Speakers Stress Need to Protect Indigenous Peoples and Other Vulnerable Minority Groups

The Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights this afternoon concluded its consideration of the prevention of discrimination after hearing from non-governmental organizations and national representatives.

During the debate, non-governmental organizations highlighted discriminatory practices carried out and tools of persecution used in various countries and regions on the basis of ethnic, racial, linguistic and religious differences, as well as based on work and descent. They stressed the need for international human rights standards to be created or improved in order to provide national legal recourse for vulnerable groups. Particular focus in the discussion was given to the special vulnerability of indigenous peoples and the need to protect their rights as well as ensuring their access to their natural resources.

Meaningful political and economic self-determination was not possible without indigenous people having the legal authority to exercise control over their lands and territories, said a representative of the World Federation of Trade Unions. Only then could they enjoy the full economic and other benefits deriving from their natural resources. A representative of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples said that although constituting only about 5 per cent of the world’s population, 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity was within indigenous peoples’ territories. Pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies as well as timber, tourism, oil drilling, mining and energy industries had pressurized Governments to weaken indigenous peoples’ rights to their lands.

In this connection, a representative of the Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action said the achievements during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples had been insufficient. Indigenous populations around the world – both in developed and developing countries – remained the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized in societies, and the most deprived of their inherent rights. In this connection it was regrettable that the Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was being sabotaged by certain States who did not want their management of indigenous peoples subject to assessment against an international standard.

A representative of the International Labour Office informed the Sub-Commission about the ILO’s work on indigenous and tribal peoples. Through their activities they were constantly reminded how marginalized and neglected most of the world indigenous and tribal peoples were in terms of both human rights as well as economic, social and cultural development, with respect to their own priorities. They were among the most marginalized in all matters of life. Only a unified effort among States, the United Nations, indigenous peoples organizations, and other non-governmental organizations would lead to the long-awaited process that would benefit the world’s indigenous and tribal peoples, adding value to humanity, nationally and globally.

Out of the non-governmental organizations speaking this afternoon, the Sub-Commission was also addressed by: Women's Sports Foundation; Asian Women's Human Rights Council; Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action; Interfaith International; Afro-Asian Peoples' Solidarity Organization; International League for the Rights and Liberation of peoples; World Federation of Trade Unions; International Institute for Peace; International Service for Human Rights; International Federation of Free Journalists; Anti-Slavery International; Pax Romana; and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples. A representative of the High Commissioner on National Minorities of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe also participated in the discussion.

The representatives of Sri Lanka, Mexico, India and Argentina also contributed to the discussion. They accounted for national initiatives undertaken to prevent discrimination and commented on reports by Special Rapporteurs on issues including the rights of non-citizens, and discrimination against minorities, indigenous peoples as well on the basis of work and descent. The representative of Yemen exercised his right of reply.

Sub-Commission Experts Paulo Sergio Pinheiro and Manuel Rodriguez-Cuadros welcomed steps taken by the newly elected Government of Argentina to end impunity, including for its government officials, and its renewed commitment to human rights.

The Sub-Commission will reconvene at 11.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 13 August, to begin taking action on draft resolutions.


WILDA SPALDING, of Women's Sports Foundation, said sports, especially inclusive sports, for girls, women, persons with disabilities, minorities or as a vehicle of the ethnic expression of the cultural heritage of a peoples through sports were important resources for the promotion of health for all and towards the creation of a human rights culture -- a culture of peace and dignity so urgently needed today. Implementation, accountability and encouragement were key to fulfill the vision of Ralph Bunche and others in whose positive footsteps it was necessary to strive. It was in this vein that it was important to encourage and recognize the distinct but complimentary projects and programmes of United Nations bodies and agencies, governments and many non-governmental organizations. It was necessary to recognize that HIV/AIDS currently claimed 3 million lives globally each year. In this connection, she saluted the joint UNESCO/UNAIDS teaching tool “Youth in Action” and encouraged other such educational programmes that reduced the barriers of stigma and that promoted gender equality in the prevention and treatment of illnesses. The Foundation had its own such programme called “Go Girl Go”. Sports as a means to develop healthy individuals and societies had historically shown that it was a powerful vehicle for minorities to access their intrinsic human rights.

TOMO SHIBATA, of Asian Women’s Human Rights Council, said the reports on the Korean minority in Japan and on the women of the oppressed caste in Nepal were on the discrimination against the women of ethnic minorities in Asia, yet the nature of each case was critically different from the other. The first report made by the President of the Dalit Women Concern Centre was on the human rights violations of the women of the oppressed caste group called “Dalit”, which constituted 20 per cent of the total population of Nepal. According to the report, Dalit women were being subjected to discrimination in all spheres of their life. They were deprived of their fundamental rights to education and health and their right to access over land and natural resources. Thousands of Dalit women were being subjected to institutionalized and repetitive rape deployed for the criminals’ financial profit-making called trafficking as well as other forms of sexual, domestic and state violence and torture. The second report on the Korean minority in Japan said that there had been more than 400 cases in which the Korean school children were targeted for physical assaults last year as reported by the Association of Korean Human Rights in Japan.

LES MALEZER, of Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action, said the achievements during the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples had been insufficient and indigenous peoples had reason to be critical of shortcomings. Indigenous populations around the world remained the poorest of the poor, the most marginalized in societies, and the most deprived of their inherent rights. The extreme disadvantage experienced by indigenous peoples continued to exist both in developed and developing countries. The Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was being sabotaged by certain States who did not want their management of indigenous peoples subject to assessment against an international standard. It had become increasingly clear that States, in general, did not have the will or incentive to heed the plethora of international standards of human rights, the endorsed programmes of action, and United Nations resolutions, to eliminate racial discrimination against indigenous peoples. Human rights treaty bodies were charged with the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the human rights treaties. However, there was little evidence that indigenous peoples were taking their complaints to those treaty bodies and, where such complaints might be heard, the States seemed able to ignore findings of discrimination or breaches of human rights, with impunity. The Secretary-General was recommended to review, as part of the evaluation of the outcomes of the International Decade, and to critically assess the actions taken by States to eliminate racial discrimination against indigenous peoples.

ARIF AAJAKIA, of Interfaith International, said that the ruling oligarchy of Pakistan, all banded by regional affinity of Punjab and parochialism, had colonized Sindh and Baluchistan through blatant misuse of power and influence. Pakistan, as a multi-national entity and achieved through the efforts of the Muslims of the Subcontinent, was torn apart in 1971. The people of Pakistan, however, tried hard to maintain its existence. Consequently, the ruling oligarchy of Punjab, which was responsible for the dismemberment of the country, colonized different ethnic and ethno-linguistic minorities of the country. Sindh province, whose economy essentially depended on agrarian pursuits, had been subjected to a man-made crisis, which was not only unjust but also inhuman. Pakistan’s Water and Power Development authorities had considerably reduced Sindh’s water allocation. It had also been noted that the actual population of the ethnic minorities had always been manipulated in a manner to show the ethnic Punjabis outnumbering the local nationalities. The previous census carried out in 1998 was rejected by the people of Sindh and Baluchistan as manipulated.

SHIPRA DAS, of Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organization, said the religious minorities of Bangladesh – Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Indo-Mongoloid tribal people – who constituted 30 per cent of the population in the 1940s, now represented 9.5 per cent of the population. This difference, which translated to a loss of over 30 million people, could be viewed as the disappearance of half a dozen countries. Several tools of persecution had been employed in this sustained, goal oriented, State sponsored, and barbaric campaign of religious and ethnic cleansing. They included a racism law called the Enemy Property Act, kidnapping of girls followed by forcible conversion to Islam and marriage with one of the abductors, desecration and demolition of temples and churches, levying of infidel security tax, denial of access to job and business opportunities, as well as the common practice of gang rapes. What was important to note was that whilst the share of women of minority communities represented less than 10 per cent of the population, their percentage of reported rape was an overwhelming 98.7 per cent. Gang rape had become the Islamic hardliners’ weapon of choice. The Sub-Commission was recommended to send an observation team to Bangladesh to assess the situation of the religious minorities, to ensure that victims were compensated and to give protection to the minorities lives, properties and places of worship.

VERENA GRAF, of International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said that although constituting only about 5 per cent of the world’s population, the world’s indigenous peoples represented roughly 90 per cent of its cultural diversity, and 80 per cent of its biodiversity was to be found within the indigenous peoples’ territories. In spite of that and mainly for the sake of short-term myopic financial gains, pharmaceutical and biotechnological companies as well as timber, tourism, oil drilling, mining and energy industries pushed governments to weaken indigenous rights to their lands. Their spiritual, cultural and social values and deep relationship with the natural world were traded for temporary solutions, which only benefited economic interests of governments, transnational corporations and the rich regions of the world. Although indigenous peoples had come a long way to achieve recognition of their specificity in the human family and had gained momentum within the United Nations system, this was only one sign of their difficult struggle.

HELEN DUSSOLIET-GOND, of World Federation of Trade Unions, said that meaningful political and economic self-determination was not possible without indigenous people having the legal authority to exercise control over their lands and territories and thereby enjoy the full economic and other benefits deriving from their natural resources. It was necessary to reach understanding regarding self-determination under international law and to establish new methods and mechanisms for cooperating on matters relating to the sustainable development of indigenous lands and resources. She drew the attention of the Sub-Commission to the situation of the two million indigenous people of Gilgit-Baltistan who had been subjected to systematic discrimination for more than half a century by Pakistan and prevented from harnessing their natural resources for their benefit. Gilgit-Baltistan was rich in natural resources including forests and water and could easily have become a prosperous and developed region if the principle of the sovereignty of the people over their lands and resources had been truly recognized. The international human rights community was urged to call upon the Government of Pakistan to implement recommendations so that the indigenous people of Gilgit-Balistan were able to enjoy the real fruits of self-determination.

SUNAHWAR ALI, of International Institute for Peace, said that when East Pakistan broke away from the Western Pakistan part of the country to form Bangladesh in 1971, it was in opposition to the sentiment that all Muslim areas of former British India should unite in one state. While Bangladesh was yet far from becoming another Pakistan, fundamentalist Islamic forces were no doubt on the rise and extremist influence was growing, especially in the countryside. The attack and persecution against the religious minorities in Bangladesh started soon after the general election held on 1 October 2001. There had been a serious decline in the communal situation in the country after the right wing Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its fundamentalist alliance Jamaat-e-Islami and Islamic Oikyo Jote came to power after the October 2001 general elections. The religious minorities of Bangladesh had been facing torture by the fundamentalists and sectarian right wing groups since the inception of Pakistan.

GAFAREVA NIYARA, of International Service for Human Rights, said that one of the most important rights of indigenous peoples was the right to their land. The native land was the only source of the ethnic identity, spiritual core and source of existence for all indigenous peoples around the world. So far as indigenous peoples could not count on their domestic protection, they must be defended by international human rights standards. Usually Governments used the lack of international protection of land rights of indigenous peoples in order to deprive the indigenous peoples of their last means of subsistence. The Sub-Commission was informed that the Ukrainian Government through the local authorities of Crimea distributed the land title and real estate which had been illegally withdrawn from the Crimean Tatar people. This was happening because there was no legal international instrument which could effectively protect the rights of a small indigenous people having neither state, power, army, nor government to defend it against discrimination.

AGIS GENIUSAS, of International Federation of Free Journalists, hoped that the forthcoming World Summit on Information would allow the enjoyment by minorities of the right to have access to information technology. He welcomed the report on the rights of non-citizens by Mr. Weissbrodt, and his comments that ore information was needed on the situation of Russian-speaking persons in Latvia. Although Latvia had always been a multi-ethnic society, in had inherited half a million immigrants as a result of population transfer. The prospect of a lasting peace between Russia and Chechnya was unthinkable until Russian stopped treating the democratically elected parliament of that region. The military campaign and the scale of its atrocities had driven at least half of the Chechen population out of their homes or rather what had been left of them after the ravaging bombardment and mopping-up operations. Besides the heavy losses of human lives in Chechnya, there had been an environmental disaster in the region.

ASHA A. SAMAD, of Anti-Slavery International, said caste and outcast situations were mainly based upon occupation and descent. This was certainly true in the Somali Midagan/Madhiban outcast case. The Somali clans had created myths and used differences between their own and the Midgan/Madhiban occupations and cultures to justify their gross mistreatment and daily abuse of those they defeated. Somali outcasts and their children were almost never wanted as neighbours, classmates, friends or anything except as menial labourers. They were dealt with severely and sometimes critically if they protested their treatment. They were excluded by almost all Somalis from marriage, using the same utensils, and equal relationships or memberships. The Sub-Commission was thanked for the time devoted to the question of occupation – and descent based – discrimination and the situation of outcast groups globally. Anti-Slavery International strongly supported the continuation of the study of this very important violation of human rights. The increased recognition and documentation of this situation was critical to the rapid eradication of the horrendous scourge of caste-based discrimination.

DOREEN NAW, of Pax Romana, drew the attention of the Sub-Commission to the situation of religious minorities in many countries, particularly in south Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Those States fell under the concept of “One State – One Religion”. That dangerous concept caused polarization among the communities of majority and minority and resulted in minorities living in fear. In India, the trend of “terrorizing” minorities had become alarming especially after the brutal attack and killing of thousands of innocent minority members in Gujarat. Justice had not been accorded to victims of the Gujarat carnage who continued to live in fear. Instead of prosecuting the perpetrators of the crime, the State protected them contrary to article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. The State had legitimised the action of those non-state actors by the enactment of the anti-conversion bill in the State of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat.

BRIGITTE BAMBERG, of Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples, said the act of war of 11 September was a turning point in history and begged the question whether there was a clash of civilizations. Such claims seemed to be made in Samuel Huntingdon’s “Clash of Civilization” which said there would be front-line conflicts when two separate cultures claimed universal application, such as the Western culture or Islam. The Movement expressed its concern for increased levels of Islamophobia and informed the Sub-Commission that it would hold a seminar on this issue shortly. Discrimination and prejudice were a direct result of social and economic issues, she said and highlighted that globalization went together with a breakdown of social and cultural rights. Governments must understand that universality of humanity could not be based on one region, or a historical culture, but must be based on freedom and equality.

MARIANNE JENSEN, of International Labour Office (ILO), said that on the indigenous and tribal peoples, the ILO took the Convention No. 169 as a basis in its work to provide equality of opportunity and treatment in all spheres of life, while not sacrificing the ability of those peoples to retain their own ways of life and cultures. The key principles throughout the Convention were consultation and participation. A number of other ILO instruments were also relevant to the situations of indigenous and tribal peoples. ILO projects such as on human trafficking, child labour, crisis response, and cooperative development dealt with or had direct or indirect effects on those peoples. Through those activities, the ILO was constantly reminded how marginalized and neglected most of the world’s approximately 350 million indigenous and tribal peoples were in terms of both human rights, as well as economic, social and cultural development, with respect to their own priorities. They were among the most marginalized in all matters of life. The ILO believed that through a better and unified effort among States, the UN system, indigenous peoples’ organizations, other NGOs and all other bodies and institutions, long awaited progress would be achieved to the benefit of the world’s indigenous and tribal peoples, adding value to humanity, nationality and globally.

SALLY HOLT, of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, commented on David Weissbrodt’s report and concurred with his conclusion that, while a few discreet exceptions under international human rights law allowed, but did not require, distinction between citizens and non-citizens in relation to political participatory rights and the freedom of movement, international human rights law generally required the equal treatment of citizens and non-citizens. There was no legitimate basis upon which to make an a priori distinction between citizens and non-citizens in terms of their equal employment of human rights, and any exceptions to that non-discrimination principle must be narrowly construed. There was a need for clear and comprehensive standards governing the rights of non-citizens, their implementation by States, and more effective monitoring of compliance. Her Office remained well disposed to future cooperation with the United Nations Special Rapporteur and others on this important subject.

PRASAD KARIYAWASAM (Sri Lanka) said that in the relentless globalizing world, many societies were becoming more mutli-ethnic and multi-cultural with far reaching effects within States and even across borders. That demographic revolution appeared similar to the massive shifts in populations during the colonial era. That transformation was having a profound impact on the rights of minorities and societal harmony, which no doubt required continuing attention and careful consideration by the international community. As a result of globalization, the role and the sovereignty of States was diminishing in several fields and was even being replaced by non-state actors. It appeared inadequate to rest all responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights on States alone, although the States were had primary responsibility.

Having recognized the importance that minorities for promotion of societal harmony should enjoy all human rights, the Government of Sri Lanka had always endeavoured to accommodate rights of minority groups. However, it was the view of the Government that provision of group rights in the promotion of minority rights should not be at the expense of universally accepted individual rights.

ELÍA DEL CARMEN SOSA NISHIZAKI (Mexico) commented on the important work of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of non-citizens, including migrants, refugees and stateless people. The Sub-Commission must seek to strengthen their protection system. The provisions contained within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were an appropriate starting off point. Mexico said that there must be no distinction between the rights of non-citizens and citizens in terms of their human rights. She underlined the risks of favouring the interests of States before international standards on this topic, since such an approach would leave non-citizens totally vulnerable. It was emphasized that Mexico was redefining the relationship between indigenous populations and the Mexican population as a whole. The Special Rapporteur on this issue had visited Mexico in June of this year, and it was stressed that the Government was aware of the considerable social and economic challenges facing indigenous people and was currently attempting to identify an appropriate long-term strategy in this regard.

PANKAJ SARAN (India) said that his country was host to possibly more minority groups than any other country in the world. The diversity of languages and dialects, customs and practices, religions and denominations that characterized India was unique and one that the people deeply cherished. The modern Indian State had developed a constitutional framework, laws and instruments that sought not just to preserve and protect but also to promote the plurality of Indian society. The vision of India as a modern secular State was the principal inspiring force for the founders of its Constitution. The State was duty bound to ensure that every citizen, irrespective of race, religion, colour, creed of language, enjoyed equal rights. Minorities, whether based on religion or otherwise, had been accorded special safeguards to guarantee them their rights to cultural identity, education, religious faith and freedom of express.

The events last year in Gujarat to which some reference had been made were indeed tragic. Both the central and state authorities had acted and had taken all possible measures to bring the situation under control in the shortest possible time. It was ensured that the violence did not spread to other parts of the country, which was home to around 140 million Muslims. To speak of a genocide was therefore totally unwarranted and completely lacking in perspective.

RODOLFO MATTAROLLO (Argentina) said that the newly elected Government in Argentina considered that human rights were a pillar of all its policies. All human rights were viewed as indivisible. Legal obstacles had been removed in order to ensure that there was no impunity for officials of the executive. Today, Argentina was in a position to extradite persons who were suspected of human rights violations, including forced disappearances and torture. Argentina had just acceded to the international human rights instrument on war crimes. Yesterday he had informed the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances that its visit to Argentina would be welcomed by the Government.

PAULO SERGIO PINHEIRO, Sub-Commission Expert, said that the presence of a distinguished human rights defender from Argentina reflected the renewed commitment of the Government of Argentina to human rights and was a good example for the rest of the continent.

MANUEL RODRIGUEZ-CUADROS, Sub-Commission Expert, expressed his appreciation for the decision of the Argentinean Government to end impunity, especially concerning its government officials.

Right of Reply

A representative of Yemen, referring to the work of Sub-Commission Experts Asbjorn Eide and Yozo Yokota, said that the paper included section E entitled Akhadam of Yemen, referring to them as a group of people suffering from discrimination based on work and descent. Yemeni Constitution and laws guaranteed equality to all citizens without distinction. That group of people was not discriminated against. They participated in the political and socio-economic life of the country and many of them served as deputies in the parliament. Yemen's Government did not practice any kind of discrimination towards those people, and it cooperated with international organizations to develop their situation to get them out of their optional isolation.

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