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2000 | 52nd Regular Session of the UN Sub-Commission on Human Rights

Threats to the human rights of indigenous peoples: the example of Mexico

July 31 – April 18, 2000
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International and Dominicans for Justice and Peace wish to express their concern over the continual failure of international actors to recognize and implement the rights of indigenous peoples. In particular, measures must be taken to ensure that indigenous peoples enjoy the right to land and the right to participate in decisions that affect their welfare and the development of their community.

For many indigenous peoples the earth is sacred and holy. As such, lands not only have material value but also spiritual significance. Although, it is impossible to uniformly describe the connection that indigenous peoples have with their land, we support the proposed principle that control over traditional territories and resources is essential to the continued transmission of indigenous peoples heritage to future generations.

Unfortunately, many governments maintain the limited view that land is simply a potential revenue source. Consequently, governments implement national development models based on the exploitation of natural resources and influenced by their economic dependencies on external forces. Such policies have led to the dispossession of indigenous lands, their exploitation and marginalization. These policies represent a disturbing violation of the human rights of indigenous peoples.

The experiences of indigenous peoples in the Sierra Tarahumara and the Selva Lacandona regions of Mexico provide an example of government policies violating the human rights of indigenous peoples in order to serve the interests of transnational corporations. These regions are rich in natural resources and are strategically located. Reports indicate that transnational corporations, in conjunction with the Mexican government, utilize security forces, state police and paramilitary groups that violate the rights of the indigenous inhabitants with the underlying purpose of coercing the indigenous to leave the land.

Also, within the last two weeks a paramilitary attack in YajalÛn, Mexico forced 61 families to flee the village and take refuge in the surrounding mountains. After the attack the paramilitary group took possession of the land. The Mexican States attorney office denies the paramilitarys violent action. A second crisis concerning Mexican indigenous people and their land resulted in the hostage taking of three people by zapatistas in Ocosingo.

Indigenous populations in the Philippines endure similar hardships. Indigenous Filipino communities are increasingly being uprooted from their homes by miners, loggers, land grabbers and corporations. This denial of home strips people of their dignity and much of what is considered sacred.

We urge the Sub-Commission to encourage states to recognize indigenous title, land use and the connection indigenous communities have with the land. In doing so the Sub-Commission should identify regional areas, like Latin America and the Pacific Islands where violations of indigenous rights are widespread and egregious.

While we recognize the work of Sub-Commission concerning the human rights of indigenous peoples and also the recent work on transnational corporations we strongly encourage the Sub-Commission to place greater emphasis on the role of transnational corporations in the infringement of indigenous rights. Transnational corporations, like state governments, should recognize their responsibility for both the protection and promotion of human rights. In this regard, we support the proposed principle that business and industry should contribute financially and otherwise to the development of educational and research institutions controlled by indigenous peoples and communities.

In conclusion, we would like to applaud the establishment of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. The forum will help to provide the requisite opportunity for indigenous peoples to exchange ideas, raise awareness of their plight and work together with state governments on the international plane to achieve human rights. In particular, we would like to highlight that the forum facilitates the right of indigenous people to participate in decisions affecting their welfare and development. As such, the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples implicitly implements the right to development. Although the right to development is formally caught up in political debates in the international community, the actions of civil society actors, domestic lawmakers and even state governments are beginning to implicitly recognize this right.

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