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World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination,
Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

7 September 2001

Indigenous protest UNís discriminatory language
by Stephen Webb

Around 150 members of non-governmental organizations representing Indigenous peoples demonstrated outside the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) on September 4, calling for the deletion of a "racist" paragraph from the conferenceís declaration.

Chanting, drumming and waving placards, they welcomed conference delegates arriving for morning sessions.

Prominent in the protest were several members of the World Council of Churches (WCC) delegation to the conference.

The object of the protestersí criticism was a "caveat paragraph", number 27, of the conferenceís draft declaration. The paragraph says use of the term "indigenous peoples" in the conferenceís declaration or programme for action cannot be construed as having "any implications as regards to rights under international law".

The Indigenous caucus at the conference understood the paragraph to be telling Indigenous Peoples that the status and human rights vested in "all peoples" were not vested in them. "We are being told that our status and human rights as peoples are not recognized, respected or applicable."

Paragraph 27 was seen to be telling Indigenous peoples that their status and human rights were not inherent, inalienable and universal, but had to be derived from "ongoing multilateral negotiations".

Eugenio Poma, from Bolivia, an Indigenous Peoples' representative in the WCC delegation, said that if paragraph 27 remained in the declaration, or if the declaration contained language that reduced the rights of Indigenous Peoples in international law, the UN would be guilty of practising and perpetuating discrimination.

Also under fire from the protesters was paragraph 26, that only recognizes "the rights of indigenous peoples consistent with principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity of States" and stresses "the need to adopt the appropriate constitutional, administrative, legislative and judicial measures, including those derived from applicable international instruments".

"We argue that if the UN is serious about ending racism, it should refer the matter of indigenous sovereignties for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice. Article 26 will continue to subjugate Indigenous peoples to second-class rights," the protesters said.

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