paradoxically, water did not belong to anyone, although it belonged to everyone.
During the ensuing discussion, a number of speakers expressed alarm over increasing attacks on water — or what some called “aquacide” — from mega-projects such as dams, extractive industry practices and privatization schemes. This aggression towards water resources threatened indigenous peoples’ existence, several said, noting that water was traded, access was restricted and water sources were blocked.
Against that backdrop, speakers called on the Forum to conduct a study on indigenous peoples and water, including the impact of water resource use for industry. Calls were also made for a full investigation of the possible impacts of projects under reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) and other low-carbon or green economic strategies.
Many speakers emphasized the need to monitor human rights compliance by multinational corporations, requesting the Forum to implement a process to assess, evaluate and, as needed, propose measures for States to monitor corporations carrying out activities that affected the right of indigenous peoples to water. A number of speakers said that approach must specifically address free, prior and informed consent and the treaty right to water. Some also recommended the appointment of a special rapporteur to examine the privatization of water by multinational corporations.
Also speaking during the debate were the representatives from Spain, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and Sweden.
Forum members from Guyana and Canada also offered comments.
Also participating in today’s discussion were representatives of the following indigenous organizations: Parlamento Indígena de América; the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus; the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus; the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus; the Pacific Caucus; the Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas y Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de los América; the Southern Chiefs’ Organization; the Indigenous Peoples of Australia; the International Indian Treaty Council; Indigenous Peoples Link; the Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace; the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee; and the Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday, 25 May, to continue considering its future work.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues met today to continue its tenth session, which is a review year in the Forum’s three-year work cycle. It was expected to hold a half-day discussion on the right to water and indigenous peoples. For more information, please see Press Release HR/5050.
Kicking off the discussion, BERTIE XAVIER, a Permanent Forum member from Guyana, urged delegates and his fellow Forum members to consider the complexity of the right to water. Many people around the world lacked access to safe water and sanitation, he said. Today, natural disasters, climate change, the melting of the polar ice caps, and more competition for resources made it increasingly difficult for indigenous people to have access to safe water, he said. The consequences of the failure to manage natural resources such as water in a sustainable way had affected indigenous peoples, in particular. Additionally, economic activities, such as mining, agricultural development and others had contributed to the contamination of waterways on which indigenous people depended, often resulting in health and other problems. Legislation and policy must acknowledge and respect the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional knowledge, he stressed, as well as their rights to hunt and gather food resources from waterways.
In March 2006, the international community had gathered in Mexico City for the Fourth World Water Forum, and had worked to set targets for reducing, by more than half, the number of people worldwide that did not have access to safe drinking water — as laid out by the Millennium Development Goals targets. Today, however, the discussion continued. There was an obligation on the part of States to protect the right of indigenous peoples to water, and, where possible, to prevent third parties, such as large development companies, from contaminating waterways. Comprehensive policies should reduce the depletion of water resources and eliminate the contamination of watersheds and others waterways. They should monitor water reserves in conjunction with indigenous peoples, and should ensure that any proposed development did not interfere with indigenous peoples’ right to water. They should also always be in line with relevant environmental standards.
It was “pertinent and urgent” for the Forum to consider the issue of the right of indigenous peoples to water. Among other related research, a study should be conducted to determine the baseline quality of water. A twofold approach should be used, both respecting the right to water and protecting life. Additionally, the principle of free, prior and informed consent must be respected when considering that issue and indigenous peoples must be integrally involved in all decision-making processes on the waterways that they used. Governments needed to begin to implement policies that reflected those goals, he stressed, and community organizations, United Nations agencies, indigenous groups and other actors needed to work in close partnership to protect and promote the right to water.
CATARINA DE ALBUQUERQUE, Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, said she had been working under her mandate since 2008 and since that time had been in touch with numerous indigenous peoples. “Like so many other human rights, indigenous peoples suffer disproportionate violations of their rights to safe drinking water and sanitation,” she said. “The people in this room are no doubt well aware of this reality.”
Nearly a billion people did not have access to an improved water source, she said, stressing that many more did not have access to safe water, while more than 2.5 billion people did not have access to improved sanitation facilities. “The numbers demonstrated that we are facing a true crisis,” she said. However, beyond those enormous numbers, it must constantly be asked, “Who does not have access and why?” It was always the same people — the marginalized, the poor and those without a political voice, she said. In countries with indigenous populations, too frequently it was the indigenous who did not have access. “Such lack of access is not simply an unfortunate situation nor a coincidence, but is a direct result of policies and politics which exclude certain segments of the population,” she stressed.
She said that, on her first country visit, which was to Costa Rica — a country that was on track to meet the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation — she was dismayed by the lack of attention to improving the situation of that country’s indigenous peoples. While there was nearly universal access in urban areas and good access in other rural areas, the same could not be said for the two dozen indigenous reserves. She had been concerned by Costa Rica’s focus on the general “positive” trend in water and sanitation, which overlooked the fact that specific, targeted and deliberate policies were needed to ensure that access was granted to the underserved, including the indigenous peoples.
She noted that she had received numerous reports about the threat to indigenous rights, including especially concerns about pollution of water sources. Those reports included a high number on the impact of mining operations — from uranium mining in the United States to the bauxite mining in India — indigenous peoples were seeing severe impacts on their access to clean water, as well as on their way of life and cultures. Indeed, projects to generate new sources of energy, such as dams and geothermal exploration, had been reported as having a serious impact on access to clean water for indigenous peoples.
Stressing that indigenous peoples often had a special or even spiritual relationship with water, she said she had witnessed that special bond during a visit with the Winnemen Wintu tribe in California a couple of months ago. However, the area used in a puberty ceremony had been turned into a recreational campground recently, challenging the privacy and dignity of the young women undergoing that ceremony, as well as the continuation of tribal practices.
She said the activism of indigenous communities had been crucial in bringing such situations to light. The Forum was indeed one opportunity to expose these human rights violations and pressure Governments to ensure that indigenous rights were fully protected. Noting, in that regard, the ground-breaking litigation in Botswana by the Basarwa concerning their right to water, she said the recent decision was very important not only in adding to jurisprudence protecting indigenous rights to remain on their ancestral lands, but also further solidifying the status of the right to water under international law. Indeed, the court referred to the recent General Assembly resolution on the right to water and sanitation and that denying the Basarwa the permission to use the bore hole located on the land where they reside amounted to degrading treatment, which was prohibited under the Convention against Torture.
Expressing her excitement about that law, she said the Court very wisely observed the indivisibility of human rights by talking about water, which was traditionally considered an “economic, social and political” right, in the same breath as degrading treatment, which was generally known as a “civil and political right”. Underscoring the need to keep sight of the indivisibility of human rights, she said that for indigenous peoples, in particular, the enjoyment of human rights should be considered in a holistic way, adding that such a holistic understanding was crucial for analysing indigenous rights and the right to water and sanitation.
She further noted that the right to water and sanitation provided that everyone should have access to sufficient, safe, affordable, and acceptable water and sanitation for personal and domestic uses. While water for agriculture fell under the rubric of the right to food, water for cultural and spiritual life fell within the understanding of cultural rights, as well as specific rights guaranteed to indigenous peoples. However, those lines were constantly blurred and to underline the individual experience and the loss of dignity that could occur when access to water was denied required taking a holistic view.
Turning to her work as the Special Rapporteur, he said her mandate was part of a larger system called the special procedures system, which was comprised of experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine specific themes related to human rights. Noting that the experts had the capacity to work jointly to raise concerns about violations of the rights of indigenous peoples, she said that when she received information related to water and indigenous peoples, she often saw situations that involved many other mandates. “When violations of the right to water are being experienced, sadly, a host of other deprivations and violations are also reported,” she stated.
She encouraged participants to fight for indigenous peoples’ right and to continue to engage with the international human rights system. She fully supported activism at the national and regional levels, as well. While acknowledging that those systems did not react as quickly and efficiently as many would hope and their impact was not as pronounced as would be wished, she stressed that such efforts were crucial for ending ongoing violations of the rights of indigenous peoples. The fact that things were hard was no reason for giving up, she said. On the contrary, as Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa once said: “Stones in the road? I collect them all. One day I will build a castle.”
AICHA CHIEK SALAH, representing the Tidawt Organization in Niger, recalled that the 108th plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly in July 2010 had recognized the right to water as a fundamental human right. At that time, delegations had explained their differing views on that matter, addressing in particular one question: was it a stand-alone right, or was it derived from other rights? While legislators were trained to address questions of land rights, they did not know how to address “moving resources” such as water, she said. The nomadic pastoral peoples of Africa, who moved based on several given parameters — including the types of plants available, the placement of waters, and others — lived in very difficult conditions when water was scarce or contaminated. Those challenges caused a large number of illnesses, high infant mortality, large losses of cattle and other problems. Freshwater was limited in the Saharan region, and its quality and quantity were threatened by the water needs of development, in particular mining companies. “They are very unenthusiastic about taking care of the environment,” she said of those companies, whose policies were based around exploiting resources as cheaply as possible.
She highlighted two types of law, traditional and modern, in the context of the nomadic Toureg and Peulh peoples of the Sahara. Traditional water laws for those peoples were very complex, and the idea of people belonging to a particular area was considered a very sensitive topic. Ideas of water ownership differed and were further complicated by the oral culture of those groups, as they were often confused by the written statements of companies or Governments. The idea that land belonged to the State destroyed many longstanding and delicate rights. “How can we legislate a resource that is constantly moving?” she asked. It was critical that traditional practices to be borne in mind in any water policy. Moreover, water needed to be accessible and free according to the nomadic code, she said. Monitoring of the quality and quantity of the water available was also absolutely crucial.
PABLO SOLÓN ( Bolivia) recalled the big battles over water in Cochabamba, Bolivia, in 2000, noting that that fight aimed to change a proposed law to privatize a local water source. Following those protests, the law was modified and the fight allowed the Bolivian people to seek a deeper change through the recovery of its water sources, as well as the recovery of its own Government, which was no longer imposed from abroad.
Highlighting the resolution passed last year by the General Assembly, which confirmed the right to water and sanitation, he asked why 72 years had passed between the adoption of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the adoption of that resolution. “Without water there was no life and without life there was no other human right,” he said, adding that, during the negation process of that resolution, two conclusions had been reached. The first touched on the intention of some of turning water into mere merchandise — a resource that would be very much more valuable than gold in the near future. The second was related to geopolitical fears over a resource that flowed across borders and was, in some cases, a source of conflict. Nonetheless, the resolution was adopted and served, he said, as a “guiding star”, because the future society must ensure all human rights.
He stressed that to talk about “derivative rights” in the case of water was irrelevant. Indeed, the right to water was a right on the same level as all other rights and a central point for discussion now was how to make the right to water a reality. Arguing that it hinged on financing, he said the debate concerned how to conserve resources. To his mind, it was “indefensible” that trillions went towards defence, while the same amount was not provided to protect natural resources. He noted one proposal, which said that, in a green economy, the water sector must be opened to the private sector, because that sector was the only one with sufficient funding to fully protect water. However, in light of Bolivia’s recent history, “it would be suicide to go down the road of a privatization and mercantilization of water and other resources,” he said.
He stressed that mechanisms were needed to generate resources in the water sector, including through taxes. Those mechanisms would create a fund that would help resolve the fundamental question regarding water. From the perspective of the Andean indigenous peoples, he noted, water was not a resource, but a living being that nourished the land, making it fertile. It also allowed humanity to progress. Paradoxically, water did not belong to anyone, although it belonged to everyone. Further, water had its own laws and life cycle. Indeed, the indigenous vision of water in the Andes did not consider water as H2O, he said, urging the international community to recover that indigenous vision and abandon the green economy vision.
In that regard, he stressed that water had the right to have its life cycle. “At Rio+20, we must begin to speak of the rights that water has,” he stated. If the right to water was not respected, however, it was easy to imagine what would happen in the Andean region, he said, noting that global warming had already reduced the mountain glaciers by one third. Another third would certainly be lost, he stressed, which was why Bolivia opposed the agreements of Cancun.
JUAN PABLO DE LAIGLESIA ( Spain) said that indigenous peoples suffered particularly strongly the effects of the prevalent economic and environmental models that were in place. In 2010, he recalled, the United Nations General Assembly and the Human Rights Council had explicitly recognized the right to safe water and sanitation. Those actions were the culmination of a process begun by Germany and Spain in Geneva, he added. In the indigenous context, the right to water must be considered in the context of Articles 25 and 32 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which guaranteed their right to maintain traditional and spiritual relationships with waterways. Additionally, from a development perspective, access to potable water and sanitation drastically improved health outcomes, lowered mortality and improved quality of life.
It was important that development approaches did not lose a human rights perspective, he noted, and that they ensure accountability, non-discrimination and other critical principles. Progress towards the achievement of the water- and sanitation-related MDG had been slow. Therefore, the donor community must make additional efforts to incorporate water and sanitation in their development agenda, focusing on the most vulnerable and indigenous communities in particular. The Spanish Cooperation Fund for Water and Sanitation in Latin America and the Caribbean, founded by Spain, had as its goal the attainment of the Millennium Development targets. Spain had allocated $1.5 billion to that Fund, which gave priority to rural areas, as well as areas around urban centres that lacked access to safe water or sanitation. A credible policy for water rights could begin with awareness-raising, he stressed. In many cases, indigenous peoples had a culture of water management in which their whole communities took part and the international community could learn much from those traditional methods.
ESTEBAN PEREZ, of the Parlamento Indígena de América, said that, in Venezuela, indigenous peoples had made progress in enjoying their rights. The State recognized the right to water through the Venezuelan Water Law of 2 January 2007, which stipulated the Government’s obligation to ensure access to water. There were other norms that ensured the participation and leading role of indigenous peoples in the organization and implementation of water management. Together, those supported the conservation, sustainable use and recovery of water above and below ground. The water law also sought to control the effects of water to communities. As a result, indigenous peoples enjoyed authority over their waters. He further underlined the responsibility of the State and the challenge of societies to ensure the protection of the environment and ecosystems and stressed that the participation of indigenous peoples in designing water management programmes must be fostered. It was equally essential to ensure that indigenous peoples had the right to take a role in the comprehensive management of water. Laws must be established to counteract the threat of environmental devastation.
YANEISY ACOSTA HERNÁNDEZ( Cuba) said that, while the current discussion took place, more than 800 million people on earth were without access to potable water and almost a billion children did not have access to basic sanitation. Those numbers included many indigenous peoples, she stressed, especially as water had often been privatized for profit. The right to water affected all people, and there should be a joint solution in developing countries, with the support of the international community, to respect and promote that right. Cuba, since 1995, had achieved its Millennium Development Goals target on water and sanitation. As it reaffirmed the sovereign right of all States to regulate and manage their own waters, Cuba also stressed that Government policies should reflect the effective enjoyment of the right to water of all people. The United Nations must become the primary forum for debating and obtaining agreements on the right to water and she hoped that there would be much progress made in the enjoyment of that human right.
BARBARA SHAW, of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, stressed that, to indigenous peoples, water was sacred. By virtue of spirituality and their reciprocal relationship with it, indigenous women played a key role in sustaining life and its biological and cultural diversity, as well as the diversity of their communities. Emphasizing the impact of water on the well-being of indigenous communities, she urgently asked the Forum to take a leading role in promoting and protecting indigenous peoples’ rights to water. A human rights framework must be used in protecting waterways, she stressed. She also urged the Forum to recommend to the Economic and Social Council to organize, in coordination with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), an expert meeting on water. The Forum should recommend that the Special Rapporteur carry out a study on water that went beyond access to drinking water. She called on the Forum to recommend that States recognize and finance projects that protect the traditional relationship of indigenous peoples to water and that further their right to water. It should also study how the practices of extractive industries impacted the right to water.
INEZ MARTINEZ ( Ecuador) said that Ecuador recognized the right to water as a fundamental human right. The Ecuadorian Constitution granted that right and contained a special section on water, guaranteeing the “conservation, recovery and comprehensive management of water resources”. According to the country’s laws, the regulation of any activity that could affect the quality and quantity of water would be managed from an environmental perspective, and the privatization of water was prohibited. Its management could be publicly- or community-based, and its allocation was given first for human use, and then for irrigation, and then, as a lower priority, to other activities, such as production. In the latter case, the Government must approve the use of water. Those laws sought to ensure that people, communities and nations could benefit from the wealth of nature, she said.
Ecuador had been able to incorporate the vision of indigenous peoples into its laws, namely the principle that waters should not be looked at as “mere goods to be traded”. The Constitution also ensured that people and nations had the possibility of maintaining their identities, their sense of belonging, their traditions and social organization systems. Despite those “historic steps forward”, she said, much remained to be done so that traditional water practices could benefit future generations. She hoped that those rights would be recognized by all nations. Finally, Ecuador called upon the Governments of all countries to ensure that indigenous peoples had the right to have their waters, and their use of water, preserved according to their own world views.
KHULOT SUMSHOT, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, noting that the indigenous peoples’ relationship to water was based on collective rights and communal management systems, said that such interconnectedness had been clearly emphasized in Article 25 of the Declaration on Indigenous Rights. But, in a world with entrenched neoliberal economic policies, water development had become an “aggression” towards water resources and threatened indigenous peoples’ existence. Waters were being depleted through the diversion and damming of water systems, mining and mineral extraction and aquifers used for industrial purposes. As such, he called on the Forum to conduct a study on indigenous peoples and water, including the impact of water resource use for industry. Governments, international financial institutions and national banks must respect indigenous rights to free, prior and informed consent for all development projects that diverted water resources. Governments also should convene multi-stakeholder bodies to review water policies, notably for water privatization and large dam development.
XAVIER ABREU ( Mexico) said that the matter of the right to water and the indigenous “cosmovision” were very much in parallel. Mexico’s diversity of indigenous peoples gave rise to a diverse vision of that cosmos, as well as to a firm recognition of the right to water. Mexico would soon adopt a law on consultation with indigenous peoples and communities, which could prevent many of the controversies that frequently arose. Among other things, it would allow for the creation of nature reserves and could protect the fishing rights of some indigenous groups. Underlining the need for clear decisions, he said they should be arrived at through consultations with indigenous peoples. As a spokesperson for a fund for indigenous peoples in Latin America, he supported Bolivia’s statement regarding financing. He also supported holding a continental preparatory session for the upcoming world conference.
RICKY TRAN INTREABUD, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, recalling that water was a human right, supported the organization of the Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace with the participation of indigenous youth. He recommended that the Forum, along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among others, allocate funds to promote safe hygiene practices to indigenous children. A high-level expert meeting with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and special rapporteur on water should be organized to establish indicators of well-being, while mechanisms to hold the World Bank legally and financially accountable for loans extended to States for building large dams and extracting minerals, among other things, must be created. Further, the Forum should recommend that the Economic and Social Council conduct an expert meeting on water allocation. It also should appoint special rapporteurs to examine, respectively, State implementation of the Declaration, and the privatization of water by multinational corporations.
EFRAIM GOMEZ( Sweden) said that it was clear that indigenous peoples had shown global leadership in the promotion and protection of the right to water and sanitation. The Swedish Government felt that those critical rights were derived from other related rights, including the human right to adequate health. Sweden was concerned about the depletion and contamination of water resources. In the context of sustainability, he stressed the importance of community-based and participatory water management. Much remained to be done at the regional and international levels, he said. Indigenous peoples should continued to play a critical role, among other things, as “depositories of knowledge” in that regard. Sweden looked forward to the recommendations from the Permanent Forum on the right to water and indigenous peoples.
TONYA GONNELLA FRICHNER, Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, explaining that water was sacred, said: “It is connected to spirit.” Today, the world was increasingly witnessing an attack on water — “aquacide” — from dams, extractive industrial developments and water privatization. As such, she called on the Forum to set “Water as a Human Right” for its 2014 or 2016 theme, and to recommend that the Economic and Social Council, in coordination with UNEP, call for an official United Nations experts meeting on water that included indigenous peoples’ regional representatives. That meeting would establish indicators of water well-being. Moreover, any policies of Governments, United Nations-related bodies or water corporations must observe and implement all the articles of the Indigenous Rights Declaration. Urging the Forum to work with all relevant United Nations bodies to provide full financial support for an Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace, she pressed it also to reject the Rio+20 definition of “green economy” and instead create a collaborative definition that did not deprive indigenous peoples of their access and use of waterways.
PATRICK LOMBAIA, Pacific Caucus, honoured water as an ancestor, a manifestation of cosmic force, and both the creator and destroyer of life. Water was central to the spiritual and physical well-being of Pacific island peoples, but its health and resilience was under assault from both toxins and mismanagement by non-indigenous leadership. Indigenous peoples in Aotearoa struggled with the issue of meaningful participation in water policies and water allocation and sought State recognition of their water rights, notably in policies and legislation. Given that, all States should ensure that indigenous peoples’ cultural rights to water were protected and that their right to free, prior and informed consent in water management was respected. They also should incorporate the Declaration into all policies relating to indigenous cultural rights to water, and further, provide “priority funding” for indigenous water security initiatives, as many Pacific island communities lacked the necessary funds, tools and supplies.
MARIA CLEOFE SUMIRE DE CONDE, of the Parlamento Indígena de América, said she wanted to share the “cosmosvision” and the fight for water among the indigenous peoples of Peru and Latin America. With their ancestral communities, water was sacred to indigenous peoples. The question was not restricted to the right to healthy, safe water. Rather, water was like the blood of Mother Earth and that, too, was part of the “cosmovision” of indigenous communities. Water was also life and her ancestors had worshipped all forms of water – from rain to clouds to underground water. For that reason, she was fighting against laws that would modify the hydro-resources of her country and region. Emphasizing that water was a fundamental human right and could not be a source of profit, she called for the decentralization of the management of water resources. Decisions must be made in local communities and the right to potable water must be guaranteed permanently, she said. Consultations must also be undertaken with indigenous peoples and Governments and corporations who sought to use water resources.
In that regard, she noted that Peru currently favoured corporate partners over its indigenous peoples. Water was traded. Access was restricted. Water sources were blocked. Indeed, indigenous communities could not access water in rivers and lakes when dams were built, or extractive industries were allowed to pollute the water sources. When indigenous peoples lifted their arms in protest against the legislation emanating from the executive branch, they were told that such protests were criminal. Thus, she appealed to the international community for support.
TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, of the Foro Internacional de Mujeres Indígenas y Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indígenas de los Américas, said that water was a basic human right and a central spiritual and cultural base for indigenous identities. But, their voices had been “hushed” during the global discourse on water. She called on the Permanent Forum to ask States to develop institutional frameworks on the use of water, and — in line with International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples — to draft that legislation with the full participation of indigenous peoples. It was important to ensure that indigenous people were represented by their legitimate leaders in the creation of policies and programmes, she stressed. Among several proposals, she called upon the Permanent Forum to make recommendations to UN-Water, which should include networks of indigenous peoples in its work. The Secretariat of UN-Water should be part of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues. Also, a specific chapter of the tri-annual “World Water Report” should deal with indigenous peoples. Further, a diagnosis should also be issued on the degree and source of pollution affecting indigenous waterways, allowing for claims to be made against those who polluted them.
Taking the floor to continue the statement, CALEEN SISK FRANCO said that nothing survived without water. Supplying access to water was not sufficient, as water also needed to flow freely, and salmon were needed in rivers and streams in order to clean them and distribute nutrients. Without salmon swimming in their waters, the climate would continue to change in ways that would be devastating to Mother Earth, she said. Indigenous peoples were being denied their human rights to access water without interruption. The denial of their tribal existence by the United Sates Government had left them without the basic protection they deserved. She called on the Permanent Forum to again transmit the recommendation from its third session, which asked Governments to carry out studies on how the diversion of rivers and the creation of dams, as well as mining and mineral extraction, energy development and other practices, would affect the lives of indigenous communities prior to conducting any of those actions. The Forum should again transmit the recommendation from its fourth session to the effect that “immediate steps” must be taken, within the framework of the Commission on Sustainable Development, to protect water from privatization and from bilateral and multilateral agreements that affected the integrity of waters and impoverished communities, particularly indigenous women. She also urged Member States to implement the findings of the Special Rapporteur on the human right to water and sanitation.
WILTON LITTLECHILD, speaking on behalf of Gregory P. McIvor of the Southern Chiefs’ Organization, said that that the first nations people of Southern Manitoba, Canada, had maintained strong spiritual and cultural relationships with their lands, waters, forests and other natural resources. Water and forests continued to be an important industry for first nation people, although they continued to face significant barriers in both sectors. Those barriers had included, but were not limited to, the enactment of provincial and federal legislation and regulations that further confined and prohibited active participation of southern Manitoba first nations people in investing in the local economy. Legislative control limited first nations’ access, traditional uses, practice and exercise of treaty rights and created severe restrictions to economic development.
He recommended that the Forum work closely with the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity to advance the full and effective participation of indigenous peoples in implementing that Convention’s forestry provision. Inviting Special Rapporteur James Anaya to visit southern Manitoba, he appealed to Mr. Anaya to reinforce to the Governments of Manitoba and Canada that international law recognized the rights of indigenous peoples to: self-determination; ownership, control and management of their traditional territories, lands and resources; and exercise their customary law, among other things. The Forum should further recommend that the expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples conduct an investigation and develop recommendations regarding the rights of the indigenous peoples of southern Manitoba, as well as their concerns regarding adverse effects. He urged the Forum to strongly support the recommendations of the World Commission on Dams on water and energy development.
STEVEN ROSS, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, said that water had been stolen, polluted and commodified since the colonization of Australia. Indigenous peoples were kept out of decision-making and discussions, and actions were taken without the free, prior and informed consent of the original owners of the land. In the Murray Darling Basin in south-east Australia, which provided much food and other resources and supported some 2 million people — including 15 per cent of the country’s indigenous population — water inflows had become extremely low. Indigenous peoples had the right to decide on its use, to hold water licenses, to trade, and use water for cultural and economic purposes. Across many parts of Australia, many indigenous people did not have access to potable water, further exacerbating inequalities.
The extractive industries in the country, which had very little accountability, should enter into free, prior and informed consent negotiations with indigenous communities, he said. The right of indigenous peoples to fish and use natural resources needed to be protected. Environmental safeguards were “wanting” in Australia, he said, as evidenced by the existence of in-situ leeching, a mining practice that was outlawed elsewhere. Among recommendations, he said that States needed to recognize that water had its own rights, and fully include indigenous peoples in all processes around water management. He also urged all States to incorporate the principles of the Declaration into policies regarding water.
ANDREA CARMEN, making a joint statement on behalf of the International Indian Treaty Council and several other organizations, said the sacredness of water was the foundation of life, health, cultural practices and survival. Yet, the imposition of non-sustainable projects by Governments and industries resulted in contamination, diversion and depletion of clean natural water resources, as well as desertification and climate change. State policies and legal systems that favoured corporate or industrial use of water over subsistence and ceremonial use by indigenous peoples — often in violation of treaties, agreements and constructive arrangements — negatively impacted on their right to water. Those policies and practices resulted in a wide range of human rights violations, including their rights to: permanent sovereignty over land and natural resources; free, prior and informed consent; self-determination; religious freedom; and the right not to be deprived of their own means of subsistence.
Noting that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation recently visited the United States for the first time, she expressed hope that Ms. de Albuquerque’s conclusion and final report would make an important contribution to that theme. She further noted that information from indigenous peoples from Canada, the United States, Guatemala and Mexico, regarding the impact of mineral extraction and the use of banned pesticides by Canadian and American companies, resulted in a landmark recommendation by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which agreed that those States, and by implication other States parties to the Convention, were responsible for monitoring the human rights compliance of corporations that they licensed whose activities impacted on the lands, waters and rights of indigenous peoples. It further recommended the implementation of administrative and legislative measures by the United States to prevent such violations. For its part, the Forum should implement a process to assess, evaluate and, as needed, propose measures for States to monitor the compliance of corporations carrying out activities that affected the right of indigenous peoples to water. It must specifically address free, prior and informed consent and the treaty right to water, she said.
GEOFFREY NETTLETON, speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples Link and other organizations, focused his statement on problems caused by extractive industries around the world. In the Philippines, for example, indigenous farmers lacked water for their crops, while large extractive and mining companies used massive amounts of water. Large companies were still dumping toxic waste directly into water sources, and contributed to the acidification of water that would last hundreds of years. Additionally, throughout the current session, the Forum had heard reports of serious human rights violations by those same companies. “Best practice is not the issue — worst practice, including restitution for victims, is the issue,” he stressed.
The Permanent Forum needed to urgently advise the Human Rights Council to follow up on the work of the Special Representative on business and human rights, John Ruggie, and to create a forum for indigenous peoples to voice their related concerns. He recommended that accessible and accurate data be made widely available on water and water rights. Food security must be given priority over mining in policies around the world. The Permanent Forum should address the use and misuse of water resources by companies, and should raise their standards for water protection. He also stressed that recommendations of the Forum should be submitted to the Rio+20 Conference, in order to ensure that the view of indigenous peoples were adequately represented in that forum.
DARLEEN SANDERSON, of the Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace, supported the establishment of water as a theme for the Forum’s thirteenth session in 2014. She called for an Indigenous World Forum on Water and Peace to be held, noting that UNICEF and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had expressed support for such an event. For its part, her organization was working internationally towards such a forum and intended to bring together a diverse indigenous knowledge network to develop innovative water solutions, seek new opportunities for positive adaptation and indigenous resiliency, as well as applications for recognition of indigenous peoples’ right to water. She endorsed the need to give voice to the indigenous perspective of guardianship of all sources of water. The Western view of water privatization was unsustainable, she stressed. Further, decision-making in water policies developed by indigenous peoples must always be informed by traditional laws and their elders. She went on to stress that the right to free, prior and informed consent must be recognized in all situations where water policy decisions affected indigenous peoples. In addition, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples must be implemented at all levels of Government.
MOHAMED AL KURSHAN, of the Jerusalem Bedouin Cooperative Committee and speaking on behalf of the Bedouin refugee community in the West Bank, said that his community had been displaced, and Bedouins in the West Bank were now an indigenous group suffering under Israeli occupation. Bedouins traditionally relied on raising cattle and livestock for their livelihoods, he stressed, but had since 1948 been deprived of access to farmland and water sources, many of which had become military areas or illegal Israeli settlements. The Bedouin refugees were now forced to buy their water in tankers, as they were also prohibited from digging wells. The situation of the Bedouin people in the West Bank was degenerating and they had come to depend on emergency humanitarian aid. “There is a forcible, systematic effort to destroy the Bedouin culture,” he stressed. Among other recommendations, he suggested that, until a political solution was found to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bedouins should be recognized and protected as a displaced population, with their basic human rights — including the right to water — respected. He also asked the Permanent Forum to send a representative to the Bedouin community in the West Bank and report to the Forum on that visit.
TONY JAMES, Vice-President of Amerindian Peoples Association of Guyana, said that the waters of all nine indigenous peoples in Guyana were at risk from the increasing commercialization of their mineral, hydrocarbon and forest resources. They were put at further risk as the realization grew of the value of their land to the low-carbon economy and climate-change mitigation. In Guyana’s interior, an internationally supported Low-Carbon Development Strategy and projects under reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) were paving the way for massive investments in hydroelectric generation that could flood parts of the territories of indigenous peoples and change the flow of the rivers sustaining their communities. Large-scale agriculture, which was often more water intensive than traditional farming, was similarly being promoted under the Low-Carbon Development Strategies. While much was being foretold about the possible benefits of those projects, questions about their risks had remained largely unanswered. There should, he said, be doubt regarding the urgent need for indigenous rights to be protected and respected, particularly the right to free, prior and informed consent.
To that end, he asked the Forum to work with States to ensure prompt legal recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples to own, manage and control their ancestral territories in accordance with international law; to assist States in revising national legislation to fully incorporate indigenous rights and strengthen their monitoring capacities; to ensure that every indigenous child had a copy of the Declaration in their own language; to work with indigenous peoples to make sure that the true value for their resources was known as a requirement for equitable benefit sharing; and investigate fully the possible impacts of REDD+ and other low-carbon or green economic strategies, among other things.
EDWARD JOHN, a member of the Permanent Forum from Canada, said that water was a human right, as contained in various international treaties, and that right was legally binding — an important point to keep in mind. It was, therefore, legitimate for indigenous peoples to seek redress for violations of that right. Focusing his statement on rights and responsibilities, he drew the attention of the Forum to Article 25 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the only provision in that document that discussed responsibilities. According to the Declaration, indigenous peoples had the right to “maintain and strengthen their spiritual relationship” with water sources, as well as uphold their responsibilities to future generations in that regard. The latter was a crucial and fundamental tenet to indigenous peoples. While the word “resources” commodified water, it was used in the Declaration to encapsulate the concept of water, land, animals and natural elements that were relied upon by indigenous communities. Moreover, in the teachings of indigenous elders, the responsibility to protect nature was central. That responsibility was also integral to the Forum’s current discussion.
Invited to make concluding observations, Ms. DE ALBUQUERQUE urged participants to use the United Nations mechanisms to claim their rights. She underlined the broad spectrum of avenues available in that respect, including the treaty monitoring bodies, the Universal Periodic Review, and the mandates of the other special rapporteurs. It was clear that the world was starting to think about what would happen after 2015 and it was time to start work on the post-2015 global development agenda. She stressed that it was important for indigenous peoples to be involved and to demand access to water and sanitation. In that regard, she said their call must be for universal access, not just a 50 per cent reduction, urging to them to start mobilizing now in order to achieve that goal.
Noting that his Government was comprised of indigenous peoples and organizations, Mr. SOLÓN said his colleague Pedro Calderón Rosas, from the Ejecutivo de la Confederación Sindical de Bolivia, would make a closing comment.
Mr. CALDERÓN said that today the indigenous peoples of Bolivia remembered the racial discrimination to which they had been subjected. They had been treated as animals, because they called for their indigenous rights. He stressed that the privatization of water in Bolivia had had an impact on the rates for those who used that system in both the urban and rural settings. It had also affected access to water by indigenous peoples, as well as the local systems for water management. It, thus, represented a breakdown of cultural values. Indigenous rights were being trampled and the neoliberal system was having its way, he said.
Briefly, Mr. XAVIER reiterated the need for free, prior and informed consent. He also recognized the issues raised by the various youth participants.
* *** *For information media • not an official record