SHAME ON CANADA FOR SAYING “NO” TO GLOBAL NATIVE RIGHTS!
[By Dr. Mohamed Elmasry]
One of human history’s most shameful chapters is the long record of genocide committed against indigenous peoples around the world.
In Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, white European settlers took their land, massacred their populations, tore them away from their religions, suppressed their languages and culture, and forbade inter-marriage with those who remained.
Native children were forcibly removed from their homes and communities to be “civilized” and raised as Christians. Those who survived the psychological trauma and physical abuse inflicted by Church and government now live in ghettos called reserves, where they are economically marginalized, politically sidelined and negatively stereotyped by the media and general public.
But on September 13, 2007 everyone who is proud to call him or herself a fully human being joined indigenous people around the world in celebration. After 22 years of intensive debate and negotiation, the United Nations Assembly approved the Declaration on Indigenous Rights. Just imagine — 22 years of intense discussion, mainly among Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, just to say they recognized that the world’s indigenous people have rights.
“This marks a historic moment when UN member states and indigenous peoples have reconciled with their painful histories and are resolved to move forward together on the path of human rights, justice and development for all,” said Michele Montas, spokeswoman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Yet those same four countries â€“ Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand â€“ took the astonishing retrograde step of voting against the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The declaration, which was also endorsed last year by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council, was approved by a vote of 143 to 4, with 11 countries abstaining.
This means that genocide in a variety of forms can continue against indigenous peoples in many parts of the world.
Despite the betrayal of the four countries voting against it, the UN declaration is a landmark that sets out universal human rights standards for indigenous populations, who face discrimination, land theft, violence and deprivation in many parts of the world.
It calls on all states to prevent or redress the forced migration of indigenous peoples, the seizure of their land, or their forced
integration into other cultures. It also grants indigenous groups control over their religious and cultural sites and the right to manage their own education systems, including teaching in their own languages.
“In our view, it is a stain on Canada’s international reputation â€¦It’s a slap in the face for all indigenous peoples,” said Canada’s Assembly of First Nations National Chief, Phil Fontaine. He added, “It’s inexplicable â€“ for 20 years, Canada worked to secure support from the UN member states for this declaration, which Canadians helped write.”
The four governments who voted “no” claim they could not support the declaration because of concerns over provisions on self-determination, land and resources rights and over giving indigenous peoples the right of veto over national legislation and state management of their resources.
One article of the declaration says that “states shall give legal recognition and protection” to lands, territories and resources
traditionally “owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired” by indigenous peoples.
Another article upholds their right “to redress, by means that can include restitution or when not possible just, fair and equitable
compensation, for the lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned or otherwise occupied or used, and which have been confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”
Opponents also objected to a provision that would require states “to consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples … to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water, or other resources.”
But supporters consistently affirm that this declaration, even though it is non-binding, is just the first step on a very long and painful road to healing and reconciliation.
Thus Chief Fontaine has rightly warned that Canada’s rejection of the UN declaration will only serve to intensify the anger of native groups, whose protests over substandard living conditions and land claims disrupted rail service and blocked highway traffic earlier this summer.
Opposition parties also lashed out at the Harper government for Canada’s about-face on the UN rights issue.
“By opposing this declaration the Conservative government has signaled to aboriginal Canadians that their rights aren’t worth defending,” said Liberal Leader StÃ©phane Dion. “The government has also dramatically weakened the leadership role Canada has long enjoyed in the global human rights movement.”
Canada indeed missed a historic opportunity to be part of a landmark declaration on global human rights. For shame!
[Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He can be reached at email@example.com]