As provided by Marie-Danielle Samuel
Copyright © 2000 Public Domain
The International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples
was held on Wednesday & Thursday, August 9-10, 2000.
Dialogue: Indigenous Children and Youth, August 9, 2000.
On the afternoon of 9 August, a dialogue session was held on the theme of this year’s meeting of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, namely “Indigenous Children and Youth”.Co-Chairs:
-Ms. Elissavet Stamatopoulou, Deputy Director OHCHR/NYO
-Ms. Tonya Gonnella Frichner, American Indian Law Alliance
1- Mr. Olara Otunnu, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict
2- Mr. Rene Godinez Garcia, Indigenous Youth from Guatemala, Movimiento de Jovenes Mayas por la Objeccion de Conciencia/CONAVIGUA
3- Mr. Kul Gautam, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
4- Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director OHCHR/NYO
5- Mr. Evans Dwayne Eagle Child, Kainaiwa Nation, Alberta, Canada
Panelists brought different perspectives on issues ranging from armed conflict to poverty to education, and their respective relations to the lives of indigenous peoples.
1- Mr. Otunnu began the dialogue by describing his role as an advocate for children. He then provided a brief historical backgrounder regarding the establishment of his office, stating that the genesis of his mandate was a 1996 report dealing with children and armed conflict.
According to Mr. Otunnu, there are many faces of the suffering of children and the universal purpose of his office is to protect their vulnerability in all phases of conflict including prevention and rehabilitation. He spoke of four areas of concern and concentration: -raising public and official awareness;
-highlighting standards and norms that govern the protection of children, including both the International Convention of the Rights of the Child and traditional norms;
-engaging parties in the midst of armed conflict to stop fighting; and
-making sure that even when war has ended children are the central focus of rebuilding and healing.
Mr. Otunnu then highlighted the progress that has been made to date, and provided the following examples:
* Resolution 1261 passed by the Security Council, which finally recognised the plight of children as a peace and security issue.
* Consensus agreement for raising the age limit of conscription from 15 to 18 years old.
* UN integration of child protection concerns in peace operations (i.e., appointment of child protection officers in peacekeeping missions).
* New awareness of illicit trade involving children, such as the diamond trade.
Mr. Otunnu emphasized that the indigenous community is affected by conflict in particular ways. Poverty is a contributing factor for the recruitment of indigenous child soldiers. The indigenous community is also more likely to be displaced by conflict (e.g., land cleansing in Colombia). Furthermore, in such situations indigenous traditions are disrupted. For these reasons, in his view, the mandate of his office as well as the progress made in the area of children and armed conflict need to be translated into an economic, social and political movement that strengthens local capacity building.
2- Mr. Garcia shared his personal experience of the war in Guatemala. Gross violations of fundamental rights occurred in this period such as deprivation of freedom of minors, extrajudicial executions and violations of physical integrity of new born children. The military committed 80 % of the minors' disappearances, and most of the sexual abuse of children.
Furthermore, the whole of indigenous cultural life was severely violated. The forced recruitment of indigenous youth was the most painful dimension for parents and relatives. The Mayan children forced to enrol, lost their culture, language, traditions and human rights awareness. Minors were displaced from one ethnic group to another.
To address these painful realities, Mr. Garcia and his organization advocate the following:*Education regarding genocide
*Education grants for orphaned children
*Grants for health
*Economic grants for those who have suffered extensively
*Investigations of disappeared children
*Resources to rebuild Mayan culture
3- Mr. Eagle Child, an indigenous representative from Canada, was also a valuable addition to the panel. He reported on the legacy of the systematic abuses perpetrated in the former residential school system in Canada.
The system was part of a government programme that was used to undermine the transmission of indigenous culture. According to Mr. Eagle Child, it is important to focus increased attention to the plight of indigenous youth, and he suggested that this could be achieved in part by adopting a creative vision regarding their unique health and education needs.
4- Mr. Kul Gautam, from UNICEF, highlighted that child development is the indispensable foundation of all subsequent human development. However, he noted that despite the progress made in ratifying international human rights standards with direct relevance to indigenous populations, many indigenous children are still not reached by economic growth, improved standards of living, or even by targeted strategies to reach marginalised children.
It is imperative, in his view, to recognise that indigenous youth suffer gross violations of their basic rights on a continual basis. They are an at risk group in terms of abuse and exploitation, and in terms of suffering at the hands of their governments and other agencies. UNICEF, therefore, recognises that a far greater effort needs to be made to secure their right to basic social services and fundamental human rights. Mr. Gautam shared the following examples of UNICEF involvement in the path to empower indigenous children worldwide:
* Implementation of bilingual and intercultural education (the idea being that a child learns better in his or her native tongue).
* Implementation of programmes which promote the involvement of youth (to encouragie self-confidence).
* Support for programmes which promote disparity- and poverty-reduction.
* The adoption of rights-based programmes which target the most deprived and marginalised children, including those in indigenous communities.
Mr. Gautam appealed to the audience to make their voices heard at the upcoming World Conference against Racism and the UN Special Session on Children.
5- Mr. Ndiaye reported that the Working Group on Indigenous Populations heard over 120 statements this year detailing the particular issues facing indigenous children and youth. He mentioned some concerns regarding the right to health, to education, and to life. He noted that even the right to a name is sometimes not recognised for indigenous children whose parents are not allowed to register them under names reflecting their own cultural heritage. As long as there are no practical measures taken to ensure countries’ obligations to their indigenous peoples under international human rights law, the international community must continue efforts to advance their cause on more than one front. It is also in the interest of indigenous peoples to advocate for the ratification and implementation of the two Optional Protocols to the CRC. One should not, he said, have to choose between the right to live (i.e., development) and the right to be (i.e., cultural identity).
After the panelists made these statements, the co-chairs opened the floor for a question and answer session. Several questions were addressed to Mr. Otunnu, seeking clarification of the role of his office. Mr. Otunnu explained that his mandate did not deal with children generally, but rather with children in relation to armed conflict. He was also asked what his office was doing about the religious conflicts occurring in the southern Philippines, to which he replied that he would appreciate receiving any information about the impact of the conflict on children.
An indigenous representative from El Salvador spoke of how children there were dying of hunger and denied access to higher education and paid work, and of how important it was to establish training and work programmes for mothers there so that they may support their families. Mr. Otunnu noted that like Guatemala, the situation of El Salvador is of grave concern to his office since his office considers post-conflict peacebuilding and healing to be essential for prevention of future conflicts.
An indigenous representative from the USA recommended that instead of waiting for recognition, the indigenous community should buy a radio or TV station and broadcast their culture and their opinions directly. A representative from the International Shinto Foundation noted that children are celebrated in the Shinto religion at four major annual holidays. An indigenous representative from Puerto Rico spoke of the plight of indigenous children, and queried why so little attention was paid to U.S. bombings there.
Mr. Eagle Child replied that it is important to educate children there about that part of their history. For his part, Mr. Ndiaye requested more detailed information about the situation there. He added that information is the most important tool for bringing human rights violations to light, and he informed participants that violations may be transmitted through existing international mechanisms such as treaty bodies, special rapporteurs and ILO committees. He also reminded the audience about the new Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
An indigenous representative from Brazil noted how pollution of the Amazon has destroyed rivers and wiped out forests. An indigenous representative from Alaska spoke of how ethnic minorities living inside larger nation-states are often marginalized. She noted that as a result of the long usurpation of indigenous authority in Alaska, modern native people have lost control of their communities, their traditional governments and their children’s lives. Indigenous children are not satisfied with the fishing and hunting economies of their parents but at the same time they are not prepared to compete for modern careers outside their villages. Moreover, the lack of work is a cause of social problems and therefore without renewed economic development, social problems like alcohol will continue to occur.
An indigenous representative from Canada demanded the full implementation of all international legal instruments concerning children and youth, and called for workshops to be held at which indigenous youth participation could occur. An indigenous representative from Guatemala asked Mr. Garcia about the work of the Truth Commission there. In reply, Mr. Garcia described the difficult work of the Commission and stated that it was considered by his organization to be an extremely important and useful report. For his part, Mr. Gautam commented that prevention must start with children and youth. Gautam also noted that adequate funding for programs remains a major obstacle to progress.
This report was provided by Marie-Danielle Samuel, YACHAY WASI Vice-President & UN Main Representative. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org