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SRIC Board member, Manny Pino, with Danny Glover (left) and Harry Belafonte (right) in Durban.

The Same Old Song
By Manuel Pino
Sociology Instructor
Scottsdale Community College

When I was informed in December 2000 that I would be a representative of Indigenous Peoples at the September 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, I was elated. As an American Indian educator in sociology and American Indian Studies, I thought "What a rewarding experience," especially in subject matter that I could integrate into my classes. With great anticipation of being part of a world conference that would address many major human rights issues - especially racism - that impact every human being on the planet, I threw caution to the wind.

I have always tried to keep myself informed of international governmental issues as they impact indigenous peoples, but history tells us that response in the international governmental arena is a very slow process. For example, in 1982 the Working Group on Indigenous Populations, a subsidiary of the then-Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, began drafting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The draft was completed in 1993 and forwarded by the Working Group to the Sub-Commission. The Sub-Commission adopted the draft in 1994 and forwarded the text to the Commission on Human Rights. In 1995, the Commission on Human Rights established "as a matter of priority" an Open-ended Working group to elaborate the Draft Declaration. Six years later, only two articles have been adopted. Astonishing!

Patience has become a virtue for indigenous people fighting racism while dealing with the "snails pace" of international politics. Since 1973, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly has designated three decades of action to combat racism and racial discrimination. The UN had two previous World Conferences Against Racism (WCAR), in 1978 and 1983. The first and second World Conferences primarily focused on apartheid. However, as world populations realize, little else has changed. In 1993 the General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/132 on February 23, 1993, proclaimed the Third Decade to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination, and the convening of the third WCAR no later than 2001 later in 1997 (resolution 52/111). The UN Commission on Human Rights requested that the preparatory processes for the WCAR "identify trends priorities and obstacles at the national and regional levels, to formulate specific recommendations for the action to be carried out in the future to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and to submit to the Preparatory Committee, by its 2001 session at the latest."

So begins the "Trail to Durban."

Trail to Durban

Accreditation for participation in the preparatory process and the WCAR was provided by the International Indian Treaty Council, one of the most established indigenous non-governmental organizations (NGO), and the Indigenous Environmental Network. The preparatory process is very important due to the fact that the official documents - The Declaration and the Program of Action of the WCAR - are formulated here, documents by which international standards for the conference are set.

The preparatory process consisted of a number of Expert Seminars to the Regional Governmental Preparatory Conferences, held in France, Chile, Senegal and Iran. NGO Networking meetings were in Poland, Botswana, Jordan, Nepal, and Ecuador.

First stop on the trail to Durban began in the Governmental Regional Preparatory Conference for the Americas held in Santiago de Chile in December 2000. The Indigenous peoples caucus later realized that the Conference held in Santiago was the only one that addressed indigenous issues with any substance. In the Santiago Declaration, the document strongly emphasized that indigenous peoples have been "victims of genocide, ethnocide, and ecocide, and continue to suffer from the extension of colonialism in all its expressions as it continues to rob us of our ancestral knowledge, of our cultural and spiritual practices, of our traditional economies and way of life of our peoples." In other provisions of the document there is reference to displacement - the forced relocation from ancestral lands, environmental racism, institutional racism at all levels of government, and the ignoring of land, resource, and treaty rights. The large group of indigenous peoples from throughout the Americas were somewhat successful in lobbying governmental state delegates with significant indigenous populations to accept language from the Santiago Declaration for the official documents of the WCAR. However, the European Regional Conference failed to discuss indigenous peoples, while the African, East European, and Asian Regional Conferences referred only obliquely to them.

In January after the Santiago conference, a memo from the United States State Department began circulating among indigenous peoples across the U.S. The memo was to provide guidance for the official U.S. delegations to the UN Commission on Human Rights, the Commission's Working Group on the Draft Declaration on Indigenous Rights, the Organization of American States (OAS) Working Group's own Draft Declaration, and those attending the preparatory meetings to the WCAR. The memo recommended text for inclusion in the Draft Declarations being considered in all these forums.

The main point of the memo was to inform appropriate foreign government counterparts, the UN and the OAS, that the U.S. delegation would support the use of the term "internal self determination" in both the UN and OAS declarations on Indigenous rights. The implication, from a U.S. government perspective, is that indigenous peoples only have the right to internal self determination and sovereignty in the country they live in. The U.S. delegations were directed to read a prepared statement that expressed the U.S. understanding of the term "internal self determination." It indicated that it does not include a right of independence or permanent sovereignty over land and natural resources. This memo exemplified the institutional racism that went on throughout the preparatory process, as well as at the WCAR.

Indigenous peoples who attended the Regional Conferences felt the NGO fora (forum) had little influence on the Regional Governmental Declarations and that their participation in the Conferences was restricted. Even the "Elements for a Draft Declaration and a Program of Action," presented at the inter-sessional Open-ended Working Group meeting in Geneva in March 2001, did not include a single paragraph from any of the Declarations of the NGO fora facilitated by the UN Secretariat. This fact alone seemed to make a farce of NGO participation altogether. Restrictions to full participation are the lyrics to an "old song" indigenous peoples have been listening to in over 30 years of coming to the United Nations.

The "same old song" that indigenous peoples keep hearing over and over at the UN has led to the realization that as indigenous peoples we must empower ourselves in order to influence the official international documents in terms of addressing indigenous issues. Also, indigenous peoples organized their own conferences leading up to the WCAR in an effort to have substantial input in the process. A major preparatory meeting on Indigenous Peoples and Racism was held in Sydney, Australia in May 2001. Indigenous people from New Zealand, Canada, Pacific Islands and the United States attended, and from it emerged a strong document stressing the right to self determination and development, protection of treaty rights, and the advocacy for full rights of indigenous peoples under the implications of international law. The document was in direct response to the U.S. State Department memo mentioned above. There was also a Millennium Conference of Indigenous Peoples held in Panama City, Panama in May 2001, where again many indigenous peoples from the Americas expressed consensus with the Santiago Declaration as the core language for lobbying at the June 2001 Preparatory Committee meeting of the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. The goal of all the regional indigenous peoples conferences was to assure a strong response from the Secretary General of the WCAR, and to make sure that the preparatory efforts of the indigenous peoples, as well as all of civil society, were seriously taken into consideration in the Declaration and the Program of Action of the WCAR.

The trail to the WCAR had two mandatory stops at the UN in Geneva - one in June, the other in August - where state delegates and NGOs from throughout the world attended Preparatory Committee meetings. The main purpose of these meetings was to draft language for the Declaration and the Program of Action drawn from the four regional declarations. At Prep Comm II there was immediate dissatisfaction with the language in the Draft Declaration and the Draft Program of Action. The dissatisfaction was characterized by the dilution of the political content of paragraphs that had originally been added to the documents in the regional processes, and for that reason were targeted as being "region specific." The state delegates reasoning was that they were "broadening" the context of the paragraphs and making them more applicable and inclusive internationally. This process stalled the entire meeting, and at the end of two weeks, nothing was accomplished. This required a third Prep Comm to finish drafting the official documents - a mere three weeks before the start of the official WCAR in Durban.

At Prep Comm III, the most prominent and controversial issues were reparations for the Atlantic slave trade, colonialism, and hotly contested language proposed by Arab states that labeled Israel an "apartheid state" and referred to the "racist practices of Zionism," referring to the on-going warfare between Israel and Palestine. The conflict became the main focus and detracted from other important issues faced by the two previous Preparatory Committees in drafting the agendas. This resulted in the dilution (or so-called "broadening") of the claims made by African people of African descent, and the avoidance of the fact that specific histories of colonization called for specific measures by Western governments.

In regards to indigenous peoples, anything of substance that called for the concrete responsibility of states was dropped. In response, the indigenous caucus decided to heavily prioritize and streamline their critique. They agreed early on that the most effective work they could do was articulate the basic arguments they had been fighting for in the past decades of coming to the UN, one of them being the use and meaning of the term "indigenous peoples." Another was that land and resource rights should be attached to indigenous peoples' right to self-determination, an issue vehemently opposed by the U.S. and numerous other states. The third was the question of convening a World Conference on Indigenous Peoples at the end of the "Decade of Indigenous Peoples" in 2004.

The term "indigenous peoples" was bracketed in both official draft documents until the last day of the third Preparatory Committee. A lively debate had arisen in the first week of the conference when Article 24 of the WCAR draft Declaration, containing the first reference to indigenous peoples, was discussed. A number of governments, including a very vocal Mexico, voiced the opinion that they would accept the term "peoples" without the caveat.¹ Mexico and Guatemala developed into the most vocal supporters of the unqualified usage of "peoples." However, among South American states, it was Argentina and Brazil that were reluctant to go as far as other countries in the region. Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the Scandinavian countries were supporters of the unqualified usage of the term "indigenous peoples," while other governments insisted on a footnote (the UK, France and the U.S.). Consequently, the debate was transferred into a smaller working group chaired by Canada, and discussed until the very last minute of the third Preparatory Committee. On the last day the issue was brought to the plenary (full committee) again, and Canada informed the indigenous caucus that a caveat would be adopted following discussions between governments. It reads:

"The use of the term 'peoples' in the WCAR Declaration and Program of Action cannot be construed as having any implications as to the rights under international law. Any reference to rights associated with the term 'indigenous peoples' is in the context of ongoing multilateral negotiations on the texts of instruments specifically deal with such rights, and is without prejudice to the outcome of those negotiations."
— Draft Declaration, para. 27 (adopted Prep Comm III)

Indigenous delegates argued at the WCAR that UN bodies did have the competency to deal with the issue, and that continued usage of the caveat was a discriminatory act.

The result of the regional meetings and the two Preparatory Committees showed that important issues regarding indigenous peoples continue to be ignored by western states - in particular the UK, France and the good old U.S.A. And in Durban, the most important issues mentioned above were only briefly discussed on the plenary floor of the states conference in Durban.

Most delegates of the indigenous peoples caucus at the WCAR felt we should concentrate on the NGO forum and the formulation of the NGO Declaration and Program of Action, rather than the states official documents. The official WCAR state conference briefly addressed the holding clause and the caveat in a twenty minute discussion, yet the caveat still remains. All other issues formulated in the preparatory process beginning in Santiago were almost completely ignored. As an indigenous peoples caucus, we already knew which issues would hotly be debated and take center stage - the issue of reparations for the slavery of African people and people of African descent, and the Arab/Israeli conflict.

The focus of this article addresses the preparatory processes leading up to the WCAR in Durban. This author feels that the issues encountered in the preparatory process exemplifies the institutional racist polices of exclusion of indigenous peoples to full participation in the international governmental arena. One of the world's worst problems is racial discrimination and the suffering caused to indigenous peoples. The Santiago conference admirably acknowledged that "the indigenous peoples of the Americas have been victims of racism and discrimination for centuries. As an indigenous caucus we provided numerous reports describing the continuing victimization of indigenous peoples in the areas of armed conflict, land displacement, treaty rights, health care, administration of justice, environmental racism, unemployment, education, child labor and sexual exploitation." The range of concerns regarding indigenous peoples' rights are vast, and the nature of solutions are politically challenging. The eight day WCAR proved to be completely incapable of addressing indigenous peoples' issues given the extent discord on other topics that detracted from the entire conference, and resulted in one of the main culprits of racist policies - the United States government - boycotting the conference.

Whether the Declaration or the Program of Action from the WCAR (still being drafted) will translate into action at the national or international level depends on the political will of the states. A political will that has been disrupted since the events of 9-11. At this time of warfare and patriotism, let us not forget that the original inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere and indigenous peoples throughout the world continue to hear that "same old song" of exclusion, racism and discrimination.

¹ In previous deliberations at the UN the term "peoples," when used in reference to indigenous peoples, was marked by a caveat that said: "The use of the term 'peoples' in this document shall not be construed as having any implications as regards the rights that may attach to the term under international law." This caveat was first used at the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169. The reason it was used was that the ILO in 1989 "did not have the competency to decide on the meaning and implications of the term indigenous peoples." Since then, all other UN bodies have used this caveat, regardless of whether they have had the competency to define its meaning or not.

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"As we see all around us, racism and racial discrimination continue unabated. Although we refer to our world as a global village, it is a world sadly lacking in the sense of closeness towards neighbour and community which the word village implies. In each region, and within all countries, there are problems stemming from either a lack of respect for, or lack of acceptance of, the inherent dignity and equality of all human beings. Our world is witness to serious ethnic conflicts; to discrimination against minorities, indigenous peoples and migrants workers; the accusation of institutionalized racism in police forces; harsh immigration and asylum policies; hate sites on the Internet and youth groups promoting intolerance and xenophobia."
– Mary Robinson,
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
24 March 1999

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