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1998 | 54th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (16 March - 24 April 1998)

In support of the creation of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples

March 16 – April 24, 1998
Palais des Nations, Geneva

In the context of the International Decade for Indigenous People, Franciscans International and the Dominicans wish to draw to the attention of the Commission the need to move forward even more on the work done around the world on behalf of the rights of indigenous peoples.

Many States do not recognize the rights of the Indian people in their domestic legislation despite the fact they have ratified international conventions and declarations related to this topic. Frequently the lack of respect on the part of governments of Indian systems, customs and traditions of self-rule still creates at the end of the millennium grave conflicts, debates and even wars as evidenced in Mexico.

As an example of this, I wish to bring to the Commission’s attention the situation in Chiapas where I have been working with the Mayan Indians for the past 8 years. The rights of Indians are not fully respected and the Accord signed by the government of Mexico with the indigenous peoples has not been fulfilled. The accords are known as the San Andres Accords which were signed on January 16, 1996 by the state and federal governments and the indigenous representatives of the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) and which explicitly include international declarations and conventions applicable to the whole country.

In many places, Indians have for centuries maintained their own forms of government, their own territories, their own laws and justice systems which respect with great sensitivity the life and dignity of the human person and their environment. FI in collaboration with the Dominicans is concerned that these values continue to be respected around the world. We are particularly concerned about those regions where economic systems take precedence over those values in a way, which is not a legitimate expression of development and progress. States often modify basic constitutional laws to guarantee this so-called progress with the capital to sustain it. This damages Indian territories, communities and systems of production and does not take into account either the will of Indian people nor of their dignity.

In the same way, the systems of justice of Indian peoples are not respected or even ignored by state judicial systems. State laws are applied without taking into consideration the languages of the Indian people. The consequences of this are manifested in the systematic abuse of authority, the lack of defense for the accused and impunity. Recognizing the jurisdictional rights of Indian peoples would guarantee them full access to justice as clearly established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Further the lack of access to media makes it difficult for Indian people to exchange freely their views, experiences and perspectives on the future. This creates a dependency on those who control the media. Government control over media enables them to manipulate some indigenous groups and often creates difficulties within Indian communities. This is the case in many regions in Chiapas where government has control over radio and this creates conditions, which are not conducive to peace.

Military occupation destroys the life of Indian peoples and renders their lands, their sacred areas and communities valueless. It is important that international agreements be respected especially those considered sacred by Indian people.

Mr. Chairman,

We want to draw to your attention the fact that the question of impunity is a great concern among Indian peoples. For example, in the community of Acteal in Mexico, 45 indigenous Tzotiles were cruelly massacred on December 22, 1997 – the majority of them women and children. However there had been daily violations against indigenous leaders committed with impunity in that community. These cases have been amply documented by many NGOs such as the Fray Bartolome de Las Casas Human Rights Center. We also add to that the 16,000 internally displaced indigenous people who are victims of the terror generated by the presence of paramilitary groups.

Impunity is violence and it is sometimes perceived as a strategy to exterminate Indian peoples. Death in this context is not only physical but it is also an attack on the profound dignity of the human person.

Mr. Chairman,

Franciscans International in collaboration with the Dominicans urges the Commission to support the creation of a Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples at the highest level of the United Nations so they may participate fully in the system.

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