NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD
INTERNATIONAL COMMITTEE NEWSLETTER
International Committee Meets During Boston NLG Convention
Thursday, November 2, 2000 9 a.m.- 4 p.m
The International Committee (IC) has scheduled an all day meeting on Thursday, November 2nd, 2000, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to evaluate its work since the 1999 San Francisco Convention and to plan and prioritize our agenda and activities for the coming year. Those of us who will be attending the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) Congress in Havana, Cuba from October 16-20, 2000 will report back on all that happened. For more information on how you can participate in the growth of the International Committee, contact Steve Goldberg, at the following:
1020 SW Taylor, Suite 530
Portland, Oregon 97205
NLG Middle East Human Rights
Delegation to Occupied Territories Proposed
by Allegra Pacheco, Esq.
American-Israeli Attorney Allegra Pacheco who litigated the first anti-torture case before the Israeli high court has proposed that the Guild send a Human Rights Delegation to the Middle East. Ms. Pacheco=s proposed delegation, which is described below, will be discussed at the International Committee above-mentioned November 2, 2000 Boston Convention IC Meeting. If you are interested in participating or joining this delegation, please contact Judy Somberg, Massachusetts NLG Chapter, at Email: email@example.com
Despite the signing of the Oslo agreements, Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, West Bank and Gaza remain under Israeli occupation. Approximately 70% of the West Bank, 40% of the Gaza Strip and 100% of East Jerusalem remain under complete Israeli control. In these areas
settlement construction continues in full force (6000 new units in 1999), Palestinian homes are demolished (93 homes in 1999), land is confiscated (40178 dunams in 1999) and 15,000 olive trees were uprooted. In addition, the Israeli military controls all movement of people and goods in and out of the Occupied Territories effectively sustaining its absolute domination over the economy, employment, daily life of all Palestinians.
The Oslo Accords were presumably designed to lead to the establishment a Palestinian state alongside Israel and end the Israeli occupation of these territories. Instead of ending the occupation, the poorly negotiated Oslo accords effectively solidified Israel dominion in the territories. With the enormous amounts of land confiscations, water, settlement/colony building and the matrix of settler bypass roads constructed, a Palestinian state is no longer viable today. Instead an apartheid system is emerging, endangering the welfare and future of the over three million Palestinians in the area.
Over the years, Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations attempted to gather international support for the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 in the Occupied Territories. This Convention is the international humanitarian law document relating explicitly to military occupations. The entire international community, except for Israel, including many UN Resolutions have concluded that the Convention is the applicable law in the Occupied Territories. Even the United States holds this position. As Jean Pictet, the official commentary to the Convention states: The main object of the convention is to protect a strictly defined category of civilians from arbitrary action on the part of the enemy.
Last year, several Palestinian human rights groups and the PLO re‑initiated a campaign for the enforcement of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Their efforts resulted in UN Resolution vote 120 to 3 (Israel, Micronesia, US) on March 18, 1998 in favor of convening a conference on measures to enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention in the Palestinian territories.. The meeting was held in Geneva in July, 1999 under the auspices of the International Committee for the Red Cross. As a result of political pressure from the US and Israel, the meeting convened for a half an hour and was postponed indefinitely.
Importance of Applicability and Enforcement of the Convention:
Article 1 of the Convention requires all contracting parties not only to abide by the convention but also to make sure all other parties abide by it. "The High Contracting Parties undertake to respect and to ensure respect for the present Convention in all circumstances."
The position of human rights groups is that if the Convention was enforced, almost all of the human rights abuses would cease. Further, the Palestinian Authority would be prohibited from negotiating key resources of the Palestinian people including land and water resources The local human rights community is in need of international legal support for its position that the Convention still applies and must be enforced. A position paper from the NLG would contribute greatly to the campaign and also facilitate our outreach on the diplomatic and governmental level and our campaign in the US.
Goals of the Mission:
1. To investigate the legal issues whether the Fourth Geneva Convention is the controlling international law e.g. status of contracting party,
2. To resolve the legal questions whether Israel can be held accountable under the Convention.
3. To document ongoing human rights abuses and violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention and international law.
4. To make recommendations as to how best to enforce the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Proposed Activities of the Mission:
The mission would be organized according to articles of the Convention, devoting blocks of days to each item. The following is a proposed itinerary:
Articles 1‑7, 47: Application of Convention in light of Oslo Agreements, Israeli legal arguments, customary international law etc.
Article 7: Special Agreements "No special agreement shall adversely affect the situation of protected persons, as defined by the present Convention, nor restrict the rights which it confers upon them."
Article 47: Protected persons who are in occupied territory shall not be deprived, in any case or in any manner whatsoever, of the benefits of the present Convention by any change introduced..by any agreement concluded between the authorities of the occupied territories and the Occupying Power...
--Meet with Israeli and Palestinian legal scholars and lawyers.
Article 147: Investigating Grave Breaches
Article 147: Grave Breaches include...willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, unlawful transfer of protect persons, willfully depriving rights of fair and regular trial, taking of hostages,
extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly."
--Meet with human rights organizations and victims/family members re:
assignations, torture case, house demolition, land and property
Articles 146, 148, 149 : Responsibilities of the Contracting Parties
Article 148: No High Contracting Party shall be allowed to absolve itself or any other High Contracting Party of any liability incurred by itself or by another High Contracting Party in respect of breaches referred to in the preceding Article [grave breaches].
Commentary: In our opinion, Article 148 is intended to prevent the vanquished from being compelled in an armistice agreement or a peace treaty to renounce all compensation due for breaches by persons in the service of the victor..."
Article 149: At the request of a Party of the conflict, an inquiry shall be instigated, in a manner to be decided between the interested Parties, concerning any alleged violation of the Convention . . . nce the violation has been established, the Parties to the conflict shall put an end to it and hall repress it with the least possible delay.
--Meet with Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations,
representatives of ICRC, US embassy/consulate, Palestinian Authority.
Article 49: Settlements and bypass roads:
Article 49: The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies. Commentary: This clause...is intended to prevent a practice adopted during the Second World War by certain Powers, which transferred portions of their own population to occupied territory for political and racial reasons or in order, as they claimed, to colonize these territories. Such transfers worsened the economic situation of the native population and endangered their separate existence as a race.
--Meet with Peace Now settlement project, geographers, visit settlements, Palestinian/Israeli human rights groups.
Article 32: Torture and IDF violence:
Article 32: The High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any measure of such a character as to cause the physical suffering or extermination of protected person in their hands...
--Meet with Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, torture victims, human rights groups
Article 53: House Demolitions/ Uprooting Trees (15,000 olive trees uprooted in 1999):
Article 53: Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property ...is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
Meet with Israeli/Palestinian Committee Against House Demolitions, visit demolition and uprooted tree sites
Article 52: Closure, Labor: All measures aiming at creating unemployment or at restricting the opportunities offered to workers in an occupied territory, in order to induce them to work for the Occupying Power, are prohibited.
--Meet with Labor organizations, visit Gaza Human Rights Organizations,
Articles 71‑78: Penal Procedures, Military Courts, Administrative
--Visit military court, meet with Prisoner organizations
--Spend day Meeting with Israeli government and military officials.
--Spend a day or two relaxing from an overwhelming trip.
RWANDA's INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL TRIBUNAL
DOES ANYBODY CARE?
By Kojo Moore
This past summer I interned for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, in East Africa. It was the most fascinating experience in my life so far. I was assigned an array of interesting and exciting issues. They ranged from interviewing sexual assault victims to researching issues from common and civil law judicial sources. I learned a lot of valuable information about international human rights issues and the sources of international law in general.
The ICTR is a new legal concept that is loosely derived from the Nuremberg War Trials. There is no direct precedent to follow, which allows for the formation of creative legal arguments. One interesting assignment was a brief on the issue of whether or not Agenocide@ as that term has been defined in international law could be established by judicial notice. Judicial notice is a practice which allows a court to accept as true facts which are generally well known or authoritatively documented. It is easier to take judicial notice in a civil action than in a criminal proceeding which the ICTR was conducting which could result in the imposition of life sentences. The laws under which the ICTR operates are derived from both common law and civil law jurisdiction; for examples, the United Kingdom is common law, France is civil law. While researching this issue, I learned about the historical development of judicial procedures in both jurisdictions.
The workforce of the United Nations (UN) which organized and maintains the ICTR is itself fascinating. As expected, it is made up of people from all over the world. However, it is not just the diversity of people, their depth of knowledge, and commitment but the similarities between us which was fascinating.
Another assignment of my ICTR internship was interviewing sexual assault victims. This assignment was heart wrenching and challenging. The unspeakable horrors the women endured are unbelievable. My limited ability to speak Swahili, a language spoken in most of East Africa, made it difficult for me to communicate with the victims. The difficulty of speaking a new and unfamiliar language and the personal, intimate violations sexual assaults recounted made the exchange all the more challenging.
Since I have returned to the United States, it seems as though the ICTR in Arusha does not even exist. All I hear about international human rights issues from the media pertains to Kosovo. The ethnic conflict in Kosovo was indeed tragic, but the numbers of human life lost is dwarfed by the numbers of human life lost in Rwanda. I hate to compare human tragedies, because it gives the impression that I am devaluing human life. In Rwanda 700, 000 to a 1,000,000 people were killed in 90 days solely because of their ethnicity. People who were friends and neighbors the day before became mortal enemies the next day for not other apparent reason except their ethnic difference. The news media continuously inundates the public, while only an occasional news article appears about Rwanda. The systematic killing of close to a 1,000,000 people in 90 days surely rates more media coverage and public discussion.
When I first began reading the horrific complaints and witness statements regarding genocide in Rwanda. I wondered weren=t the perpetrators from this small, insular and undeveloped nations afraid of the UN or the powerful governments in the developed world who could crush them overnight with their superior military forces? In those early moments, I didn=t realize that the perpetrators knew that they were Ajust killing Africans@ and the developed world should not care. Sadly, the response of the U.N., and the governments in the developed world shows that they were right. Does anybody care about genocide in Rwanda? For more information, Contact Kojo Moore by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
GUILD AND LA RAZA LAWYERS DELEGATION DOCUMENTS
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS IN GUERRERO, MEXICO
by Bill Monning*
Earlier this year, La Raza Centro Legal of San Francisco, the National Lawyers Guild and Global Exchange organized a delegation of United States lawyers and other community workers (ADelegation@) to travel to the State of Guerrero in Mexico on a human rights fact-finding mission. This Delegation was organized in response to invitations from Mexican human rights lawyers and numerous Mexican human rights organizations including: the Guerrero Institute of Human Rights from the City of Chilpancingo, the Tlachinollan Mountain Human Rights Center, the Coordinadora Campesina y de Organizaciones Sociales of Ayutla de los Libres and the Guerrero Network of Human Rights Organizations.
In April, the Delegation traveled to Mexico City and then the State of Guerrero to: meet with Mexican lawyers regarding the scope of human rights violations in Guerrero and the legal right of foreign human rights delegations to maintain a presence in Mexico; meet with and take testimony from survivors and witnesses to human rights violations committed by municipal, state and federal authorities under color of law in Guerrero; document the response, or lack thereof, of official human rights and government agencies to past complaints filed by victims and their relatives in Guerrero; and to report its findings.
On January 1, 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect. The free trade agreement among the United States, Canada, and Mexico was heralded by government and business leaders as marking a new era of opportunity and economic growth for the people of North America.
January 1, 1994 also marks the date that the Zapatista (Ejercito Zapatista para la Liberacion Nacional-EZLN) uprising in Chiapas, Mexico made international news. The date of the uprising on the operational date of NAFTA was not a coincidence. As the Zapatistas proclaimed, the beneficiaries of the free trade agreement would not include the poor, disenfranchised, and indigenous people of Chiapas. Further, the Zapatistas claimed that the mandates of NAFTA would result in the elimination of government price support for corn---the staple and lifeblood of Mexico=s peasant farmers.
Almost seven years have elapsed since NAFTA and the Zapatista uprising. Both the economic agreement and the indigenous people=s movement persist. The impacts of globalization and the pursuit of expanding free markets have resulted in an increasing divide between the rich and poor. Developing nations have sought to exercise their voices in the halls of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Labor, environmental, and human rights activists have criticized the unchecked excesses of free trade and laid the foundation for a new form of globalization that will advance human rights as more sacred than property rights.
To understand modern Mexico, it is crucial to understand Mexico=s history---a history distinguished by the remarkable achievements of the Mayans and the Aztecs, followed by the colonialization of the Americas by the Spanish, the British, and the French. The Mexican Revolution and the ensuing history of movements seeking land reform and empowerment of the nation=s class of peasant farmers continues to transform as the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) was recently dislodged from over 70 years of political control.
In the state of Guerrero, named after Vincente Guerrero who fought for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised and who later became president, a rich history of struggle and conflict distinguishes and afflicts the rugged mountainous state located to the west of Mexico City and bordered by the Pacific Ocean.
The guerrilla movement of the 60s and 70s (Cabanas-Vasquez) provided the historic origins for today=s Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and the revolutionary Army of the Insurgent People (ERPI). The ERPI first announced its formation at a meeting of parents in a schoolhouse in El Charco. ERPI members entered the meeting to describe their program and elicit support. An informant alerted the military who responded by killing 11 unarmed peasants as they exited the schoolhouse (7 June 1998).
The current wave of repression is carried out in a state where poverty is endemic and state sponsored violence is systemic. Guerrero is the second poorest state in Mexico. By excluding the tourist town of Acapulco, Guerrero becomes the poorest state in Mexico. Guerrero has the highest percentage of houses with earth floors (57.5%), the highest percentage of dwellings of poor or very poor quality (69%), the highest number of illiterate fathers (53.4%) and illiterate mothers (54.7%), and the highest percentage of sever infant malnutrition (32.4%).?[i] In indigenous communities the level of severe malnutrition in children under the age of five is 58.3%. 
Still, the statistics do little to convey the daily reality of the tens of thousands of monolingual, illiterate, indigenous peoples and illiterate campesinos who live in isolated communities with no electricity, no running water, no health care and poor education and the tens of thousands of workers living in shantytowns on the outskirts of the few urban centers in the state who barely earn enough to survive.
It is in this context of poverty that the state has imposed a violent and uncontrolled reign of terror. How is the violence in Guerrero different than the violence of paramilitary and death squads whose abuses are well documented in Central America during the 1970s and 80s? The violence in Guerrero is carried out by uniformed members of the State Judicial Police and the federal army. The pretext of the war on drugs and the U.S. role in sustaining the violence will be discussed, infra.
The War Against Drugs- A Pretext for Violation of Human Rights and the Rule of Law
The Awar against drugs@ has become common phraseology in North America as politicians and law enforcement officials in the United States seek to stem the unfettered rise of drug addiction (marijuana, cocaine, heroin). Unable or unwilling to develop appropriate drug treatment and prevention programs in the U.S., officials have instead committed huge economic resources to trying to eradicate the drugs where they are cultivated in Mexico and South America.
And while NAFTA has marked a new level of economic and commercial cooperation in North America, there has developed a commensurate, but less visible, collaboration between the militaries and police of primarily Mexico and the United States. As part of this alliance to combat narco-trafficking, the Mexican military and police have been recipients of US training programs on the detection, eradication, and control of dangerous drugs. Members of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have worked directly with their Mexican counterparts. Millions of dollars have been spent on sophisticated military equipment including helicopters, all terrain ground vehicles (humvees), weapons, surveillance technology, and training.
The Mexican model is a precursor to current U.S. military projects in Colombia, South America, that include direct military and other assistance of over $ 1 billion to the Colombian government. As in Mexico, the US military in collaboration with the Colombian government seeks military remedies to thwart cultivation and transport of plants and refined drugs to the north.
Many of the people we interviewed in connection with reported human rights violations testified that those responsible for the drug trade in the state of Guerrero are in fact high ranking members or the military who collaborate with the elite businessmen and landowners in the region. The poor are scapegoated to cover for the crimes and corruption of the ruling elites.
Examples of Human Rights Violations:
= delegation to Guerrero, we documented numerous cases of human rights violations. A listing of some of those cases will provide a view of the nature of the violations and the impunity with which they are carried out.During the fact-finding mission of the joint lawyers
Massacre at Aguas Blancas
On June 28, 1995 some 200 agents of the Judicial and Motorized Police ambushed a truck taking peasant farmers, some of whom were members of the Campesino Organization of the Southern Sierra (OCSS), from Atoyaquillo to Coyuca de Benitez. In the course of the ambush, 17 unarmed campesinos were killed; several of whom were shot in the head while lying wounded on the ground. Twenty-three others were injured. After the massacre, police officers placed weapons in the hands of the dead campesinos to support the officers? claims that they acted in self-defense. Original video footage was leaked to the media, which showed the corpses were unarmed before the police recorded second videotape showing the peasants with weapons.
International organizations and a Mexican Supreme Court decision both document the culpability of the military in the massacre and their attempts to cover-up their responsibility in the massacre.[ii]
Massacre at El Charco
On June 7, 1998, at around 2 a.m. in the morning, members of the federal army surround a school where they had received informant=s reports of a gathering of armed guerrillas. The meeting at a schoolhouse was of parents discussing issues related to their children=s education. Eleven people were killed; several of whom were shot in the head while lying face down in the playground area of the school. Erika Zamora, at the time of the massacre a 21 year old university student teaching children and adults how to read and write, was arrested and remains one of two women held in the federal penitentiary at Puente Grande.
Execution of Norberto Flores Banos
The delegation was repeatedly told of the impunity with which rights violations were carried out. Those responsible are never brought to justice.
The delegation interviewed Maria Luisa Mendez Rios, the widow of Norberto Flores Banos. Flores Banos was shot at point blank range, execution style, by uniformed members of the Judicial Police as he sat at his typewriter. Flores Banos was a popular lawyer, professor, and administrator at the law school in Chilpancingo, the state capital. According to a government investigator, the assassination of Flores Banos was ordered by the General Secretary of Guerrero, Robles Catalan, who served under Governor Figueroa. An investigator and a journalist were both killed as they pursued leads in the case.
Members of human rights organizations in Guerrero and the widow of Flores Banos reported that no one has been brought to justice for the murder. They point to the prominence of Norberto Flores Banos and conclude that if the known perpetrators remain immune in such a high profile case, it is not surprising that detentions, torture, abductions, and murders of nameless peasants are carried out with a similar impunity.
As a result of the endemic and systemic use of intimidation and violence against the people of Guerrero and the failure of the legal and judicial system to enforce a rule of law, the people live in a constant state of fear for the safety and security of their own bodies and their families.
The Linkage of the War on Drugs, Trade, and Human Rights Violations
As demonstrated, systematic and widespread violations of human rights are taking place in the State of Guerrero and other states of Mexico. The federal army, state police, and paramilitary forces have combined to terrorize the largely poor, rural, and indigenous communities of Guerrero.
The pretext for this lawlessness as articulated by the perpetrators is to uncover evidence, through confessions extracted by torture and other extra-judicial means if necessary, of participation in narco-trafficking. Because the Awar on drugs@ represents a major component of the US-Mexico-Canadian relationship, Mexican government and military officials feel justified in violating fundamental rights of association and those enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights (San Jose, Costa Rica 1969).
Underlying military actions purportedly initiated as part and parcel of the war on drugs, is the government=s interest in the apprehension and arrest of armed guerrilla insurgents. Many witnesses described to members of our delegation how interrogations after detentions would vacillate between questions about drug cultivation and support or membership in the armed insurgency.
So what has changed with the advent of NAFTA in 1994? Unfortunately, not very much except for the apparent escalation of human rights violations as the federal and state governments seek to demonstrate successes in the war on drugs and in creating a climate ripe for foreign direct investment.
As lawyers committed to the protection of human rights and the rule of law, our documentation and denunciation of massive rights violations in Guerrero and other parts of Mexico must be heard. NAFTA=s Afree market@ mantra must be challenged in the face of a reign of terror being perpetrated under the guise of the war on drugs and the protection of free trade.
* Bill Monning is a member of the Guild=s International Committee and a professor of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and can be contacted by email: email@example.com
Delegation members included: Renee Saucedo, Renee Charnas, Rebecca Charnas, Walwska Marchand, Mary Novak, David Smokler, Jack Bournazian, Abigail Trillin, Mark Silverstein, Amie Fishman, Molly Weiser, David Huey, John Gibler, and Frederico Anaya.
i Maribel Gutierrez, Violencia en Guerrero, p. 9.
ii Human Rights Watch, Implausible Deniability: State Responsibility for Rural Violence in Mexico, pp 24-25.
HAITIAN TORTURERS PROSECUTED
by Brian Concannon
The Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) helps the Haitian judiciary prosecute human rights cases from the 1991‑1994 dictatorship. NLG member Ira Kurzban formed the office at the request of President Jean‑Bertrand Aristide asked in 1995. Ira oversees the BAI's work from Miami as part of his representation of the Government of Haiti. The Port‑au‑Prince staff includes NLG member Brian Concannon Jr., Haitian lawyer Mario Joseph, and interns from Haiti and the U.S.
BAI works on cases with significant symbolic value, usually military and paramilitary massacres, and uses them as wedges to force the system to perform better for Haiti's victims, most of whom are poor. The office is involved in all aspects of the prosecution, including preparing complaints and representing victims in court, coordinating with police on arrests, advising judges, prosecutors and Justice Ministry officials, and collaborating with human rights and grassroots organizations.
The BAI's biggest case is the Raboteau Massacre, a military/paramilitary attack on a stubbornly democratic neighborhood in April 1994. After 4 years of preparation, the case is set for trial in late September. The BAI will participate as the civil lawyers for the victims. Under Haiti's system, a civil case can piggyback on a criminal one, and lawyers for the victims can introduce evidence, question witnesses, and participate in debates on most legal issues.
Fifty‑seven people have been charged, twenty‑two of whom are in custody. Eight defendants, all former members of the high command, are living in South Florida. Defendant Emmanuel Constant, head of the paramilitary FRAPH organization, lives in Queens despite a 1995 deportation order.
The BAI helps with the international coordination of the Campaign for the Return of the FRAPH/FADH Documents, a campaign started by Haitian human rights and grassroots organizations to demand the return of 160,000 pages of documents taken from Haitian military and paramilitary facilities by U.S. troops in 1994, and never returned. For more information about the BAI or the Campaign, email firstname.lastname@example.org
UNITED NATIONS PERMANENT FORUM FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
By Margaret E. Haessler
 Ibid., pp. 167-168.
In February 2000, 1 attended a meeting of a United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, in Geneva, Switzerland, with a client who is an elder Lakota from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The working group=s topic, according to the Indigenous Caucus, was ACreating a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples.@ On the other hand, although a few of the delegates from the Nation States wanted to call the forum APermanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.@ The Indigenous Caucus rejected the latter title, which stripped away the identity, dignity and equality of indigenous peoples, by making the forum a place for others to discuss issues about, rather letting Indigenous Peoples determine their own priorities, issues, and proposed solutions. . An indigenous individual from Burma proposed, tongue in cheek, "If you cannot call this forum a permanent forum for Indigenous peoples, why not call it permanent forum on the fears of indigenous peoples."
This fear of indigenous peoples is magnified when choosing between the words Apeople@ versus Apeoples.@ The additional As@ in Apeoples@ engenders even more fear among the nation-states, presumably because the added As@ reflects your recognition and respect for the sovereignty of the indigenous groups which were once equal, sovereign nations. Some of these indigenous peoples now exist in various degrees of subordination and colonization to the nation states. Some Indigenous Peoples have a certain degree of sovereignty still, but usually operate under the guidance and structure of their larger nation states, within which they are located. In most instances, the degree of sovereignty that remains is structured consistently with culture of the conquering Nation States, rather than onsistently with traditional governments and cultures of the indigenous peoples themselves.
As the end of the working group approached, the Rappature issued papers which supposedly summarized the group=s accomplishments, including the Plenary, the Nation-States= Caucus, and the Indigenous Caucus. The Indigenous Caucus was shocked by the Rappature=s Papers, which had not been discussed during the plenary session, and which provided less recognition of Indigenous Peoples, than advocated by the Nation-States. Consequently, the Indigenous Caucuses= successfully lobbied for substantial changes in this report. The Lakota elder responded to the Rappature=s Report by asking "Why don=t you just kill us?"
My next experience with the United Nations was attending the Millennium Forum on Indigenous Issues, in New York in May 2000. The Millennium Forum=s sixfold issues were:
1. Peace, security and disarmament.
2. Eradication of poverty including debt cancellation and social developments
3. Human Rights
4. Sustainable developments and environments.
5. Facing the challenges of Globalization, achieving equity, justice and diversity;
6. Strengthening and Democratizing the United Nations and Other International organizations.
An indigenous man from the Imara People of Bolivia, Peru and Chile reminded us that Indigenous Peoples had practiced sustainable agriculture for many centuries, and that Nation States, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international organizations could learn how to co-exist peacefully with the ancient rain forests, fauna and marine life. At the same time, other participants were more interested in globalization and sustainable agriculture, or recognition of intellectual property and patent rights to human genome, as well as genetic engineering. A Nigerian woman and a Swaziland male questioned the dangers and risks of genetically modified hybrid crops, and the growing use of pesticides, herbicides, and genetically modified AFrankenfood@ crops. An Indigenous Filipino theater group included an actor with an genetically defective arm, resulting from toxic pesticides. At the same time, the child actors were either blind, disabled, or homeless, as a result of the adverse impact of globalization upon Indigenous Peoples and their environment.
Subsequently, the Human Rights Commission created a Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. However, the Nation States selected the Indigenous representatives, after consultation with indigenous organizations. Meanwhile, the Indigenous Caucus in Geneva unanimously agreed that indigenous representatives should be selected by the indigenous peoples themselves, using the traditional selection process of each regions= indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Caucus= proposals for more indigenous representatives with more power over their own resources and environment, had also been decreased by the Nation States. Nevertheless, Indigenous Peoples now have a permanent forum and a permanent voice, and also have some powerful performers among them. Hopefully these Indigenous representatives can maintain, and expand their influence and tenuous toehold within the United Nations system.
For more information, contact Margaret E. Haessler, at the following address:
Margaret E. Haessler
305 N. 3rd St., Suite 520
Burlington, Iowa 52601