Forum Speakers Say ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ Shameful Root of Today’s Indigenous Oppression, Remnants Still Evident in Many Constitutions Must Be Removed
Forum Speakers Say ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ Shameful Root of Today’s Indigenous Oppression, Remnants Still Evident in Many Constitutions Must Be Removed
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
5th Meeting (AM)
Forum Speakers Say ‘Doctrine of Discovery’ Shameful Root of Today’s Indigenous
Oppression, Remnants Still Evident in Many Constitutions Must Be Removed
Debate on Theme Continues, with Speakers Reaffirming Need for Study on Way
In Which 15th Century Doctrine Extended in Law, Policy, to Set Stage for Reversal
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues today again rang with strong calls on former colonial Governments to reassess their constitutional arrangements and restore the “first nation” status of native peoples, and on the Catholic Church to openly denounce the centuries-old “Doctrine of Discovery”, which many civil society representatives said was the “shameful” root of the humiliation and marginalization indigenous people still suffered today.
As the Permanent Forum continued its dialogue with indigenous peoples groups and Government officials on the impact of the Doctrine — the fifteenth century Christian dogma that provided religious justification for the seizure by early explorers of native lands and resources, and which later became embedded in international law and policy — speakers broadly agreed that it was vitally important to remove the disturbing remnants of the concept still evident in the Constitutions of the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in African countries, and countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.
A representative of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said that in January, an Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples had presented a consensus report to the Australian Government calling for a referendum to be held on the Constitution. Such a measure would, among others, repeal its section allowing State Governments to target racial groups or exclude them from voting, and ensure that indigenous languages would be recognized as a unique part of Australian heritage.
“It is fundamental that these recommended changes to the Constitution are more than symbolic; they must ensure that our status and rights as First Peoples, including sovereign rights, are not diminished or impaired by the changes,” she said. Regrettably, there appeared to be little support thus far in Australia for inserting a statement on the rights of indigenous peoples in the Constitution. She said that the Government was, nevertheless, considering the proposals, and her group believed there were viable alternatives that would be more widely accepted, including through a “bill of rights”, legislation or mutually-agreed treaties.
A speaker from the Guatemala-based Organismo Naleb’ said the Doctrine of Discovery was linked to the “expansion and voracity” of capitalism, as well as the assertion that some peoples dominated others. That superiority impacted every facet of indigenous peoples’ lives. Therefore, reparation should not be solely for the effects of the colonial past, but also for present day actions, she said, where political, legal and economic systems eradicated indigenous ones.
Picking up that thread, a representative of the Mexico-based Secretaría de Pueblos Indigenas, said that while indigenous peoples had been accused of “living in the past”, there were many explicit examples of the modern ripple effects of the Doctrine, including in his region, where land was being expropriated and indigenous landowners were being evicted, jailed or kidnapped. Governments routinely ignored the tenets of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he said, and he urged the Permanent Forum to continue its efforts to make that instrument more widely known.
“We are still here, despite 500 years of trying to make us disappear,” said a speaker from the Seneca Nation, who also represented the Salamanca High School Model UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Echoing the sentiment of many speakers, she said that every wrong that had led to the creation of each of the Declaration’s articles could be traced to the laws and beliefs created by that dogma. “The Doctrines of Discovery should never again be allowed to be used as precedent for any decision,” she said, urging Pope Benedict XVI to acknowledge what the 500-year-old concept meant today. “We know that if you listened with a good mind, you would not let it continue,” she said, adding that her group joined with other indigenous peoples, as well as with the World Council of Churches and other Christian groups, in asking the Pope to apologize for the Doctrine and denounce it.
In response to calls on the Church for rapid action, a representative from the observer delegation of the Holy See, reiterated that Papal bulls were an “historic remnant with no juridical or spiritual value”. He invited delegations to consult the Holy See’s website to alleviate some of their concerns.
However, a former Permanent Forum member and a representative of Tonatierra rejected that statement as an attempt to remove all responsibility from the Catholic Church for both its past and present actions. “Indigenous peoples are here today to request full accountability for all parties involved in the historical implications of the Doctrine of Discovery,” she said.
The Doctrine and its underlying framework of domination had damaged the spirit of humanity, she continued, urging collective corrective action to be taken at all levels to violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights. In moving towards recognition, respect and protection of indigenous rights, the challenge was to confront the “sets of cognition” — such as the Doctrine of Discovery — that had deformed humanity’s consciousness. She affirmed the request for “deep exploration” of the manner in which the Doctrine had been elaborated, applied and extended in law and policy, through secular and religious practices, and to set the stage for its reversal.
During the dialogue, several Government officials reported on their countries’ efforts to review their constitutional frameworks, with the representative of New Zealand explaining that her country was carrying out such an exercise. New Zealand did not have a single written Constitution, but a collection of constitutional arrangements drawn from a verity of sources, including the Waitangi Treaty. The process had begun in 2010 and was being led by New Zealand’s Vice-President and the Leader of Maori Affairs.
An advisory panel had been established and was due to present its report in 2014, she continued, emphasizing that, throughout the process, the views of Maori communities were being actively sought. The review was wide-ranging, and covered such issues as Maori seats in Parliament, their electoral participation, and whether New Zealand needed a written constitution. The Panel had indicated that it would welcome views throughout the process on ways to reach as many people as possible. Finally, she said, the Government was awaiting the study to be carried out by the Permanent Forum on constitutional reform, which would focus on Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand.
Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of the following: International Native Tradition Interchange; Indigenous Peoples Organisation Network of Australia; Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas – Región Sudamérica; Chihene Nde Nation, San Carlos Apache Nation, Lipan Apache Women Defense; the Koani Foundation; Anglican Consultative Council; Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of the Crimea; Assyrian Aid Society; Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti; New South Wales Aboriginal Lands Council; Tribal Link Foundation, Inc. – Nepal; and Tinhinan.
Speaking as observers in the Forum were the representatives of Canada, Honduras, Nicaragua, South Africa, Colombia and Guatemala.
Representatives of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) also spoke.
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 10 May, for a comprehensive dialogue with United Nations agencies and funds, and discussion of the report of the annual session of the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Peoples’ Issues.
The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues continued its open debate on the special theme for the year: “The Doctrine of Discovery: its enduring impact on indigenous peoples and the right to redress for past conquests (articles 28 and 37 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples)”. For more information, see Press Release HR/5086.
AUCAN HILCAMAN PAILLAMA, International Native Tradition Interchange, said the Doctrine of Discovery had led to controversial relations between indigenous peoples and States. The acts that had legitimized the Doctrine were highly debatable, especially those pertaining to the requirements of the Spanish crown. Indigenous peoples were subject to the domination of the Spanish crown, which denied their right to self-determination. Today, that right had been restored through article 3 of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Doctrine must, therefore, be considered null and void.
He said the Mapuche people in Chile and Argentina had drawn up treaties with the Spanish colonizers, which must be fulfilled. The Doctrine could be seen in many domestic legal provisions, including the civil code, which was of French origin. The Declaration, however, stated that lands and territories that had been confiscated without indigenous peoples’ consent should be restored, with compensation and redress. That expressed recognition in international law raised questions about the fair and equitable compensation for indigenous peoples whose lands had been occupied, and for harmonizing civil law provisions. Papal bulls also had led to other illegal acts. He agreed that an expert group should be set up to examine such issues.
DANIEL RICARD, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development in Canada, said the First Nations, the Inuits and the Métis — and their cultures, traditions and values — were part and parcel of Canada. The royal proclamation was the cornerstone of modern relations between the Government and the indigenous population. The Government was resolute in promoting reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in Canada, and the determination to heal wounds from past actions was proof of the desire to promote reconciliation. The Prime Minister had presented an official apology to former students of Indian residential schools, requesting pardon for the suffering they had endured.
Other measures included Canada’s statement of support for the Declaration, he said, and its 2010 apology for the suffering caused by the relocation of Inuit families to the High Arctic communities of Resolute Bay and Grise Fiord in the 1950s. Reconciliation also was supported through the negotiation of land claim/self-government agreements, which sought to unlock the full potential of the use and management of lands and resources by Aboriginal groups. In the last five years, four land claims agreements had been brought into effect and two more were close to completion. The Government had supported reconciliation by developing legislative tools that strengthened good governance
YORIKO YASUKAVA, United Nations Resident Coordinator in Bolivia, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the promotion of indigenous rights were a priority for the United Nations in Bolivia. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples carried the same status as a law in Bolivia, aiming to promote development that guaranteed human rights for everyone in harmony with nature. The United Nations Resident Coordinator was working with the Guaraní and the Parapetí communities to develop a strategic development plan. It also was combating the dreadful practice of slavery and forced labour, and supporting communities that had been freed under that plan.
She went on to say that a complaints mechanism had been established. She also welcomed the decision to extend the consultation process, saying that her office had organized capacity-building and information-exchange workshops to ensure there was a right to consultation. In parallel, her office had trained its own officials on those issues. The United Nations was striving to overcome inequalities and ensure that conditions for dignified living prevailed. The Permanent Forum’s focus on women dovetailed with Bolivia’s declaration of 2012 as the year to combat all forms of violence against women. Her office supported the Secretary-General’s campaign against such abuse.
JODY BROUN, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, recommended, among other things, that the Permanent Forum remind States that the system of federal government did not absolve them of their responsibility to meet international obligations in relation to the rights of indigenous peoples. States should be further reminded that their charter documents must guarantee indigenous rights, including protection from racial discrimination, as well as restitution and remedy for past injustices. She went on to say that her group had participated last year in the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, which had presented a consensus report to the Australian Government in January.
That report had called for a referendum to be held on the Australian Constitution in order to, among others, repeal its section allowing State Governments to target racial groups or exclude them from voting. Such a referendum, she continued, would also ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages would be recognized as a unique part of Australian heritage.
“It is fundamental that these recommended changes to the Constitution are more than symbolic; they must ensure that our status and rights as First Peoples, including sovereign rights, are not diminished or impaired by the changes,” she said, noting that, regrettably, so far there appeared to be little support in Australia for inserting a statement on the rights of indigenous peoples in the Constitution. The Government was, nevertheless, considering the proposals, and the group believed that there were viable alternatives that would be more widely accepted, including through the elaboration of a “bill of rights”, legislation or mutually-agreed treaties.
GLORIA LOPEZ, Vice-Minister of the Secretariat for Indigenous Peoples for Honduras, said that on 12 October, President Porfirio Lobo Sosa had established the indigenous peoples office, which would work on the basis of broad consultation with indigenous peoples. It would also aim to promote the rights of indigenous peoples to maintain their own cultures and livelihoods. As a first step, she said, the Secretariat had proposed that Honduras change its Constitution to officially declare the country “multi-ethnic and multi-lingual”. Meanwhile, she urged the Permanent Forum to continue to support all Governments as they sought to ensure the rights of indigenous people, especially women and children, who continued to face discrimination, sexual violence and other violations including trafficking.
DEA THIELE, Indigenous Peoples Organisation Network of Australia, said that her group was encouraged by the Permanent Forum’s effort to engage nation States on the need to recognize indigenous people in national constitutions and for such legal frameworks to protect and promote their rights. In all this, indigenous people should be included in such discussions. She said that Australia’s Constitution did not mention human rights and that country did not recognize indigenous peoples as “first people”.
Without a “bill of rights” to keep such matters in the forefront, Parliament was under no obligation to address indigenous issues. Moreover, the omissions left Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia open to all forms of racism. With all that in mind, she recommended that the Permanent Forum undertake a broad-based study on national constitutions and propose ways such legal frameworks could be amended to protect and promote the rights of indigenous peoples.
EVELYN TALYOR, Deputy and Coordinator of the Autonomous Governmentof theNorth Atlantic Region of Nicaragua, said “we are fighting the age-old fight for our lands,” but the path was fraught with thorns and sorrow. Nicaragua was working to fully implement development plans and projects in the national reconciliation and unity plan, which was led by the President. “A new era of responsibility is dawning,” she said, urging that regional responsibilities be fulfilled. For its part, Nicaragua was complying with the Declaration by means of laws and policies that embraced indigenous peoples’ issues, including for consultation and service provision. Nicaragua had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and co-sponsored a resolution on indigenous women, who were key players in combating poverty and hunger.
Among other efforts, she said Nicaragua also was implementing the fifth stage of law 445, on the restitution and protection of the right to collective property. Its focus transcended any material concept of land. In the area of health, Nicaragua was working to strengthen its view of the universe by asserting “ethnic identity” in the Constitution. It was consolidating territorial governments that held land title. The family code and a law combating violence against women were being reformed and bore the imprint of the indigenous cosmic vision.
TARCILA RIVERA ZEA, Enlace Continental de Mujeres Indigenas — Región Sudamérica, voiced concern at racism and discrimination in the region. She referred to the “Three Americas” in that context, which was a serious impediment to conferring indigenous peoples their rights. Citizenship — an acknowledgement of a person empowered to take part in social and economic contexts — was a recent process. It was not surprising that the establishment of national human rights plans did not include participation by indigenous peoples. Nearly all regional States had acknowledged the Declaration, but only Bolivia had incorporated it into its Constitution.
She went on to say that mining concessions were located near lakes and water sources, noting that the refusal to recognize the comprehensive nature of indigenous rights had resulted in non-compliance with article 122. State polices were not yet fully intercultural. Indigenous peoples were sidelined in decisions that determined the future. She urged the Permanent Forum to redouble its efforts to push for full recognition of rights in national constitutions. She also recommended that State initiatives be enhanced so that indigenous peoples could truly play a part in governance.
ALFONSO BARRAGUES, Human Rights Adviser, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), reiterated the importance of the Declaration for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples in the national development process, as well as in United Nations programmes. The Declaration had been essential in acknowledging the reproductive health rights of women, youth and adolescents. UNFPA would continue to promote the Declaration at the regional and country levels, and provide technical assistance, at the request of Governments, to ensure that laws were in line with it.
At the global level, UNFPA had chaired the inter-agency support group for indigenous peoples, he said, which promoted coordination and knowledge sharing. In 2011, UNFPA joined the United Nations indigenous peoples partnership, working with others to draft its operational guidelines and principles, which assisted country-level relationships between Governments and indigenous peoples. To address the high maternal and infant mortality among indigenous women and youth, UNFPA was working to increase indigenous peoples’ access to culturally acceptable services. In that vein, UNFPA had promoted dialogues between traditional health systems and western health systems, while promoting community-based interventions to save women’s lives.
MASENJANA SIBANDZE, Deputy Director-General, Department of Traditional Affairs of South Africa, said the special theme was very important to his Government, which had elaborated policies aimed at addressing the inequalities created by the past, and towards ensuring a better life for all Africans. Specifically, the Government had taken very deliberate policy positions that affirmed the equality and human dignity of all South Africans, based on the principle of non-discrimination, regardless of the groupings or communities to which they belonged. The Constitution required the State to pass legislation and other measures, within available resources, to foster conditions which enabled citizens to gain access to land on an equitable basis, and to provide secure tenure or comparable redress to persons or communities that had insecure tenure of land, as a result of past racially discriminatory laws or practices.
Turning specifically to address the situation of the Khoi and San peoples, he said that the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 had given effect to the right of restitution for lands dispossessed from persons or communities as a result of past discriminatory laws and practices. That Act also set up a mechanism through which those rights could be realized. It had also led to the establishment of a commission, which received claims, investigated them and attempted to resolve them through mediation. Also established was a Land Claims Court, charged with adjudicating all relevant disputes. He explained, however, that the country’s Interim Constitution (1993) had stated that the rights of restitution would be available for dispossessions that had taken place from 19 June 1913, and that the 1994 Act had further required that such claims be lodged by 31 December 1998. To date, some 12 restitution claims had been settled in favour of the Khoi and San communities.
He said that the restitution process had not been finalized and there were more than 35 claims outstanding. Moreover, indigenous communities had called on the Government to review the cut-off dates, to accommodate those who were dispossessed before 1913 and those who had not yet lodged their land claims. The Government remained fully committed to working in partnership with all relevant stakeholders to find a resolution to past injustices, he said.
MICHAEL HILL, Chihene Nde Nation, San Carlos Apache Nation, and Lipan Apache Women Defence, said his delegation supported the work of the Permanent Forum. It also supported the indigenous youth, whose views were being “violently repressed”, even as they had tried to participate peacefully in the proceedings this week. As for the issue at hand, he said it was appalling that the Catholic Church had not rejected — and continued to deny — its hand in the genocide that had begun some 500 years ago and was still taking place today. In schools and communities across the United States and elsewhere, people were being subjugated and their rights still violated as a result of the lingering effects of the Discovery Doctrine.
The “brainwashing” that was still taking place in schools and religious forums aimed to erase past atrocities. Indeed, what Christian Europeans had deemed “enlightenment” had actually been “repression”, he said, underscoring the vital need for the Permanent Forum to continue its quest to promote the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Permanent Forum must also take up calls from indigenous groups to hold nation States accountable for past atrocities. Those States must amend their current Constitutions and provide restitution for the crimes that they continued to commit, as they illegally acquired indigenous lands and destroyed age-old languages and traditions.
MARIA PAULINA DAVILA ( Colombia) said her country believed that defending the rights of indigenous peoples was a major priority. Colombia’s 1991 Constitution had incorporated such protections, and indigenous peoples had been elected to Congress and the National Assembly. Indigenous peoples had also been involved in the nationwide effort to promote and protect traditional languages and cultures. In addition, 34 per cent of the national territory — an area amounting to the total size of some countries — had been declared indigenous land. The President had implemented a programme for strategic development of indigenous peoples, which included the participation of local leaders.
She said that Colombia always worked according to the principle of prior consultation, and such collaboration had led the Ministry of the Interior to work with indigenous and African cultures to draw up legislation on land rights. Other important laws had been drawn up dealing with restitution of land, access to genetic resources in the Andes, and fair and appropriate representation of indigenous peoples. Colombia understood that it had much more to do, but it would remain committed to ensuring that the rights of indigenous people were fully recognized.
LORI JOHNSTON, Yamasi People and the Koani Foundation, urged the Human Rights Council representative attending the Permanent Forum to explain why the Council did not consider indigenous peoples as humans to be protected by the Geneva Conventions. When would the Council sanction occupiers for violating the Conventions with wars of aggression? She conceded the remainder of her time to the Council representative for a response.
JULIO CESAR XICAY, Member of National Congress of Guatemala, said his country was in a dramatic situation. The Mining Authority had revealed there had been more than 600 requests for mining prospecting licenses that could be granted this year. It was contradictory that Guatemala should allow environmental impact studies to be carried out by the companies that wished to mine the land. The Government was not ensuring that those studies were impartial. One independent study had shown that some Guatemalan environmental assets had been irreversibly impacted.
There were 125 companies with licenses to work in Guatemala — 98 of which were prospecting gold, silver and zinc mines. While mining had brought profits to the country — in the areas of health and education — there was a danger for indigenous peoples and the environment, a challenge that required full attention. People must be made aware of the serious situation. Municipalities must mobilize to protect forests, waters and other sacred lands.
JOHN DIEFFENBACHER-KRALL, Anglican Consultative Council, repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, calling on the United Nations to expunge it as the basis for international law that determined the relationships between indigenous peoples and settler States. He urged the Permanent Forum to convene an expert meeting to discuss the Doctrine and present its findings at the thirteenth annual session. It should ensure that such a group included and recognized indigenous scholars. The Permanent Forum must also urge States to repeal laws and policies based on the Doctrine and develop laws consistent with articles 28 and 37 of the Declaration.
He said that all talks between States and indigenous peoples to dismantle the Doctrine must observe the principle of free, prior and informed consent. The Doctrine had been relied upon by colonizing countries to ignore indigenous rights, including Sweden, Australia, Nigeria and New Zealand. All States should show how they would eliminate any behaviour that discriminated against indigenous peoples.
RAFAEL ARCHONDO ( Bolivia), recalling that one member from the Bolivian delegation had criticized the Government yesterday, said that it was through such comments that authorities could correct mistakes. The power of indigenous peoples could not be denied. President Evo Morales was an indigenous person and other indigenous peoples had taken on high offices. They were consulted on the Government’s most important decisions, and sometimes had led to the Government changing its policies. The presence of critics at the Permanent Forum showed Bolivia’s openness.
He went on to say that a new constitution had been drawn up by the constituent assembly, which itself had been elected by the people. Bolivia’s voting system allowed everyone to participate — indigenous and non-indigenous people competed for the support of the electorate, with indigenous peoples receiving most of the support. Bolivia would continue to build an inclusive State and the Minister of Autonomies had supported that greater degree of democracy. Bolivian judges were elected by the people. It was a constitutional requirement to adhere to the principle of free, prior and informed consent when constructing a road and indigenous peoples were able to express their views, in that regard.
NADIR BERKIOV, Foundation for Research and Support of the Indigenous Peoples of the Crimea, said the concept of discovery was an anachronism and broadly unsound; geographically, historically and scientifically. Above all, most of the lands where indigenous people lived had been well known for millennia before their so-called “discovery” by colonial and imperialist Powers. Indeed, his own native land of Crimea had been widely written about in ancient Roman and Hellenic texts. While that might shock some people, it might also definitively answer the question: “Who discovered whom?” In most cases, what had taken place was not “discovery” but “military reconnaissance” ahead of massive military invasions and subsequent colonization.
“Who here can deny this?,” he asked, explaining that the Crimea was not “discovered” but annexed by forces of the Russian Empire after an international treaty guaranteeing the independence of the State of Crimean Khanate had been “brutally violated”. Following what became a pattern of submitting colonized lands to their whims, Czarist Russia had passed the Crimea on to the Soviet Union and then Ukraine. “The real concept of the Doctrine of Discovery seems to be that anybody had a right to use the land but the indigenous peoples themselves,” he said.
Following that principle, he said, would mean that, since Sir Isaac Newton had discovered gravity, he owned the theory and his descendents should derive some monetary benefit from it, in perpetuity. Unfortunately, some States and international organizations continued to suppress indigenous people. Such situations should be examined, and no effort should be spared in ensuring the protection of their rights. The Permanent Forums must launch a process for the creation of an international mechanism for indigenous peoples to claim redress from States for violations of their fundamental rights.
BREANN CROUSE, Territory of the Seneca Nation and Salamanca High School Model UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that in preparation for the session, her group had studied the Discovery Doctrine and had leaned about the Papal bulls that had created it. The group had been shocked to learn about the concept of “terra nulls”, which meant “empty lands”. Yet, the land taken from indigenous peoples by the Christian Empire “was not and is not empty”, she said, declaring: “We are still here, despite 500 years of trying to make us disappear.” She said that native peoples of the Americas had survived only because a few brave Indians had refused to give up their beliefs.
She said that those that had been shipped off to boarding schools and would not surrender their languages and traditional ceremonies had been labelled “bad Indians”, but they were revered today as “ögwe’ oweh”, or “real people”, who had taken risks to preserve traditional ways of life. As for the current state of affairs, she wondered why a religion that spoke of brotherhood still held on to the Doctrine of Discovery? The group urged the Permanent Forum to go beyond the Declaration’s call for the right of redress (article 28) and enforcement of treaties (article 37), to make it widely known that the Papal bulls at the heart of the Discovery Doctrine, as well as the laws which had flowed from them, “are at the root of the destruction of millions of lives and untold numbers of cultures.”
Indeed, every wrong that had led to the creation of each of the Declaration’s articles could be traced to the laws and beliefs created by that dogma. “The Doctrines of Discovery should never again be allowed to be used as precedent for any decision,” she said, adding that Pope Benedict XVI must acknowledge what the 500‑year-old concept meant today. “We know that if you listened with a good mind you would not let it continue,” she said, adding that her group joined with other indigenous peoples, as well as with the World Council of Churches and other Christian groups asking the Pope to apologize for the Doctrine and denounce it.
ASHUR ESKYA, Assyrian Aid Society, said his group joined others in lamenting the loss of land, language and culture of indigenous peoples worldwide. Indeed, as his people knew well, spreading lies and disinformation about indigenous cultures was as damaging as any war. The Assyrian language must be taught in areas where people lived in order to preserve it. He recalled that Assyrians were represented in the Iraqi Government, and that country had, since 1994, recognized the necessity of teaching Syriac in schools. While he welcomed such efforts, including in “ Kurdistan”, much more remained to be done. In that regard, he called for action to be taken by the Permanent Forum to ensure that ancient traditional languages and cultures be protected and preserved.
JANE FLETCHER, Deputy Director, Office of Treaty Settlements for New Zealand, said her delegation had listened with interest to the Permanent Forum’s discussions over the past three days, particularly on the need for constitutional reforms that took into account the rights of indigenous peoples. New Zealand was carrying out such a review. That country did not have a single written Constitution, but a collection of constitutional arrangements drawn from a verity of sources, including the Waitangi Treaty. The process had begun in 2010 and was being led by New Zealand’s Vice-President and the Leader of Maori Affairs.
An advisory panel had been established and was due to present its report in 2014, she continued, emphasizing that, throughout the process, the views of Maori communities were being actively sought. The review was wide-ranging, and covered such issues as Maori seats in Parliament, their electoral participation, the constitutional status of the Treaty of Waitangi, and whether New Zealand needed a written constitution. The Panel had indicated that it would welcome views throughout the process on ways to reach as many people as possible. The Government of New Zealand was awaiting the study to be carried out by the Permanent Forum on constitutional reform and focused on Bangladesh, Australia and New Zealand.
JALISA ROSS, United Methodist Church, said the church would work to eliminate the Doctrine of Discovery as a means to subjugate indigenous peoples and lands. It would start a process of healing relationships, to continue throughout its quadrennium. In that work, it would undertake a process of self-examination, confessing the church’s participation in continuing the effects of past trauma. It would work to build relationships though listening, and work beside indigenous peoples to find solutions to current problems.
Among other efforts, the church would also hold repentant services for healing relationships with indigenous peoples. She agreed with the recommendation for convening an expert group meeting, which would be a step in the right direction. She had been a victim of the violent crime called the Doctrine of Discovery. “Hold tight to each other, because it is only by moving forward with each other that we can make change happen.”
LUCAS SWANEPOEL, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, replying to comments on Papal bulls, reiterated his statement from yesterday about those documents, which he said were an “historic remnant with no juridical or spiritual value”. He invited delegations to consult the Holy See’s website to alleviate some of their concerns.
MARIA TOJ, Organismo Naleb’, said the Doctrine of Discovery had been linked to the expansion and voracity of capitalism, as well as the assertion that some peoples dominated others. That superiority affected all facets of indigenous peoples’ lives. Reparation should not be solely for the effects of the colonial past, but also for present day actions. In that regard, she referred to political, legal and economic systems that eradicated indigenous ones. In Guatemala, a development model had been imposed which concentrated the territories of many indigenous peoples in the hands of just a few landowners. That created a dependency on external products to survive, which violated the self-sufficiency of some peoples.
Similar behaviour could also be seen in the exploration of resources in indigenous territories, she said, which had occurred without the free, prior and informed consent of the affected communities. Those consultations that had been held had resulted in a “resounding ‘no’” to such investments. She was concerned that a siege had been carried out. People had been captured, rather than sought for consultation. She urged the Permanent Forum to appeal to States to heed indigenous peoples’ needs, and to intercede so that it — and other United Nations bodies — considered all such issues.
TONYA GONNELLA FRICHNER, Tonatierra, called for collective corrective action to be taken at all levels to violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights. The Doctrine of Discovery and its underlying framework of domination had damaged the spirit of humanity. In moving towards recognition, respect and protection of indigenous rights, the challenge was to confront the “sets of cognition” — such as the Doctrine of Discovery — that had deformed humanity’s consciousness. She affirmed the request for deep exploration of the manner in which the Doctrine had been elaborated, applied and extended in law and policy, through secular and religious practices, and to set the stage for its reversal.
She went on to stress that the process and content of the 23 March Permanent Forum on the Doctrine of Discovery, held at the Arizona State capital, be integrated into discussion on that theme, as an example of best practices. She requested the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to communicate with the Arizona State Department of Education to inquire about the demand to integrate the Permanent Forum’s study on the Doctrine into social studies curricula. Finally, she said the Holy See’s statement that the Papal bulls had no juridical or spiritual value served to remove all responsibility from the Holy See for its past and present actions. Indigenous peoples were here today to request full accountability for all parties involved in the historical implications of the Doctrine of Discovery.
ROGELIO MERCADO DAMIAN, Secretar ía de Pueblos Indigenas, emphasized the negative impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous peoples, especially the dispossession of their traditional lands. The dogma was still being applied today “and crushing the rights of our peoples”. While indigenous peoples had been accused of “living in the past”, there were many explicit examples of the modern ripple effects of the Doctrine, including in his region, where land was being expropriated and indigenous landowners were being evicted, jailed or kidnapped. Further, he said that paramilitary groups were responsible for murders and displacement in several costal communities along Mexico’s coast. The Mexican Government ignored the tenets of the Indigenous Peoples Declaration, he said, and he urged the Permanent Forum to continue with its efforts to make that instrument more widely known.
MANGAL KUMAR CHAKMA, Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti, said that, as in many other parts of the world, the indigenous people of Chittagong Hill Tracts were also the victims of development, militarization and transmigration of their population. The lands, forests and territories of the Jumma peoples were still being taken away without free, prior and informed consent to build so-called “protected areas”, “national parks”, or “Eco-Parks”. Further, military bases and training centres had also been built on those lands and, in some areas, even those considered “nature preserves”, the original inhabitants were regarded as encroachers or treated as “serfs”. They were often arbitrarily arrested.
He said that it was clear the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts had the right to redress for past illegal occupation of their lands. The Bangladesh Government had signed a political accord with his organization in 1997 and had since stated its intention to move ahead with its main provisions, including paving the way for peaceful development opportunities and meaningful engagement of the people of that area. However, key issues, such as the declaration of preservation status for tribal lands and introduction of a special Governance system in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, were yet to be implemented. The authorities had done very little and the situation there remained virtually unchanged. As that was the case, he encouraged the Permanent Forum and the wider international community to try and influence the Government of Bangladesh to implement the Accord, and set out a time-bound road map in order to address outstanding matters.
TINA WILLIAMS, New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, said discovery doctrines had a shameful history in international law and domestic legislation. Such concepts had been in place in Australia, where the rights of indigenous peoples were still being undermined by legislation based largely on ideological assumptions. As such, the Land Council recommended that the Permanent Forum, among other things, urge States to ensure that polices, regulations and laws that affected indigenous peoples complied with international conventions. It should also encourage States to develop with indigenous peoples a framework for Governments to report annually on implementation of the Declaration, and to acknowledge the “first nations status” of indigenous peoples in their constitutional arrangements.
PRATAP SINGH NACHHIRING, Tribal Link Foundation, Inc. — Nepal, said that, although Nepal was party to various human rights instruments, including ILO Convention 169, it systematically denied indigenous peoples their internationally recognized rights. The Government had failed to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights to freely choose their own representatives and participate equally in the Constituent Assembly, per ILO Convention 169, and other instruments to which it was party. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination had recommended establishing participation and consultation mechanisms in the constitution-making process.
He said the Government had failed to adequately ensure indigenous peoples’ participation in the constitution-making process, which would likely cause irreparable harm. To protect the dominance of high-caste groups, major political parties had met outside the Constituent Assembly to make key decisions, harming indigenous peoples’ rights to participation, power sharing and self-governance. The new constitution would be promulgated at the end of May. The Supreme Court refused to extend the Assembly’s term, despite the fact that many key issues had not been resolved. As such, the Assembly would be unable to hold public consultations to ensure those issues were satisfactorily resolved.
SAOUDATA ABOUBACRINE, Tinhinan, spoke on behalf of indigenous people in north Mali — including the Tuaregs and Fulani — who had experienced conflict, drought and serious violations to their human rights to life, food and freedom of expression. Following the most recent rebellion, the region, since March, had been under indigenous peoples’ control, expressed through community meetings, protests and an “assembly of constitutions” of Azawad. The claiming and freeing of the indigenous territory of Azawad had forced 200,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.
She said some agencies had used insecurity as a pretext to abandon local populations, making them vulnerable to humanitarian crises. She hailed the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others who continued to assist those peoples. She pressed United Nations organizations to improve the situation. Tuareg refugees who were students had been forced stop their studies. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) should help Tuareg refugees who were losing their cattle, especially in Mauritania and Burkina Faso.
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