Indigenous rights in a world context

This was originally posted by Brenda Norell at

Indigenous rights in a world context

Agenda item – “Analysis of the world context of the recognition of Indigenous rights”


December 2008
(Photo: Longest Walk northern route at vigil for Leonard Peltier and Native prisoners in Lewisburg, Penn.)

Indigenous peoples face a wide range of urgent human rights issues in all regions of the world, including in the Americas. They continue to suffer serious violations, if not atrocities, that sorely need to be addressed.
We, in the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus, hear of some of the issues both at the Organization of American States (OAS) and at the United Nations. However, the violations that are described to us in Caucus meetings reflect only a minute fraction of the suffering that is occurring in different parts of the globe. Most Indigenous voices are never heard.
Global support for UN Declaration
In light of this urgent situation, it is important to consider the world context of the recognition of Indigenous rights. A resounding achievement has been the historic adoption of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As a result, there is a strong feeling of hope among Indigenous peoples from the various regions of the globe. In the Indigenous context, the Declaration is the most comprehensive, universal human rights instrument in the world. It establishes a principled framework for addressing a wide range of human rights issues internationally and within States.
On 13 September 2007, the UN Declaration was overwhelmingly adopted by the General Assembly. Only four States voted against it – Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. No Latin American State, including those in the Caribbean, opposed the adoption of the Declaration.
Two weeks later, the Human Rights Council extended the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. This mandate now includes the promotion of the Declaration in carrying out the Special Rapporteur’s work.
Throughout the world, there is widespread support for the Declaration. The UN Secretary-General has urged that the Declaration must be a “living instrument”. The High Commissioner for Human Rights has repeatedly expressed her support for this “universal” instrument. The African Group of States has indicated its support for implementation of the Declaration. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has highlighted that the Declaration will “strengthen the international human rights system … and will support the vital work that the … Commission … is undertaking for the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples rights” in Africa. Similarly, the European Union has emphasized its support.
It is important to note here the role of the Latin American States in realizing the adoption of the Declaration. In particular, the role of Mexico, Peru and Guatemala is acknowledged and deeply appreciated. They took the lead in reaching agreement with the African Group of States and others.
There are 31 UN specialized agencies in the Inter-Agency Support Group on Indigenous Issues that have expressed their favourable response to the Declaration. They are in the process of examining how each of them might implement the Declaration within their respective mandates. These specialized agencies represent a very diverse group that includes, among others: the International Labour Organization, World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO, World Bank, UN Development Programme, World Intellectual Property Organization and UN Environment Programme.
In particular, UNICEF is supporting the translation of the Declaration into 15 indigenous languages. It is also involved in the preparation of “child-friendly” translated versions. This is consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (art. 29), which calls for the education of children to be “directed to the development of respect for human rights”.
In its May 2008 report, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues decided that it would use the Declaration as a “legal framework” for all its work – and the Permanent Forum covers a wide range of subject areas. In October 2008, at its inaugural meeting in Geneva, the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples indicated that it “has an important role in promoting the rights affirmed in the Declaration, and in mainstreaming them into the Human Rights Council’s overall efforts to promote and protect all human rights”.
Human rights education and other initiatives
In regard to human rights education, Indigenous peoples and human rights organizations have arranged the publishing of 100,000 pocket-sized copies of the English version of the Declaration. Similarly, 10,000 copies of the French version have been made available. These copies are being distributed in different regions of the world. Mexico and Bolivia have prepared Spanish versions of this human rights instrument.
The United Nations has also published small booklets of the Declaration in all of the UN official languages. Further, symposiums and workshops are being organized in Canada and other parts of the world to further the implementation of the UN Declaration.This positive momentum globally is highly relevant to the regional context in the Americas. At the previous OAS Special Session for Reflection in November 2007, it was determined that the UN Declaration would be used as “the baseline for negotiations and … a minimum standard” for the draft American Declaration. As both the Chair of this current Special Session and the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus have emphasized, the draft American Declaration – as a regional instrument – must complement the universal UN Declaration and not undermine it.
Despite all of these positive initiatives to implement the UN Declaration, we must bring to your attention recent regressive actions – especially since two of the States concerned are also OAS member States. Yesterday, at the world meeting on climate change in Poland, the States of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United States refused to include any references either to the term “rights” in referring to Indigenous peoples[5] or to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [6] Indigenous peoples suffer some of the worst impacts as a result of climate change and yet these States continue to act in this substandard manner. Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing humanity and merits a principled response.
In regard to the UN Declaration, it is worth noting that the Inter-American Court of Human Rights is already making reference to this human rights instrument. The same is true in a recent judgment in Belize by the Chief Justice of its Supreme Court. To date, Bolivia is the only State that has implemented the whole text of the Declaration through its incorporation in domestic legislation.
It is important to remember that, without the collaborative actions of supportive States, we would not have realized the adoption of the UN Declaration. As repeatedly reflected in our Caucus meetings, Indigenous representatives are determined to work closely with OAS States in order to achieve a strong and effective American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

[1] Adaptado de la presentación oral.

[2] Posterior a la presentación oral en la Sesión Especial de la OEA, se obtuvo información que estos mismos cuatro Estados utilizaron la frase “pueblo indígena” en vez de “pueblos indígenas” con la “s” el cual es un lenguaje aceptado internacionalmente. Ver Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Directora Ejecutiva de TEBTEBBA y Presidenta del Foro Permanente sobre las Cuestiones Indígenas), Boletín de Prensa “Día Internacional sobre los Derechos Humanos 2008: Un Día Triste para los Pueblos Indígenas”. Polonia, 10 de Diciembre del 2008.

[3] Ver Documento (FCCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23), el cual es la versión final del Borrador de Conlusiones del Item. 5 de la Agenda “reducción de emisiones por deforestación y degradación de los bosques (REDD). Acciones para estimular la acción, de la 29va Sesión del SBSTA (Órgano Subsidiario para Asesoría Científica y Tecnológica).
[4] Adapted from oral presentation.
[5] Subsequent to this presentation at the OAS Special Session, it was learned that these same four States used the phrase “indigenous people” instead of “indigenous peoples” with an “s” which is the internationally accepted language. See Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Executive Director, TEBTEBBA and Chair, UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues), “International Human Rights Day 2008: A Sad Day for Indigenous Peoples”, Press Statement, Poland, 10 December 2008.
[6] See Document (FCCC/SBSTA/2008/L.23), which is the final version of the Draft Conclusions on Agenda Item 5: Reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries: approaches to stimulate action, of the 29th Session of Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).


Message of Hope for Natives With Holiday Depression

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Richard Ogima, who also appears in the video and run NishTV, says of the video: “I would like to leave a positive message about combating suicide and the Xmas depression. I hope it is well favored and at least touches one life. Please forward this message to members in the Native Community who could use this message of hope that speaks to the younger generation.”

NishTV is a video-media Web site covering Northern Ontario’s Anishinabek Community. Nish is the short version for the word Anishinabek, which refers to the First Nations people of Canada.

More at Reznet

Tennessee Valley Coal Ash Spill Buries 400 Acres, Damages Homes

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Kingston is one of TVA’s larger fossil plants. It generates 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity a year, enough to supply the needs of about 670,000 homes in the Tennessee Valley. An adequate supply of coal is available and all nine units at Kingston continue to operate.

“This holiday disaster shows that there really isn’t such a thing as a clean coal plant,” said Chandra Taylor, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“From mountaintop removal mining to smokestacks spewing soot and smog to ash ponds full of toxins, coal power is dirty – plain and simple. Nobody wants to find coal in their Christmas stocking, let alone coming through their home and polluting their river,” she said.

Environmental Spill Disaster Devastates Tennessee; 48 Times the Size of Exxon Valdez

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An environmental disaster of epic proportions has occurred in Tennessee. Monday night, 2.6 million cubic yards (the equivalent of 525.2 million gallons, 48 times more than the Exxon Valdez spill by volume) of coal ash sludge broke through a dike of a 40-acre holding pond at TVA’s Kingston coal-fired power plant covering 400 acres up to six feet deep, damaging 12 homes and wrecking a train.

According to the EPA the cleanup will take at least several weeks, but could take years. Officials also said that the magnitude of this spill is such that the entire area could be declared a federal superfund site.

Toxic Sludge Got Into Tributary of Chattanooga Water Supply

Apart from the immediate physical damage, the issue is what toxic substances are in that sludge: Mercury, arsenic, lead, beryllium, cadmium. Though officials said the amounts of these poisons in the sludge could not be determined on Monday, they could (at the mild end) irritate skin or trigger allergies or (longer term) cause cancer or neurological problems.

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Sen. Reid said that between building more coal fired plants or building nuclear plants, he can live with building nuclear. How do you react?

I think that’s a false choice, that the energy future of this country can be secured by investment in renewable energy and conservation. For every dollar invested in conservation, we get three times the reduction in carbon and global warming gases than we do from anything else. And our future lies in investing in conservation and renewable energy for our electric power production. It’s not a choice between coal, which is not clean, and nuclear, which is not clean. You can’t call it clean when it produces nuclear waste, any more than you can call coal clean when it produces carbon. The other thing is, this country is bankrupting itself already, hand over fist, every day, and the proposals to double nuclear power production in the United States are just absolutely unaffordable. Nuclear plants cost $6 billion. That’s Standard & Poor’s estimate for building a new nuclear plant in the United States today. We can’t afford to do that. The proposal that McCain endorsed during the campaign was to double the number of nuclear power plants in the United States … The country can’t support that investment. Six billion, the cost of one nuclear plant, is several years’ total investment by the federal government in renewable energy. We’re not investing that. We haven’t invested that in the last five years. That’s the cost of one nuclear plant.

What do you expect to happen to the Bush administration’s aggressive plans for expanding plants under Obama?

I think that is going to take citizen pressure to say, “We need a true new energy policy from the ground up.” The industry is going to lobby like heck and say, “Wouldn’t it be good for economic stimulus to give us the money”—us being famed companies like Bechtel who we gave money, billions to, in Iraq and who are getting billions in nuclear weapons complex as well.

And to operate the Yucca Mountain project.

Right. And so they call that economic stimulus. Whereas the choice is whether or not you’ll have a democratic style of economic stimulus, which I’m hopeful for under Obama, where [unclear on tape] says, “If we invest in conservation, we weatherize your home for free, we reduce everyone’s demand for electricity, and you save money, and we reduce our carbon emissions.” And I’m very hopeful that the new administration will be taking an entirely different tack, but I also know that it only happens if people are involved and demand that it happens, if people feel that the Energy Department, not the contractor’s.

A world without nuclear weapons

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Nuclear policy is a major component of United States foreign relations and security policy, and the U.S. approach to the North Korean nuclear issue is also realized within this framework.

The starting point for the nuclear policy of the Barack Obama administration, which is soon to take office, differs from that of the George W. Bush administration in two respects. First, it fully acknowledges the failure of U.S. nuclear policy since the end of the Cold War. The more than 30 kilograms of plutonium extracted by North Korea is a problem, but the amount of nuclear material possessed by a total of over 40 countries throughout the world amounts to no less than 3,000 tons, a quantity sufficient to make 250,000 nuclear weapons. Furthermore, the United States and Russia still hold tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and nation after nation is attempting to join the ranks of countries with nuclear capabilities, including North Korea and Iran. The world is now in its second period of nuclear proliferation. The threat that most concerns the United States is terrorist attacks using nuclear weapons, and that possibility is greater now than ever. Everyone has simply been fortunate thus far. The United States has thus far neglected to make efforts to observe this crisis in terms of a comprehensive nuclear policy.

Also, Obama’s camp has been more active than any other administration at pursuing the goal of “a world without nuclear weapons.” The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968, outlines the duty to end the nuclear arms race and abolish nuclear weapons. Many presidential candidates in the United States have agreed with the abolition of nuclear weapons during their election campaigns, but once elected, they have not shown any real efforts to change the existing policy. Now, there is a growing consensus that the United States must first make more fundamental and comprehensive efforts.

Waste pit problems could led to fines

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RULISON — State oil and gas regulators have proposed levying fines of $138,000 against a company that allegedly failed to prevent melting snow from overflowing waste pits near the Project Rulison blast site, state records show.

The proposed fines against Presco Inc., which sold its interests in western Garfield County to Houston-based Noble Energy, stem from May 2007 inspections COGCC staff conducted at Presco drilling sites near the Project Rulison blast site in the Battlement Mesa area. That is where the Atomic Energy Commission detonated a 43-kiloton nuclear weapon 8,426 feet below the ground in a 1969 experiment to free-up natural gas.

During the inspections, oil and gas regulators found that Presco had flawed “stormwater best management practices” that failed to divert melting snow from running onto several drilling locations, according to Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) records.