Indigenous people face ongoing human rights abuses, UN expert says

24 October 2005 –

Although there has been advancement in protecting the rights of indigenous people, many suffer violations related to land use, persistent discrimination, poverty, lack of access to social services and lack of protection of their traditional cultures, an independent expert says in a report to the United Nations General Assembly released today.

"Despite the progress made in some countries, in most regions of the world indigenous people continue to face powerful obstacles hindering the full and effective enjoyment of their rights and to endure grave violations of their fundamental rights," the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, Rodolfo Stavenhagen said.

This year's annual report highlights abuses of indigenous people based on testimony from individuals, groups and UN agencies, and on visits to Colombia, Canada and South Africa, as well as from participation at conferences. Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who receive their mandate from the UN Commission on Human Rights and report back to it.

Mr. Stavenhagen says there is protective legislation, but it is not adequately enforced. He recommends that governments and UN agencies implement a host of measures to correct glaring human rights abuses, and pledges to focus his attention on "closing the growing gap" between existing legislation and the real day-to-day situation indigenous people face.

Noting improved conditions in the living conditions of indigenous people in some countries, including Mexico, South Africa, Chile, Canada, Colombia, and Norway, Mr. Stavenhagen also documents numerous complaints he has received from around the world regarding conflicts over land, and resulting serious environmental problems such as pollution, deforestation, desertification and toxic waste which erode the relationship of indigenous people with their traditions and means of survival.

He also writes of the "high degrees of marginalization of indigenous people," and "serious deficiencies in access to and provision of basic social services." Indigenous people also lack proper justice, and suffer death threats and persecution.

Equally troubling were the number of evictions and forced displacements of these groups despite internationally recognized legal provisions, according to the report.

Discrimination against indigenous persons is widespread, and women face "daily insults and humiliations for wearing traditional costumes," and even human rights defenders are harassed in many countries, it adds.

The situation of children is particularly "harrowing." Indigenous youngsters are forcibly recruited into armed groups, and sometimes into organized crime. They are also forced to work in mines and factories in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa the report says.

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