UN rights experts urge protection for displaced, indigenous peoples

(12 April 2005) UNITED NATIONS NEWS SERVICE -- Speaking on behalf of the world's voiceless and uprooted communities, rights experts before the United Nations top human rights body have called for greater protection from the disparities that jeopardize the very survival of indigenous cultures, and the obstacles which disrupt the lives of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

As the Geneva-based Commission on Human Rights continued its annual six-week session, an expert yesterday updated the 53-member panel on the precarious state of the world's IDPs, chiefly those millions that have fled ongoing strife in Sudan's Darfur region, and the million more in South Asia uprooted by last December's Indian Ocean earthquake and devastating tsunami.

Three other experts also addressed a broad range of indigenous issues, including obstacles hampering education in indigenous communities, protection of natural resources, and the ongoing negotiations on a draft UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

Walter Kalin, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Representative on the human rights of IDPs, said 2004 had been overshadowed by the dramatic escalation of the conflict in Darfur, which had uprooted nearly two million persons, among them some 1.7 million IDPs, since the fighting started.

Sudan's Government should give serious consideration to the report of the previous Representative on this, and his recommendations, to implement the norms contained in the Guiding Principles on IDPs, and cooperate with the international community in addressing the plight of the displaced.

Mr. Kalin also expressed concern for the more than one million persons displaced by the earthquake and tsunami in South Asia. His main recommendation was that in the reconstruction and recovery phase, it was essential to take a human rights-based approach to the response so as to prevent future possible problems or violations.

Leading the discussion on indigenous issues, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the Commission's Special Rapporteur on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, said many indigenous peoples, especially girls, found it difficult to access education of a similar quality as that offered to non-indigenous peoples. What had led to the destruction of the communities of indigenous peoples was the implementation of educational policies ignoring their particularities. Although this was becoming less the case, the issue was not fully resolved.

He stressed also that if a solution were not found, a new generation of indigenous peoples would continue to be marginalized. It was not only urgent to improve the education in quantitative terms, but also in qualitative terms, in particular regarding the intermediate level and upper education. Countries should pay attention to the needs of indigenous peoples, and equip organizations devoted to their needs with sufficient institutional needs.

Luis-Enrique Chavez, Chairperson-Rapporteur of the Working Group on a draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; Erica-Irene A. Daes, Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights on indigenous people's sovereignty over natural resources; and Jose Carlos Morales, Member of the Board of Trustees of the UN Voluntary Fund for Indigenous Populations, also addressed the Commission.

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