By Haider Rizvi | Inter Press Service
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 – The international community now fully recognises the native peoples’ right to protect their lands and live distinct lifestyles. Yet, most of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples continue to face abuse and injustices at the hands of state authorities and commercial concerns.
“We must look at the substantial successes we have been able to achieve, but also reflect on how far we have to go,” Ben Powless of the Indigenous Environment Network told IPS on the eve of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.
Though pleased with the U.N. General Assembly’s decision last year to approve the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, Powless and other activists say they have no reason to believe that those who have occupied their native lands are willing to change their behaviour.
“Governments in the past have been complicit in genocides, land seizures, massive environmental degradation, and many other human rights abuses because [indigenous peoples] were denied their fundamental rights and freedoms,” said Powless, a Mohawk whose nation’s territory is now divided between modern-day Canada and the United States.
Last year when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, both the U.S. and Canada were among a handful of countries that voted against it.
“This shows how far we still have to go to make sure that states acknowledge and protect indigenous peoples’ rights, for if they continue not to, we have many examples of the grave results,” said Powless.
Recently, both the U.S. and Canada were found guilty by a Geneva-based U.N. rights watchdog, which keeps track of violations of the 1968 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) told Canada to take “appropriate legislative or administrative measures to prevent the acts of transnational corporations on indigenous territories.”
CERD took the Canadian government to task in response to a petition filed by indigenous organisations that charged private businesses from Canada were unlawfully involved in the exploitation of their lands located in the U.S.
The petition particularly focused on the situation facing the Western Shoshone — a Native American tribe whom some non-natives refer to as “Snake Indians,” although in their own language they are called Newe people.