Stop Violence against Indigenous Women, Indiscriminate Extraction of Resources

Human Wrongs Watch

Violence against women and girls and the indiscriminate extraction of natural resources are among the most pressing issues that indigenous peoples face today, a United Nations human rights expert said.

©UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

“A recurring issue that has come to my attention in various contexts is that of violence against indigenous women and girls,” said the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, in his statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 18 September.

In the past year, Anaya has collaborated with various countries, UN agencies and indigenous peoples in several studies and country assessments on the challenges indigenous peoples face on a daily basis. He has also made recommendations to States of good practices and responded to cases of alleged human rights violations.

Anaya said that in his talks with representatives on indigenous issues, they had stressed the need for a holistic approach to combat violence against indigenous women and girls. The implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, he stressed, will be crucial to address this issue.

The rights of Indigenous Peoples

Adopted by the General Assembly in September 2007 after more than two decades of debate, the Declaration sets out the individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples, as well as their rights to culture, identity, language, employment, health, education and other issues, the UN reported.

“In particular, indigenous self-determination and cultural integrity must be enhanced, along with efforts that are designed to prevent and punish violence against indigenous women and girls,” he said.

Indigenous self-determination and cultural integrity must be enhanced, along with efforts that are designed to prevent and punish violence against indigenous women and girls.

Anaya also pointed to the extractive industries as a source of tension, as companies do not tend to consult with indigenous peoples before beginning work on their property.

Narrow Focus on Principles of Consultantions

“There is now a common, often narrow focus on principles of consultation and free, prior and informed consent,” he said. “A better approach starts with examination of the primary substantive rights of indigenous peoples that may be implicated in natural resource extraction.

“These include, in particular, rights to property over land and natural resources; rights to culture, religion, and health; and the right of indigenous peoples to set and pursue their own priorities for development, as part of their fundamental right to self-determination.”

One of the fundamental problems with the current model in the extractive industries, Anaya said, was that extractive projects are developed by corporations with some or little involvement from Governments, but without participation from indigenous communities which are greatly affected by these initiatives.

Greater participation and control would bring benefits to the indigenous population, he added.

During his statement Anaya also presented his reports on the situation of indigenous peoples in Argentina and the United States, reiterating that while positive steps have been taken by both governments to advance indigenous rights, much more remains to be done.

US Must Adopt New Measure to Advance a Reconciliation Process

On 11 September 2012,  James Anaya said that the United States “must adopt new measures to advance a reconciliation process with its indigenous peoples and address historical wrongs that have stopped them from fully realizing their rights.”

“Indigenous peoples in the United States – including American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian peoples – constitute vibrant communities that have contributed greatly to the life of the country,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said in a news release on his report, made public that day, on indigenous peoples in the United States.

Historical Wrongs

Anaya stressed that these measures must “address persistent deep-seeded problems related to historical wrongs, failed policies of the past and continuing systemic barriers to the full realization of indigenous peoples’ rights.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that there are significant challenges, including past misguided Government policies, as well as broken treaties and acts of oppression in the past, which have left indigenous people at a disadvantage and have prevented them from exercising their individual and collective rights.

In his report, Anaya provides an overview of federal legislation and programs that have been developed over the last few decades by the US Government, and notes that these, “in contrast to early exercises of federal power based on misguided policies, constitute good practices that in significant measure respond to indigenous peoples’ concerns.”

While Anaya welcomed the new initiatives to advance the rights of indigenous peoples over the last few years, he said existing programmes need to be improved to increase their efficiency and underlined that the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is an important guide to do this.

United States’ International Human Rights Obligations

“The Declaration, which is grounded in widespread consensus and fundamental human rights values, has been accepted by the United States at the urging of indigenous peoples from throughout the country, and it is an extension of the United States’ international human rights obligations,” Anaya said.

“It should be a benchmark for all relevant decision making by the federal executive, Congress, and the judiciary, as well as by the states of the United States.”

To develop his report, Anaya held consultations with US officials as well as with indigenous peoples, tribes, and nations in the capital, Washington, D.C., and the states of Arizona, Alaska, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, and Oklahoma, both in so-called Indian country and in urban areas, the UN reported.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

Read also:

They, The Peoples!

Indigenous Bolivians Halt Transnational Highway Crossing the Amazon

2012 Human Wrongs Watch

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