It’s no secret that Indigenous Peoples’ rights are trampled on daily, be it by land, discrimination or pollution, but Amnesty International has spelled it out in a scathing new report that calls out some of the nations that are supposedly most developed in this area.
“Indigenous Peoples in the Americas continue to face a litany of abuse,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas director for the international human rights organization, in a statement introducing the report, Indigenous Peoples’ Long Struggle to Defend their Rights in the Americas. “Entire communities are being denied access to their ancestral lands, while others face violent repression and abuse for peacefully protesting to demand their human rights.”
Amnesty singled out Canada on two fronts, one regarding a success and the other an ongoing tragedy. Alluding to its own “Stolen Sisters” report of 10 years ago, the group discussed the murders and disappearances of indigenous women in Canada. They alluded to the May report by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) revealing a much larger number of victims than had been previously counted even by advocates.
While the RCMP report was a positive sign of growing awareness on the part of authorities, it did not go quite far enough, Amnesty said.
“Overall, however, police and government response remains inadequate and fragmentary,” the report said of violence against aboriginal women in Canada. “There is no comprehensive national effort to coordinate programs and initiatives, and identify and close gaps in the support and protections available to indigenous women and girls. Despite supporting UN General Assembly resolutions calling on all countries to adopt comprehensive and adequately resourced national action plans to address violence against women, the federal government has repeatedly stated that there is no need for such a national action plan in Canada.”
Amnesty reiterated calls for a national public inquiry “to enable solutions already identified at the community-level to be consolidated into a national action plan and ensure greater transparency and accountability in the government response,” a plea that so far has been ignored by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The news wasn’t all bad, however. Amnesty lauded the “groundbreaking” Supreme Court victory of the Tsilhqot’in Nation over land rights.
“The Tsilhqot’in decision marks the first time that a Canadian court has provided legal recognition of Indigenous title to a specific territory previously declared to be public land,” Amnesty noted. “The decision has far reaching implications for Indigenous Peoples throughout Canada, particularly those that, like the Tsilhqot’in and the majority of other First Nations in British Columbia, have never entered into any form of treaty with the state.”
Farther south, attempts to assert land rights are met with violence, Amnesty said. And throughout the Americas, indigenous people are “more likely to be underpaid, have lower levels of education, die in child-birth and have a lower life expectancy,” the group said.
Violence against Native women is not relegated to Canada, with similar circumstances occurring throughout the Americas, Amnesty said. In the U.S., the reform of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) “will help to ensure that Tribal courts can issue and enforce protective orders to help stop domestic violence against Indigenous women and girls,” the report said, mitigating some of the “complex jurisdictional issues that make protection, reporting and prosecution of domestic violence nearly impossible” for American Indian and Alaska Native women.
Despite patches of progress on some fronts, much more needs to be done, Amnesty said. The group released the report just before the United Nations International Day of Indigenous Peoples with exhortations that the region’s governments enact legislation to put meat on the bones of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, especially when it comes to free, prior and informed consent in resource development, and to work quickly to resolve land-claims issues.
“It is time for countries across the Americas to realize that they cannot call themselves free and fair while the indigenous communities in their midst continue to suffer such grave injustices and face systemic discrimination,” said Guevara Rosas.
The full report is available for download in a pdf at Indigenous Peoples’ Long Struggle to Defend their Rights in the Americas.