Tag Archives: Human Rights Council

5/4/2012 Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, upon conclusion of his visit to the United States

5/4/2012 Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya, upon conclusion of his visit to the United States: Statement of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya,
upon conclusion of his visit to the United States 4 May 2012: Washington, D.C.– “In my capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, I am concluding my official visit to the United States of America, which I have been carrying out over the past twelve days. During my mission, I have held consultations with indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations in Washington, D.C.; Arizona; Alaska; Oregon; Washington State; South Dakota; and Oklahoma, both in Indian Country and in urban areas. I also had a series of meetings with representatives of the executive branch of the federal government and with state government officials. I regret that my efforts to meet with members of the U.S. Congress were unsuccessful, especially given the prominent role of Congress in defining the status and rights of indigenous peoples within the United States.

I would like to thank the U.S. Department of State and other parts of the government administration for the cooperation they have provided for the mission. I would also like to express my deep gratitude to representatives of indigenous nations and peoples whose assistance in planning and carrying out of this visit has been indispensible. I am honored to have been welcomed into their communities and am humbled by the hospitality I received. I am grateful that they shared their still vibrant cultures and stories, and also their concerns with me.

My mission has been carried out against the backdrop of the United States’ endorsement of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in December 2010. Over the past twelve days, I have collected a significant amount of information from indigenous peoples and Government representatives across the country, with a view to assessing how the standards of the Declaration are reflected in United States law, policy and programs at both the state and federal levels, and to identify needed reforms as well as good practices.

In the following weeks, I will be reviewing the extensive information I have received during the visit in order to develop a report to evaluate the situation of indigenous peoples in the United States and to make a series of recommendations. This report will be made public, and will be presented to the United Nations Human Rights Council, most likely at its plenary session in September. I hope that that this report will be of use to Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples, as well as to the Government of the United States, to help find solutions to ongoing challenges that indigenous peoples in the country face, and to advance their rights in accordance with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Over the past twelve days, I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced. This history—as is widely known but often forgotten—includes the dispossession of the vast majority of their lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the breakdown of their traditional structures, the loss of their languages, the breaking of treaties, and numerous instances of outrights brutality, all grounded on racial discrimination.

It is clear that this history does not just blemish the past, but translates into present day disadvantage for indigenous peoples in the country. The intergenerational trauma suffered by indigenous societies is deeply felt and manifested in deep social ills that afflict indigenous Americans in ways not experienced by others.

I have heard countless accounts of the ongoing problems that indigenous peoples face as a result of historical injustices, problems of deeply troubling economic, health, education, and development disparities. In all my consultations with indigenous peoples in the places I visited it was impressed upon me that the sense of loss, alienation and indignity is pervasive throughout Indian country. It is evident that there have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression, and that there is still much healing that needs to be done.

I believe that an important step in the still needed process of reconciliation is the statement of support of the Government of the United States for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the United States should be commended for joining the rest of the countries of the world in its support for this instrument. The Declaration affirms fundamental human rights in relation to the particular historical and contemporary circumstances of indigenous peoples. It echoes fundamental values, embraced by the American constitutional tradition, of self-determination, equality, local decision-making and secure property, and respect for cultural identity. The United States must also ensure that international relations and laws governing corporate activities affecting indigenous peoples in other countries are consistent with, and promote, the application of the Declaration.

I have also heard about initiatives the Federal Government has taken in recent years to improve the conditions of indigenous peoples, which can be seen as advances towards the implementation of some provisions of the Declaration. These include initiatives to develop consultation policies and open spaces of dialogue with tribes; to settle outstanding claims; to increase funding for federal programs; and to improve education, economic development, and law and order in Indian Country. These initiatives build on some already important recognition of, and in some cases exemplary laws, policies, and programs that promote the rights of indigenous peoples in the country. I will continue to study these and other initiatives and will be reflecting positive developments in further detail in my report.

However, from the information that I have gathered, it is evident that more robust measures are needed to address the serious issues affecting Native American, Alaska Native and Hawaiian peoples in the United States, issues that are rooted in a dark and complex history whose legacies are not easy to overcome. Continued and concerted measures are needed to develop new initiatives and reform existing ones, in consultation and in real partnership with indigenous peoples, to conform to the Declaration, with a goal towards strengthening indigenous peoples’ own self-determination and decision-making over their affairs at all levels. The Declaration provides a new grounding for understanding the status and rights of indigenous peoples, upon which the legal doctrines of conquest and discovery must be discarded as a basis for decision-making by judicial and other authorities.

I have seen that many tribes across the country have capable institutions of self-governance and tribal courts, self-administered social and economic development programs, which have demonstrated significant successes and, with an understanding and knowledge of tribal realities, function at the same time to promote and consolidate indigenous cultures and values. During my visit, I heard almost universal calls from indigenous nations and tribes across the country that the Government respect tribal sovereignty, that indigenous peoples’ ability to control their own affairs be strengthened, and that the many existing barriers to the effective exercise of self-determination be removed. It should be noted that the Violence Against Women Act, which is currently pending reauthorization before Congress, contains important provisions recognizing the jurisdiction of tribes to prosecute perpetrators of violence against Indian women and to hold them accountable for their crimes, which is a good step towards addressing this distressing problem. Also, adequate funding should be provided to ensure the welfare of indigenous Americans in accordance with historical obligations, especially in areas of health, housing, and education.

I cannot conclude without providing some brief comments on issues I have heard related to the lands and resources of indigenous peoples across America. The widespread loss of indigenous peoples’ lands and resources is well-documented. The negative effects of this loss are compounded by past and ongoing activities that diminish or threaten the remaining lands and resources upon which indigenous peoples depend. Across America, past uncontrolled and irresponsible extractive activities, including uranium mining in the Southwest, have resulted in the contamination of indigenous peoples’ water sources and other resources, and in numerous documented negative health effects among Native Americans.

In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest especially, I heard about how Native peoples continue to depend upon hunting and gathering wildlife, and fishing marine resources, and how the maintenance of these subsistence activities is essential for both their physical and their cultural survival, especially in isolated areas. However, indigenous peoples informed me that they face ever-greater threats to their subsistence activities due to a growing surge of competing interests, and in some cases incompatible extractive activities, over these lands and resources. In Alaska, indigenous peoples complain about a complex and overly restrictive state regulatory apparatus that impedes their access to subsistence resources.

I also heard many stories about the significance of places that are sacred to indigenous peoples, places like the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and the Black Hills in South Dakota, which hold profound religious and cultural significance to tribes. During my visit, indigenous peoples reported to me that they have too little control over what happens in these places, and that activities carried out around them at times affront their values and beliefs.

It is important to note, in this regard, that securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples’ socio-economic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity. Continued efforts to resolve, clarify, and strengthen the protection of indigenous lands, resources, and sacred sites should be made.

I look forward to developing more detailed observations and recommendations beyond these initial comments in my report to the Human Rights Council. As I noted, my observations and recommendations will be aimed at identifying good practices and needed reforms in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I hope that this process will contribute to ensuring that the first Americans can continue to thrive and maintain their distinct ways of life as they have done for generations despite significant challenges, preserving this fundamental part of American history and enriching American society for the benefit of all.”

***

5/4/2012 Yahoo News: U.S. must heal native peoples' wounds, return lands

5/4/2012 Yahoo News: U.S. must heal native peoples’ wounds, return landsUNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States must do more to heal the wounds of indigenous peoples caused by more than a century of oppression, including restoring control over lands Native Americans consider to be sacred, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday.

James Anaya, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, just completed a 12-day visit to the United States where he met with representatives of indigenous peoples in the District of Columbia, Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington State, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. He also met with U.S. government officials.

“I have heard stories that make evident the profound hurt that indigenous peoples continue to feel because of the history of oppression they have faced,” Anaya said in a statement issued by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva.

That oppression, he said, has included the seizure of lands and resources, the removal of children from their families and communities, the loss of languages, violation of treaties, and brutality, all grounded in racial discrimination.

Anaya welcomed the U.S. decision to endorse the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2010 and other steps the government has taken, but said more was needed. His findings will be included in a final report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council. While not binding, the recommendations carry moral weight that can influence governments.

“It is clear that this history does not just blemish the past, but translates into present day disadvantage for indigenous peoples in the country,” Anaya said.

“There have still not been adequate measures of reconciliation to overcome the persistent legacies of the history of oppression, and that there is still much healing that needs to be done,” he said.

In Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where some Native Americans depend on hunting and fishing, Anaya said tribes face “ever-greater threats … due to a growing surge of competing interests, and in some cases incompatible extractive activities, over these lands and resources.”

“In Alaska, indigenous peoples complain about a complex and overly restrictive state regulatory apparatus that impedes their access to subsistence resources (fish and wildlife),” he said.

SACRED LANDS

Mining for natural resources in parts of the country has also caused serious problems for indigenous peoples.

“Past uncontrolled and irresponsible extractive activities, including uranium mining in the Southwest, have resulted in the contamination of indigenous peoples’ water sources and other resources, and in numerous documented negative health effects among Native Americans,” he said.

He said indigenous peoples feel they have too little control over geographic regions considered sacred to them, like the San Francisco Peaks in Arizona and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Anaya suggested such lands should be returned to Native peoples.

“Securing the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands is of central importance to indigenous peoples’ socioeconomic development, self-determination, and cultural integrity,” Anaya said.

“Continued efforts to resolve, clarify, and strengthen the protection of indigenous lands, resources, and sacred sites should be made,” he added.

Mount Rushmore, a popular tourist attraction, is located in the Black Hills, which the Sioux tribe consider to be sacred and have territorial claims to based on an 1868 treaty. Shortly after that treaty was signed, gold was discovered in the region. U.S. Congress eventually passed a law taking over the land.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1980 that the seizure of the land was illegal and ordered the government to pay compensation. But the Sioux rejected the money and has continued to demand the return of the now public lands.

Anaya said he will make specific recommendations on these and other issues in a full report later this year.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Why Governments Are on the Hook to Ensure Clean, Safe Water for Everyone: The right to water and sanitation are living documents waiting to be used for transformational change around the world

7/28/2011 Alternet: Why Governments Are on the Hook to Ensure Clean, Safe Water for Everyone: The right to water and sanitation are living documents waiting to be used for transformational change around the world: One year ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an historic resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation. Two months later, the Human Rights Council adopted a second resolution affirming that drinking water and sanitation are human rights, and setting out the new obligations and responsibilities all governments now carry to develop appropriate tools and mechanisms to progressively achieve the full realization of these rights. Together the two resolutions represent an extraordinary breakthrough in the international struggle for the right to safe clean drinking water and sanitation and a crucial milestone in the fight for water justice.

The struggle to achieve this milestone was a long one and blocked for years by some powerful corporations and governments who prefer to view water as a private commodity to be put on the open market for sale. Indeed, forty-one countries, including the U.K., Australia, Japan, Canada and the U.S., abstained in the General Assembly vote. (However, in a welcome and surprise move, the U.S. voted in favour of the Human Rights Council’s resolution.) Some of these governments insist that they are still under no new obligations in this area, as they claim the General Assembly vote was not binding. This is incorrect. Because the Human Rights Council resolution is an interpretation of two exiting international treaties, it clarifies that the resolution adopted by the General Assembly is legally binding in international law. Said an official UN press release, “The right to water and sanitation is a human right, equal to all other human rights, which implies that it is justiciable and enforceable.”

This means that whether or not they voted for the right to water and sanitation, every member state of the United Nations is now required to prepare a Plan of Action for the Realization of the Right to Water and Sanitation and to report to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on its performance in this area. This plan of action must meet three obligations: the Obligation to Respect, whereby the state must refrain from any action or policy that interferes with these rights, such as removing water and wastewater services because of an inability to pay as has happened in inner city Detroit and Boston; the Obligation to Protect, whereby the state is obliged to prevent third parties from interfering with these rights, such as protecting local communities from industrial pollution and inequitable extraction of water; and the Obligation to Fulfil, whereby the state is required to adopt any additional measures directed toward the realization of these rights, such as providing water and sanitation services to communities currently without them. In the U.S., this would include the 13 percent of Native American households without access to clean water and sanitation.

Lack of access to clean water and sanitation is the number one killer of children in our world. A new report on diarrhea by the World Health Organization says that in the global South, a child dies every three and a half seconds of water-borne diseases. In every case, if their parents could pay for clean water, these children would not be dying. While the resolutions recognizing the human right to water and sanitation will not immediately resolve this travesty, they do set the stage for a plan of action to address it. All countries now have the obligation to ensure, in a progressive manner and within available resources, that all of their people have access to water and sanitation services and special attention is to be paid to the most vulnerable and marginalized groups.

And while not specifically prohibiting private water delivery, the resolutions make it clear that the state retains the responsibility and authority to provide these services and can step in to prevent cut-offs to the poor or the charging of exorbitant water rates by for-profit providers. Clearly, in recognizing the human right to water and sanitation, the United Nations has endorsed the notion that water is a public trust best delivered on a not-for-profit basis.

The first anniversary of this historic General Assembly resolution presents an incredible opportunity for groups and communities around the world suffering from water shortages, unsafe drinking water and poor or non-existent sanitation services. It is not often that a new right is recognized at the United Nations, especially around an issue as increasingly political and urgent as the global water crisis. The right to water and sanitation are living documents waiting to be used for transformational change around the world.

Maude Barlow chairs the board of both Ottawa-based Council of Canadians and Washington-based Food and Water Watch. She served as the Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the UN General Assembly.