Forum Should Consider What Role It Can Play in Support of Indigenous Communities Trying to Resolve Land, Rights Conflicts, Says Chair, Opening Day-Long Debate
Forum Should Consider What Role It Can Play in Support of Indigenous Communities Trying to Resolve Land, Rights Conflicts, Says Chair, Opening Day-Long Debate
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)
Forum Should Consider What Role It Can Play in Support of Indigenous Communities
Trying to Resolve Land, Rights Conflicts, Says Chair, Opening Day-Long Debate
Permanent Body Takes Up Reports on 1997 Accord on Chittagong Hill Tracts,
Legal Defence of Rights, Biodiversity Protocol, Forced Labour, Global Crisis
While well versed in overseeing the implementation of peace accords, the United Nations system had much less experience in supporting indigenous peoples and communities in conflict resolution, and the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues should consider what kind of role it could play in addressing those gaps, that body was told today as it took up the report of its Special Rapporteur on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997.
Framing the discussion this morning, Forum Chairperson Mirna Cuningham said land was among the most critical and highly sensitive issues of the 1997 Accord, which had been signed by the Government of Bangladesh and a local indigenous political party and ended 25 years of low-intensity guerrilla warfare. She said the case was intricately related to the mandate of the Forum, not simply because the Accord’s two objectives aimed to re-establish peace and to provide institutional arrangements for regional autonomy, but because indigenous peoples around the world similarly found themselves in conflict with the dominant society, due to the loss of their land or the deprivation of their rights.
The issue of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was among several issues discussed in the Forum today, as it heard presentations during its day-long meeting on four other reports of its Special Rapporteurs, on international criminal law and the judicial defence of indigenous peoples’ rights; the international regime on access and benefit-sharing; forced labour and indigenous peoples; and the impacts of the global crisis on indigenous peoples.
Introducing his report on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, Forum Special Rapporteur Lars-Anders Baer said the study attested to, among other things, the challenges of implementing peace agreements when political will was overridden by other interests. Indeed, 14 years after its signing, many critical clauses of the Accord — which aimed to establish a regional system of self-government — remained unimplemented, or only partially addressed.
One reason for that failure, he said, was a general lack of political support for its implementation, which resulted in a lack of motivation to implement its provisions. In addition, the region was still heavily militarized and there were reports that the military was carrying out gross violations of indigenous human rights. Expressing deep concern over the practice of impunity that had seemed to prevail in the area, he underscored the responsibility of the Bangladesh State to protect its people and to bring violators to justice.
Responding with his own list of provisions his Government had implemented, the representative of Bangladesh expressed serious concerns about the report’s contents, as well as the way in which it was formulated. Stressing that Bangladesh did not, in fact, have an indigenous population, he suggested that Forum members tended to consider the words “indigenous” and “tribal” or “ethnic minorities” as synonymous, which was not the case, at all.
“The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord is an internal arrangement for improving administration and quality of governance in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region,” he said, adding that, “the Accord has nothing to do with ‘indigenous issues’”. Reiterating the position of the Government of Bangladesh that the Forum did not have any locus standi in discussing issues related to the Accord, he emphasized that the report was a sadly “lopsided” opinion on a non-indigenous issue. He further suggested that its “cherry-picking” approach might not be beneficial for the Forum in the long run, given the demise of even higher bodies on allegations of selectivity.
A representative of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samithi Samiti, the local indigenous political party to the Accord, said that while a task force had been formed and tribal refugees had been repatriated as per the Accord’s provisions, the lands of all returned refugees had not been returned, and internally displaced Jumma families had yet to be rehabilitated. He agreed that a lack of sincere political commitment, in addition to de facto military rule and hostile bureaucracy, were the main elements hindering the Accord’s implementation.
In the ensuing debate, many representatives of indigenous organizations expressed solidarity with the people of the region and called for their recognition as indigenous people. Several stressed that, with hundreds of army camps scattered across it, the region was still reeling under militarization. A number of other speakers said the Special Rapporteur’s report could be a basis for future initiatives.
Several Forum members underlined the potential inherent in the original Accord to resolve the ongoing tensions, with Raja Devasish Roy, a member of the Permanent Forum from Bangladesh, saying he hoped that “door of dialogue” which had been opened by today’s discussion remained open, as the parties to the conflict were not talking enough — whether in the Forum itself or in the cafeteria.
Further underlining the potential of the day’s dialogue, Dalee Sambo Dorough, Forum member from the United States, stressed that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provided a “new, key point of departure” for the region. Rather than focusing on article 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on acts of violence and genocide, she emphasized article 8 and the real opportunity for the Government of Bangladesh to provide mechanisms of redress for the peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region.
She suggested that implementing certain provisions would be a far more effective route for the Government than denying the indigenous identity. Indeed, the Accord, which had already been agreed on, provided a road map and seemed a far more preferable route to follow than that of forced displacement, which could eventually fall under the portfolio of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
As it took up other reports, the Forum was urged to use the recently adopted Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from Their Utilization to shape laws at the national level. Presenting the technical review of the international regime on access and benefit-sharing, Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz stressed that despite a number of weaknesses regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, the Protocol could be used to reduce the bio-piracy in indigenous communities
Ms. Tauli-Corpuz also introduced the report on the impacts of the global crisis on indigenous peoples. Eva Biaudet, a permanent forum member from Finland, presented a Special Rapporteur’s study on forced labour and indigenous peoples. The report on international criminal law and the judicial defence of indigenous peoples’ rights was introduced by Megan Davis, a permanent forum member from Australia.
A member of the Permanent Forum from Mexico also spoke today, as did representatives of Denmark, Guatemala and Brazil. Venezuela’s delegate to the Parlamento Indigena de América also spoke, as well as a representative of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Speakers from the following indigenous organization also participated: Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, Chittagong Hill Tracts’ Citizens Committee, Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, Kapeeng Foundation, Saami Council, Ain o Salish Kendra, Amnesty International and the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs, North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, and the Association of Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation.
Also: Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, Indigenous Peoples of Australia, Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Documentation, Research and Information, Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia, First Peoples Human Rights Coalition, Seneca Nation of Indians, Zo Reunification Organization, Ainu Association, Youth Caucus of Australia, Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney, Indigenous Peoples Foundation for Education and Environment, Nepalese Indigenous Peoples, Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality.
The Forum will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 26 May, to consider the draft agenda for its eleventh session.
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 consider studies by its Special Rapporteurs on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997; international criminal law and the judicial defence of indigenous peoples’ rights; technical review of the international regime on access and benefit-sharing; forced labour and indigenous peoples; and the impacts of the global crisis on indigenous peoples. For more information, please see Press Release HR/5050.
Status of Implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord
Making introductory comments, Forum Chairperson MIRNA CUNINGHAM said the case was intricately related to the mandate of the Forum, because of the two objectives of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, which were to re-establish peace and to provide institutional arrangements for autonomy in the region. Among the major issues were the alienation of indigenous peoples from their lands due to immigration into the area from non-indigenous people, the means of making the Accord more effective and the continued presence of military stations.
She stressed that land was the critical issue. It was also highly sensitive. In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples found themselves in conflict with the dominant society due to loss of land or deprivation of their rights. Overseeing the implementation of peace accords was not new in the United Nations, particularly in the case of civil conflict. Yet, there was still work to be done in the United Nations system in this area, particularly with respect to indigenous peoples, and the Forum should consider what kind of role it could play in that regard. For her part, she suggested the Forum could provide the platform for discussion on the Chittagong Hill Tracts through a number of its mandated areas, such as economic and social development, education and human rights, among others.
She further noted that there were parts of the United Nations system that could address situations in which there might be tensions in realizing treaties, accords and other agreements. It was particularly important to identify ways in which the Forum could further that goal.
Forum Special Rapporteur LARS-ANDERS BAER said his mandate had been to undertake a study on the status of implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997. He visited Bangladesh in September 2010, where he met with various Government officials, including the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the State Minister of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs. His study assessed progress in the implementation of the major provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, which was signed on 2 December 1997 by the Government of Bangladesh and the indigenous political party, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, after 25 years of low-intensity guerrilla war waged in reaction to violations and suppression of the rights of indigenous peoples in that region of the country.
He said the Accord recognized the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a tribal inhabited region, while also acknowledging its traditional governance system and the role of its chiefs. It also provided building blocks for regional autonomy. The report assessed the implementation of the Accord’s main provisions. Among the provisions that were partially implemented was the establishment of the Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs. Further, the current Chairperson of the Land Commission had made a number of controversial decisions that had, in effect, paralysed the work of that Commission. Meanwhile, it was clear that a number of military camps had been closed, but there was a discrepancy in the numbers reported by the Government and other reports from that indigenous political party.
He stressed that many critical clauses remained unimplemented, or only partially addressed, and there was still a long way to go before the stated goal of the Accords — the establishment of a regional system of self-government — was achieved. One reason for that failure was the lack of political support to the Accord, which resulted in a lack of motivation to implement its provisions. That lack reached beyond the party running the Government, he noted. In addition, the region was still heavily militarized and there were reports that the military was carrying out gross violations of indigenous human rights. Expressing deep concern over the practice of impunity that had seemed to prevail in the area, he underscored the responsibility of the Bangladesh State to protect its people and to bring violators to justice.
Among other things, the study attested to how challenging it was to implement peace agreements when political will was overridden by other interests, he said. He noted that it concluded with recommendations to a number of stakeholders. Among those were that the Government of Bangladesh: declare a timeline for implementation of all provisions of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord during the remaining period of its term, outlining modalities of implementation and persons and/or institutions responsible for implementation, in consultation with the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord Implementation Committee; facilitate the expedient settlement of land disputes by the Land Commission through the immediate amendment of the Land Dispute Settlement Commission Act of 2001, in accordance with the provisions of the Accord and the recommendations put forward by the Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council; and transfer functions normally performed by civilian agencies but now undertaken by the military, such as development projects and any other activities not requiring specific military skills, to the civil administration and to institutions set up under the Accord.
The report also recommends that the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations develop a mechanism to strictly monitor and screen the human rights records of national army personnel prior to allowing them to participate in peacekeeping operations under the auspices of the United Nations. It further suggests that the Forum conduct more in-depth case and comparative studies on peace accords. It should also dedicate the special theme of its twelfth session in 2013, or a technical seminar, to peacebuilding processes, the implementation of peace agreements and conflict-prevention initiatives in the territories of indigenous peoples.
Responding to the report, IQBAL AHMED (Bangladesh) said his Government had carefully gone through the report and wanted to register serious concerns about its contents, as well as the way in which it was formulated. While the Government’s position had been clarified during the Special Rapporteur’s visit, the report surprisingly did not reflect that clarification.
Providing some background information, he said Bangladesh did not have any indigenous population and had always followed the work of the Forum as an observer. With full respect to the Forum’s members, he said those members tended to consider the words “indigenous” and “tribal” or “ethnic minorities” as synonymous, which was not the case, at all. He requested that the Forum’s secretariat make arrangements to screen a two-and-a-half minute video clip containing the interview of Oang Shoi Pru Chowdhury, the Boman King, who was king of one of three circles in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region, in that connection.
He went on to note that a small proportion of Bangladesh’s population belonged to different ethnic minorities living in different parts of the country. The majority lived in the three hill districts of Chittagong, where there had been “sporadic unrest” from 1975 to 1996, after which the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was signed. He stressed that the present Government had resumed the full implementation of the Accord after taking office in January 2009.
“The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord is an internal arrangement for improving administration and quality of governance in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region,” he said, adding that, “the Accord has nothing to do with ‘indigenous issues’.” He reiterated the position of the Government of Bangladesh that the Forum did not have any locus standi in discussing issues related to the Accord, saying that the report was a sadly “lopsided” opinion on a non-indigenous issue. He further questioned the procedural legitimacy, as well as the content of the report, which showed a “cherry-picking” approach that might not be beneficial for the Forum in the long run, given the demise of even higher bodies on allegations of selectivity.
Having said that — and “since 90 minutes of valuable time of the United Nations has been dedicated to it” — he turned to the substance of the report, listing a number of the major aspects of the Accord that had already been implemented, including that: a separate Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs was formed in 1998 and its current head was working as a State Minister; of the 32 subjects of different ministries, an average of 18 subjects were handed over to the Hill District Council; and the fourth Land Commission was working to settle all land disputes. Further, a total of 12,222 tribal families repatriated from the Indian state of Tripura had been rehabilitated and a total of 705 surrendered Shanti Bahini members were recruited to the national police force.
He stressed that the term “minorities’ was relative and that, within minorities, there were groups of people who claimed to be minorities. The Government had been trying its best to address the ethnic minorities issue and for the first time was actively considering recognizing the distinctive identity of ethnic minorities in the country’s Constitution. Massive development efforts had also been undertaken by the Government and non-governmental organizations in the region.
Concluding, he stressed that his comments had been made for the better understanding of what was clearly a non-indigenous issue. It should not be misconstrued as recognition of the Forum’s authority to discuss the issue of Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs. He urged the Forum to dedicate its valuable time to discussing issues related to millions of indigenous peoples all over the world and not “to waste time on issues politically concocted by some enthusiastic quarters with questionable motives.” He further requested it to end discussion on the report, and for the member States of the Economic and Social Council to use their best judgment if similar issues were placed before them in the future.
MANGAL KUMAR CHAKMA, of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samithi Samiti, said that the Accord of 1997 was aimed at resolving the Chittagong Hill Tract problem through political and peaceful means. It paved the way for the peace, development and opportunities for meaningful engagement of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tract. Though Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina won the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Award in 1999 for that accord, “only a little” of that Accord had been implemented between 1996 and 2001. The main issues — the preservation of status of tribal-inhabited region, resolution of land disputes and demilitarization of the region — had yet to be implemented. Almost two and a half years had passed since the assumption of power by the present Government in Bangladesh, but effective measures had not yet been taken for the effective implementation of the provisions of the Accord. Among other examples he cited, the withdrawal of temporary camps in the Chittagong Hill Tract had yet to be carried out and the time-limit for that purpose had yet to be fixed. Further, while a task force had been formed and tribal refugees had been repatriated as per the accord’s provisions, the lands of all returned refugees had not been returned, and internally displaced Jumma families had yet to be rehabilitated.
A lack of sincere political commitment for implementing the Chittagong Hill Tract Accord on the part of the Government, in addition to de facto military rule and hostile bureaucracy, were the main elements hindering implementation. Until and unless all temporary camps were withdrawn and the de facto military rule of “Operation Uttoron” was ended, restoration of peace and stability and the implementation of the accord would be difficult. In that respect, he endorsed the recommendations made by the study of the Special Rapporteur, and urged the Permanent Forum to endorse those recommendations for the sake of the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tract Accord.
STEEN HANSEN (Denmark) said his country was a long-standing development partner of Bangladesh and remained committed to the promotion of indigenous peoples’ rights, which was a priority of its foreign policy. Denmark commended the progress made in implementing the 1997 Peace Accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. However, as pointed out by the report of the Special Rapporteur, there were human rights issues pertaining to the indigenous peoples of that area that needed to be addressed. Failure to implement the Peace Accord could cause renewed instability in the region. Denmark hoped that there should be no further delay in that implementation and, for that reason, it encouraged the Government of Bangladesh to set up a road map with a timeframe to implement the remaining parts of the Accord.
ANDREA CARMEN of the International Indian Treaty Council, presenting a statement on behalf of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, said that her delegation expressed solidarity with the indigenous people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and thanked the permanent Forum for devoting its attention to that “critical situation”. She encouraged the Forum to continue to follow-up on the situation, including regarding the implementation of the 1997 political Accord ensuring the rights of the people of that region. One of the key provisions of the Indigenous Peoples Declaration affirmed that such people had the right to the recognition, observance and enforcement of treaties “and other constructive arrangements forged with States or their successors”. The Declaration’s preamble also emphasized “the contribution of the demilitarization of the lands and territories of indigenous peoples to peace, economic and social progress and development.”
She said that the lack of respect for those and other essential tenets of the Declaration were directly related to the failure of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord. Indeed, while that treaty had called for the phased withdrawal of some 500 temporary military camps, her delegation was very concerned that over the past 14 years, only 71 of those camps had been removed. Also, the military had expropriated thousands of additional acres of land inside the Tracts during that time. Worse, military operations in indigenous villages had led to violence against innocent citizens, including rape, sexual abuse and other forms of assault, especially against indigenous women.
With all that in mind, she recommended that the Forum recommend that the Government of Bangladesh withdraw all the camps and end its de facto military rule of the Tracts; urge the Government to end its culture of impunity and punish those responsible for arson, torture, rape and other human rights abuses in the Tracts; and that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations establish a robust human rights screening mechanism to prevent military personnel guilty of rights violations at home from participating in United Nations peacekeeping operations in other countries.
CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA (Guatemala), recalling the similar history of conflict in her country, said her Government was very interested in seeing solutions found to political and social situations suffered by indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities. Bangladesh, which was a troop-contributing country to United Nations peacekeeping, should endeavour to deal with those issues, too.
RUKKA SOMBOLINGGI, Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, called for international solidarity with the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts and expressed serious concern for the “appalling situation” in that region. She said the Bangladesh Government had thus far failed to provide adequate support to set up administrative institutions, such as the Hill District Councils and Chittagong Hill Tracts regional Council, or to protect the “tribal-inhabited” status of the region, as called for under the Accord. Indeed, land-grabbing and the ongoing influx of Bengali settlers continued to pressure the indigenous peoples of the region and their way of life. Worse, those settlers frequently abused the rights of indigenous inhabitants and, at least five times since the Accord was signed in 1997, had carried out large-scale attacks with the intention of stealing indigenous land.
Citing systematic rape of indigenous women and torture and extrajudicial killing of indigenous leaders at the hand of the military, and massive internal displacement due to ongoing settler activities, she said that it was unacceptable that the affairs of the Chittagong Hill Tracts were still being run by the military, even after the Accord had been signed. “One third of the Bangladeshi army is alleged to be deployed in [the region] even though the country is not at war […] and there is not insurgency prevailing,” she said, calling for action, particularly the immediate withdrawal of all military camps. Constructive dialogues between the Government of Bangladesh and the indigenous peoples of the Hill Tracts must be immediately organized to revive efforts to fully implement the Accord. She also demanded that all Hill Tract refugees and displaced persons be rehabilitated without delay, recalling that Bangladesh must abide by the international human rights treaties to which it was party, and should not be allowed to “buy time and prolong the miseries that refuges were suffering.”
MONG SHANOO CHOWDHURY, of the Chittagong Hill Tracts’ Citizens Committee and other indigenous organizations, said that his group was growing increasingly sceptical of the Bangladesh Government’s sincerity in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord. The Government implemented only those provisions that met their “integrationist goals”, he said, while the more substantive aspects of the Accord were left out. For example, there had been no initiative by the Government to strengthen the special governance system, so as to preserve the characteristics of the Chittagong Hill Tracts as a “tribal inhabited region”. The incessant flow of non-indigenous people into the region made it even more difficult for the area to keep its tribal identity. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council, as a unit of regional authority, had not been groomed to function effectively, in accordance with the Accord. The most important administrative powers, such as land management and general administration and police, had not been transferred to the three Hill District Councils.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts area was still reeling under militarization, with more than 400 army camps scattered across the region, even 13 years after the signing of the Accord, he continued. The Government, in contravention of the Accord, was engaged in acquiring land without consulting the Hill District Councils. Arbitrary arrest and detention, killing, rape, plunder, arson, land-grabbing and other actions continued unabated. For durable peace in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, it would be crucial, among other things, that: the Chittagong Hill Tracts be demilitarized and all temporary security camps dismantled; the military be strictly prohibited from interfering with civil affairs including land problems; all repatriated and internally displaced families be properly and immediately rehabilitated on their rightful lands; the Accord be protected by the Constitution to ensure the inviolability of the indigenous/tribal character of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region; the existing laws be reviewed and revised to be consistent with the accord and the Hill Districts Council Acts of 1989, in consultation with the Regional Council; and the Government endorse the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 without delay.
Addressing the delegation of Bangladesh, TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, of the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus, said indigenous peoples had devoted a large part of their lives to building a place where they could hold a constructive dialogue between member States and indigenous peoples. That was why the Forum was meeting today. Indigenous women wanted to underline that the right of indigenous peoples’ to self-determination, as established in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Further, the control of natural resources was non-negotiable. That meant that no one could enter another person’s territory without knocking and asking to come in, she said. She recommended that Member States take further action to establish legal services, public education and outreach programmes, so that victims and witnesses of human rights violations, especially women and young people, could have access to health services and feel that their lives were respected. Special attention should also be paid to women and children in implementing peace accords, she added.
LINA LUSHAI, on behalf of the Kapeeng Foundation and other Bangladesh indigenous groups, agreed with other speakers that, although the Government had signed the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord in 1997, many of its provisions remained unimplemented. Indigenous Jumma women, in particular, were deprived of their basic rights, including representation to three Hill District Councils. The lack of representation — which had been provided for by the 1997 Accord — was largely due to the non-holding of elections to the Councils, she said. Also as a result of the failure to hold elections, she said that the Councils operated with “no accountability to the peoples”, and Bengali settlers had been able to grab indigenous land. “Gross violations” of the human rights of indigenous peoples occurred, including sexual violence against Jumma women. Among other actions, it was necessary to withdraw all temporary army camps, resolve land disputes and ensure the effective functioning of all governance systems.
In addition, she stressed, while the Government frequently said that Bangladesh had no indigenous peoples, the country’s legal situation was quite different. References to indigenous peoples had been seen in many Government platforms in the past, including in a 1995 law that contained a specific reference to “indigenous humans”, a recent Supreme Court case that had made reference to an indigenous man, and other instances. While indigenous peoples were referred to as “tribal and ethnic minorities”, those terms should be rejected. “We are indigenous peoples, and we must be recognized as such by our Government,” she stressed.
NIKO VALKEAPAA, of the Saami Council, said the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was a foundation legal document that could restore the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. He, thus, congratulated Bangladesh for having signed it. However, he was concerned that most of the important sections of that Accord remained unimplemented 14 years after it was signed. Land disputes clearly remained one of the biggest hindrances to peace in the area, and the Saami Council was deeply disappointed that the Land Commission had failed to take any positive steps since the appointment of its Chairman nearly two years ago. The Sami Council was also worried about the recent spate of attacks that had been taking place in the region in the last few years.
He was concerned that the Government was biased toward only Bengali people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Further, the Government had yet to officially recognize the existence of indigenous peoples, both in the Chittagong Hill Tracts and the plainlands. He voiced support for the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, particularly the call for a timeline for the full implementation of the Accord. Further, the Government of Bangladesh must immediately take appropriate steps to make the necessary amendments to the Land Dispute Settlement Resolution Act 2001. Among other things, the Special Parliamentary Committee for Constitutional Amendment should be urged to recognize indigenous peoples in the Constitution.
WASFIA NAZREEN, of Ain o Salish Kendra, said that she felt “ashamed” to come to the Forum as a Bengali, whose fellow people had continued to carry out ethnic displacement, land-grabbing, human rights violations, rape and other forms of violence against the indigenous Jumma peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts for over four decades. Responding to some points made by the representative of Bangladesh, she said that the use by Bangladesh of the terms “ethnic minority” and “tribal people”, as well as phrases, such as “small ethnic groups”, brought into question the intentions of the Government. Indigenous peoples of Bangladesh continued to insist that those terms were “insulting, limiting and not acceptable to them”, she stressed, and continued to campaign to have themselves recognized as “indigenous peoples”. She requested the Government to recognize that definition above and beyond all others. In his statement, the representative of Bangladesh had listed various steps taken towards the implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, but put the responsibility for non-implementation on “non-cooperation by indigenous peoples leaders”. However, she disagreed with that interpretation and pointed out that the Government had not taken those steps in a sincere fashion. The representative also gave examples of some statistics on development, but had neglected to mention that the primary beneficiaries of those were the Bengali settlers, and not the indigenous peoples.
Her organization completely agreed with the Special Rapporteur’s assertion that one of the main causes of the conflict was the lack of recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights, including land and resource rights. Implementation of the 1997 Accord was mandatory, she said. At the same time, she recognized that, fundamentally, the Accord was not the ultimate measure. Its main aim was to restore a just peace, demilitarize the region, provide for rehabilitation and set the stage for Chittagong Hill Tracts-specific intuitions to pursue their self-determined development. Those efforts could “hardly start unless the basic problems are addressed”. Among other things, she demanded participation rights for the indigenous peoples of the region and a democratic process, where civilians had voices. Clear violations of basic human rights and humanitarian norms continued frequently, she said, citing several recent examples, including arson attacks perpetrated against indigenous peoples and the Government’s refusal to allow a relief team, carrying supplies for the Jumma, to visit the area. “If this is not the perfect example of systematic racial cleansing, then what is?”, she asked, demanding a “thorough, independent and impartial investigation” on those recent violations.
She made several key recommendations, including that: the Special Rapporteur on indigenous peoples, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Special Rapporteur on religious intolerance be invited to visit Bangladesh, including the Chittagong Hill Tracts, to investigate alleged cases of human rights violations under their respective mandates; local governments build upon the safeguarding guarantee of the peace accord and participate in peace building; and a special emphasis be placed on women. In line with its previous recommendations on the matter, the Permanent Forum should address the cases of impunity and should request the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to establish a screening mechanism to ensure that perpetrators of human rights from Bangladesh and elsewhere were not allowed to participate in United Nations peacekeeping missions. Finally, the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladeshi human rights organizations and international human rights organizations should prosecute violators of the human rights of indigenous peoples in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in the International Criminal Court and other relevant forums.
ANDREW ERVETI, delivering a joint statement on behalf of Amnesty International and the International Work Group on Indigenous Affairs, said the Special Rapporteur’s presentation had confirmed numerous reports, eyewitness and otherwise, over the years about what was happening in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, including that progress in implementing the political Accord “is painfully slow and the process is exacerbating the distressing human rights situation facing the indigenous peoples there.” One of the biggest obstacles to peace was the ongoing failure to address land disputes in the Hill Tract region. Indeed, he said, although a Chairman had been appointed in 2009 to the Land Commission charged with settling such disputes, disagreement with that panel’s indigenous members over administrative matters and the legal nature of its functions had rendered it virtually moribund.
He went on to note that the ongoing and systematic violations of the human rights of the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts were linked to the lack of constitutional safeguards of such rights in Bangladesh. The current constitutional amendment process in Bangladesh had led to strong calls by indigenous peoples to be recognized as such. Recognition of that sort would reaffirm the Government’s support for human rights, as well as its pledge to work for the rights of indigenous people. It would also back up the Prime Minister’s public statements on the International Day for the World’s Indigenous People in 2009, emphasizing his Government’s support for the Declaration. Amnesty International and the Working Group would, among others, reiterate the recommendation to the Government of Bangladesh made by the Human Rights Council to fully implement the Hill Tracts Accord as a mater of priority and to set out a time frame to that end. The organizations would also urge that Government to extend an invitation to the Special Rapporteur to visit Bangladesh to assess the situation in the Hill Tracts.
CELEST MCKAY, of the North American Indigenous Peoples Caucus, expressed solidarity and support for her brothers and sisters, the indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts. She supported the call for the full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord of 1997, in particular regarding demilitarization of their homelands, addressing impunity of human rights violations, halting violence and human rights violations against indigenous women, and the resolution of land disputes including the establishment of an effective mechanism for redress. That would include, she stressed, the return of lands. She called on the Forum to recognize and support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations.
RAJA DEVASISH ROY, a member of the Permanent Forum from Bangladesh, said that the report of the Special Rapporteur had been well-researched, accurate and objective. If it had better dealt with implementation, the Chittagong Hill Tracts Agreement would have been strong, as it had provided for a land commission, regional courts and other things in a way that fit with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. However, those elements had not been promoted, due to non-implementation. Mr. Roy recalled that, in 1997, he had been asked to take part in the drafting of the accord’s contents and its implementation. Gaps still remained in that respect, he said, welcoming the opportunity provided by today’s discussion. He hoped that the “door of dialogue” would be kept open, as the parties to the conflict were not talking enough — whether in the Forum itself or in the cafeteria.
On the matter of implementation, he said, the Government had told of a “glass half full”, but what was important was that half the glass was “not there”. Demilitarization was crucial, as it had implications for the stability of the entire country and its “journey to democracy”. Indigenous rehabilitation was another crucial point of concern. With regard to land disputes, he disagreed with the representative of Bangladesh that the land commission’s work was not being carried out by tribal leaders. It was the commission’s chairperson — and not the commission members — that had unilaterally decided on carrying out a land survey, and had not included indigenous peoples in that survey, rather than dealing directly with land disputes. “The Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord is about peace, it is about autonomy, it is about demilitarization,” he stressed. Those elements had not yet been accomplished.
In addition, it was important for the implementation of the Accord to address gender dimensions, psychological and other factors affecting indigenous peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. On the issue of terminology, he noted that national Governments were free to use whatever term for “indigenous people” that they chose, but hoped that he Government of Bangladesh would choose a term that the indigenous peoples found to be “respectful and accurate”. However, the choice of terminology did not change the position of international law on the matter. The Declaration and ILO Convention 169, among other agreements, applied equally to indigenous and “tribal” people equally. That debate was “dragging them down in the wrong direction”. Lastly, on peace accords and the asymmetry between Governments and non-government groups, the Accord “delivered what was required”. However, the Government, for its part, was not delivering on some aspects. “Where do you do if the Government does not deliver?”, he asked, concluding that the Permanent Forum was a natural recourse for those matters.
DALEE SAMBO DOROUGH, Forum member from the United States, thanked the Special Rapporteur, as well as the Government of Bangladesh, for its participation in the debate. She stressed that the views and perspectives of the Government should be addressed with the same fervour as were the concerns of the indigenous peoples in Chittagong Hill Tracts region. She hoped a full and peaceful resolution of all of the issues could be found.
Continuing, she said the current conditions of human rights violations and, in particular, the more recent escalation in conflict and military control — seemingly exercised with impunity — were as alarming as the first actions that triggered the original conflict in 1976. Military control, encroachment, displacement, forced relocations and the rape and sexual harassment of indigenous women all required immediate attentions.
Rather than focusing on Article 7 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples on acts of violence and genocide, she wished to emphasize Article 8 and the real opportunity for the Government of Bangladesh to provide mechanisms of redress for the peoples of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. She also emphasized actions that the State could take to prevent forced population transfers, which might result in undermining the culture and values of the Jumma people, and stressed that the State could also take steps to prevent the assimilation of the Jumma people into the Bengali identity.
She sincerely believed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples provided a “new, key point of departure” with respect to that issue. Towards that end, she said that one of the points of the United Nations Charter was to develop relations among States through appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace. Saying it was critical to ask what universal peace meant in the context of the Chittagong Hill Tracts, she pointed to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which spoke of the “integrity” of indigenous peoples. Among other definitions, integrity meant “whole”, and from an outsider’s perspective, the situation of the Jumma people could not be described as such.
She underlined the need to strengthen the Chittagong Hill Tracts District Council and the three identically empowered Councils. That would, she said, be a far more effective route for the Government than denying the indigenous identity. She further stressed that the Accord, which had already been agreed on, provided a roadmap and seemed a far more preferable route to follow than that of forced displacement, which could eventually fall under the portfolio of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In addition, the demilitarization of the Chittagong Hill Tracts seemed far more cost-effective than maintaining military stations. If the examples of other instances of demilitarization applied, it would also advance peace. Why, she asked, would that not be a desirable outcome? Moreover, the fracturing or erosion of indigenous institutions in the regions could not be good for anyone, including the State.
Given the region’s history, she said it was hard to understand the failure to fully implement the Accord. If the argument centred on the notion of securing the unitary rights of the State of Bangladesh, she said the language of the Declaration provided guidance. Among other things, it said the significance of regional particularities and regional history should be taken into consideration. States must recognize the “right all peoples to be different, to consider themselves different, and to be respected as such”. The sanctity of the unitary State could only be safeguarded if the State making such a claim was complying with the principle of the self-determination of indigenous peoples.
SAUL VINCENTE VASQUEZ, a member of the Permanent Forum from Mexico, said that the Special Rapporteur had provided relevant conclusions and recommendations in his study. While progress had been made in implementing the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord, some problems remained. For example, in Bangladesh, there remained no recognition of indigenous peoples. If indigenous peoples did not, in fact, exist in Bangladesh, should Bengali Permanent Forum member Devashish Roy give up his membership to the Forum? He referred to the second preambular paragraph of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which stated that indigenous peoples were equal to all other peoples in the world. The report of the Special Rapporteur respected the wording of the Declaration in that regard, he said.
The study could be a basis for future initiatives, he said. Recalling that in Mexico, a 1994 armed revolt had been necessary to prompt the Government to recognize indigenous peoples in its constitution, and adding that he hoped such a revolt would not be needed in Bangladesh to achieve such recognition, he said that the Special Rapporteur’s study could be used as a model for a study on the San Andreas situation in Mexico. The Permanent Forum must take up the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur, he concluded.
Concluding the debate on the report on the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord, Ms. CUNINGHAM reiterated that the Permanent Forum provided an opportunity to bring all the actors together, from the Forum members to Governments, United Nations agencies, and indigenous organization, for dialogue on what were sometimes very important issues. However, dialogue should take place back home in the respective countries, she said, stressing that it was important that indigenous peoples and Governments continued to talk even after the current session.
International Criminal Law and Judicial Defence of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights
MEGAN DAVIS, a permanent forum member from Australia, then introduced the report of a study, entitled “International criminal law and the judicial defence of indigenous peoples’ rights” (document E/C.19/2011/4), which the Permanent Forum had decided to conduct during its ninth session.
The study examines the crime of genocide in light of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she said. It had been necessary for the Declaration to include a specific mention of genocide against indigenous peoples, the study found, as those peoples had been deprived of international criminal protection of even those most basic of their rights. Among the limitations of the Convention to which the report refers, she said, is its “narrow definition” of genocide. According to the report, in light of that shortcoming, other concepts began to emerge, including the concept of “ethnocide”, which replaced “cultural genocide”. However, “ethnocide” did not provide for a legal defence of indigenous peoples.
The study also analyses and discusses the statute of the International Criminal Court in relation to indigenous peoples. For practical purposes, genocide was no longer considered an exclusive matter between States, she said. Additionally, according to the study, under the statute of the International Criminal Court, genocide was no longer the only crime defined under international law under which indigenous people could argue crimes against humanity. There were a number of acts that could be considered international crimes or crimes against humanity, including forced displacement, seizures of territories, collective imprisonment and inhumane policies that caused suffering, including sexual assault. Any type of widespread or systematic attack against indigenous peoples could now be reported to and taken up by the Court without a formal complaint. Further, unlike the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court had its own prosecutor’s office, which could act of its own accord. Indigenous peoples or human rights organization might provide evidence of such crimes directly to the prosecutor’s office.
The report concluded that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Statute of the International Criminal Court had opened many avenues for criminal protection of the rights of indigenous peoples under international law. Those were still unexplored avenues, owing primarily to the persistence in international criminal law of a position established in the past, especially under the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, whereby indigenous peoples did not qualify for criminal protection. That explained the need for the Declaration to refer to the right of indigenous peoples not to be subjected to “any act of genocide”.
The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples called for a change in perspective, to the effect that the fundamental right of indigenous peoples to existence and dignity could and must be protected against the still-common policies and actions by any type of agent — not only State agents — which constituted virtual genocide or crimes against humanity. The International Criminal Court was the court with competence in cases concerning such crimes — of which indigenous peoples continued to be victims — and involving States parties to the Statute of the Court. Its prosecutor’s office must also act propio motu in the most egregious cases.
In that regard, Ms. Davis also mentioned the case of her native Australia, in which genocide had been designated a crime under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, providing welcome protection against future instances of genocide. However, problems remained where cases of genocide were brought against the State, she said. While the International Criminal Court retained jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of genocide where the State had been unwilling or unable to do so, Australia’ primacy in that regard had bee confirmed nationally, and the State could choose whether or not to release a case to the Court. In any case, and especially for matters that lay beyond the jurisdiction of the Court, under article 42 of the Declaration, the United Nations was under the obligation to establish mechanisms to redress any serious violation of the rights of indigenous peoples and to provide reparation for those that have been committed.
Technical Review of International Regime on Access and Benefit-Sharing
Noting that Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity had recently been adopted, Special Rapporteur VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ said the report considered how it addressed the rights of indigenous peoples. Providing some background, she said the Protocol aimed to implement the third objective of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The first two were the conservation of biological diversity and the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, she recalled.
Highlighting the importance of the Nagoya Protocol as the first legally-binding instrument adopted after the General Assembly’s passage of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she acknowledged that it was not a human rights instrument, stressing that it was still pertinent to consider how the Protocol addressed the indigenous peoples’ rights. Among the protocol’s weaknesses was its use of the Convention’s terminology in referring to the rights of indigenous peoples, particularly in terms of a lack of explicit recognition of the rights to genetic resources. That was, she suggested, a “historical trap” that indigenous peoples found themselves in.
But, while the Nagoya Protocol did not categorically state that the right of indigenous peoples to their biological resources should be protected, some of its provisions could be interpreted as requiring such protections from States parties, she said. In addition, she pointed out that indigenous peoples had not been deterred from actively participating in the negotiation process, and it was to their credit that there were many references to indigenous peoples in the final draft. Specifically, 6 of its 28 preambular paragraphs referred to indigenous peoples and communities and as the first legally-binding, multilateral environmental agreement referencing indigenous peoples, it helped in making the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples international customary law.
Outlining a number of other terms that touched on indigenous rights, including its treatment of free, prior and informed consent, she noted that the reference to domestic law in that context was still a weakness. Nonetheless, free, prior and informed consent was required in terms of both access to genetic resources and to traditional knowledge. Further, the Nagoya Protocol required actions in domestic law to give effect to its provisions, thus providing the opportunity for indigenous peoples to work with national Governments to enshrine not only the rights recognized in the Protocol, but also in the Declaration. The compliance mechanisms clearly stated that rules must to be set nationally. It also calls for measures to be taken when the right to free, prior and informed consent was violated. This meant that the Protocol could be used to reduce the bio-piracy in indigenous communities. However, it was up to indigenous peoples to use it to shape laws at the national level.
In the end, it would be a “battle of interpretations”, she said, noting that if indigenous peoples were strong at the national level, they could use the Protocol to further their rights. She stressed that because the Nagoya Protocol was not cast in stone, and the Conference of Parties would continue to discuss it, there was an opportunity for indigenous peoples to refine it.
JAMES LOUIE, representing the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, said he was Pau Tuc la Cimc, a Lil’wat of the Statimc Nation. He wanted to address Article 5 of the Declaration, which dealt with the right to self-determination. He stressed that he did not want his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live the life that he had today, with Canada assuming that he was Canadian. The International Court of Justice stated that consent was sacrosanct.
The right to water of indigenous peoples was threatened by that country’s refusal to acknowledge indigenous self-determination, he said. The Government imposed upon them the Canadian-legislated Indian Act, whereby one Chief had to be elected for each community. Canada was in breach of several of its own laws, which made it unlawful for colonial Governments and their successors to interfere with the internal affairs of Indigenous Nations, he said. Regarding a recent settlement agreement between British Columbia and the hydroelectric utility BC Hydro Power Corporation, he objected to the elected Chiefs’ presumption to deal with issues across other indigenous territories. They were not representatives of the Statimc people and their territory, he stressed, and they had not been given authority to make an agreement granting water licenses to that company.
By Article 5 of the Declaration, indigenous peoples had the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, legal, economic, social and cultural institutions, and, by other Articles, they had the right to live in freedom, peace and security, and could not be subjected to any act of genocide. The Lil’wat, however, had brought a petition had been brought to the Organization of American States (OAS) in 2007 on the seizure and removal of children from their parents and communities. To date, that petition had not been reviewed. Recourse was needed, as provided for in Article 40 of the Declaration. He strongly urged the Forum to engage with existing United Nations members, procedures and mechanisms to make the Declaration a “binding and enforceable” international convention, augmenting the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
ANASTASIA CHUKHMAN, of the Association of Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, noting that the Russian Federation had three special regulations on the rights of indigenous peoples, said that in 2009, the Government approved a blueprint for sustainable development of the North, Siberia and Far East, including protections for the traditional livelihoods of indigenous peoples. However, many of those protections had not been implemented. Further, there were no mechanisms to do so, which, in some cases, further exacerbated their lack of rights. Indigenous organizations had sought protection for their right to use traditional natural resources. Yet, none of the domestic courts had recognized that right in court cases litigated from 2002 to 2005. This year, the indigenous people of the Russian Federation celebrated the 10 year anniversary of their decision to set up areas of natural resource use, despite the lack of official recognition. She further noted that national fishing and hunting legislation did not recognize the particular situation of indigenous peoples and stressed that the indigenous peoples were being punished for exercising their rights. Finally, she highlighted the rise in court cases in which indigenous peoples were required to prove their indigenous identity.
JOSIE GUY, of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia, said that, on access and benefit sharing, indigenous peoples’ lands continued to be exploited by Governments and commercial interests, without consulting with the land’s rightful owners. Where those lands contained natural resources, she urged the Government to implement a scheme that ensured that indigenous peoples had: the right to participate in its use, management and conservation; the right to be consulted before natural resources on those lands were exploited; the right to benefit from the profits made from the exploitation and use of those resources; the right to be compensated by the Government for any damages cause by such activities; and other related rights.
On criminal law and the judicial defence of indigenous peoples’ rights, she said that, in the past, indigenous children had been taken from their families and communities and placed into institutions where cultural practices, beliefs and language were stripped from them. The practical effect was that the State was in breach of the United Nations Genocide Convention. The effects of that policy were still felt by countless indigenous peoples, and actions needed to be taken to redress the damage that had been caused. Among other concluding recommendations, she said that the Permanent Forum should conduct — or recommend that another United Nations mechanism conduct — a thematic study on the recognition of indigenous peoples in the national constitutions of Member States, to be presented to the Forum in 2013. It should urge all States to develop comprehensive strategies to encourage strong participation of indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination, and to establish restorative justice processes similar to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She recommended that all States include within the scope of their forced labour definitions and related responses the impact of “covert or systemic forced labour”, whereby States compelled indigenous peoples to perform menial work that did not build the capacity of the person or the community, and had no future prospects.
BENJAMIN POWLESS, of the Global Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus and speaking on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples' Centre for Documentation, Research and Information, said that all of the Centre’s activities were undertaken in partnership with indigenous peoples. They allowed the linking of local communities with United Nations bodies through their national and regional networks by strengthening the documentation and fundraising capacities of local organizations, among other things. The Centre recommended that the United Nations agencies and programmes, as well as donors, establish partnerships with its organization in order to facilitate its activities, as well as its funding, with the ultimate aim of pursuing the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at all levels.
Forced Labour and Global Crisis
EVA BIAUDET, a permanent forum member from Finland, presented a Special Rapporteur’s study, commissioned at its ninth session, on forced labour and indigenous peoples (document E/C.19/2011/CRP.4).
According to that report, ILO estimates that some 12 million people around the world were victims of forced labour. Other estimates range up to 27 million — “perhaps more than ever”, she noted, adding that the situation was a growing challenge in all countries. Those estimates included victims involved in labour, crime, begging and sexual and other forms of slavery. Women and children, and persons in migration who were not familiar with the local language or customs, were particularly vulnerable. Forced labour was also often linked to long-standing patterns of discrimination, she added. Historically, indigenous peoples had suffered greatly from forced labour, due to their poverty and lack of livelihoods, as well as to discrimination against them and other factors. ILO estimated that a large percentage of those affected were trafficked for sexual labour, but, as it was a clandestine criminal activity, the practice was unlikely to be visible or reported.
Indigenous children, in particular, were disproportionately affected by human trafficking. In Brazil, for example, children cut trees or worked in mines. In Peru, they made up a large percentage of goldmine workers. While the Convention on Child Labour had been in force since 1999, the problem continued. United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that 150 million children were working around the world, with the highest prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa. With the number of children and youth growing worldwide, that was a particular concern, she said. The study presented a brief overview of the global situation, but focused largely on the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Among other things, it showed that, while forced labour was often related to the private sector, States too were involved, as in the case of the sugar industry in Mexico.
Facing social exclusion and discrimination, and often possessing little or no information about their rights, indigenous people were particularly affected by forced labour. On that issue, a mission had gone to Paraguay and Bolivia in 2009 to study the situation of indigenous peoples in forced labour there. Among challenges faced were the lack of sufficient labour laws, the lack of criminalization of forced labour, and, more often, the fact that laws were not being implemented. While the number of countries that had officially criminalized trafficking in human beings had doubled in recent years, very few cases were pursued and more remained to be done. According to an ILO study, entitled “The Costs of Coercion”, more than $20 billion were gained by the perpetrators of forced labour worldwide. States, in collaboration with the United Nations and other international organizations, must increase their efforts to fight forced labour, and should put in place instruments to protect victims, paying particular attention to indigenous peoples.
Introducing the report on the impacts of the global crisis on indigenous peoples, Special Rapporteur VICTORIA TAULI-CORPUZ said the study looked at the global financial and economic crisis of 2008 and concluded that it was not a fluke, but the result of a systematic weakness in the global financial system. Moreover, it was clear that the crisis had impacted the world’s most vulnerable people, including indigenous communities, particularly hard. Unemployment had soared to between 50 and 90 per cent among indigenous peoples, largely because of the collapse of the construction sector. While some Native Americans benefited from the stimulus funds provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, however, in the rest of the Americas many communities saw remittances drastically reduced.
Turning to what must be done in the fact of the crisis, which was not really going away if the world proceeded with business as usual, she emphasized that it was not an aberration, but a direct result, of the system itself. Further, the pursuit of unlimited growth had clearly resulted in widespread degradation. Quoting the Report of the Commission of Experts of the President of the United Nations General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, which was chaired by Joseph Stiglitz, she said: “The rapid spread of the financial crisis from a small number of developed countries to engulf the global economy provides tangible evidence that the international trade and financial system needs to be profoundly reformed to meet the needs and changed conditions of the early twenty-first century. The crisis has exposed fundamental problems, not only in national regulatory systems affecting finance, competition, and corporate governance, but also in the international institutions and arrangements created to ensure financial and economic stability.”
She said evidence showed that both developed and developing countries continued to feel the effects of the crisis, although that was just one side of the coin. On the other side was environmental degradation and climate change, which also directly resulted from the liberal economic model. As a result, development had exceeded the carrying capacity of the world’s ecosystems. In addition, the financial and economic crisis was succeeded by the food crisis, which included massive land-grabs, among other things. It was estimated that the current food crisis had pushed roughly 150 million people back into poverty, making it harder to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In March 2011, the world’s food index remained 36 per cent above its level a year earlier. Indeed, staple foods had seen double digit cost increases.
Against that backdrop, the report sought to identify ways in which indigenous peoples were coping with the interlocking crises, she said. She further stressed that the situation must be addressed at the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples. “We must come up with more bold proposals to address the changes that are very much needed,” she said, recommending that the Forum support the efforts of indigenous peoples to develop their own reports in relation to “Rio+20”, which should include concrete descriptions of how they were developing green economies that were appropriate to their culture.
MICHELE KELIN-SOLOMON, of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), said that the nexus between migration and indigenous peoples was unique, because of their especially close link to their communities and lands. Migration of indigenous peoples, whether voluntary or forced, often had a “deep collective and cultural impact”, she stressed. Traditional policies of integration and assimilation promoted for other migrants were, therefore, often problematic and potentially harmful in the case of indigenous peoples. Additionally, environmental degradation, climate change, poverty and a lack of sustainable livelihoods in their communities could become very strong push factors for indigenous peoples to consider migration as a means of survival and ensuring a better future for the next generations. Indigenous peoples migrated to urban areas, or abroad, in search of employment, educational prospects and opportunities, improved access to health services and housing, increased political participation, social recognition or visibility they may lack in their native communities.
While migration would be empowering for some indigenous communities, for others it brought risks of exploitation and abuse, she said. The link between human trafficking and social marginalization meant that indigenous peoples — particularly women and children — were most at risk of being trafficked. For its part, IOM paid special attention to the impacts of migration on indigenous peoples. For example, all IOM projects in Colombia incorporated a strategy for the inclusion of an ethnic focus for indigenous and Afro-Caribbean communities. IOM had undertaken research and work related to both indigenous peoples’ issues and climate change, including mapping the nexus between them. Measures were needed to address the particularities of indigenous migration, including its push factors. It was important to prevent the dilution of their customs and ways of life, by empowering them against discrimination, encouraging education in their native tongue, training in traditional crafts and skills, and promoting a “different but equal” approach to indigenous migrants within host communities.
NAOMI LANOI, of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, said her group had come together for its first preparatory meeting on 15 May 2011 in New York City. But, while they felt highly privileged to sit in the room, most of the world’s indigenous youth had no access to such an opportunity. Thus, she called for the participation of indigenous peoples, particularly youth, in decision-making processes, including the Forum. She stressed that delegates travelling to the Forum should be protected from being detained, kidnapped and denied entry due to visas, accreditation, political interference and other hidden agendas. The right of indigenous peoples to participation, assembly and freedom of speech and travel should not be infringed on by anyone. She called for transparency, due process and legitimacy and made an appeal for those indigenous organizations denied access to the Forum. Without such accountability, the Forum could not live up to the expectations of indigenous peoples.
She further stressed that the unrecognized and under-represented indigenous peoples should be given special attention. No indigenous peoples should be excluded from international human rights protections, even if they were not recognized as indigenous, domestically or internationally. She said that after three decades, the non-implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Accord was a serious concern and strongly called for the immediate implementation of the Accord and the recognition of the Jumma people as indigenous peoples.
In response to a comment made by an indigenous representative earlier, ALAN SELLOS (Brazil) said that the Brazilian Government wished to receive precise information on any incidents of forced labour occurring in his country. Brazil was engaged in a “very serious and difficult fight” against those criminal phenomena, he stressed, and forced labour did not receive any support from the Brazilian Government or society. Those criminal activities must be punished and suppressed, he emphasized.
JOSIE GUY, of the Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia, said that forced labour impacted many indigenous peoples in Australia, and its roots were based in an unshakeable belief that indigenous peoples were incapable of managing their own affairs, especially with regard to money, and needed guidance, control and intervention. She recalled that, from 1848 though the 1970s, indigenous people in Australia were forced to work for basic rations in menial tasks and conditions akin to slavery. While an Australian Senate Inquiry had been made into that policy in 2006, recommendations from that Inquiry, including compensation schemes, still remained unimplemented. Today, another policy impelled indigenous peoples to work for low wages, combined with welfare payments, continuing the negative labour situation.
Increasing indigenous participation in the Australian economy was a significant challenge that remained to be adequately addressed, with indigenous peoples lagging behind in benefiting from future economic opportunities derived from their own resource base. Those economic gains that had been made were being jeopardized by the global financial crisis. Australia’s indigenous peoples needed a strategy to ensure that they were better equipped to endure turbulent economic events, she stressed. The State should be encouraged to coordinate programmes to assist them in that regard, and in participating in the economy in general.
The Indigenous Peoples Organization of Australia recommended that all States include within the scope of their forced labour definitions and related responses the impact of “covert or systemic forced labour”, whereby States compelled indigenous peoples to perform menial work that did not build the capacity of the person or the community, and had no future prospects. It also recommended that they establish mechanisms for compensation to indigenous peoples for what was known as “stolen wages”.
ESTEBAN PÉREZ, Venezuela delegate to the Parlamento Indigena de América, said the absence of political inclusiveness contributed to the marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous peoples. Bearing in mind that some countries had not ratified ILO Convention No. 169 or endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he suggested that the Forum work toward those ends. He further underlined the need for the participation of indigenous peoples in national and international forums and applauded the recognition of their rights by the Venezuelan Government.
ELLEN GABRIEL, of the First Peoples Human Rights Coalition, said it was unimaginable to think self-determination would be fully realized without the perpetuation of indigenous languages. Stressing that indigenous languages were living and should be used in daily lives, not just on special occasions, she said oppression and colonization had eroded the use of those languages, which were needed for the health, well-being and governance systems of indigenous peoples. Every day indigenous language speakers were lost, taking with them traditional knowledge. Indeed, the majority of indigenous languages were in critical states, as exemplified by the case of Canada, where only 3 of 52 indigenous languages were expected to survive through the end of this century. She, thus, recommended that the Forum undertake a process of implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in that regard. Further, the recommendations of the international expert group meeting in indigenous languages should be fully implemented and the issue of indigenous languages should be incorporated in all of the Forum’s future programmes of work.
NIKKI SENECA, of the Seneca Nation of Indians, said that the Seneca had signed a series of treaties with the United States that ensured their exclusive ownership and governance of their territories. Those treaties had been affirmed in many contexts as being the same as a treaty with any other sovereign nation. However, the United States had not respected or honoured its historic treaties with the Seneca Nation. For instance, in the 1960s, it had built the Kinzua Dam and flooded a third of the Seneca’s Allegheny territory, which was guaranteed under the treaty, without their consent and in the face of its opposition. That was an “egregious breach” of their treaty rights, she said, which had also been unfairly upheld by the United States Supreme Court. Examining the continued violations of such treaties should remain an integral part of the Permanent Forum’s future work, she stressed.
As it was clear that indigenous peoples needed an impartial and fair dispute resolution mechanism that used international law to address treaty violations, she requested the Forum to recommend that the Expert Mechanism act on the conclusions of the First and Second United Nations Seminars on Treaties, Agreements and Other Constructive Arrangements between States and Indigenous Peoples, to examine the international nature of indigenous-State treaties, and provide recommendations for developing such a mechanism. The Seneca Nation also requested that the Forum continue to support the development of the legal framework for the implementation of Article 37 of the Declaration, with a particular emphasis on the interaction between treaty rights and indigenous peoples’ right to development. Additional recommendations included: that the Forum encourage the United States to move forward with implementing the Declaration; that the United States honour and respect its treaty obligations with indigenous peoples; that States with treaties with indigenous peoples commit to implementing the Declaration; and that a third seminar on treaties, be held in 2012, with the support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
RAPHAEL THANGMAWIA, of the Zo Reunification Organization, said that, while 118 years had passed since the wrongful territorial division of the Zo people had been finally acknowledged, the current generation was still trapped in the agony of being one people, of the same culture and heritage, which was separated by the borders of Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. His organization held no grudge against the present administrations of those countries and hoped that the United Nations would initiate steps to rectify the past injustices done to the Zo. Noting the potential wealth of natural resources in some regions inhabited by the Zo, he expressed fear that the acceleration of several so-called development projects of the States would negatively impact their rights. The United Nations should undertake a campaign for the full implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in national laws and policies and call for the suspension of those projects that did not correspond to the rights enshrined in that Declaration.
KIYOTERU TSUTSUI, of the Ainu Association of Japan, said that Japan had entered an “un-chartered territory for humanity”, as the “vicious demon” of radiation had emerged following its recent earthquake. The myth that nuclear reactors would always be safe had been shattered, and every day radiation was spreading, affecting food products and being inhaled by people in the Fukoshima area. “Humans can make nuclear power plants, but they cannot control them,” he stressed, adding that “the Government that promotes nuclear power supports power companies, but not its citizens.” He concluded by calling on his indigenous brothers and sisters to pay closer attention to nuclear power.
MARK HOLDEN, of the Youth Caucus of Australia, said that the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was the “minimum standard” for protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and youth. While Australia had seen the creation of a Congress of First Peoples, which was a “first step” toward the self-determination that was a fundamental human right enshrined in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, many indigenous young people still suffered and were disproportionately represented in the justice system. They were more likely to be removed from their families by State welfare services, whose policies were sometimes insensitive and contributed to the loss of cultural identity. Further, young people that grew up without parents’ support were more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, or to commit suicide. The most effective way to implement the Declaration was complementary legislation, he said. Policies and programmes for young people needed to be implemented in consultation with indigenous peoples. In addition, States, including Australia, must implement the Declaration in “all tiers and arms” of their Governments. The Forum should compile and publish information on how to implement the Declaration, to be reviewed at the next session of the Permanent Forum, and should establish liaisons with State Governments for the implementation of the Declaration.
KIMURA MAKIKO, speaking on behalf of the Shilin Gaikou Centre, Forest Peoples’ Programme, and the Asia Indigenous Peoples’ Pact, said that, despite the progress that had accompanied Japan’s recognition of the Ainu people as indigenous peoples, violations of their rights continued to take place. She was concerned about the reluctance of the Japanese Government to protect the rights of the Ainu, including one proposal to build a waste dumping site near their land. She further noted that the Okinawan people had not yet been recognized as indigenous peoples by the Japanese Government, and the presence of the United States military on Okinawa was infringing on the rights of those peoples. She recommended the Government of Japan establish local mechanisms to protect the rights of these indigenous communities. To that end, city governments must also respect the free, prior and informed consent of the local people concerned. In addition, the United States military must immediately stop construction projects, she said.
DEA THIELE, of the Aboriginal Medical Service Western Sydney, said no Government told the truth all the time and the Government of Australia was no exception. Until about 2005, it was reasonably honest about the discrepancies in mortality rates between aboriginal and non-aboriginal citizens. However, at that point, the methodology for determining such figures was changing, life expectancy gaps had been halved in less than three years. Outlining a number of deficiencies in the health services provided to indigenous peoples, she said that, despite flaunted increases in funding for such health services, those increases merely matched the rise in funding for all health services. At the same time, the defunding of numerous indigenous organizations continued. Underlining the right to self-determination, she called for the Forum to develop a framework to ensure the full implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
KITTISAK RATTANAKRAJANGSRI, of the Indigenous Peoples Foundation for Education and Environment, said that the indigenous peoples on Thailand, which were known there as Hill Tribes, had long suffered from negative stereotyping. For example, they had been represented in national education policies as “communist sympathizers”, he said. While the indigenous peoples of Thailand had fought the term “Hill Tribes”, asking instead to be called “Indigenous Peoples”, the Government had rejected their arguments. Thailand had voted in favour of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and had adopted other related national and international agreements, but the reality on the ground had barely changed. Policies and programmes were not in place, recognizing the rights of indigenous groups, and the constitution still did not explicitly recognize their identity as indigenous peoples. Therefore, their cultural survival and continued existence as distinct peoples were threatened. He directed several requests to the Government of Thailand, including that it fully respect, protect and promote the livelihoods and traditions of indigenous peoples, such as hunting. He also invited the Permanent Forum to make a visit to Thailand.
DEV KUMAR SUMUWAR, of the Nepalese Indigenous Peoples, said that while Nepal was in the process of writing a new constitution, indigenous peoples were still fighting for their rights under that constitution, as well as the right to participate in the constitutional negotiations. At the same time, the Government had introduced an “energy crisis” bill that deprived indigenous peoples of the use of their lands and resources. Although Nepal had ratified ILO Convention No. 169 and endorsed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it had not fully implemented the provisions of those documents. He recommended that every State comply with the rights of indigenous peoples through the enactment of concrete legislation that explicitly recognized and protected those rights. Governments should ensure the full participation of indigenous peoples, including in relation to free, prior and informed consent regarding the use of their lands. Further, the international financial institutions should be guided by the Declaration.
TRANG LAM, of the Global Indigenous Youth Caucus, said that in its Article 22, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples said that attention must be paid to indigenous youth in order to ensure their full protection against violence and discrimination, as well as the full exercise of their human rights. Indigenous youth were in a unique place to pass on traditional knowledge to future generations, she said. In that vein, the Caucus recommended that the Forum ask States that had voted against the Declaration to reconsider their positions. States should specifically consider Article 38 of the Declaration, on the full consultation with indigenous youth. State and United Nations agencies should demonstrate how they had implemented the Declaration, while the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues should appoint a United Nations agency to conduct case studies on how the Declaration was being implemented in the case of indigenous youth.
According to a recommendation made by the Permanent Forum in its first session, a report on the way in which countries were responding to the particular needs of indigenous youth and children should be conducted immediately. Financial cooperation and technical assistance should be provided to those youth and children, in particular, to support their participation in global discussions with UNICEF and other actors. The Forum should urge the creation of a mechanism to look at human rights violations against indigenous youth. Additionally, the Forum, as well as agencies, such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNICEF, should cooperate with the Youth Caucus to create training programmes to help youth respond to current and emerging human rights challenges.
SANA IBN BARI, of the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality, said that since the creation of Israel in 1948, Bedouins had lived as internally displaced persons in that country. Among other things, they were denied electricity, medical services, schools and other public institutions. Moreover, they were not secure in their own homes, which were regularly declared illegal by the State and could be demolished in a moment. Indeed, in the last 12 months alone, one village had been demolished 21 times, leaving their residents victim to the hot desert days and the freezing nights. She drew attention to a new governmental plan to deal with the Bedouin. While the full document plan had not yet been released, leaked portions indicated that the Israeli State would recognize less than a third of the land the Bedouin traditionally considered their own. Stressing that it would have a severe impact on the lives of the Bedouin, she said it was clear that the Government was moving to disinherit the Bedouin from their ancestral lands.
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