Submission to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights by the International Indian Treaty Council, NGO in Special Consultative Status to the UN Economic and Social Council
“Water is Life”
The Human Right to Water and Indigenous Peoples
The International Indian Treaty Council is pleased to respond to the High Commissioner’s invitation to submit information relevant to the Council on Human Rights’ requested study on the human right to water. We thank the High Commissioner for her interest in this vital matter. We also underscore the urgent need to review current relevant standards impacting this issue, and to conduct a comprehensive study on the human right to water which takes into consideration to concerns, perspectives, expertise and experiences of Indigenous Peoples around the world.
For Indigenous Peoples, their relationship with the rivers, streams, waterfalls, lakes, oceans, hot and cold sprints, groundwater, rain and snow, coastal seas and sea ice which they have traditionally used and protected since time immemorial provides the basis for their traditional subsistence economies (farming, hunting, gathering, herding and fishing), physical health, sanitation and collective material survival. But this relationship is also a fundamental requirement and prerequisite for their spiritual relationship with the natural world which is, in turn, the basis of their cultural identity, ceremonial practices and sacred responsibility to the survival of their future generations.We therefore welcome and applaud the historic decision by the United Nations Human Rights Council of November 26th 2006 recognizing the right to water as a human right. Specifically, the Council has requested “… a detailed study on the scope and content of the relevant human rights obligations related to equitable access to safe drinking water and sanitation under international human rights instruments, which includes relevant conclusions and recommendations thereon, to be submitted prior to the sixth session of the Council.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Right to Water including the right to safe drinking water and many other interrelated rights has been and continues to be violated by a range of policies and practices being carried out, condoned and/or allowed by states. These include:
1. The implementation and domination of globalization and free trade,which includes the privatization, commodification and wide-spread appropriation of water without the free prior informed consent of the Indigenous Peoples affected;
2. The imposition of non-sustainable development projects by the governments and private companies. These include mining and other extractive industries, damming, deforestation, high-pesticide use, toxic waste dumping and incineration, and energy generation based on fossil fuels which directly result in widespread contamination, diversion and depletion of clean natural water sources as well as promotion of desertification and climate change.
3. National policies and legal systems that allow, favor and give precedence to private and or/industrial use of water rather over traditional subsistence use by indigenous peoples which is based on collective use, responsibility for protection and sustainable methods.
4. National laws and policies adopted by states which restrict access and control for Indigenous Peoples of their traditional lands, territories and natural resources including water, often in violation of existing Treaties, Agreements and Constructive Arrangements with these same states.
These policies and practices result in violation of a wide range of internationally-recognized Human Rights for Indigenous Peoples around the world. These include the Rights of the Child under the Convention Article 24, the Rights to Health, Food Security, Development, Life, Physical Integrity, Permanent Sovereignty over Land and Natural Resources, Treaty Rights, Free Prior Informed Consent, Self-determination, Cultural Rights, Religious Freedom and the Right of Peoples not to be Deprived of their own Means of Subsistence.
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