The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights held another talk-fest last week to discuss the Report of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. Various issues, including housing, water rights, land rights and basic human rights were the focus of the Commission’s work.

Sub-Commission Expert El Hadji Guisse said that in his work on the right to water he had come to realize that housing without water could hardly be called housing.

Ronald Barnes, of the Indigenous World Association, reiterated that when it came to human rights and fundamental freedoms, indigenous peoples were being streamlined and bottle-necked. He said there must be a more transparent way for indigenous people to speak more freely and without restriction.

Lazaro Pary, of the Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru,” said self-determination, land title, and the use of natural resources were vital for indigenous peoples, and Tupaj Amaru had submitted documents to the Working Group on these topics. Unfortunately, they had not been edited or translated into the customary working languages. Indigenous peoples were so poor that their natural resources were being taken from them. Now they were told there was no money to translate their documents.

Pary added that, after the World Conference against Racism, the outlook was gloomy. Oppressed peoples had placed such hopes on the event, but the final document had little promise in it. Following the tragic events of September 11, racism and racial discrimination had assumed large proportions in the great crusade against terrorism. The United States had responded to the terrorist threat with a war of terror and discrimination against Muslims, persons of African descent, and other minorities. The result could well be a spiral of violence.

Verena Graf, of the International League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples, said the Permanent Forum was not pursuing the same objectives as the Working Group on indigenous populations, and must therefore be considered complementary. There were still innumerable situations in the world where indigenous peoples lived in serious difficulties but were not heard of. The main reason for these difficulties stemmed from the fact that they had been denied the right to self-determination. The Sub-Com- mission was called upon to include the issue of self-determination in its agenda.

The League drew the attention of the Commission to the Western Shoshone in Nevada, the United States and their land rights which were enshrined in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. But now, after 30 years of threats, harassment and helicopter surveillance and raids by federal agents to confiscate their livestock, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee had tried to settle the land claim by a pay-out of $138 million. This deal had been rightly rejected by the Western Shoshone. There could be no compensation for land which had belonged to them since time immemorial, which was true not only for the Western Shoshone, but for all indigenous people.