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Dumping of Toxic Waste on Indigenous Lands, Damage from Mining, Deforestation among Issues, as Indigenous Forum Discussion Focuses on Pacific Region

by NationTalk on April 24, 2008994 Views

Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Seventh Session
5th Meeting (PM)

Continuing its seventh annual session with a half-day discussion on the Pacific, delegates to the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues called for the Forum to take a more robust role in inducing other parts of the United Nations system to carry out mandates for securing the rights of the indigenous peoples in the region.Four expert panellists began the discussion with an overview of issues facing indigenous peoples in the Pacific, including the use of indigenous lands as toxic waste sites, or as production sites for industries causing major environmental damage, such as mining and forestry.

Michael Dodson, Member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues holding the human rights portfolio, said indigenous land and waters were being targeted by industrialized nations for dumping of toxic or radioactive wastes from industrial or military operations, often without informing residents of dangers. Ecosystems were also being destroyed in the search for natural resources, for example by the phosphate mines of Nauru, Banaba and Makatea Islands, and the copper and gold mines of Ok Tedi, Panguna, Freeport and Vatukoula.

Mr. Dodson noted that indigenous peoples lived in zones sensitive to climate change, with the Pacific island countries being particularly susceptible to a rise in sea level. The worst-case scenario — a one metre rise in sea level — would affect tourism, fresh water availability, aquaculture, agriculture, human settlements and human health.

Expert Tom Calma, Torres Strait Islanders Social Justice Commissioner, said such problems were compounded by the extremely limited focus on human rights in the Pacific region. It fell to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues to advise the Economic and Social Council on the urgent need for human rights mechanisms in the islands. He also suggested, as echoed by others, that a special rapporteur specifically for the indigenous peoples of the region should be named, with a mandate that included visits.

Malia Nobrega, of the Pacific Regional Caucus, highlighted the human rights situation of indigenous peoples residing in Non-Self-Governing Territories, calling the Organization’s Special Committee on Decolonization “ineffective” at best and, at worst, a systematic denial of the right of peoples to self-determination. She said the Forum should sponsor a seminar on the situation of those Territories, and reiterated the call for a special rapporteur on indigenous rights.

To date, she said five Pacific island territories were still subject to colonization: American Samoa, Guam, New Caledonia, Pitcairn and Tokelau.

On the issue of climate change, which was a special focus of this year’s session of the Permanent Forum, panellist Collin D. Beck, Permanent Representative of the Solomon Islands, said the United Nations needed to move from policy to on-the-ground action, by urging approaches that focused on public investment, rather than market driven strategies. Rising sea levels were presently forcing people to leave low lying islands for larger ones, which meant climate change was responsible for urban drift and the social instability that sometimes followed.

The Assistant Secretary of Australia’s Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, who also spoke today, said Australia’s total contribution to the Global Environment Facility, which had allocated over 30 per cent of its funds to mitigating climate change, stood at $A 240 million so far.

He said Australia had endorsed the Pacific Islands Framework for Action on Climate Change 2006-2015, which was currently identifying adaptation strategies. A further $A 50 million would be allocated to build the capacity of national meteorological services in the region, among other things. That money would also be used to offer practical assistance in increasing water storage capacity, diversifying crops and replanting mangroves. Some of the funding would be spent through the United Nations Least Developed Countries Fund. Australia also planned to engage in activities to help mitigate deforestation activities in Papua New Guinea, while researchers from the James Cook University would conduct a study on coastal erosion in Australia’s Torres Strait.

As the discussion unfolded today, a representative of the Indigenous Peoples Caucus, North America Region said that data should be collected on the legal implications of States disappearing due to global climate change. She called for the establishment of an expert mechanism on the rights of indigenous peoples.

Participants also heard of positive steps some Governments were taking. Australia, for example, had just this year offered an apology to the aboriginal “disappeared people”. A formal apology was a start, said an official from the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council, but much more was needed. The Forum should call on the Government to make reparations.

A representative of New Zealand also spoke today, as did a representative of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR).

Also speaking were delegates for the Global Indigenous Women’s Caucus and for Chamoru Nation and Affiliated Indigenous Chamoru Organizations; Society for Threatened Peoples International (ECOSO); CORE (ECOSOC); Western Shoshone Defense Project; Flying Eagle Woman Fund (ECOSOC); Mohawk Nation at Kahmawake; Cultural Development and Research Institute; Famoksaiyan; Organization of People for Indigenous Rights; Colonized Chamoru Coalition; Chamoru Landowners Associate; Chamoru Language Teachers Association; Guahan Indigenous Collective; Huroa, Inc.; Landowners United; Chamoru Veterans Association; and Fuetsan Famaloan.

Also, Conseil National pour les droits de people Autochtone en Kanaky, New Caledonia; ALIFURU; West Papua Interest Association; Friends of the Earth (Papua New Guinea); HITI TAU, PU FENUA PU METUA; RAPANUI Parliament; New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council; the Indigenous ICT Task Force; the National Indigenous Higher Education Network; Faira, Australia; and Dewan Adat Papua (Papua Customary Council).

A representative made a joint statement for Australian Aborigines.

China’s representative spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Forum will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 24 April, to continue its dialogue with Governments and to begin its discussion on the implementation of the recommendations on the six mandated areas of the Permanent Forum and on the Millennium Development Goals.

>>VIEW full press release.

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