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States must take effective action to guarantee the human rights of indigenous peoples
by IPS, UN experts on Indigenous Peoples
States around the world must take effective action to guarantee the human rights of indigenous peoples, says a group of UN experts. In a joint statement marking International day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, the experts say it is crucial that the rights of indigenous peoples are realised when they migrate or are displaced from their lands:
“In many parts of the world, indigenous peoples have become migrants because they are fleeing economic deprivation, forced displacement, environmental disasters including climate change impacts, social and political unrest, and militarisation. Indigenous peoples have shown remarkable resilience and determination in these extreme situations.
We wish to remind States that all indigenous peoples, whether they migrate or remain, have rights under international instruments, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
While States have the sovereign prerogative to manage their borders, they must also recognise international human rights standards and ensure that migrants are not subjected to violence, discrimination, or other treatment that would violate their rights. In addition, states must recognise indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination; lands, territories and resources; to a nationality, as well as rights of family, education, health, culture and language.
The Declaration specifically provides that States must ensure indigenous peoples’ rights across international borders that may currently divide their traditional territories.
Within countries, government and industry initiatives, including national development, infrastructure, agro-business, natural resource extraction and climate change mitigation, or other matters that affect indigenous peoples, must be undertaken with the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples, such that they are not made to relocate against their will. States must recognise that relocation of indigenous peoples similarly triggers requirements including free, prior and informed consent, as well as restitution and compensation under the Declaration.
We are concerned about human rights violations in the detention, prosecution and deportation practices of States. There is also a dearth of appropriate data on indigenous peoples who are migrants. As a result of this invisibility, those detained at international borders are often denied access to due process, including interpretation and other services that are essential for fair representation in legal processes.
We call on States immediately to reunite children, parents and caregivers who may have been separated in border detentions or deportations.
In addition, States must ensure that indigenous peoples migrating from their territories, including from rural to urban areas within their countries, are guaranteed rights to their identity and adequate living standards, as well as necessary and culturally appropriate social services.
States must also ensure that differences among provincial or municipal jurisdictions do not create conditions of inequality, deprivation and discrimination among indigenous peoples.
We express particular concern about indigenous women and children who are exposed to human and drug trafficking, and sexual violence, and indigenous persons with disabilities who are denied accessibility services.
We look forward to engagement in the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration regarding indigenous peoples’ issues.
On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we urge States, UN agencies, and others, in the strongest terms possible, to ensure indigenous peoples’ rights under the Declaration and other instruments, and to recognise these rights especially in the context of migration, including displacement and other trans-border issues.”
* The Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples; The United Nations Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Peoples.
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The time to tell the truth is long overdue
by Guardian Australia, Garma Festival
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he will not call a referendum to establish an Indigenous voice to Parliament, despite Indigenous leaders saying the survival of their communities depend on it.
Australia is the only Commonwealth country that does not have a treaty with its Indigenous peoples.
There has been optimism and broad support for the idea of establishing an Indigenous advisory body in the constitution among thousands of Australians at one of the most important Indigenous gatherings, the annual Garma Festival in Arnhem Land this weekend.
Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu told the crowd at the festival it was vital Aboriginal people "get our rights by constitution".
Dr Yunupingu, who has negotiated with eight prime ministers over decades as a clan leader, said the first governor of New South Wales Arthur Phillip "didn''t pass anything to Aborigines.. Can you see anything in the law … where the Aborigines stand? They accounted for the kangaroos, the wallabies, the trees, the flowers, the birds. He merely rejected us … it didn''t matter. There was some people, some dark people."
The health and wealth of Indigenous Australians will continue to suffer without a voice to Parliament, said one of the Prime Minister''s own Indigenous advisors. NPY Women''s Council chief executive Andrea Mason said the last decade had been the "wasted years" in Aboriginal affairs.
"It''s created a lot of disappointment, because there was opportunity to do it better ... we haven''t been able to have the right goals and targets," she said.
She said a First Nations voice to Parliament could have provided "decisive" advice to the Government''s overhaul of closing-the-gap targets.
Aboriginal people have been dealt a "cold slap in the face" due to policy failures and the rejection of the referendum push, a former federal Aboriginal affairs minister says. Former Liberal politician Fred Chaney took bureaucrats to task over what he described as a series of policy decisions that had driven people further into poverty.
"There is real poverty and hardship and a loss of capacity in remote communities," he told ABC News.
Over two decades, Garma has become one of Australia''s key forums for debate on constitutional change. Hundreds of Indigenous leaders endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart last May — a call for a new elected representative body.
The Federal Government decided against holding a referendum to test the idea; instead a committee has begun a fresh round of consultations on the issue.
"What I think Indigenous people expected was that the Government would say: ''That''s fantastic, let''s sit down and talk about this,'' Mr Chaney said. "Instead, they got a cold slap in the face, and I think that was a tragedy and a terrible mistake."
Djawa Yunupingu, a senior Gumatj leader and deputy chair of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, said Australia is not a united country, and its non-Indigenous people enjoyed a stolen sovereignty.
Djawa opened a forum at the Garma festival in northeast Arnhem Land with a speech on this year’s theme of “truth telling”, surrounded by members of the multi-clan Dilak council.
He urged the festival attendees to think of his people when they enjoyed the dances and songs of the “constitution in action”.
“And please think about what is fair to them. And let’s see if together we can find a pathway where we can all be included in the nation’s constitution.. The truth is that we are not united in this country – we are not comfortable – and we remain uncertain and troubled by this truth,” Djawa said.“Because we live side by side – two people, two laws, one country.
“The British sovereignty was enforced without care and in ignorance of the sovereignty that exists in us, and it sought to remove us from our rightful place in this country, this beautiful land of ours''.
“And the truth is that many of you have lived your lives enjoying this second sovereignty while we, the first people, from all points of the southern sky, have suffered.”
A truth and justice commission would provide a public space for our voices, says Jackie Huggins, co-chair of National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
''Truth-telling is not just an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issue. Truth-telling is, and always has been, a national issue. Historically and contemporarily, much of Australia has been blind to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Over a year ago, I was one of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates who gathered at Uluru to deliver the Statement from the Heart.
In the lead-up to this gathering, there were extensive consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the country. The Statement of the Heart was the culmination of these consultations. It contains the collective wisdom of first peoples from different nations, language groups and walks of life.
The Statement requested three things: a truth-telling process, agreement making and a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament.
The theme of this year’s Garma festival is truth-telling. This theme is timely. The time to tell the truth is long overdue.
A truth and justice commission would tell our stories; the atrocities of the last 230 years, yes, but also our stories from the beginning of time. It would provide a public space for our voices, our cultures, our stories, our grief, our histories, our trauma and our successes.
A truth and justice commission could fundamentally change the course of Australia’s history. It could fundamentally shape our national identity, moral character and the direction we take as a nation.
How can Australia truly own its national identity without properly knowing and celebrating its history? Without facing up to its past and making reparations?
Australia is home to the oldest living continuing culture on Earth. Remains of first peoples have been dated to between 60,000 and 85,000 years old.
Thousands of Australians travel to Rome and Greece each year to learn about their ancient societies and visit historical sites. These “ancient” cultures existed around 3,000 years ago.
We have an incredibly rich national heritage on our doorstep but all too often it is ignored. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often thought of as a “problem” to be solved. While we face a number of challenges, our cultures are intricate, ancient, ongoing, evolving and, in some places, thriving.
Part of the truth and justice commission’s mandate would be to unearth the cultural histories and traditions of various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations. 230 years of colonisation has led to significant loss of culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While some of this can never be retrieved, much remains to be revived and rediscovered through truth-telling.
We are here. We have survived. We form the basis of Australia’s national and cultural heritage. And it is about time that our histories, cultures and stories are told and celebrated on a national level.
While no one alive today is to blame for the atrocities meted against us by their ancestors, many Australians feel a sense of sadness for what made this nation possible.
Every non-Indigenous person in this country today has benefited from our dispossession, whether they realise it or not. They are on our land.
Publicly acknowledging past wrongs and holding public space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ histories is a way for contemporary Australia to reconcile with its violent past, knowing that today’s society is doing what it can to redress historical wrongs and move forward towards a more positive future.
Engaging with our history provides an opportunity for national reflection about the kind of nation we want to be. Learning from the mistakes of our past in order to prevent repeating them is a critical part of consciously shaping our future.
Truth-telling is also a necessary precondition to our healing from the past and moving forward.
Intergenerational trauma, often misunderstood or dismissed by non-Indigenous people, is all too real for my peoples. Sometimes I hear, “Well that happened so long ago, isn’t it time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples got over it?”
To that I say: the stolen generations officially ended in 1967, but continued in some places into the 1970s. That’s 50 years ago. Many peoples living today were forcibly removed from their families or had family members forcibly removed. Their children watched their suffering, and inherited their grief and trauma.
This is not to mention dispossession, massacres, violence, rapes, discriminatory policies, mass incarceration, desperately overcrowded housing, racism, and countless other social wrongs.
How do you expect us to even begin the healing process if our circumstances are unknown and our stories are not publicly told and acknowledged?
Unaddressed trauma directly contributes to poor social outcomes. It is a source of great national shame that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are left with this burden, with little to no assistance.
I end with an appeal to non-Indigenous Australians. To my mind, it is simply unfair that in a country we have inhabited and protected tens of millenia, our voices are routinely and systematically silenced. But this is the reality in which we find ourselves.
Support our request for a truth-telling process. Not just for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, but for all Australians. Take a stand for our nation’s future''.
• Jackie Huggins is a Bidjara and Birri-Gubba Juru woman from Queensland.
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