U.N. Delays Vote On Native Self Determination
Inter-Press News Agency
Thursday, November 30. 2001
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 (IPS) - Leaders of the world's 370 million indigenous peoples and their supporters expressed sadness and anger Tuesday as a subsidiary body of the U.N. General Assembly rejected a draft declaration calling for the international recognition of native peoples' right to selfdetermination and control over their traditional lands.
The Third Committee of the General Assembly, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural issues, decided to put aside the matter for further discussion, as a majority of member states approved a resolution in favour of deferment.
"It is shameful," said Arthur Manuel, chief of the Secwepeme Nation, about the outcome of the vote on the declaration. "This was an historic opportunity for the U.N. to at least recognise our inalienable rights."
Les Malezer, an Australian aboriginal leader who chairs the Indigenous Caucus at the U.N., added: "This is unjustifiable. This is an attempt to derail the whole process."
Both Manuel and Malezer said they had hoped that the General Assembly would approve the declaration since it was already adopted by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council during the summer. Though African nations had supported the declaration in Geneva, this time around they changed their position, demanding that the wording on the "right to self-determination" be changed, a move that undermined the attempt to get the declaration adopted by the Assembly during its current session.
In interviews with IPS, some indigenous leaders said they were surprised at the new stance of the African bloc, but others suggested it was the U.S. and its allies which had lobbied behind the scenes
It's the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand who are responsible for this," an indigenous leader told IPS after Namibia sponsored a resolution in the committee seeking amendments to the declaration on the ground that the text "contradicts" its constitution.
In a run-up to the vote, a diplomat from an African nation told IPS that some governments on the continent feared that if they recognised the principle of self-determination, then they might find themselves with unwanted rebellions by certain tribes.
"Almost all of Africa is indigenous," he said. "So the concept of self-determination does not apply over there. It could create trouble."
Still, many indigenous leaders who work closely with the U.N. said they had no doubts that the change in the African bloc's position on the declaration was the outcome of external pressure."There are many countries in Africa which are economically vulnerable," said an indigenous representative before the vote.
Australia, Canada and New Zealand voted in support of the Namibian amendment, whereas most Latin American and European nations opposed the resolution. The U.S. abstained.
"It seems strange to ask for more time, as 24 years worth of negotiations have taken place," said a Mexican 11/30/2006. "What really has been delayed is the paying of attention to the rights of indigenous peoples."
The U.S. and its allies argue that the declaration is "inconsistent with international law". The U.S. has also repeatedly held that the indigenous land claim ignores current reality by "appearing to require the recognition to lands now lawfully owned by other citizens".
Indigenous leaders describe this argument as "racist" while a U.N. body that investigates discriminatory practices also views this line of reasoning as unacceptable.
The declaration was first put together by the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues last May, following more than 20 years of intense diplomacy involving governments, native representatives and numerous nongovernmental organisations (NGOs).
In addition to recognising the rights of indigenous peoples to their lands and resources, the declaration states that all indigenous people must be protected from forced assimilation and the destruction of their cultures.
Even though the resolution would not be legally binding, supporters said its approval would have increased pressure on governments to observe universal principles, such as democracy, justice and nondiscrimination.
Deploring the committee's decision, the London-based human rights watchdog Amnesty International said the declaration was an attempt to "fill an important gap in the protection of indigenous peoples' rights," and warned the governments against any move to "weaken" its text."It was the best that could be achieved," the group said in a statement. "Any revision of the draft text must be transparent and allow full and effective participation by indigenous peoples and NGOs."
The resolution in support of amendments to the draft was endorsed by 82 countries while 67 voted against it, with 25 abstentions. (FIN/2006)
Copyright © 2006 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.11/30/2006 http://www.ipsnews.net/print.asp?idnews=35638
Links:Indigenous Peoples Caucus
CARRIE DANN SOUNDS OFF!
Today, through a typical political maneuver at the United Nations, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been delayed. But, we must not take this as a defeat – we must take this as an opportunity. Indigenous Peoples are right. We are still here. Despite hundreds of years of genocide and attempted assimilation. We are still here and we know the Truth.
The political powers do not want to recognize our rights because they are afraid of this Truth and/or are jealous because they will no longer be the “experts”, those in control. With global warming and climate change, the evidence is building and we must persevere We know and the Earth Mother knows that we must – and we will – prevail.
Let’s take this delay in the United Nations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to gather strength, continue our prayers, educate our peoples and our supporters, and find the way to be the caretakers that we were placed here to be.
Western Shoshone Defense Project
P.O. Box 211308
Crescent Valley, NV 89821
NATIVE AMERICAN FIGHTS CORPORATIONS
By Ghida Fakhry in Nevada
Source – Al Jazeera
For more than 30 years, Carrie Dann, a native Shoshone American, has been fighting the US government for her people's rights to their ancestral land.
Dann accuses the US government of ignoring her case in favour of multi-national corporations whose interests she says lie in their bottom lines and not in the environment.
Since the dispute began 30 years ago, US armed federal agents have seized hundreds of horses from Dann's Crescent Valley ranch in Nevada, leaving her with only a few cows.
The US government's actions were a response to Dann's refusal to pay cattle fees.
She says that it is her right as a native American to live off her ancestral land.
Speaking to Al Jazeera English, Dann said: "I can't believe that this is happening supposedly in America where everybody talks about democracy, and how good democracy is. As far as the indigenous people go, we have not seen that democracy."
Dann is actively challenging the legality of the US government's claim of ownership to millions of acres of traditional Shoshone territory.
But the US bureau of land management insists that Dann has broken the law by not applying for a grazing licence and refusal to pay fees.
Al Jazeera made repeated requests to interview US officials about the case, but they refused to appear on camera and sent an email in response to journalists' questions.
Dann said she also received a short email saying that removing and impounding livestock was "an action of last resort" and the bureau had made "hundreds of attempts over the years" to work with Dann, but that she "had chosen not to" resolve her issues with the government agency.
Although Dann is worried that one day the government will seize her ranch, she has no intention of paying the outstanding fees.
The ranch sits atop some of the most valuable real estate in the world. It is the second-largest gold producing region on earth.
Julie Fishel, a lawyer and an activist who has volunteered to help Dann, considers this case one of the biggest "land swindles" in modern history.
Fishel, of the Western Shoshone Defence Project, told Al Jazeera: "They are offering the Shoshone people approximately 15 cents an acre. And at the same time they then turned around and were waiting to open up the same land for privatisation for multinational corporate interest." But it is estimated that the land may be worth a far greater fortune.
Mount Tenabo is estimated to be worth $8 billion to the Gold Mining industries - but to the Western Shoshone, it is one of their most revered spiritual sites.
Ruby Valley is the site where the US government and the Western Shoshone signed a treaty of peace and friendship in 1863. It was the last agreement between the two. Since then, the land has been developed without the agreement of the Shoshone.
Everywhere you look, corporate activity is growing in Nevada. Examples of this development are water and geothermal projects and an open-pit gold-mine.
Such projects could cause damage to the environment.
The US government is now offering every Western Shoshone $20,000 as a final settlement. But many, like Raymond Yowell, one of the elders and a cousin of Carrie Dann, have refused to take the offer.
Yowell, chief of the Western Shoshone national council, told Al Jazeera: "The mother earth is not for sale and that's what I stand on. I will not accept it if it's a million dollars. If it's 20 million I will not accept it."
Not all the Western Shoshone agree. Some just want to take the money and move on. Diana Bukcner, chairwoman of Ely Shoshone Tribe, said: "This has been a dream. The Indian money they called it so many years ago. We're not going to get the land back. That's not going to happen."
However, some members of the next generation do not agree with Bukner and see accepting compensation from the government as turning their back on history and their roots.
Yowell said: "We're giving up a lot more than just 20 grand. You know that's just a payout."
Robert Hager, a lawyer for the Western Shoshone, said that the US government has been awarding contracts in this area to major corporations
He said: "Barrick, Newmont and Halliburton are major corporations that have ties to elected officials in terms of campaign contributions and, in terms of contracts, are major players in Western Shoshone territories."
Another corporation accused of exploiting the Western Shoshone land is Bechtel, a major contractor of the US defence department in Iraq.
A Bechtel spokesman dismissed the complaints of the Western Shoshone and called them misplaced.
Jonathan Marshall, media relations manager at Bechtel, told Al Jazeera: "The real issues are land claims against the federal government.
"Instead of taking their claims to Washington, they think it might be more politically opportune to make a demonstration outside of Bechtel."
But protestors who gathered outside the company's San Francisco headquarters disagree.
After the US supreme court threw out Dann's case, she took her fight to the United Nations in Geneva where she won a moral victory. The UN told the US to stop all actions against the Western Shoshone people and uphold their rights.
It may not change anything. But Dann's faith is still strong. "I'm willing to stand up for the future generations of our people," she said.
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